What if your parents were the embodiment of evil? Everyone has had this thought at one point or another. After all, why else would they deny us pudding if we don’t eat our meat? Mom and Dad are dessert Nazis. That’s all there is to it. And given this knowledge, it is not hard to make the logical inference that maybe they are like this with others as well. In fact, it is entirely possible that the people who brought us into the world are the leaders of the criminal underworld, feared villains who call themselves The Pride. Okay, this may not be the case with you or me, but it is the situation faced by a group of six children who make the unfortunate discovery that their parents are evil masterminds. Upon discovering their plight, these kids have no choice. They have to run away.
This is the premise of Brian K. Vaughan’s comic book series, a remarkable feat of storytelling that somehow manages to make a tale involving time travelers, magicians, aliens, mutants and Biblical Gibborim feel like a simple story of kids trying to make it on their own. Upon its 2002 debut, Runaways was hailed as one of the most imaginative and inventive new comics of the past couple of decades. Unfortunately, sales did not mirror critical reception, causing the title to be canceled early on in its run. Due to a passionate outpouring of support after this event, particularly from notables in the industry such as Runaways superfan Joss Whedon, it was given new life.
Since this resurrection, the tale of kids age 11 to 17 trying to survive in a world partially undone by their parents has become one of the buzz hits in the industry. Given its popularity as well as its easily identifiable premise, Marvel Studios has made the bold decision to spin off one of its lesser selling but most novel comics into a theatrical adaptation. So, what makes Runaways worthy of such attention? The initial story arc compiled in a compendium named Runaways, Vol. 1 (BOP's Superliminal Message for the day: GO BUY IT!) lends itself perfectly to a movie recreation.
Once a year, a series of six couples unite to perform a ritualistic sacrifice of an innocent in order to satisfy a blood pact with the Gibborim. Since each of them has borne one child (and one child only), these kids wind up stuck together in a group setting on these evenings while, unbeknownst to them, someone is slain by their parents in the basement. During one such evening of board games and monotony, Alex Wilder, the host of the festivities, talks his fellow teens (and one pre-teen, Molly) into sneaking down to see what their folks are doing. To their complete and utter shock, they become eye witnesses to the slaying of a young woman. Realizing the act of malevolence is in no way out of the ordinary for their moms and dads, all six kids agree that they need to get away from the people who raised them.
Getting away from the parents is no easy feat for someone this age, though. And that is particularly true for the children of overpowered super-villains. Unlike New York City where dozens of bad guys like The Kingpin and The Green Goblin compete to be ruler of the underworld, Los Angeles is squarely the dominion of The Pride. So complete is their empire and so unquestioned their rule that many employees of the police department work for them. Running away won’t be easy, but these kids are less concerned about what’s easy and more concerned about what’s right. Some of them seek justice, others seek familial redemption and all of them agree that survival is an imperative (“Try not to die.” is their only battle cry). No matter the goal, however, all of these kids have been thrust together in an epic struggle.
Alex Wilder is the de facto leader of the group. Son of street thugs who would eventually become the leaders of The Pride, Alex is a mastermind whose battle strategies impress even his combat-proven papa. Nico Minoru is the girl he likes even after he finds out she is the daughter of dark wizards. The other person who likes Nico is Karolina Dean, a gorgeous girl who believes herself to be Hollywood royalty because of her hugely successful thespian parents. Little does she realize that she is in actuality royalty of the planet Majesdane. Her homosexuality is bad news to dim-witted jock Chase Stein, the abused child of mad scientists. Before too long, Chase gets past this disappointment and begins to notice chubby wallflower Gertrude Yorkes, the proudly socialist daughter of time traveling thieves. The one benefit of having such heritage is that Gertrude inherits a genetically engineered dinosaur from the 87th century as a pet. It makes me really jealous that my parents only gave me a dog as a birthday gift (but I still love you, Mac!). Rounding out the half dozen Runaways is the youngest of the group, the adorable Molly Hayes. The precocious 11-year-old is a mutant with awesome strength, but every display of power tires her to the point of physical exhaustion. A good nap and some heavily sugared cereal perks her right back up, though.
This motley crew of six is forced to go out on their own and find a way to stop their parents’ plan to destroy all of humanity. Simultaneously, they must learn how to take care of themselves in a world full of meddling adults who may or may not mean well but are always oppressive regardless of intent. Over time, three of the kids learn to control their secret powers. Karolina (code name: Lucy in the Sky) is a beacon of light who uses solar power to fly and administer devastating radial blasts of energy. Nico (code name: Sister Grimm) discovers the power of the Staff of One, a sorcerer’s weapon that requires a taste of blood to perform. And Molly punches a lot of stuff whenever people refuse to call her by her chosen superhero code name, Princess Power. Along the way, Chase (code name: Talkback, much to his chagrin) unearths some gauntlets that prove to be potent weapons, Gertrude (code name: Arsenic) teaches her dinosaur (code name: Old Lace) to protect the entire group, and Alex (who refuses a code name)…well, Alex gets marginally smarter, I suppose.
Runaways is a daring attempt for Marvel because this title does not have the built-in fan-base of its other recent releases such as X-Men, Iron Man, Spider-Man, Daredevil, The Incredible Hulk, Daredevil, Ghost Rider or even The Punisher. This is largely an unknown entity, but that weakness is also a strength. North American movie-goers will be given the rare opportunity to discover a comic book that does not already have decades of history involved. Without as much canon in place, there are fewer continuity concerns. Combining this with the fact that Runaways Vol. 1 is perfectly storyboarded before a second of filming is done, this title has a chance to be one of the most pleasant movie surprises in recent history. (David Mumpower/BOP)