Written by: Noelle Stevenson
Art by: Sanford Green
Before we get started, it seems worthwhile to point something about this book, it really isn’t about the Runaways. I know this will disappoint a lot of fans but that’s why I felt the need to tell you all now before this book gets unfairly judged. There’s a lot this book has going for and against it, but really how close it comes to the original Runaways series didn’t factor in for me when reviewing this. I know the book has a huge fan-base who will be understandably upset, but I think it’s better to judge this book on its own merits, so without further ado, let’s begin.
This series starts with a set-up I have kind of a soft spot for even if it’s been played out a bit in recent years. The book is set in the Victor Von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths which train gifted youngsters to become part of the Doom Elite. I instantly got a very Morning Glories vibe from the set-up and while yes, as stated, this isn’t the most original concept, the additions of the Marvel universe really made it work for me. I don’t know why, but there’s just something so silly yet brilliant about Doombot teachers and classes filled with Marvel teen heroes that makes me really enjoy it. I don’t know if others will enjoy it as much, but there’s a knowing air of self-awarness with this concept that made it hard to dislike it. Plus, while most of the set-up is pretty generic, the last page reveal of the headmaster is actually a very cool twist that was exciting enough to make me want to read the next issues. It seems that Stevenson has some tricks up her sleeve when it comes to this series.
The characters themselves were a little more frustrating as at times they really feel quite clichéd without the goofy charm of the setting backing them up. Most of the characters just feel really angsty (and yes, I know they’re teenagers) with Jubille and Pixie being key offenders, going as far as to calling themselves “night witches” and dressing in black. Another character even points this out as being overly stereotypical, but I don’t know if you can get away with pointing out the cliché if you’re already doing the cliché. Other characters can be annoyingly two dimensional, such as the straight-as-an-arrow Strand, I don’t know if I’m being cynical, but I can just feel her eventual heel-turn character development coming a mile away. Not all of the characters are bad though, I really like the pairing of Amadeus Cho and Skaar as they take the stereotypes of nerdy kid and tougher friend to the extremes by one literally being a hulk, so much so that it does feel like they’re poking fun at this sort of pairing. The standout however has to be Molly Rayes (no not because she’s an original Runaways member! We’re not getting into that), literally every panel she’s in is absolutely hilarious, she’s like a shot of sugary cuteness straight into the arm of all the teenage angst. A lot of the book’s humor comes from her interaction with the other more serious characters. While I may have come off as negative here, I do like quite a few of their characters. I’m not quite sure how self-aware they’re intended to be, because if they are being used to poke fun at traditional high school stereotypes then that’s pretty brilliant, but regardless they do at least have some humors interaction and can hopefully become more fleshed out as the series advances.
The art of Stanford Greene has a great sense of playfulness to it that I think suits the tone that Stevenson is going for here. There’s a sense that the book isn’t taking itself too seriously with stuff like exaggerated facial expressions and some nicely bizarre character designs. It’s really what gives the book a lot of its silly tone, which I think works really well for a story like this. If this concept was played completely straight it’d be pretty cringe worthy, but it feels the creators are having a lot of fun with this concept and you can definitely feel the heart they’ve poured into it.
Overall, while many will judge this book on name alone I think it’s worth giving it a try to see what you think of it. This definitely would’ve gotten a better chance if it was branded as Avengers Academy or something as it feels closer in spirit to that book that Runaways, but really I think people will be smart enough to look past the name. While there’s a lot of teenage angst, stereotypes and clichés thrown around at the start which initially put me off, this is a very charming book which has definitely had a lot of effort put into it. The knowing self-awareness of the concepts lends a great deal of humor and personality to the book which will hopefully be played up more in future issues. Really, this book may surprise some people, if you’re enjoying books like Gotham Academy or have ever enjoyed something like Avengers: The Initiative or even the previously mentioned Avengers Academy then this book is probably for you. Look past the title and enjoy this book on its own merits, as there’s really a lot to like here for fans of the teen superhero genre.