So I just finished reading the Runaways collection Vol 1…

I bought the first volume of the Runaways collection when I was down at WisCon and I just wanted to make a short post on my initial feelings after reading it. Once I finish my WisCon writeup for Cerise I might return to the subjects I touch on here and do a better analysis (oops, I got my rant on by accident… I think I’m almost incapable of doing short posts).

So, first off, I’m definitely buying the next two volumes. I have no idea where I’ll put them, as my bookshelf is filled to the brim, and that’s not counting all the books I bought at WisCon, but, that’s life I guess. The first story arc was fun, the art was overall pretty cool, and I think I have a soft spot in my heart for rebels with a cause. Or maybe it’s just a soft spot for a team that’s mostly kick ass women, or girls in this case. I also like the clothing, and if I knew how to tie a tie I would so be wearing the shirt and tie getup that Nico was in for a bit.

That being said, I had two major issues with what I read. But since they are spoilers, especially the second one, I will put them behind the jump. SPOILERS AHEAD. You have been warned.

I. Well, they’re all just skanks anyway!

So, the first one isn’t so spoilery. It involves Cloak and Dagger. Or, no, wait, rewind that. It starts with Sue Richards and the Fantastic Four MMO (which has way more RP functionality than any MMO I’ve played, but I digress), who is called “Mrs. Skank-tastic” because of her costume, which is a leotard with thigh-high boots. Whoever her player is starts in on how Sue hits on everyone and therefore the costume is appropriate.

Contrast this to when Captain America throws around the word “retard” and at least gets called on it (granted, the manner in which it was called out was inappropriate in itself, but at least it was brought up that maybe that word isn’t an appropriate insult). Since these things both happen within the same two pages, the message is clear: “retard” is an insult of questionable merit, but “skank” is A-okay.

Fast-forward a few issues with the appearance of Cloak and Dagger. Now, granted, I cringed at Dagger’s outfit because it was so stereotypically Marvel in a book whose art is, thankfully, anything but. However, I thought it would be a great way to bring up the contrast between the inappropriate sexualization of most adult female superheroes with the way the girls of Runaways are portrayed as having a varied fashion sense. But, no, again the ball was dropped and the only commentary that was made was when Chase calls Dagger a “skank” (are we sensing a theme here?).

I find this to be highly problematic, especially given that most of these “skanks” are characters created by men, for the purpose of being titillating to the assumed male audience. Instead of raising awareness for a problem of characterization that plagues the Marvel universe, and perhaps causing one’s audience to think (especially if it is primarily made up of boys and young men), the blame was, yet again, foisted off onto the women. It may be realistic for those kinds of insults to roll of the tongues of adolescent boys, but if Vaughan could realistically call out one form of bigotry, then why not another? The team is, after all, mostly women — some of whom might just object to gendered insults.

The point here is that Vaughan had a prime chance here, the chance to reach out and make his readership question the casual sexism that is part of their lives, and he dropped the ball. Hard.

II. Who’s the traitor? The shifty Asian girl? The manipulative black boy?

The second issue I had with the story arc isn’t as well formed as the first. But it bothered me that Alex was the traitor. Not that I think it was poorly done; on the contrary, the setup was good and it was completely in character as far as I could tell. But it felt like a let down, like the only reason they “allowed” a person of colour to be the leader of the team was because they knew that he was going to die.

Now, granted, I would like to see one of the girls emerge as the leader, seeing as the team is mostly girls. But it still felt good to see that Chase didn’t default to leader because of his magical white man powers of privilege. I liked how they showed Alex to be smart and capable — capable enough to get by without fancy gadgets or special powers, leading through sheer intelligence, talent, and will alone.

But I felt a growing apprehension as the traitor storyline got stronger. Maybe it was my comics cynicism, but I knew the white members of the group (Chase, Karolina, and Gertrude, with the exception of Molly, who I did wonder about for a couple of seconds) were safe. There wasn’t a whole lot of speculation on their potential traitor status, and it just didn’t make sense for their character types. I wasn’t overly worried about Nico until the part where she starts moaning about her sins, which in hindsight was an obvious red herring designed to shift suspicion off of Alex.

I was pretty much sold on Alex being the traitor when he started in on wanting to tell Nico something. And it was so perfect, wasn’t it? If Stephanie Brown, Batwoman and all the Women in Refrigerators had taught me nothing, it was that the Big Two love to set up minority characters to take a spectacular fall. They start you in on them and you learn to love them. In fact, I think one of the reasons that you love them is precisely they are found so rarely in positions of power. They let it continue for a while, sometimes giving you hints of things to come, sometimes not. And then one day you turn the page and the character you have grown to love is dead.

If there were a thousand other Alexes it wouldn’t bother me so much. But there aren’t and so the next character who steps up to take his mantle is more likely to be a heterosexual white man than any other kind of character. And that sucks.

X-posted: League of Substitute Superheroes.

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This entry was posted in Comics, cartoons, manga, and anime, Multiculturalism. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to So I just finished reading the Runaways collection Vol 1…

  1. I recently started Runaways and have devoured the past 4 TBP. I’m with you in regards to your two big criticisms of the fist issue. The skank talk really bothered me, and I was really disappointed about Alex. Still am.

    But! You must go out and get the next volume, stat. I’m not gonna hint at anything, but I think you’ll be really pleased. Also in the following volumes, there is still a good push for multiculturalism.

  2. I love Runaways – it’s my favorite of Vaughan’s series – and I agree with you on both counts.

    I did read a blogger of color (can’t remember who, though) who said s/he was okay with Alex being the villain, because at least he was a *good* villain, rather than just being dismissably stupid and evil. I can see that person’s point, though, like you said, it would have worked better if there were enough black characters (in Runaways or in the Marvel universe in general) so that there could be a realistic balance. As it is, there’s still THE black family, THE Asian family … and then a bunch of white people.

    As for Vaughan’s treatment of gendered slurs … I feel like it’s characteristic of his tendency to drop the ball in addressing sexism. On the one hand, he does write some of the best strong female characters in mainstream comics, and he does address sexism in many ways. In that, he’s better than the majority of writers out there – but I think, because he’s proven he’s aware of sexism, I judge him more harshly than I do other writers, whom I *know* are ignorant and don’t really care about.

    For instance, in his other series, Y: The Last Man, he explores a world in which all the men have died and the women get to shine. But at the same time, his characters tend to fall into one of two camps: the “feminazis” who are all glad the men are dead, and the reasonable people who insist that “it’s not that men were evil and did bad things, it’s that people in general are evil!” Thus neatly sidestepping any serious discussion of patriarchy.

    Anyway, this is getting long. I agree with 100littledolls that you should keep reading the series, though, because on the whole it is quite good.

  3. Lake Desire says:

    I’ve been getting Runaways from the library, and have read through the fourth TPB. Love the series so far. Even though there are only two people of color in the group, the Runaways do have pretty good diversity with a lesbian (I don’t think this is a spoiler, she hasn’t come out as far as I am in the books, but it seems pretty obvious to me), Gertrude’s radical politics, and a little girl (mutants are their own kind of marginalized in the Marvel universe).

  4. Mickle says:

    I second (third? fourth?) what everyone has said. And I really miss the original artist. And, of course….well I won’t say anything about that yet.

  5. And now, of course, we have Joss Whedon writing the newest Runaways story arc, and let’s just say that Molly punches the Punisher right where it counts most and then says, “he doesn’t have any powers?”.

  6. Roy says:

    And I have to say, I loved that.
    Gods, do I hate the Punisher. Hate.

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