Friday, May 4, 2012

111 Girls Who Kick Ass, 1 through 6: Runaways

Ah, Runaways.

I haven't paid much attention to this series in quite a long while --- Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, the creators and "real parents," left it to do other things in 2007 --- but it is one of my favorite comic books in the history of comic books, a title it holds in no small part because of its several brilliant examples of girls who kick ass.

Before we talk about the girls themselves, I want to mention a few things about the series:

* If you love superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you love comic books but hate superheroes, Runaways is something you should read. If you're not really into comic books but are willing to give them a chance, Runaways is something you should read. Basically, Runaways is something everyone should read. The only way I can imagine anyone NOT loving it is if you're one of those people who just can't stand sci-fi or fantasy stories, as there is an abundance of both.

* Runaways is very special among superhero comics because, with a few exceptions, the team always has six members --- and only two of them are boys. Brian K. Vaughan's original pitch is very adamant on this point (his exact words are something like, "To hell with tradition!"); even after the line-up is shaken for whatever reason, it eventually settles down to four girls and two boys. So you sort of can't help looking at more popular mainstream books and asking, "Is this really that hard?"

* Honestly, as much as I love the series, it's difficult for me to talk about very much because a) it's one of those things where you'd really rather not spoil anything for a new reader and b) it only takes about three sentences for me to just lose myself and start gushing. It's that good. Basically, the only thing I say when someone asks me why they should read it --- other than the girls who kick ass and the involvement of a dinosaur from the future --- is, "It's about a bunch of kids who find out their parents are supervillains."

Alright, then. Let's get to it!

1. Nico Minoru

Apart from her wickedly good fashion sense (just look at that get-up), I primarily adore Nico for two reasons:
  • She's a witch! Which she didn't even suspect until everybody found out their parents were evil. Any story about magic that's worth reading will eventually reveal that, while it may be ridiculously powerful, magic always has its limits, and Nico is a great example of that. She wields the mysterious Staff of One (which, by the way, lives in her SOUL until she uses BLOOD to draw it out --- intense) (also, there's at least one scene where she draws it out without cutting herself . . . because she's on her period; that kind of thing just does not happen in most superhero books), and can use it to do pretty much anything she can think of . . . once. HOWEVER. Throughout the entire series, it is subtly (sometimes not so subtly) implied that she'd be a lot more powerful if she knew a little more about magic.
  •  She's Japanese, but she does not, for example, cast spells by drawing kanji in the air. That's refreshing.                    
Also, she eventually becomes team leader --- long story --- and, when a new member asks her if they have a rallying cry, like "Avengers Assemble!" or "It's Clobberin' Time!" . . . she thinks about it for a sec and just says, "Try not to die."

2. Gert Yorkes

  • First of all, it is just so great to see a female comic book character who is not a stick. Furthermore, it is too great for words to see a female comic book character who is not a stick who is not just "the fat one." Gert is not merely comic relief. Well, I mean, she does provide a fair amount of comic relief, but that's because she has an acerbic wit, NOT because she's always stuffing her face with candy during fight scenes.
  • Most of the first arc revolves around the kids discovering their powers and gadgets and whatnot. Even though her teammates include a witch and an alien, Gert may have one of the coolest "powers" in the history of comics: She has a very special pet . . .

3. Old Lace
  •  Old Lace is from the 87th century (Gert's parents are time travelers). She has a nose ring. She's very intelligent. She's empathically bonded to Gert. Even if you ignore all of these facts, though, you can't get around the fact that she kicks ass just because she's a DINOSAUR.
  • She reminds me of Quincy from FoxTrot, as both are cartoon animals who cannot talk. Also, they're reptiles who are not universally reviled.
  • You may be wondering about that name. Originally, the kids gave themselves codenames because they didn't want to use the names their parents had given them. Gert chose "Arsenic" for herself. When Chase doesn't get it, she tells him to watch a movie made before 1985. Heh.

4. Karolina Dean
  •  Karolina is devastated to learn that she is an alien --- she's already been feeling different from other girls for a while, if you get what I'm saying --- until she discovers that she can fly. She's so excited by this that she literally starts crying tears of joy. It's one of my favorite scenes in the whole series.
  • I don't know, I just love her. It's difficult to say why, exactly. Part of it is that she's a lesbian. I hate to spoil that for you right away, but . . .

5. Xavin
Honestly, Xavin is a fairly difficult character who you might love in one scene and want to slap in the next. But she makes the list for a rather simple reason: Xavin is a Skrull who shows up and reveals that he and Karolina have been betrothed for years. Their marriage will (theoretically) bring an end to the war their people have been waging on each other since before either of them were born. Karolina wants to help bring peace, but turns down his proposal because she likes girls.

Which, it turns out, is not much of a problem, since Skrulls are shapeshifters, and changing gender is about as big a deal for them as changing hair color.

6. Molly Hayes
While the rest of the kids are old enough to drive, Molly is only eleven --- so it's something of a happy accident that her mutant powers of superstrength and invulnerability manifest when they do.

That's right, she's an eleven-year-old mutant with superstrength.

So, when I originally envisioned writing this list, I was sort of determined to limit my choices to one girl from any given story/series/franchise/property --- for example, if I wrote about Buffy, I would have to leave out Willow. (Note: They will both be getting their own entries. Obviously.) The fact that I decided to relax that guideline is pretty much Molly's fault. She had to make the list, but I couldn't include her and not include Nico, and I couldn't include Nico and not include Gert . . . so, yeah, here they all are.

(You may have noticed that I haven't actually said too much about Molly. That was very much intentional. She may be my favorite part of the entire series, so I'd rather just let you read it and fall for her all on your own.)

Well, there you have it.

Actually, I'm not done yet! Another wonderful thing about Runaways is that, unlike so many girl-centric series, the boys are just as important. They may not be quite as powerful, but Alex and Chase and Victor are definitely not just "the guys."

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, if you haven't already read this series, GO READ IT RIGHT NOW. You'll be glad you did.

If you have already read this series, don't you think it's time you revisited it?

ALSO: If you're familiar with any other comics that feature female characters who are anything like as awesome as these six, I'd love to hear about them!

More later.


  1. Gert was who I wanted to be in high school. Like you said, Runaways showed that you could to a super-team with a female majority that wasn't uber-girly & didn't treat the guys like window dressing but also didn't force the girls into stereotypical roles. Nico started out visually as a goth, Gert as a nerd, & Karolina as a hippy chick, but now they're worlds more than that. I hope you read their great two-issue appearance in Avengers Academy, since Christos Gage did a great job with the characters.

    And am I wrong in guessing one of these entries will be devoted to the girls from the Avatar franchise? I sure hope so!

  2. Not only have I read that story, I haven't even heard of it! Thank you so much; I'll definitely have to track it down sometime.

    As for the girls of Avatar . . . Toph and Korra will be getting their own entries. I'm not sure if everyone else will be grouped together, but they'll definitely be getting a mention.