Writer: Rainbow Rowell
Artist: Kris Anka
Colors: Matthew Wilson
Cover: Kris Anka
Published: August 29, 2018
We’ve spent a lot of time in previous issues talking about and reminding ourselves where the Runaways are emotionally and physically. What their situations were back in issues #1 and #2 and how this tentative, but growing more definite, reunification changes the physical and emotional places they were. This is necessary work in a book that wades through the messiness of becoming and discovery that occurs when you are navigating the boundary between teen and adult. You can’t forget the context each comes from because it informs the steps that we are seeing as they try to grow. We’ve been keeping track of that in these discussions/reviews but the intro to this issue (I assume it was written by Rainbow Rowell) gives a reminder just in case we forgot. A subtle hint from the writing that all the personal, emotional, messy and beautiful things they’re going through, yeah it all matters.
“When Chase used Gert’s parents’ time machine to rescue her from death years ago, the Runaways revival began. Gert’r return gave Nico and Chase direction–a change for the better. In fact despite anxiety around her magic and some regrets, Nico is coming into her own. Molly and Karolin were forced through their own adjustments–Molly left her Grandma and Karolina’s girlfriend left. But Gert and Victor have been stuck. Maybe her recent makeover was a sign Gert’s learning who she is in the present? Victor on the other hand is trapped by the trauma of a mission that left him as just a head, and his refusal to talk about it.”
This is a concise summation of where everyone is at, roughly, and maybe a sort of deep breath before the plunge into something difficult and uncomfortable.
It’s kind of fitting then that the opening page is a flashback to one of Nico’s aforementioned regrets, a moment thrown into relief now that Karolina is back in her life. It shows their first almost kiss as the narrator talks about how doors often slam shut and don’t open back up even when you are too young and unaware to know that you just shut a door. Back in the present Nico is maybe trying to pry that door open by showing Karolina the room she and Chase have fixed up for her in the hostel. Today though Karolina is preoccupied by the appearance she has to make at a function for the charity her parents created. She was meant to go with Julie, but.. and instead Nico offers to attend with her. The background colors and facial expression in these panels tell us everything we need know about the emotion in this conversation. As Karolina talks about having to go by herself the room is colored by scratchy black shadows that cast a pall over them. But the instant Nico offers to go, we see a brightly colored panel of Karolina’s excitedly shimmering face. This is juxtapose to the next panel in which a hesitant looking Nico is framed in black. There’s still uncertainty in what their relationship is going forward, considering the flashback we just saw, and it seems to come mostly from Nico. This is in no way a judgement, but just a manifestation of her reticence to lose Karolina again in moment when she’s having a crisis with regards to her witch identity. We see this struggle represented in a really striking way a few panels later as she walks down the hallway. Her shadow lags behind her becoming a huge mass pulling her in the opposite direction, and from it the staff is emerging. This painful moment immediately proceeds the beautiful one in which she and Karolina see each other in their gowns, and it’t almost as if the staff was trying to prevent this from happening. There is no discussion of and we don’t see the staff in the rest of the issue, but the situating of these moments seem to suggest a conflict between Nico’s witch powers and her happiness.
The focus shift’s back to Nico and Karolina at the end of the issue but in between Gert and Victor have a very magical moment. Victor helps Gert to fix the aforementioned time machine and they travel back to 1968 California to watch the migration of the California Blue butterfly. In the above quote, Victor and Gert were both described as stuck. This is something of a paradox for Gert who is physically unstuck in time, considering that she ‘ought’ to have died and is not sure of her place in a present that moved on without her. She tells Victor that she has a certain envy for animals that went extinct when or before people showed up to ruin their habitats. They ‘got out.’ They felt the changing of the world and (instinctively?) knew their place in it was disappearing. There is no further elaboration on this point, as the next time we see them is two hours later and it’s Victor’s turn to talk. Victor has been aware of the fact that he was designed by Ultron to be a tool of murder and fear, and has struggled with conflict between what he feels he is and what he was told he is. That’s a difficult gap to reconcile for anyone, robot or human, and his work for the Avengers spying on Vision have made it much more difficult. Before that his programming was just a potentiality, something he was told but knew he wasn’t. After the events in which he accidentally killed Vin (the Vision’s son) he’s been wracked with fear that maybe he is the person Ultron built him to be. This is what he explains to Gert, his doubts about the person he thought he was. The two of them share this, doubts about who they are but also their struggle to with how the other four see them. No one sees Victor as a murderer except himself, but the chasm between how you feel about yourself and how others feel about you can often be extremely painful. Maybe people think you’re absolutely great, and you want them to be right, but some tiny thing sitting in the back of your mind tells you it’s all lies and that you’re nothing like what they say. Gert’s situation is similar in that everyone else seems to think they have pulled the same Gert into the future. Their understanding of her is mostly the same but her understanding of herself in the future is something she has to figure out. There’s another gap and she is stuck on one side of it, alone, but maybe now with Victor. There isn’t resolution to what Gert and Victor are feeling but they share a moment (and a kiss) at the end of their journey that seems to indicate that they have have found safety and understanding in each other.
This is not the only connection made as the issue cuts back to Nico and Karolina after the ball. Karolina’s thanking Nico for being by her side and Nico apologizes that she wasn’t always able to do that before. Her internal conflict obscured her feelings for Karolina. It’s sort of Karolina’a turn to be confused as Nico then leans in and Karolina pulls back. This happens over the course of five panels which get progressively darker, almost consumed by black until Nico leans in all the way and Karolina receives her kiss. This is Nico opening the metaphorical door from the opening narration, making known her feelings and Karolina’s importance to her. It’s an extremely beautiful moment of connection between two women, framed against a deep blue night and pink stars, that is more than physical. This is unfortunately not the final page of this issue as we get a post ‘credits’ scene that see Nico and Karolina returning to the hostel, only to find Alex (who used to be part of the Runaways but betrayed them and later died) waiting at their front door. This is a massive reveal that has the potential to destabilize the re-forming bonds of the Runaways, and leaves a lot to be figured out in coming issues.
We’ve mentioned a few stand out points in this issue where Kris Anka and Matt Wislon’s portrayal of Nico and Karolina was fantastic. It really can’t be overstated how beautifully rendered some of their moments are. When they first see each other in their gowns the dresses are stunning, but don’t overshadow the joy on each woman’s face as they see each in way that they haven’t for a long time. This moment as well as their physical connection in the final pages are extremely sweet. They are two people rediscovering a friendship and a partnership that has been missing from their lives for years. But as well as Wilson and Anka are able to capture these ‘high moments’ they never shy aware from depicting the pain these characters are dealing with. Whether that’s Nico fighting with her shadow or tears streaming down Victor’s face as he confesses to Gert his deep fears, they capture the humanity and breadth of their feelings in a way that can’t help but tug at your heartstrings.
(Subjective) Score out of 10: 8