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.