Runaways #4
 Rainbow Rowell
 Kris Anka
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Joe Caramanga
Cover: Kris Anka

Publisher: Marvel Comics

A review by Nico Sprezzatura.

Have you watched Hulu’s Runaways? It’s great. I’d even go as far as to say it may very well be one of the strongest Marvel TV shows right now, if not the strongest. (Jessica Jones season two, your move.) This week’s Runaways #4 is the first issue of the newly revived title to come out since the Hulu series premiered. How does it stack up by comparison?

The thing about Runaways, in comics or on television, is that it functions best as a character-based teen drama. Sure, there’s lots of plot and action-based stuff within, but they’re secondary to the emotional stakes cultivated through interactions and relationship dynamics between each of the kids. While the Hulu series is doing a great job of retelling their origins for longtime readers as well as newcomers to the franchise, this latest book —written by popular YA author Rainbow Rowell— is reminding us why we grew to love them in the first place, and that can be a double-edged sword.

The only negative thing I could say about Rowell’s Runaways is that it somewhat requires you to have prior experience with its titular protagonists. You could have just jumped onto this new volume with issue #1, but I’m not sure you’d get as much out of it as someone (like myself) who’s already devoured every possible Marvel comic book with “Runaways” in the title.

It’s no fault of Rowell’s own making; her scripts are entertaining and fun, while the recap pages have done a perfectly good job of catching the audience up to speed each issue. It’s just that a large part of this book’s appeal is the emotional payoff of finally being reunited with these characters after an extended hiatus away from them — which is also true of the characters themselves, in-universe.

Incidentally, the immense scope of shared history between the characters and a slight requirement of established fondness towards them is also one of Runaways’ biggest strengths.

When we find Nico in issue #1, for example, she’s pretty depressed. She’s separated from her childhood friends, living alone, and A-Force (the all-female team of Avengers of which she was a member) has seemingly disbanded. That’s why the sudden arrival of Chase (with a previously-thought-to-be-dead Gert) in her apartment is such a rush; the gang’s back together! Kinda?

Rowell’s introductory arc is defined by the conflict that, despite their nostalgia for one another, perhaps the Runaways don’t have much of a reason to be a “thing” anymore. Their evil parents are all dead, and there’s nothing attacking them as a unit anymore, so what’s the point in being “Runaways” again? This is especially apparent after visiting Karolina in college last issue, when the Runaways are ultimately disheartened by her decision to stay in school instead of leaving for parts unknown with them.

In Runaways #4, Molly is next on their agenda. Throughout the issue, we get a sense that she —like Karolina— is happy with her current situation in life, and isn’t willing to give it all up just to be part of a group anymore. And that’s not even mentioning the dead, disembodied head of friend (and fellow Runaway) Victor, who may not be as lifeless as he seems.

Like I mentioned earlier, there’s a palpable sense of joy in seeing these characters reunited. Nico and Chase previously appeared together in Avengers Arena (and its follow-up, Avengers Undercover) but there, they were more concerned with staying alive than catching up like old pals would.

Other than that, the Runaways have largely been disconnected throughout the Marvel Universe since their last book ended in 2009. (There was a Runaways tie-in during 2015’s Secret Wars, but that was more a thematic successor with different characters than an outright continuation of the original concept.) Whether or not the Hulu series prompted Marvel to fast-track a new comic featuring most of the original team is irrelevant to me — I’m just glad they’re back together!

I haven’t even mentioned Kris Anka’s art yet! It’s so good! I’ve been a fan of Anka’s for a very long time, and his name on a book pretty much guarantees I’ll buy that book. For my money, Anka’s run on Runaways (try saying that three times fast) is shaping up to be career-defining work for him, and that’s no small feat considering his prior achievements on Star-Lord, Captain Marvel, et. al.

He’s spoken about his own love for these characters in interviews, and you can definitely sense it on the page. Each character looks exactly like they should, albeit with the necessary tweaks they’d require in the 2010s: Nico’s hair is ombre, Chase is rocking a manbun, and Molly is looking older, but not too much older. He also draws the best Gert in any Runaways book that I’ve seen.

But it’s not just his character work that’s great. He’s also really pushing himself with diverse layouts and page breakdowns, alternating between widescreen panels, splash pages, inset boxes, grids, double-page spreads… the whole works, basically. It’s great stuff, and exciting to see an artist as talented as him delivering some of his best material to date.

Colorist Matthew Wilson, who Anka works with almost exclusively, is totally in sync with the visuals. His colors are typically soft and warm, which lends a homeyness to Anka’s art that would likely be missing without them, and he channels original Runaways colorist Christina Strain (who currently writes Generation X, which I reviewed here) without coming off as derivative or unoriginal.

The Verdict
Buy it. Though it somewhat relies on existing nostalgia for the characters, Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s Runaways #4 continues to deliver the goods on a beloved property.

Nico Sprezzatura
Nico Frank Sprezzatura, middle name optional. 24. Schrödinger's writer.

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