I’ve been going through the backlog of comics I’ve been meaning to read lately, and I’ve hit a wealth of good stories in the process. So far, they’ve all been pretty great, but some have definitely been better than others. So, in my never ending quest to pick apart the things I like and figure out why I like them, I’m going to try and do that with two of the stories I’ve been reading.
Runaways and Young Avengers are thankfully two of the easiest comics to compare. The pair share a lot of themes-a group of superpowered teenagers brought together to combat the ills of the older generations-and even crossed over a few times. And as a heads up here, when I talk about the Young Avengers, I’m talking about the original run, written by Allan Heinberg in 2005 (I’m still working through Kieron Gillen’s 2013 run, which I may write about later).
In either case, upon finishing the first volume of Young Avengers, I was left feeling…a little empty, I suppose. It was a fine run, don’t get me wrong. But seeing it crossed-over with Runaways had me hoping that it was as good as the latter series, while it was…not quite. I would actually say that it was about on par with the crossover issues, which I had always found to be a little weaker than the main Runaways stories. Which made me wonder: where did Runaways go right, that took it from “pretty good” to “one of my favorite things that I’ve read”?
I’m going to try and avoid spoilers when I can, which should be most of the time, and I’ll preface when I can’t. I’m going to start out by saying that part of the problem is probably length of the run. I’ve only read the first 48 issues of Runaways (aka Volumes 1 and 2, if you follow that) plus the two crossover sets, but that alone is still about three-and-a-half times the length of Heinberg’s original Young Avengers run. It’s a little easier for Runaways to get you to know the characters better with the extra issues.
However, I also found the second half of Young Avengers was much better than the first half, which means that some of the issue was in the introduction. On top of that, I was already in love with Runaways after the first volume/18 issues, which isn’t that much longer than Young Avengers’ original 13 issue run. So, what was the difference?
Well, there are several reasons that I can tell. Runaways gets a huge boost in setting itself up outside of New York City, and therefore away from most of the action in most other Marvel comics. The comic can jump right in to introducing the six runaways and their family members who serve as the first volume’s antagonists. Meanwhile, Young Avengers leans heavily on its New York location, starting the story with existing Avenger Jessica Jones and her interactions with the rest of the “grown-up” Marvel inhabitants. The Young Avengers themselves are actually introduced as a mystery group, with Jessica, Iron Man, and Captain America searching to figure out their identities before they hurt themselves.
Which is sort of another issue. To make the characters distinct while keeping their identities a mystery, the initial four draw heavily from existing Avengers’ imagery. Indeed, the first cover explicitly parallels them with Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America. This ends up working against the comic a little, because as soon as it’s dropped the mystery of who these new heroes are, it becomes obvious how little some of them match with their assigned counterpart. This made it even more jarring for me, as someone who knew the characters a little heading in. Hulkling and Asgardian have essentially nothing to do with The Hulk and Thor (to the extent where the latter changes his codename before the end of the introductory story arc to Wiccan, which he’s now known by). Essentially, we’re dropping everything that we “think” we know about these characters two or three issues in. Which isn’t bad, but again, in such a limited run, it matters. It left me feeling like I didn’t really know Wiccan or Hulkling until we got through the first six issues.
[The other issue is pretty spoiler-heavy for the first six issues, so turn back now if that matters to you.]
To put it bluntly, Iron Lad is the other issue. Iron Lad is fine, and an interesting character…for the first six issues. However, the first arc concludes with the time-traveler removing himself from the present for the good of the time stream, meaning the Young Avenger who got the most backstory and development is more or less “gone” for the rest of the run. You finish the first six issues not really feeling attached to any of the remaining characters yet. I mean, there are five remaining characters, and two of them basically straight-up changed everything we knew about them two issues in.
Add in that the first six issues essentially contain two issues worth of fight scene (which admittedly does have some character moments, but obviously less of them to accommodate the action) and I think it makes a lot of sense that I just didn’t latch on to the characters in Young Avengers as quickly. Too much time on people not on the team (if I wanted to read a Iron Man/Captain America/Jessica Jones book, I would have gotten one), and the character who gets the most development only gets it to set up his…well, not death. Temporal erasing? Something like that. Compare that to Runaways, which opens with each main character getting an establishing shot with their families to show both their behaviors and their relationships. It starts you off on the right foot immediately, then continues along that path, sticking with the team for as much as possible. It makes a big difference, and might mean the difference between hooking people early and cancellation.