Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Beautiful: Runaways #18

Beautiful is a feature that focuses on those gorgeous and colorful ways to tell a comic book: its cover. (I think y'all know how crazy I am for comic book covers.) Each installment will spotlight an especially good-lookin' comic book cover that I think is cool, interesting, unique, unusually well-designed...or, in fact, beautiful.

Aieeeeee! One of these people will die in this very issue!

Who could it be? Who could it be?

Oh. That's who it be.

It stunned us in 1973, but these days you'd have to be a fairly green comic book fan to be too shocked by any of the drama or angst promised by comic book covers which promise the death of a major character. It's just been done too often, too many times. Yes, so-and-so will die; get on with it. Shuffle off this mortal coil, awready!

It's gotten to the point where even comics itself makes fun of this trope.

I was too young to catch Amazing Spider-Man #121, and its successors in the death pool sweepstakes have intrigued but never emotionally affected me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, which one of the Fantastic Four is going to die this time...oh, hey, it's H.E.R.B.I.E. You got me, comic book story!

So it's been that I've been moved by such a cover exactly one time in my comic readin' life. And that's Runaways #18. It is...for lack of a better word...beautiful.

Runaways v.2 #18 (September 2006), cover art by Marcos Martin

Whoa, I said, when I first picked up this issue. Wow, I thought. I'd not seen...certainly never in superhero comics...a more gorgeous, poignant, affecting contrast of reading line and cover image. The jubilant figures of the Runaways (even dinosaur Old Lace is laughing away); the large blissful and quiet blue negative space; the small, subtle quiet copy that doesn't even end in an exclamation point. It's a cover that wouldn't have been imaginable in the superhero market in the pre-2000s. No anguish or torment, no screaming heroes, no boldly stoic poses, just happy figures and a simple statement. One of these kids is gonna die. Which one? And you can't not read the comic after that.

Runaways has been one of my favorite comics over the past few years. Certainly part of that has been the concept and the plots: super-powered kids discover their parents are villains, and they take off on the run, from the law, from their pasts. They make a brief go at costumes and code names, but that doesn't last long; this is not Avengers or even X-Men. It's more about the soap opera (and I mean that as a complimentary description) that it is about the heroics, and to me the adventures, clever and unique as they are, take a back seat to the personalities and interpersonal relations of the Runaways. For the first time, including the original X-Men, New Mutants, and Teen Titans, these seem like real adolescents (with admittedly cleverer dialogue). I've often felt that the themes and characters of Runaways lends itself to being the best gateway entry into Marvel Comics for fans of manga and young adults novels. Setting the series in the Marvel Universe wasn't necessary, and in fact I remember being annoyed when Cloak and Dagger first made guest appearances. But series creator Brian K. Vaughan and successive writers have kept the crossovers unobtrusive, and when they do happen, they're often good for a giggle.

Panels from Runaways v.2 #12 (April 2004), script by Brian K. Vaughan, pencils by Takeshi Miyazawa, inks by David Newbold, colors by Brian Reber, letters by Randy Gentile

Yes, it's absolutely a wonderful series, but hey! This post is about cover art. My favorite of the Runaways covers is v.2 #18 above, but the entire run of the title has had some amazingly gorgeous design from several different artists. Here's another one of my favorites from Marcos Martin:

David Lafuente contributes several intriguing designs in the series' third volume, including my favorite of all "Wolverine on a cycle" covers from throughout Marvel history:

With his manga-style bigfoot cartooning approach, Humberto Ramos is a natural for the covers, and here's three striking, pensive, and...dare I say it? sassyfemale portraits:

Here's another portrait of Karolina Dean, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," by one of my favorite comic book artists, Chris Bachalo:

Jo Chen has done painted covers for much of the series. The cover of v.2 #21 is probably my second-favorite of the whole comic. It's got nothing to do with the story content inside—very few Runaways covers do—and yet it captures the gleeful and quirky humor and tone of the book. (This cover's also got the infamous stray arrow, and here's one of my own earlier admirations for this cover.)

I've always loved this Jo Chen cover from the storyline where the Runaways go back to the turn of the century. But I'd never noticed, before tonight, the lovely detail that dinosaur Old Lace is blurry in the photograph. Of course she would be...she can't stand still long enough to have her photo taken in those days. Lovely.

Finally, Takeshi Miyazawa's variant cover for the 70th anniversary of Marvel issue of Runaways is one of my favorite portraits of Molly Hayes ever done. Who else in the Marvel U. would wear a tokidoki Wolverine tee? All those other little characters around the border are just plain jealous. And that includes Wolverine himself.

Runaways: a wonderful series with beautiful covers. It strikes me that almost all of the series' cover art is purely portraiture, rather than depicting specific events in the comic. I usually complain about that kind of cover: they can seem monotonous and unmemorable (I'm lookin' at you, Ultimate Comics). But I've never minded a Runaways cover that didn't feature a story plot. I guess that only goes to show: if you're just going to have a portrait of the character(s) on the cover, at least make it beautiful.

That said...whither Runaways? Except for a couple crossover event series teaming up with the Young Avengers, the Runaways haven't appeared in the Marvel Universe for quite some time. Their parents, The Pride, did recently feature in the "Industrial Revolution" storyline of Iron Man: Legacy, a series which also had some pretty gorgeous covers:

Marvel EIC Joe Quesada promised that the book was "being retooled and will be back in some fashion very soon, so stay tuned." I've practically glued myself to my radio comic book dial and we haven't seen a relaunch of the series. C'mon, Marvel, bring the Runaways back. Instead of another Wolverine or Deadpool or Avengers series, how about relaunching one of the most innovative and touching series of the last decade with new stories? How about it? Huh? Huh? Huh? Huh? (I can do this all night, y'know.) Huh? Huh?

At least Marvel keeps its Runaways digests and trade in print, so if you've never read the series, I highly recommend it. Not only are the kids all right, but their covers are absolutely beautiful.


Eden M said...

You make me want to go finish reading Runaways now. I don't think I have money for this ...

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Oh yeah, Runaways got me back into comments after a long hiatus, I can't recommend it enough.

I love this analytical feature on your favorite covers, its along the same lines of what I've been trying to say with my comments on the "Same Story, Different Cover" posts about what grabs your attention and what tells a good story.

Adam Hoffman said...

It's always the good books that are different that don't last.

Edward Liu said...

That "One of these Runaways is about to die" cover is one of my favorite covers anywhere ever, and you nail just about every reason why. It manages to pack the message that a young person's death is deeply, deeply wrong somehow without being heavy-handed about it. The series was also my intro to the wonder that is Jo Chen and her awesome covers.

I'd also like to see the Runaways coming back, though I have to admit I was pretty disappointed by the last few story arcs by Terry Moore and Kathryn Immonen. They just didn't seem to have the same punch that BKV gave the series, and that Joss Whedon did well enough mimicking (or doing it his way, if you like). I'd give it to Jeff Parker. Then he can do a Runaways/Agents of Atlas West Coast team-up story and the world will explode from the combined awesomeness.

Anonymous said...

I forget which panel it was reported to be from, but the latest I read on Runaways' future is they will be focusing on plans for individual group members rather than them as a team in future appearances...

Bully said...

That's good news! Thanks, Steve!