So I really like young adult fiction, and I really like comics. And sometimes, a series pops up that allows me to blend my love of both. Marvel’s Runaways series, initially by Brian K. Vaughn but later taken over by Joss Whedon and then something of a rotating cast of folks, deals with a group of young people who are forced to hang out together because their parents are friends. Except their parents aren’t friends. Their parents are a group of supervillains called The Pride, and the teenagers find this out when they witness their parents sacrificing a young girl. While this would drive a non-Marvel group of teens into therapy, the Runaways, as they come to be known, decide to be good to their parents’ evil and right the wrongs in their family legacies. The series started in 2005, though I kind of lost interest when Whedon left the series at issue #30, so this post focuses on issues 1-30. Runaways has been on hiatus for some time, but there’s a movie slated for 2014 — so I’m either behind schedule or ahead of schedule in writing this, I suppose.
When we set the theme for this month at Graphixia as trauma, I knew I would talk about Runaways. The series operates on the premise that trauma can be overcome with good deeds, and that one’s traumatic past is not necessarily one’s destiny. The tagline for the series is, “At some point in their lives, all young people believe their parents are evil… but what if they really are?” — the protagonists are torn between running from the legacy of their past traumas and facing the reality of where they come from head on, especially when they discover their own mutant powers and their status as outlaws in the mutant world (particularly with the series dovetailing with the Civil War storyline).
In the first issue, a number of different ways of coping with trauma emerge as the characters decide what to do about their names. Many of the characters opt to completely distance themselves from their parents. Nico rebrands herself as Sister Grimm, and Karolina becomes Lucy in the Sky upon the discovery of her ability to fly. Others exemplify the tension between the lives their parents led and their own, like Gertrude who renames herself Arsenic and wants to eschew all knowledge of her parents, but is accompanied by the dinosaur her parents genetically engineered to protect her. And finally, some develop a truly complicated sense of self in the wake of trauma: Alex Wilder opts to retain his name, asserting, “I recognize that my parents have ruined that name, but I don’t want to run from it. I want to redeem it.” While the characters allow Alex the space to feel this way, in the narrative the decision not to rename himself comes to represent his loyalty to his parents in spite of their evil; when the Runaways are finally able to destroy the Pride and a resurrected version of Alex’s father, he is unable to act and dies in the process. In the world of Runaways, renaming is an essential part of truly reframing one’s life in the wake of trauma.
Interestingly, however, the renamings don’t last. What is important is not the new identity that the names represent, but the name as a symbolic choice to distance oneself from the trauma imposed by the parents. The choice not to rename brands Alex as separate and apart from his friends, unable to develop his own identity distinct from his parents and eventually leading to his betrayal of his friends and ultimate death. But as the Runaways destroy the Pride, the need for separate selves seems to dissipate and the characters return to their original names. The characters’ growth no longer needs to be symbolized by names as it has begun to be exemplified by actions as the Runaways dismantle the legacy of the Pride. Instead, they are able to make sense of themselves as whole people, distinct from the choices made by their parents but products of a difficult, traumatic history.
Vaughn, Brian K. Pride & Joy. New York: Marvel, 2005.