what we have here is an OK installment in a series that, up to this point, has been fantastic. runaways is brian k. vaughan's baby, and he and artist adrian alphona made it one of my favorite comics ever; a series marked by strong characterization, sharp dilaogue, and some of my favorite comic art of all time. when vaughan decided to step away from the book, joss whedon seemed like a perfect replacement, and he does the job you should expect. the characterization is still there, along with some nice dialogue bits and a decent adventure to send these kids on. this story has the runaways going back in time, and that's just about it, a relatively standard adventure with some fun moments and not much else. michael ryan handles art chores, and he does a good job. adrian alphona (like vaughan) left some big shoes to fill, and i suppose michael ryan is about as good a replacement as you could want. but adrian alphona is in a class by himself, one of my top ten favorites, and one of the main reasons i loved the first 3 hardcovers in this series so much. he's sorely missed here, more so than vaughan. colorist christina strain is the only remaining member of the creative team, and her colors just don't look quite as good here. they're good, just not as eye-popping as i've grown accustomed to. perhaps she's just better suited to alphona's linework.
whedon does a few things here that leave me a bit torn. firstly, and more significantly, he's not content to write as good a chapter as he can in the saga of the runaways; he wants to leave his thumbprint on the series by adding a member to the cast. now i understand it's his prerogative to do so, and no editor is going to tell him otherwise, but i don't like the move. aside from being another female in an already female-dominated cast, the girl's got no discernible personality and an exceptionally creepy backstory to boot. whedon similarly shook up the cast of astonishing x-men at the end of his run, and i disliked it just as much. if he were sticking around to write the modified cast of characters it wouldn't bother me, but i never like it when a writer adds or subtracts a character just for the sake of saying, "i was here." it's unnecessary, bordering on selfish. if the new character (i have no idea what her name is, and i read the thing a few short days ago) had been developed at all i might feel differently, but she feels like tacked-on baggage for the next writer to inherit.
the other issue i had is that in this story chase makes no less than three references to smoking weed, one of which being an explicit endorsement. on one hand, if we're priding ourselves on writing realistic teenagers, this was certainly a realistic portrayal. and it's probably more realistic to have one character out of these six smoke weed than to have all these squeaky-clean teenagers. it's definitely realistic, and as an adult, i thought it was a surprising and almost funny touch. except for the fact that this book is ostensibly one of the more kid-friendly books marvel produces. it was originally released in digest format, aimed at a younger audience (before being collected in wonderful oversized hardcovers), and even though this volume is only out in standard-sized hardcover, i can't help but think some parents would be upset about this. especially considering the fact that marvel's current editor-in-chief (joe quesada) has a mandate that no marvel characters can be depicted smoking cigarettes for fear of influencing children, this was a surprising choice. also the writing gets a bit preachy when it comes to the book's lesbian content, but i've come to expect as much.
all-in-all it's an adequate installment in the story of the runaways, but for my tastes it's a significant step down. but vaughan and alphona made something so special, i suppose whoever followed them had no choice but to disappoint.