Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Runaways Vol.3 #6

For some time now, Runaways has been the only Marvel comic that I pick up on a regular basis. The original eighteen-issue arc by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona was a near-perfect story that, in some ways, reminded me of the Bronze Age Uncanny X-Men or New Teen Titans books, which mixed character-based drama with team superheroics. But Vaughan's writing brought the adolescent metaphor into the modern era, adding sophistication and humor to the formula, and, together with Alphona, he managed to create a cast of truly three-dimensional teenage protagonists.

Even after Vaughan and Alphona left the series, leaving others to take it over at Marvel, I was so attached to the characters that I never considered dropping the book. Joss Whedon's six-issue arc, closing out the second volume, felt like a drawn-out filler episode, but his style was a perfect fit on a title that had clearly drawn much from his own Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In fact, insubstantial though they may have been, his issues were still better than any of his recent Buffy comics. Artist Michael Ryan, meanwhile, was an able successor to Alphona, employing a similarly understated realism. Overall, it was a good run that kept very true to the spirit of Runaways, and I remained highly optimistic for the title's future.

Having just gotten through the sixth issue of Terry Moore and Humberto Ramos's run, however, I don't know how much more I can take.

The third volume showed warning signs from the start. Gone were the painted covers of Jo Chen, whose work Runaways introduced me to, replaced instead by the cartoonish proportions and repulsively exaggerated facial expressions of Humberto Ramos, who also provided the artwork within the book. I would not have been a fan of Ramos's obnoxious style even if I weren't already accustomed to Alphona and Ryan's takes, but the new look is such a needlessly drastic departure from the elegant realism that so defined the characters and series. It's as though your buddy came back from the war with his face completely mangled, and, though you tell yourself he's still the same guy, it shocks you every time to look at him.

With the art being so distracting, it's been hard to judge the writing on its own merits, but, six issues in, it's clear enough that Moore's Runaways possesses none of the introspection or wit of Vaughan and Whedon. His characters, quite frankly, are all idiots, and his first six issues have been little more than a protracted slugfest between the kids and a group of superpowered aliens. It's a bit like if your pal came back from the war with his mind completely shattered by the atrocities he witnessed there, and, as much as you still might care for him, the old friendship is gone along with his soul that died on the battlefield.

I've heard some fans argue that it's somehow unfair to judge Moore and Ramos's run just by how it stacks up against their predecessors' stellar work, but that legacy is the only thing that's kept me reading this far, and I'm beginning to feel like a fool. I've come to realize, as a result of this travesty, that loyalty to a title in the revolving-door industry of superhero comics is as silly and arbitrary as loyalty to a team sports franchise. I imagine how I feel now must resemble what it was like to be a Chicago Bulls fan going into the post-Jordan era. It is folly to become invested in the property rather than the intellect behind it. Vaughan and Alphona got me believing in these characters of theirs, but now, in the hands of Moore and Ramos, Runaways is all but dead to me.

Even so, a part of me just can't let it go that easily. Knowing that the end is near for this current team, I suppose I'll ride it out. With issue #6, Ramos is now done as the penciller, though he'll still be doing covers. Moore has another three issues, and then he'll be done too. Hopefully, their successors can bring it back.

1 comment:

Czardoz said...

Moral of the story:

For God's sakes, don't go to war. And if you do, don't come home, because none of your friends will be able to bear the monster you've become.