Runaways 8: Dead End Kids by Joss Whedon: B+

From the back cover:
Rebellious teens Nico, Chase, Karolina, Molly, Victor and Xavin are survivors. All children of super-villains, they turned against their evil elders to become amateur super heroes. But when the authorities chase them out of Los Angeles, the Runaways forge an uneasy alliance with East Coast crime boss Kingpin, placing them on a collision course with the killer vigilante, Punisher. The ensuing disaster hurls the kids a century backward in time, trapping them in 1907 New York—home of child labor, quaint technology, and competing gangs of super-folk known as “Wonders.” Can the Runaways get back to the future? Find out in a timeless tale of comedy, romance, and old-fashioned heroism!

The whole reason I began reading Runaways in the first place was because of the news that Joss Whedon would be writing an arc. I was not disappointed. While elements of the plot are rather lacking, there is some great character development, which could be said for quite a few episodes of Buffy, as well.

Volume seven ended with a cliffhanger, though it’s been so long that I don’t remember any details. That’s okay, though, since this arc ignores that entirely. We open with some unseen observers introducing the team and their abilities, and then transition to a meeting between the Runaways and Kingpin, a big (figuratively and literally) crime boss in New York. It seems they’ve fled Los Angeles to get away from the Avengers, and so are forming an alliance with this guy in exchange for a place to hide. He agrees to protect them, but they must steal something for him.

The item in question turns out to be an apparently one-way time jump thingie that a couple of the Runaways’ parents made, so they appropriate it and end up using it to escape a fight, ending up in 1907. And here’s where the plot gets really confusing. In 1907, those with super powers are called “wonders,” and there’s a couple of different factions of them. It’s entirely impossible, however, to keep track of who is affiliated with what faction, who’s good, who’s bad, if we’re supposed to be rooting for anyone in particular, et cetera. There’s also a pretty lame love plot between Victor (the cyborg) and a girl he meets.

There are also many good character moments, however, and quite a few funny lines. Chase seems to get the amusing Xander-type dialogue, like, “And I in no way am a part of that he said that” and “That’s more than the usual amount of ninjas.” Each character gets some development here, but most notably Nico, who powers up in quite a major way and whose personality grows more grim and dark as a result. Relationships between characters also change in various ways; I particularly like the conversation between Nico and Chase near the end of the volume.

Kudos, too, to penciler Michael Ryan and colorist Christina Strain for producing some of the nicest, most consistent comic book art I have seen in ages. Maybe ever. Inconsistency in character faces is my major complaint about American comics, but I didn’t notice any instances of that at all in this arc. Too, there are some nicely colored bits, particularly a scene where Karolina and Nico are talking outside at night and the alien glow of the former is reflected upon the latter’s face.

Dead End Kids would work okay as a stand-alone, especially given the character intros at the beginning, but many of the quieter moments would probably lack resonance if one were unfamiliar with what came before. The easy solution to that, of course, is to start from the beginning!

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