Open Mike Night - Runaways Vol. 1 & the Iceman Controversy

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By Mike Weaver and Mike Maillaro

Runaways Vol. 1 - Pride and Joy

Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Art by:  Adrian Alphona

Published by: Marvel


Weaver: Unpopular opinion alert: I didn’t see what all the fuss was about here.  Runaways has been a consistently well regarded series that I had been intending to dig into for years, and now that I’ve read the first volume...I’m not very impressed.  Basically, the story is about a group of kids that discover their parents are supervillains.  They run away from home and try to find a way to bring their parents to justice...well, they seem to want to find a way, but one of them has left a note that they’re secretly wanting to talk down the rest of them and back to life as normal.  Of course, their powerful consortium of supervillain parents has the police and media locked down, so bringing them to justice is a pretty tall order.

I feel like every character is paper thin in the story so far.  They each have essentially one trait that gets repeated ad nauseum.  I feel like we’re oversold on just about everything, and the pace is slow enough that I wonder how this possibly could have survived as a monthly.

Maillaro:  I think you definitely overhyped this book in your head.  I love Runaways, but it’s not the second coming.   Some quick background, back around 2003, Marvel realized “hey, all our popular books are old and won’t really appeal to new readers...what can we do to fix that?”  They had the awesome idea of creating a new line of books geared for younger audiences.  Books like Sentinel, Gravity, Arana, and Runaways all came out about this time.  They also released some young reader targetted books featuring Emma Frost and Jubilee. They were a mixed bag in terms of quality and success, but I definitely think it was the right move.

The most successful of these books was Runaways.  Like Weaver said, Runaways are about a group of kids who find out that their parents are a group of supervillains called the Pride.  The kids each find out that their parents had keep keeping secrets.  Karolina’s parents are Hollywood Royalty by day...but in reality, they are alien cutting deals with the Skrulls on Earth.  Gert’s parents are from the future and left her a telepathic raptor bodyguard. Molly (the youngest) has two parents that are mutants...and SURPRISE...she ends up being a mutant too.  Chase’s parents are a tech geniuses, but Chase is more into sports.  Nico’s parents are powerful mages.  And Alex’s parents are criminal masterminds.

Why did I spell that out?  Because that was one of my favorite parts about Runaways.  It was clear from the outside that this book was about archetypes and the different aspects of the Marvel universe.  You have mutants, you have mages, you have a wanna be Kingpin, etc.  Vaughan specializes in this kind of story, taking established ideas and just flipping them on their ear.

Weaver: I like a lot of his other work, and I agree that’s his usual modus operandi, it’s just not working for me here.  I know all about teenagers and hormones and such, but every one of the attractions that anyone felt towards anyone else was just hammered in while, with the exception of Nico and Alex, no one else seemed to react to it at all, including the target of affection.  I realize that this was written towards a young adult audience, and if I was reading it as a young adult, I’d be insulted.

One thing I did like was how the kids discovered their legacies.  Basically, they were trying to find a dumped body in one of their parents’ houses, and each came across something that helped them become more powerful or recognize the power they truly had.  Karolina finds out the medic alert bracelet she’s always worn was making her pass as human, and without it, she can fly and project light beams.  She’s pretty ecstatic about the powers, but it gets damped down by a little too much “I can’t really be an alien, that’s ridiculous.” Especially weird after they just discovered the mind controlled velociraptor that Gert’s parents gave her.  Yeah, I get that it’s a little off-putting to find something that life-changing out...very off-putting, in fact.  But in that and several other places, I felt Karolina’s strong denial of everything happening was much too strong.

Maillaro:  I will agree with you that sometimes the characters did seem to act a little act, like not reacting strong enough to certain things, but overreacting to other less important things, but I honestly just took that as the shock of the situation.  

I liked that the characters really were just kind of Magoo’ing it along through most of the issue.  They are kids between 11 and 16, and just found out that everything they thought they knew was wrong. Too often in fiction, the characters know JUST WHAT TO DO in any situation, but the Runaways tend to bumble along trying to figure it out as they go.

One thing that has never quite worked for me about Runaways is that I have always had problems reconciling it taking place in the Marvel universe.  It always seemed very odd to me that The Pride could exist and no one know about them.  Vaughan’s work tends to work better in a bubble.  It gets even odder when the Marvel universe does start to tie in, with Cloak and Dagger and Ultron’s son, Victor.  

Weaver: I think when this was created, they didn’t quite know what Marvel universe it would fit into, as at the same time they were working on more accessible younger reader stories with the established heroes but definitely not able to fit into mainline continuity.  I can forgive it a bit of clunkiness there.  Plus, whenever a comic does well, as this comic did, you want to seed in other characters to get people buying more comics.  

So yeah, I get that in fiction having characters bumble around a bit is more interesting than always knowing everything, but they know what to do pretty simply when the plot needs them to, for instance figuring out the code to get into Gert’s parents’ secret room.  The occasional flashes of “isn’t that convenient” brilliance makes the bumbling part even harder to handle.

Maillaro: The code was just about the only time they deduced anything.  And it was already established Alex was a big gamer, and that was basically a simple video game style puzzle.  I definitely didn’t see that as a big stretch.  You still need your characters to do some things right, or else you have a very short work.  Heroes are total idiots...villains kill them.  End of book.  Though I will say there are many bad books I’ve read that I hoped ended quickly that way...

Weaver: Oh, come on, Nico immediately knowing which keys were pressed the most?  From several feet away?  Sorry, not buying it.

Maillaro: I have to show you my work keyboard.  I have certain keys that are completely wiped clean of any identification because I used them so much (I have had the same keyboard for 14 years oddly enough), so  I actually find that real believable.

Weaver: Theoretically the Pride has more resources than you and uses the keypad less.  And no one else saw it?  You type like a thousand words a day recreationally, plus work usage.  If Gert’s folks are going into their secret room that much, it wouldn’t be that much of a secret.

Maillaro: LOL  Very fair point!   Like I said upfront, I never thought the book was perfect, just very entertaining.  Vaughan has a nice ear for dialogue, and I thought that the characters all looked and sounded very distinctive from anything else Marvel was putting out at the time.  I always complain about teen books where the characters sound like they could be adults (Geoff Johns was real criminal at his Titans and his JSA at the same time...guarantee you can’t tell which is which more often than not). 

Weaver: They sounded different from other comics...but I don’t think they were always distinct from each other.  At least in this volume, Alex is normally (but not always) distinct, Gert is definitely distinct, Chase is mostly distinct, but Karolina and Nico don’t have much of a voice to me with the exception of Karolina’s long term whining.

Maillaro:  Actually, I will agree with you on that.   Vaughan does suffer from a modern illness many writers have called “smirkitis.”  Every character in their work is witty and has a quip for every situations.  Even my beloved Dresden Files suffers from this devastating illness.   I stand by my comment though, it did read very different from anything else at the time.  I had basically just gotten back into comics in late 2001, and was reading quite a bit when this came out (though oddly, I didn’t read Runaways until a few years later when my wife bought up a bunch of copies of Runaways Vol. 1 for her classroom).

Weaver: I want to say something else positive here.  I feel like this story had a solid beginning, middle, and end, with the end also inviting future stories.  That’s not always the case in comics, and it was nice to see this structured that well.  Yeah, I didn’t always like what was happening or how people came off, but I can appreciate that focus on having a good format.

Maillaro: OH!  Before we wrap up, any guess on who the “mole” is?  I was way off when I first read the book.  

Weaver: It was spoiled to me, so maybe I caught the hints more than you would have, but one character distinctly doesn’t agree with using pseudonyms at the end.  That was a pretty clever hint to me.  Actually, the mole part...I think was pretty well done.

Maillaro: I was pretty convinced Karolina was the mole when I first read it.  I wonder if that is why I was more accepting of her whininess and tendency to overreact.  

Weaver: If I didn’t know...I think I would have pegged Nico.  Obviously it isn’t Molly, who wouldn’t have had time/knowledge to write the note.  Gert and Chase both have really negative relationships with their parents...though I could see Chase being the mole because he would want to somehow make his parents respect him.  

Maillaro: One last thing, I actually HATE the cover for this digest.  The art is awful on it, which is a real shame because I thought the art inside was great.  Adrian Alphona did great work on Runaways (though there were some odd lazy panels where characters’ faces vanished.   He’s currently rocking hard on Ms Marvel.

Weaver: I agree that the cover was nothing like the interior art, but I wasn’t quite as sold on the interior art as you were.  It was good, the characters had distinct looks, and I liked especially the Stein devices and Karolina’s coloring.  But there was some moments of laziness, and the locations didn’t feel very distinct to me, with the exception of the Stein lab.  I’d give the art a 3.5.

The writing...I would give a 3.  It’s above average, but it isn’t fantastic.

Maillaro: For me, I am thinking 4.5 for the writing, 4 for the art.  

Open Mike Therapy Session - Iceman

Maillaro: While we typically try to stick to reviews, occasionally we’ll come across a comic-related news story that one or both of us end up real conflicted about, I basically force Weaver to sit down with me and help me work through my thoughts about it.  Last time we did this, it was about the controversial Batgirl cover.   

So, what do I have on the docket this time?  In this week’s All-New X-Men #40, it was revealed that teenage Bobby Drake is gay.

When I started typing this, this hadn’t really hit the mainstream media much.  I am real curious how people will react to this.

I distinctly find my thoughts on this very divided.  Actually my first response was “I think it’s terrible that someone would be outed this way!”  But, it’s only Jean and Bobby, so I guess he technically wasn’t outed...

Weaver: Still, I think it’s bad form for Jean anyway...he hasn’t told her for a reason.  There’s kind of a fine line there between making Bobby feel more comfortable about himself and prying.  Leading with the telepathy was probably not the most reassuring thing to do...or...maybe it is, because it means that his efforts to seem hetero work against the average person.

There were two other things about this that made me think.  First of all, I feel like I got hit over the head a little too much with “But it’s okay to be gay now, it’s not like the 1960’s!” I’m a little more of Bobby’s view of “That’s probably true” which comes off really begrudgingly as opposed to Jean’s more thorough endorsement.   The other thing is that Bobby’s one of those characters that has often been portrayed as gay in fan fiction, right up there with Kirk and Spock.  I kind of wish that they had chosen someone else because of that...heck, Jean would have been really interesting, given her status as the object of everyone’s affections.  This felt more like pandering than actually trying to tell a story with it.  

Maillaro: I think my biggest issue with this is that it definitely seems to go against a lot of continuity.  When I started reading comics, Iceman had a girlfriend in X-Factor  And not that long after, he had a Bonnie and Clyde thing going to Rogue.   Hell, wasn’t his relationship with Polaris a major plot point for a while?  It seems strange that “yeah, the reason he was unsuccessful with the ladies was that he was actually gay.”  He’s gone through a lot of beards then.

They also suggest that MAYBE it was only teen Bobby which was gay.  A lot of teenagers experiment with their sexuality.  And I tend to see sexuality as more of a graduated scale than a set of boxes labelled “gay, straight, or bi.”  I think many people “round” to the closest sexuality label just to make things easier.    

But here’s the thing...on a biggest level, I think this is a bit of a mistake.  Take an established character, with an established sexual history, and then say “Yeah, he was gay.”  I don’t mind changing characters for different media or alternate reality, but 616 Bobby should be 616 Bobby.

Weaver: As much as him dating Polaris was a plot point, he spent all of two or three panels being upset about her leaving him for Havok.  I’m not entirely sure that the plot with Rogue was specifically romantic in nature.  You can imply that, but I think they were just two friends trying to work through their issues.  Still, there was absolutely no implication that there was anything going on more than just being not long term relationship material.

You could make the argument that the past Bobby is an alternate reality of the present Bobby since they diverged in the 60’s, and maybe something happened that made him more curious about exploring homosexuality in the present day.  And seems like they are going more for the “check your sexual preference box” style than the larger spectrum which I agree is probably more appropriate.

Maillaro: Yeah, at first I would be tempted to say, “Superhero comics aren’t a good medium to explore those kinds of stories.”  But the more I think about it, the more I disagree with that statement.   X-Men comics have dealt with complex social issues for a long time.  And to a certain extent, if they were dealing with real issues like this in ways that real teenagers are experiencing, it might be a way to bring in new readers AND help those readers at the same time.  Sort of the X-Men participating in the It Gets Better campaign…

Weaver: As much backlash as I’m sure this is going to get, it would get much more backlash if they introduced a mutant specifically to be Gay Mutant.  I think it needed to be someone established.  I’m just not sure they picked the right person.

Maillaro: Or the right writer.  It felt real ham fisted the way they did it here.  I haven’t read it in a long time, but I think Lobdell was the one who “outed” Northstar, and I thought that was done a little more convincingly.  But, I also think there was a lot more space there.  Northstar wasn’t exactly a well known character who had appeared in many video games, cartoons, movies, etc, like Bobby.   Though I will concede that you make some good arguments on how you can slip it in without disrupting the character too much.

By the way, I have been tap dancing very carefully through this column to avoid any innuendo, intentional or otherwise.  I am leaving “slip it in.”  I feel I have earned it!

Weaver: I’m right there with you.  I’ll save my innuendo for later, though.

Northstar...not only was he not well-known before it, he wasn’t especially well known after being outed.  It was news at the time, but I’m pretty sure no one who isn’t a serious comic fan remembers it now.  Using a minor character mutes the impact too.  It reduces the amount of continuity you have to play around to make sense of, but it’s easy just to ten issues later be “And now Northstar is dead.”  I don’t think you can just kill off Bobby Drake as easily, or get rid of him in any other semi-permanent way.

Maillaro: Yeah, now that you say that, you are right.  I was definitely reading comics at the time, and I didn’t hear about it until years later.  Alpha Flight existed in a weird bubble at the time.  They didn’t even include it in X-Men crossovers that included teams that didn’t normally interact with the core X-Men team (like Excalibur).   

I think part of the fact that the Northstar was never a big deal is the lack of internet or comic book press at the time...this was basically just before Wizard launched, if I recall correctly.   

Weaver: I am relatively sure I was in high school or early college at the time, because I remember hearing it on the radio when I was hanging out with one of my high school friends.  So...early 90’s?  Somewhere like that?  If only we had the ability to look through all the knowledge of the world...1992.  Wizard launched in 1991, so while it was out, it wasn’t real established.

I dunno.  I’m really on the fence about this reveal, with equal parts dislike and thinking it was probably the best choice available.

Maillaro: Wow, I would have said Wizard was closer to 1995.  Learned something new.  I definitely wasn’t buying it at the time.  I was barely scraping together a few bucks a month for Amazing Spider-Man and X-Force.  

Weaver: I don’t believe I’ve ever bought an issue of Wizard.  I bought the related publication Scrye a few times, mostly when it had a Magic card insert.  But that’s neither here nor there.

I think at this point, we’ve both basically decided that there’s pros and cons to this, and right now it’s hard to be anything except neutral until we see where it goes from here.

Maillaro: I told you this wouldn’t be so bad.  

Unrelated, but I was big time into Wizard for a while.   Ironically, the spin off magazine Toyfare is what got me into Doctor Who.  And my favorite password is tied into a picture someone sent me of Wolverine in an issue of Wizard years ago.  So Wizard has always had a special place in my heart.

Maillaro: Programming note.  For some reason, Uncle Scrooge did not come out digitally this week, so we were unable to review it.  Hopefully, we will be able to do that in a future column.  There wasn’t really anything new that interested me beyond that, so I am inclined to just leave the column as is.   Iceman’s coming out party will serve as our new book for the week, unless Weaver has any objections.

Weaver: I’ve got a lot to do later in the week, so I don’t have time or inclination to find a fallback plan.  I feel like we more or less reviewed that X-Men issue anyway.

Maillaro: Cool with me.  Next week, the last issue of Fantastic Four EVER (::chuckle::) comes out.  I’m thinking we should do that, so we can mourn the loss of the Fantastic Four and X-Men properly (::giggle::).

Weaver: Razzum frazzum trying to torpedo Fox’s movies razzum frazzum.

For the record, I never believed in that conspiracy theory.  Anyway, I’m thinking we want to do the last issue of something to go along with it, so I’m going to go to a really strange hinterland of the classic comic genre.  The end of Team America: BECAUSE YOU DEMANDED IT.

Maillaro: I’m game for anything!  And like last week, we should be around this weekend to continue our coverage of Convergence.  See you then!

Final Scores


Maillaro – Story

Weaver – Story

Maillaro – Art

Weaver – Art

Runaways Vol. 1 - Pride and Joy