Back in January Valiant launched a new solo min-series for Faith Herbert, aka Zephyr. This was great news for those of us who have been happily following her adventures ever since Joshua Dysart reintroduced her to readers in the pages of his Harbinger series. Two weeks ago, Valiant announced that demand for Faith had proven so strong that not only would her story be continuing, but it would be upgraded from a sequel mini to a new ongoing title. This is no small accomplishment, as Faith will be the first ongoing female solo title published by the current iteration of Valiant. As such, the new series, which will retain writer Jody Houser, represents another successful step forward for diversity in comics. However, it also points to another trend that has been occurring recently: a shift in the tone of storytelling. Ever since Alan Moore asked “Who Watches the Watchmen?” and Frank Miller pondered the last act of The Dark Knight’s career, the medium has been dominated by the grim and gritty archetype. At its height in the 90s, the prominence of such figures somehow achieved self-parody (cough, Az-Bats, cough) without losing their popularity. To this day, a new creative team’s pledge to “strip our hero down to nothing and see what makes him (or her) tick” is frequently cited as a fresh approach to counter lackluster storytelling. It’s not. Which does not mean that it cannot work, only that there is nothing groundbreaking about it. Instead, a new generation of heroines, including Zephyr, are helping redefine superheroes for a new generation of readers.
I’ve never been a big Summer Camp person. Personally, I prefer the comforts of air conditioning and the Internet over a dirty old cabin with hard beds and mosquitoes eating me alive but maybe I’m just incredibly soft.The only time I ever went camping was a one night event with my Girl Scout Troop. I was in the second grade, and like most second graders, we were all incredibly gullible. The cabin where we slept was comprised of two rooms with two entrances full of bunk beds. Campers were allowed to write on the walls and in the second room, there was a ghost story. “Not so long ago, a girl scout fell asleep in this very cabin with the doors locked. There was a fire and the girl burned alive. If you lock yourself in the cabin, she’ll come back and do the same thing to you.” We spent the rest of the day asking counselors about it and only got vague answers while looking around the cabin for “evidence”. Needless to say none of us slept in that part of the cabin that night and the ghost didn’t show even when troop leader locked the door to our side of the cabin.
Every camp seems to come with legends like the extra crispy girl scout that haunted my cabin. Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters perfectly capture the mystique of Summer Camp legends and the sisterhood of the Girl Scouts in Lumberjanes, a comic about the girls of the Roanoke cabin in Miss Quinzella Thisquin Penniquiquil Thistles Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.
Lumberjanes follows the adventures of Ripley, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and their counselor Jen as they explore the woods. They find the usual stuff: shapeshifting bear ladies, merwomyn, Grootslangs. You know, the typical camp stuff.
Taking on the title of one of the most popular Marvel Comics run’s in the last 15 years and doing so with only one returning characters is quite a daunting task. Of course, no one would turn down this opportunity, but the deck could easily get stacked against you if the execution fell flat. Noelle Stevenson and Sanford Greene had a tough task in front of them launching the Secret Wars tie in Runaways, but with their fresh new take and a brand new cast of characters it ended up being a great success.
Issue #4 is an absolutely fantastic conclusion to the impressive four part run. Noelle and Sanford turn the book completely on its head, something I was definitely not expecting out of this story and one I welcomed with open arms. I praised issue #2 for it’s creative use of the title Runaways and now I will praise issue #4 in it’s defiance of the title. In this fourth and final issue, the runaways team head back to the school. They head back firstly to save Delphyne and Cho who were captured, but also to announce to the rest of the school what exactly is going on at the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths. In the second issue, when the students found out about the real purpose of the “final exam” they fled. They ran away from this horrible scenario and left everyone behind. In just a few short issues, the teenagers have come to realize that they cannot just run away from all of life’s problems, instead they will face it head on, so that at least they can warn others. This was an unexpected maneuver, but an obvious one when it plays out. Any student who wants to join them can stand up and throw away what they think is their future, for a chance to do what is right. This issue has some fantastic lessons to take away, especially for teens and amazingly Stevenson and Greene are able to do it without layering on the cheese. It feels real and it feels meaningful.
The highlight of the book is Stevenson’s talent at characterizing teenagers. Perhaps my favorite part of the final issue is that the teens who have the most tension between each other are the ones who end up together. Isn’t that how it always works when you are a teenager. The teenage emotions are kept so close to the surface that sometimes a little misdirection is necessary.
Terrific job by this team and a very clever closing. The final page is a conclusion and at the same time a hanging ending. They don’t put the word “End” anywhere on the page. My prediction is that we will see this team of Runaways again sometime soon. If Marvel is smart it won’t just be the character team that remains the same, it will be the creative one as well.
It is no secret that BKV’s Runaways is one of the most loved comics by Marvel fans. The relaunch of this title probably received some mixed feeling from them. There are readers who will not even bother with the title. First of all, the only original character is Molly Hayes and secondly, who knows what the hell is going on in Battleworld. But fans like myself are excited to see the title on the shelves again. Even though BKV isn’t behind the writing duties, Noelle Stevenson is an emerging star, evident in her work on the popular BOOM! book Lumberjanes& Sanford Greene is a great artist.
I don’t remember reading anything about the new Runaways title before it’s release. I actually had no idea what the story would be about. Issue #1 was an introduction to all the characters and as I mentioned above, Molly is the only original member of the runaways. However, Jubilee is front and centre with a few other teenage super kids including a flip flopped cloak and dagger. After issue one there is still no indication where the story is headed, however it was enjoyable enough to go for a second one.
Issue #2 is where the plot takes off. I was worried after the first issue that the title “Runaways” was being used because it was a book about teenagers with Molly Hayes. This issue eliminated all doubts. The issue begins in the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths where the best of the best are selected from each of the Battleworld domains to be trained as the future leaders. At the end of each year there is a final exam. Students are divided into teams for the final exam. It tests physical and mental abilities as the students must engage in combat with a computer system, while navigating their way through the levels. The brains of the team, Cho, wants to find a way to pass this exam by thinking a step ahead of the program to minimize physical engagement. However, some of his other teammates would like to punch a few artificial intelligence bots in the face first. The team engages in a battle while Cho finds a loophole in the program. As the team enters a secret room where the computer system cannot detect them, they realize they were not fighting bots in this program, they were fighting and killing fellow students. This is how the institute weeds out the weak. Not by sending them home, but by killing them.
It is here we find the meaning in our title. The team decides to escape the school and warn everyone of the terrible things this school is doing. The only question that remains now, how far will they get before the hunt begins?