“Runaways: Dead End Kids” TPB Review

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After Brian K. Vaughan’s stellar run on “Runaways,” many people said there were very few people that could successfully take over the reins of this book.  One person that people thought would do a good job was Joss Whedon.  Given how well he did on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” he seemed a natural fit for a series about superpowered, orphaned teenagers and how they get along in a world where the only people they trust is themselves.

Surprisingly, “Dead End Kids” is an incredibly mediocre book.

Given Whedon’s pedigree, not only with “Buffy” but also his run on “Astonishing X-Men,” one could understandably assume this book was going to be excellent.  Whedon could also be forgiven for writing something that didn’t meet fans’ high expectations but was still a solid book.  But I don’t know if Whedon wasn’t familiar with the series so far or just dropped the ball on this one, but he seemed to miss the point on a lot of things.

First of all, it seemed like he had a list of the main characters and their defining traits – for example, Molly is a cute little kid and Karolina is a lesbian – and amplified those traits almost to an extreme. But when they weren’t demonstrating their main characteristics, the Runaways ranged from generic to borderline out of character.

And it’s not even just the kids that weren’t written well.  The Punisher appeared briefly at the beginning of the story in an almost entirely superfluous couple of scenes, and quickly devolved into bad comic relief.

The story itself was also not constructed very well.  The story began in present-day New York before the kids were transported to 1907, where they spent the time trying to find a way back home while dealing with a brewing gang war between different super-powered groups, all while waiting to figure out the meaning of a mysterious message given to one of the team, Vic, at the beginning of the story. And to be honest, I couldn’t even remember who had given them the message or why it might be important until the very end, because the story was so awkwardly constructed.

That’s not even addressing the fact that, when this story began, it had absolutely nothing to do with how the book ended the previous issue.  I mean nothing.  I kept waiting for an explanation, but it was as if the end of the previous issue had never happened.  That is just sloppy.

This story also had a number of social messages thrown in for good measure, primarily the treatment of children in turn-of-the-century New York.  I have no problem with addressing social concepts in comics, and I don’t know if they were Whedon’s ideas or were editorially mandated, but they were so ham-handedly inserted into the story that they were detrimental at points.

A few words must be said about Michael Ryan’s excellent artwork, though.  He captured the kids beautifully, made 1907 New York look like 1907 New York, and handled the very large crowd scenes without fail.  Really, I can’t find any fault with his art in this book.

Overall, this trade paperback was a disappointment, especially with someone of Joss Whedon’s pedigree at the helm.  I know it can be difficult to follow up a writer when they and their characters are so well intertwined, but it can be done.  Unfortunately, Whedon didn’t do it.

Stars out of five: Two and a half

Dry slaps: Two, for the way the characters were written and the subpar storytelling

GS Reviewer: Luke

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