Runaways: An Original Novel

Runaways: An Original Novel was written by Christopher Golden and first published in 2018. It is based on the Marvel comics series of the same name and focuses on a group of superpowered teenagers who protect street kids in Los Angeles. The novel is designed to stand alone, so you don’t have to have read any of the comics to fully appreciate it.

Nico, Chase, Gert, Karolina and Molly once believed that they were ordinary kids, but that was before they discovered that their parents were the core members of a cult known as the Pride. The Pride gained power and influence over the criminal gangs of Los Angeles through ritually sacrificing young girls to a trio of elder gods known as the Gibborim. Now that their parents are dead, the Runaways have formed a family of their own. They are not heroes – they are survivors – and they use their powers and skills to help other teenagers like them.

When the group discover that street kids are disappearing, they begin to worry that perhaps the Pride has reformed. The Runaways put a stop to a sacrifice and in doing so rescue two teens – Aliss and Zeke. Zeke reveals that he shares a lot in common with the Runaways. His mother is also a cultist who worships a rival god. Her goal is to find a way to destroy the Gibborim and thus give more power to her evil lord.

The Runaways know that they need to find a way to stop Zeke’s mother but it won’t be easy. The Avengers and SHIELD do not take them seriously, and even with their powers and abilities they know it will be difficult to take on adult super-villains alone. If they are to succeed, they will need a good plan. However, it’s hard for the group to pull themselves together and think of something when some of their members are suspicious of Zeke’s intentions…

Before we begin, time for a bit of comic book history. The Runaways was a Marvel comic book series that was first published in 2003 and originally written by the legendary Brian K Vaughn. Although this incarnation of the series was cancelled in 2009, it gained a large fan base. It differed from your typical superhero series in a lot of ways. There are no flashy costumes, membership of the team is always predominantly female and the characters are portrayed more as survivors than heroes. This incarnation of the series was excellent and I’d really recommend reading it if you can get hold of it.

Recently, The Runaways has been rebooted and revamped. The new incarnation of the series reunites all of the original team (including raising one member from the dead) and is written by the ever-popular Rainbow Rowell. The series has also recently been adapted into a live-action series which, while it changes some elements of the story, has also received a lot of positive feedback.

The main reason that I picked up this novel was my fond memories of the 2003 series. Although I did read this with a full understanding of the characters and their back-stories, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this novel stands-alone really well. Even if you’ve never heard of the The Runaways before, the early chapters do a great job of setting the scene. They explain all about the Pride, the Gibborim, and what powers each character possesses.

However, despite this accessibility, this book is still primarily one for the fans. If you read it in isolation, the story is pretty weak as the stakes are not all that high. This is in part due to the large amount of exposition. Take the Gibborim for example. The novel describes that they are powerful gods who exist in another dimension, but this doesn’t have much of an impact on the reader. You do not have any reason to be afraid of them as they are far away and have little bearing on the events of the story.

The plot is also incredibly slow, with action only really coming in fits and starts. While the fight scenes are pretty decent on the whole – especially any featuring the unstoppable force that is Molly – these are few and far between. They are spaced out by a lot of scenes in which characters sit around and talk about their shared experiences. This is not only a really heavy handed way of providing the reader with the back-story, but also can really bog down chapters as the third person perspective jumps to a different protagonist every few pages.

I’ve reviewed a couple of comic adaptions on this blog now, and I personally did not feel that this book was anywhere near as well put-together as Squirrel Girl. It’s not even as good as Lumberjanes. While the plot does build to a pretty exciting climax, the twist was far too well sign-posted and I saw it coming long before the end of the story.

The one saving grace was that at least the novel ended on a final note. While there are some subplots that are left unresolved, such as Molly’s schooling, the bad guys are dealt with and the Runaways learn some important life lessons. The final pages of the book provide a brief teaser of the comic, however this seemed like a bit of an odd inclusion. The plot of the comic very clearly follows a different direction to the novel and so it didn’t really make sense to tag it on here.

Yet the weakest aspect of Runaways: An Original Novel was its cast. While the characters of the comic are all very strong, their novel incarnations fail to shine. There are very few descriptions in the story, and those that we do get are brief references to body shapes and general styles. Gert is curvy, Nico is a goth, and so forth. The characters also have an annoying habit of pointing out how complicated they are, yet do little to show this. It’s very obvious that each of them fulfils a clear role within the group and they do little to break away from this.

I also felt that the story was very clearly written by a male author. When we are introduced to Karolina, she is reflecting on how good she looks in a bikini and Molly’s very first line is a question about her breasts. Even Gert, who is described as being introverted and aggressive, abruptly strips naked and tries to seduce Chase at one point. As a female reader, I find this a bit tiresome. No girl sits and thinks about her appearance in this way. You wouldn’t write about a teenage boy contemplating on how his briefs make his junk look enormous. Why do male writers have such a hard time accepting that the same is true of women?

Fact is, if you’re not already a fan of The Runaways, I don’t think that this book does a great job of selling the characters to the reader. It spends a lot of time telling the reader how great they are – how cool their powers are and how well they all stick up for each other – but don’t really allow the reader to discover this through their actions. The only exception to this is Old Lace – Gert’s dinosaur – who is always made of pure awesome. Dinosaurs make everything better.

Anyhow, I think I’ve said enough. I would only recommend Runaways: An Original Novel to fans of the series. It was a nostalgic read for me, but didn’t really do enough to appeal to new fans. If you’ve read the comics and are dying for more, seek it out. If not, you’re not really missing out on much.

Runaways: An Original Novel can be purchased as a Paperback on Amazon.co.uk

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious | Arkham Reviews

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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