Kris Anka (artist), VC’s Joe Caramagna (letter), Rainbow Rowell (writer), Matthew Wilson (colorist)
February 13, 2019
At some point in their lives, all kids are afraid of becoming their parents. For the Runaways, that threat is bigger than wearing polyester pants or DVRing every episode of NCIS. Their parents were the supervillains known as The Pride, and following in their footsteps means taking an innocent life. Unfortunately, the Runaways might not have a choice.
Runaways #18 is the culmination of Rainbow Rowell’s run with artist Kris Anka, and the number 18 has always held significance for fans of the series. The beloved original run by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona had 18 issues, and it’s the number that signifies when young people (in the U.S. at least) come of age and become adults. The fear of growing up has been a pulsing vein in Rowell and Anka’s Runaways. Chase, the oldest, finds himself in the unlikely role of guardian and breadwinner; Gert, plucked out of the past via time machine, is heartbroken that her friends (and true love) grew up without her; and Molly, adorable team mascot, is even given the choice to never grow up at all. In issue #18, finally, comes the ultimate test: will they take The Pride’s place in feeding souls to the hungry, godlike Gibborim to save themselves? Are they their parents’ children?
It’s a big question, and if I’m disappointed by anything in this comic, it is that it’s resolved a little too quickly and tidily. It’s not a surprising conclusion—this is Runaways, not a gritty early aughts WildStorm comic—so maybe the point is less what the heroes do so much as what they almost did, and how they reconcile themselves to that. Alex’s heel-turn last issue (though is it a turn if you’ve always been a heel?), in which he offered the Gibborim the soul of his “second season replacement” Victor, was exactly what it appeared to be, rather than a Light Yagami-like feint. So yeah, Alex is a bastard, but he was also the only one who actually had a plan, and as Gert says in another of her “oh damn, she has a point” moments, they all prepared themselves to possibly kill someone, so they don’t have much of a leg to stand on when it comes to judgment. So what next?
Rowell and Anka’s Runaways is the teen superhero comic for this generation—a book for kids who are afraid of the future, but fight for it anyway. There’s always been a melancholic edge to these ragtag orphans, but a lot of compassion too, as perfectly shown when Molly offers comfort to somebody they considered an enemy just that morning: “It sucks so much to get left behind.” At this point I’m convinced that no one could write the Runaways better than Rainbow Rowell, who balances the mercurial team dynamic (has anyone made a Runaways relationship chart yet?) with sparkling dialogue and a sharp authorial voice. The omniscient narrator delivers a quick summation of Alex’s character on the second-to-last page that cuts right to the bone.
This issue is a major turning point for the Runaways, and the stage is fantastically set by Kris Anka while colorist Matthew Wilson turns on the lights. Every panel is bursting with character, from the tongue-wagging villainy of The Gibborim to Gert and Victor’s adorable little smiles. I’ve previously talked about how Anka’s fashion-forward redesigns of the characters have been a vital addition to the series; in superhero comics, where characters frequently feel preserved in amber, Anka’s striking artwork can show a character’s growth and change with something as seemingly simple as a new hairstyle. (Yes, I love Chase’s man-bun.)
I’m excited to see what new artists bring to the series in arcs to come, but Anka’s run already feels damn near definitive; together, this creative team leaves an artistic mark on Runaways like a flag planted on the moon. But, of course, change is a part of growing up. Just ask the Runaways.