Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways was one of Marvel’s most exciting books of the early 2000s. Launched in 2003 as part of a drive to win over younger readers and manga fans, the series initially didn’t last — but the story of a group of misfit teenagers struggling to get by in the Marvel universe sold well in digest form, prompting the publisher to bring it back for another run in 2005. Runaways never really achieved long-term success: it’s been through four volumes, totalling less than 75 issues, but it had a huge impact on fans, who have been clamoring to see the characters again since the book’s cancellation in 2009. Some of the characters have turned up here and there, but Runaways as a book seemed to be done.
Until, that is, word got out that Hulu was developing a Runaways series. The surprising thing is that it took someone this long to do a screen adaptation of the comic: the premise, which features a group of teens having super-powered adventures with a longer-term arc, seems made for television, and the tangential relationship with the main Marvel universe means that the plots can be adapted without too much tricky integration with other franchises.
And, of course, we all know that Marvel doesn’t like to let a media opportunity pass by without a comic to go with it. That means that September is going to see the release of a new Runaways ongoing, written by popular young adult novelist Rainbow Rowell with art by Kris Anka. The choice of Rowell, whose young adult novels have received critical acclaim, suggests that Marvel is trying to keep the series focused on younger readers — although that’s not to say Rowell’s books aren’t popular with adults too.
Along with the announcement, Marvel have released a series of teaser images showing Anka’s redesigns of the characters. After all, nothing dates faster than a cutting-edge teen character, and these ones have been around since 2003. Anka’s designs show characters that are still recognisably themselves despite some updating, including flying, light-powered alien Karolina Dean, super-strong mutant Molly Hayes, time-travelling telepathic dinosaur Old Lace, magic-staff-wielding witch Nico Minoru and utility gadgeteer Chase Stein.
But there’s one other reveal that’s got comic fans talking. If you don’t want to be spoiled on the likely events of the Runaways show, stop reading now. Everybody who’s read the first two volumes still here? OK. Rowell and Anka have also revealed that Gertrude Yorkes will be rejoining the team, which is a pretty exciting development since she died waaaaay back in vol. 2, #18, 11 years ago. Now, all comic fans know that death, especially in the Marvel universe, is a transitory thing, but it’s still a little surprising, not least because the title of the next story in the run was simply Dead Means Dead. It remains to be seen how this is going to work out, but undoing one of the highest-profile (and best-loved) deaths in comics might be a high hurdle to clear.
However it turns out, it’s exciting to see one of Marvel’s most beloved all-ages properties returning to comic-shop shelves. Whether the series’ critical reputation and goodwill will translate into big sales this time remains to be seen, but more variety — and diversity — in Marvel’s lineup both on page and screen can only be a good thing.