Saturday, February 23, 2013

Young Avengers Catch-Up: "What If The Runaways Became The Young Avengers?"

This story was published in five installments, each of which ran as a back-up in one of 2008's suite of What If...? specials (What If? Secret Wars, What If? Captain America: Fallen Son, etc), as an enticement to buy them all. It can be found in collected form in Runaways: Homeschooling, the volume that contains Kathryn Immonen and Sara Pichelli's high quality, but unfortunately truncated run on Runaways.

The title isn't terribly accurate, and the story has almost nothing at all to do with the Young Avengers. This isn't the story of how the five surviving original Runaways take on the names or identities of the Young Avengers characters, or teenage versions of any Avengers (That is, Nico doesn't become Wiccan or Scarlet Apprentice, Gert doesn't become Patriot or Lieutenant America, etc). Nor do they take the place of the Young Avengers in a Young Avengers story, or meet any of those characters.

For the most part, then, this is just a Runaways story with a catchy title, and a single shared plot-point with the first story arc of Young Avengers. Iron Lad, the disguised teenaged version of Kang The Conqueror, has come back in time to recruit a team of young super-heroes, and, instead of choosing the characters who would become the Young Avengers, he chooses the Runaways. Teen Kang is the only Young Avenger character to appear at all, unless you count a one-page cameo from a future version of The Vision.

Teen Kang trains the Runaways, gives them new, more superheroic spandex costumes (The Runaways just wore street clothes), has them using their superhero codenames (which the characters all came up with early in creator Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's run on the book, but then almost immediately discarded) and collectively calling themselves The Young Avengers.

When we meet them, they're fighting apparently ubiquitous Marvel bad guys The Wrecking Crew, training to take on Victor Mancha, whom Iron Lad tells them will grow up to be Victorious, a super-villain who decimates The Avengers in the future (As Runaways fans know, Mancha is actually the "son" of Ultron who joins The Runaways). There's a twist, a betrayal and multiple versions of Kang and Mancha show up for the big showdown fight.

As a Young Avengers story, it's really not, not in anything but name, anyway. As a Runaways story, it's interesting enough; writer C.B. Cebulski's plot is fairly generic, and his big moments are merely repeats of those other Runaways writers had previously used, but he gets their voices right, and gives them a few of those Whedon-esque smartasseries that Vaughan was so fond of. As a What If...? story, it's pretty weak, as the variation from the "real" Runaways story is so very slight, and really little more than a matter of cosmetics (their team name and wardrobe, basically).

The artwork is provided by penciler Patrick Spaziante and inker Victor Olazaba. Stylistically, its closer to the work of Young Avengers's Jim Cheung than to any of the artists to have worked on The's certainly quite different than Pichelli's art, as a flip-through the rest of Homeschooling on the way to this story will attest.

It looks an awful lot like Barry Kitson art, with maybe a hit of J. Calafiore in the faces. I wasn't crazy about it, but there's nothing wrong with it either. It just looks rather dark, cluttered and overly-rendered, particularly when compared to the work of Pichelli or Alphona or Humberto Ramos or other Runaways artists

I do like the story's title, and wouldn't mind reading a What If...? story in which the characters from The Runaways joined up with the characters from Young Avengers and formed some sort of super-sized super-teen team, but then, there probably wasn't room for Cebulski to even consider it, give the relatively short page-count (32) that the story's original format demanded.

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