Lost & Found: Marvel’s RUNAWAYS

With all the acclaim surrounding Brian K. Vaughan’s return to comics in Saga, it got us thinking about his other work. Although he might be best known for his creator-owned work like Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, Vaughan did significant work for both DC and Marvel, and chief among those was the title (and team) the Runaways created with artist Adrian Alphonsa.  It’s a title whose buzz has always outweighed its actual sales, with heavy talk of a movie adaptation going on while the comic series was cancelled for low sales. For all the acclaim, they’ve been shifted to being occasional guest-stars in lower-selling Marvel books while being unable to find a home of their own. I know with a title like the Runaways that might be apropos, but getting past the easy joke the real question is why are the Runaways so difficult to get a permanent foothold in comics?

Launched in the summer of 2003, The Runaways was an unconventional teen superhero book heaping with idiosyncrasies and genre-defying elements that broke away from its contemporaries. Although never a sales juggernaut, it was cancelled twice but brought back both times before its third volume was put “on hiatus” indefinitely in November 2009, charting a still-impress 64 issues in its three combined volumes. On the month of the last issue’s release in September 2009, then-Marvel Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada told CBR that the title was being “retooled” and wold return “in some fashion very soon.” Those plans never came to fruition, with Marvel’s VP of Publishing Tom Brevoort giving CBR one year later a surprisingly realistic vantage point about the viability of books like it in the current marketplace:

Even series like “Runaways,” which are deeply beloved, seem to have a hard time getting and maintaining traction in our marketplace. And so we come around to that same double-edged sword again, where the readership says they’re tired of all of the interconnectivity, but it proves to be a struggle to sustain anything that’s too far apart from the Marvel mainstream. This is a definite challenge that we struggle with.

According to sales figures provided by Paul O’Brien in his excellent monthly analysis column on the Beat, the sales of the last volume of Runaways were in the 15,000 – 20,000 range during its final issues. Comparing that to today’s numbers, that’d put it squarely in the middle of the pack of 2012′s canceled titled Generation Hope and Daken: Dark Wolverine. Sad, but true.

Since the book’s final cancellation in September 2009, the team has made sporadic appearances in the Marvel U in titles like S.W.O.R.D. and Uncanny X-Men: The Heroic Age.   The Runaways team is currently swinging through Avengers Academy teasing a possible inclusion of the team-members into the Avengers training camp, and last fall the team chipped in to stop a would-be heir to the Pride in the final issues of Daken: Dark Wolverine.

As we stated in our opening paragraph, the Hollywood-types associated with  Marvel have always seen movie potential for the characters despite their relatively lukewarm reception by the general comics-buying public. In 2008 Marvel Studios hired Vaughn to write a movie script for the team, with director Peter Sollett (Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist) in talks to direct. Marvel went so far as to hold auditions for the primary roles in August and September 2010 with announced plans to film in the summer of 2011, in October 2010 Marvel mothballed the production in order to focus on the impending The Avengers movie launch.In the intervening time, Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige has said on several occasions that Runaways is one of several movie projects being looked at to follow The Avengers, but nothing more has been said.

Runaways seems to have a cult fanbase in comics readership and within the halls at Marvel, but as a comic title it floats in that uncomfortable purgatory of characters like Ghost Rider and Namor who possess name recognition and a cache of good stories in its past, but without the right mojo to keep an ongoing series of its own afloat. We’ve seen characters rescued from this in the past with the right creative team, the right story and the right push form its publisher,  but it takes a perfect storm for that to happen to titles like these unfortunately. And storms like that, they don’t come around often.

Comments

  1. MaxPower MaxPower says:

    I love Runaways and think that as great as the characters are, perhaps there is some sort of consensus that they’re ultimately best in BKV’s hands. I realize several others have written the team, (Moore, whedon, etc.) but in many ways the book feels so much more like a successful creator owned indie title.

  2. dix says:

    I always found myself really lukewarm to Runaways despite liking the initial arc and characters a lot. After the Pride was dealt with, it seemed like the stories mostly revolved around guest appearances and almost fanboyish goofiness, with the occasional really strong, more serious (but still fun) story here and there, but they just felt like they got less and less common as the series went on.

    I think what the team really lacks at the moment, and what made the series hard to get into long-term, is some kind of momentum. There’s just not been much of a clear goal for the characters; they always just react. And that’s…well, it gets old.

    • Zeppo Zeppo says:

      I can agree that the Pride were very replaced, and without something to Run from the series lost direction, but I think the last arc was correcting that issue.

  3. Zeppo Zeppo says:

    The cancelation of Runaways was really the starting point of my current disinterest in Marvel. I think the series it’s self has such great potential, yes Vaughans work is the standard, but Whedon, Zeb Wells and Kathryn Innomen all added great stories to the mix.

    I stuck with this book through thick and think but I think books that constantly being relaunched will struggle to find an audience, you think to yourself how long until it gets cancelled and doesn’t come back two months later.

    I like what marvels doing ow, having them guest star in other series, but that should have been happening years ago to try and build an audience. Advert this like they did AVX and maybe it would get some attention. I know it will never been the number one book, but Marvel seemed to given up on the series by the end, when Innomen was clearly setting the scene for what could have been the beginning of a new era for the Runaways. Call it the Avenging Runaways if you have to but bring it back

  4. MisterKyleW MisterKyleW says:

    I’ve always wanted to read this series, but was I’m a little hesitant. One of the my favorite things about Brian K Vaughan’s popular works (the aforementioned Y and Ex Machina) is that they are fully formed, a single writer and artists’ vision with a full story, beginning, middle, and end, from the same creators. The fact that it kept going when he left, even with such talent as Whedon or Immomen, leaves me unsure.

    It is terribly frustrating how many readers, myself included, want books like Runaways to exist. I want books that don’t have to tie into the latest crossover or have to guest star Wolverine every third issue or have to take place in New York or even have to be in the main continuity. I want books that aren’t in the superhero genre, yet when the big companies try these things, it never seems to work out. Crossgen seems to have stalled out, and books like Runaways or SWORD get cancelled. I’m fine going outside the Big 2 for my non-traditional, non-mainstream comic books, and I am loving what companies like Image, Oni Press and Dark Horse are putting out, but it sucks that the big platform that Marvel and DC has to work with isn’t able to support those kinds of series anymore. Maybe they can, but just aren’t being sold to the right consumer. Maybe a book like Runaways doesn’t belong in the direct market, but as a series of graphic novels targeted to young adults in book stores instead.

    • Zeppo Zeppo says:

      The first 18 issues can be bought in one hardcover, and its a complete story, beginning middle and end. If you like it and want to continue the option is there, but volume 1 has a satisfying ending. Recommending

    • MisterKyleW MisterKyleW says:

      @Zeppo cool! I’ll give it a shot. Thanks!

  5. Does anyone know if Adrian Alphona is still working in comics? I haven’t seen anything by him since Runaways and that was some really beautiful work. This was also one of the first series that really drove home to me how important the colorist is.

  6. BC1 BC1 says:

    “And so we come around to that same double-edged sword again, where the readership says they’re tired of all of the interconnectivity, but it proves to be a struggle to sustain anything that’s too far apart from the Marvel mainstream.”

    Quotes like this always get me. Define “the readership.” What percentage of people reading comics, or more importantly, reading Marvel comics, are saying they don’t like interconnectivity? Because if you can’t figure that out, then you have a marketing problem that would get people fired in almost any other business. This is the same “readership” that convinced Marvel and DC to take a year off of events, only to see sales drop precipitously. No wonder Marvel can’t keep a book like Runaways afloat – they don’t know who wants to read it!

    I wonder, too, how the Tsunami line of books was sold to creators like Vaughn. I wonder if Marvel didn’t pitch it as something independent of the main line to get creators to come in with off-beat ideas that wouldn’t work in the Marvel U. Like Sentinel is primarily a giant robot story, but the robot happens to be a Sentinel; anywhere else, you could just have sold it as a boy and his robot story. Does trying to Marvelize it hurt the concept in any way? Should it not have been a Marvel property to begin with, but an independent one? From what I understand, there’s not much in the first volume of the series that 100% relies on position in the Marvel Universe. Much like Hickman’s SHIELD, could any Marvel specific references be removed easily and replaced? Long story short, did Vaughn think this initiative would be different enough to warrant giving up rights to this idea rather than keep it for a creator-owned project? Or did someone at Marvel come up with the concept and just get Vaughn to flesh it out and write it?

  7. Evin Evin says:

    You wanna know why Runaways tanked? Because even though Joss Whedon and Terry Moore are amazing, their runs suuuuuuuuucked. The Whedon run in particular is what killed it, if you ask me. Nonsensical time travel, characters acting completely uncharacteristically, and the most depressing and ultimately useless team member addition ever? Nooo thanks. Every author after him has had to deal with the baggage he left behind. It didn’t help that Terry Moore’s story was ultimately stupid, but having to drag along all the Whedon bullshit certainly wasn’t a bonus for him.

    Kathryn Immonen did a better job (her plot ideas were much more in line with the tone of the book) and I’m sure if they had gone directly from BKV to her and skipped the two runs in the middle the book would have done better. It makes me sad that they’re popping up in other books, because I don’t READ other books. The Immonen run ended on a cliffhanger, but seeing the solicits for Avengers Academy I can see that the character placed in peril is apparently completely fine. I think he was in the Daken stuff too. I dunno. I just want to see the story where that got resolved. I have a feeling it’s out there somewhere, but I have no idea where.

    In short, someone kill Klara already. Although she’d already the most depressing thing in the Marvel U so maybe that’s too much. At least fix her. Have SHIELD show up and put her in superhero foster care and give her a therapist and bring her back in 10 years when she isn’t awful or something. She’s been dead weight this whole time.

    • DocDoom DocDoom says:

      Yeah, I agree with you there. I love Whedon and Moore usually, but those arcs were very…lacking. I stopped reading two issues into Moore’s run. Klara is the little plant girl right? I kind of liked her interactions with Molly, but yeah, pretty weak character overall.

      I do need some more Molly Hayes in my life though. Give her her own series!

    • Whedon chased me off, too. And, Moore did the same with the first issue. Maybe the Runaways magic really relied on BKV. Sometimes that happens. Would Sandman be the same without Neil Gaiman? Watchmen without Alan Moore… oh.

  8. RaceMcCloud RaceMcCloud says:

    We’re past the days of the ongoing series for characters like these. Every once in awhile, put a crackerjack creative team on a 6-issue or 8-issue limited series of “Runaways” and the like, let that run a critically acclaimed course, get the Hardcover and TPB out within a year, and do another mini three or four years later.

    Treat it like the movie industry, essentially.

  9. stasisbal stasisbal says:

    I can’t say anything involving Runaways after BKV’s run ended held my interest so I’m OK with the title being lost. It is certainly a great concept and I’d agree that there’s serious potential for it in film or animation.

  10. Godzilla Godzilla says:

    i read the first volume (or first 18 issues) and i thought they were great. but as someone here already pointed out, this first volume was also a self contained story, and that was precisely what i loved about it. similar to ultimate spider-man 1-160, i loved that i could just read the series without having to care about any other book. no constant events, cross-over or anything like that. just the characters i loved and their story. and what i liked even more: the story had a beginning, middle and end. the story kind of felt complete and although i’m sure later issues were not bad as well, i never really felt the need to read more. i loved runaways but i guess now i’m reading something else. like saga for example. i would actually appreciate if more books would have such an approach or be limited from the beginning. i even think, series like spider-man or batman should end at a certain point (although i know that will never happen and we long crossed the line where those series had something like one overall plot ;) ).

  11. jimladdy jimladdy says:

    It’s true that when BKV left the title it seemed to be slightly lost which was a shame because it was shaping up to be a really different kind of book in tone to all the other young teams of heros around, Marvel always just tries to write things like this as a young X-men clone which has been done to death, this really touched on social problems and teen alienation at times, not everything has to be massive cosmic battles, people like characters they can relate to a little bit as well.

  12. TheSquirrel TheSquirrel says:

    I only need to find four more volume 1 comics and I’ll have the complete run. Best team ever.

  13. neums neums says:

    I asked Daniel Ketchum about this very thing at C2E2, and all he could say, more or less, is that they have a bunch of ideas on the books regarding the team, but they’re waiting for the availability of the writer and artist that they way. Also, he also wishes that cliffhanger at the end of the last run (Chase in the emergency room, some girl out there who looks an awful lot like Gert), which has been pretty much ignored by now, could have been properly resolved.