Doesn’t every teen have a phase where they think their parents are supervillains? Teens discover that their parents are humans who make mistakes. This realization jams a wrench into the idealistic worldview teens hold in adolescence. Unaware that they themselves are also fallible, teens blame parents for every minor infraction in their lives. Maybe the parents sentenced the young person to a week without television. Maybe they sent their child to his or her bedroom. Some may even sacrifice others in the basement to sustain their earthly leisure. Every parent makes mistakes, but as writer Brian K. Vaughan shows in his hallmark series RUNAWAYS, some parents are worse than others.

In the pages of RUNAWAYS, six L.A. teens discover that their parents really are supervillains. Molly, Alex, Nico, Chase, Gert, and Karolina stumble across a bizarre ritual in Alex’s parents’ basement. The gathered parents sacrifice a young homeless woman and capture her soul in a glowing blue box. The teens run, but not before stealing some weapons and tools to fight against their evil parents. They soon discover their own powers and learn the scope of their parents’ influence as the underground criminal group The Pride. To free Los Angeles, the teens band together as the Runaways and begin righting their parents’ wrongs.

To be frank, RUNAWAYS was the comic book series that made me fall in love with the medium. The beautiful storytelling by Brian K. Vaughan, Joss Whedon, Terry Moore, and Kathryn Immonen over its 2003 to 2009 run inspired me to become a writer. With the upcoming Hulu interpretation of the series and the newly announced sequel series releasing in September, this article will dive into the ten best moments from the six-year run. This list will not include brief cameos or their roles in SECRET INVASION or CIVIL WAR, and there will be some spoilers.

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1. Taking on the ‘Rents

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Moment one is the climactic battle between the Runaways and their evil parents. Tailing The Pride to an undersea fortress, the teens learn the true nature of their parents’ sacrifices. An ancient race of evil godly beings, The Gibborim, absorb innocent souls in order to create a new world. The one caveat: the old world must be razed and replaced.

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A number of events change the group dynamic in this story, but one would affect the team for the rest of the run. Throughout the series, there were several hints that there was a mole within the Runaways. While the teens were unaware of the mole, their parents gladly used the mole to stop their kids. After acquiring the weapons and powers of his fellow teammates, Alex, the team’s appointed leader, is revealed to be the mole. Alex played the entire team and tried to drag them over to their parents’ way of thinking from the start.

Alex’s betrayal does not go as plan, though. His appearance sets off The Pride’s in-fighting, leading to the destruction of the Gibborim’s sacrifice. In a fit of rage, the Gibborim eradicate the fortress, instantly killing The Pride and Alex. The Runaways barely escape with their lives and end up in foster care. While Alex does make a cameo appearance in AVENGERS UNDERCOVER, his death led to distrust and fear for his former teammates. It is fitting, then, that he finds his way to his own personal hell: a white landscape of pure nothingness, alone for all eternity.

2. Excelsior: The Return of Kid Supers

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One of the highlights of RUNAWAYS was the profusion of guest characters. Every arc had some new character appearance, whether it be the Wrecking Crew, Cloak and Dagger, or the Avengers.

Months after defeating their parents, the Runaways are busy defending Los Angeles from villains taking advantage of the power vacuum. During this time, a time-traveling Gert from the future approaches the team. Dying in Chase’s arms, she warns the Runaways of a young man who would kill the Avengers in the far-future. This boy is Victor Mancha, a Los Angelino obsessed with superhero culture. When the Runaways go to capture Victor, they are intercepted by the Marvel Universe’s then newest super team: Excelsior.

Excelsior’s battle with the Runaways was special. Formed by the former Green Goblin, Phil Urich, and Rick Jones, Excelsior was a support group for former kid superheroes who wanted to distance themselves from their childhoods. EXCELSIOR explored the horrors these young people encountered. The Runaways, on the other hand, embraced their abilities and believed that all adults were capable of great acts of evil and betrayal. Even though Excelsior represents a way out for struggling teens, the Runaways see them as a threat.

While the obscure characters help put the battle on this list, the action sequence itself is one of the best in the series. Every hero gets a chance to shine. Even Ricochet, initially a redesign for Peter Parker later adopted by another hero, gets street cred for taking out Gert’s dinosaur single-handedly. Darkhawk’s emotional breakdown and near murder of the Runaways also resonates with the ideology of the scene, and it scared the hell out of me as a teen.

3. The Son of Ultron Rises

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Ultron is one of the Avengers most fearsome villains. An A.I. designed by Hank Pym, his sole goal is to destroy all life and build others like himself. Creator of Vision, Jocasta, and Alkhema, Ultron embraces fatherhood. Victor Mancha, though, was meant to be his greatest creation yet.

Victor is the forewarned destroyer of the future Avengers. Ultron designed the boy android to obsess over superheroes, to love them and to aspire to become one himself. At a given time, Victor’s programming would slowly transform any internal metal components into organic ones that would convince him to move to New York. Here, his own powers would activate, he would join the Avengers and then kill them from the inside.

The Runaways ensured that none of this would happen. By exposing Victor directly to a group of superpowered people, his programming activated early, and he instead learned the horrible truth behind his parentage. In one of the most powerful twists in the series, Victor breaks free of Ultron’s control and turns on daddy dearest with an electric blast to the face. Of course, this only works to piss off Ultron, and it is only the sudden appearance of Excelsior that finally destroys Ultron.

Victor has gone on to join AVENGERS A.I. for a stint, but his greatest moments have always involved his insecurities. His team has seen what he can become should Ultron’s programming take over. He worries over deaths that haven’t happened yet. This has led to a complexity not available to many comic book characters.

4. Karolina and Xavin, Sittin’ in a Tree

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Karolina Dean’s parents were alien war criminals from the planet Majesdane, a planet of glorious beings that glowed like the sun. Majesdane is dead, killed by the Skrulls after the Deans revealed its location. In order to protect their new home from Skrull invasion, the Deans promised the hand of Karolina to a Skrull prince.

Time passes, and Karolina’s parents are now dead. She is a Runaway, and more importantly, she feels like a freak. The reason? Karolina is gay. While there haven’t been many coming-out scenes in comics, Karolina finally accepts herself without major fireworks. Karolina’s coming-out wasn’t Northstar’s two-page spread of “I AM GAY!” Karolina tries to kiss Nico. Nico rejects Karolina, and immediately Karolina’s world spins out of control. Feeling like a misfit, she barely recognizes the spaceship falling to Earth behind her.

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This ship carries Xavin, a Skrull Prince and Karolina’s betrothed. A bit of a deus ex machina, Xavin, as a Skrull, can shapeshift, so he changes his body to a female one in order to please Karolina. Xavin and Karolina’s relationship would represent one of my first exposures to a lesbian couple in comics. More importantly, the relationship felt real, filled with all of the corresponding arguments and questions that come when two different alien species date. Karolina’s coming-out was a major moment for this young adult comic, and it gave way to one of its best relationships.

5. Cloak and Dagger, the Original Runaways

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It only makes sense that Cloak and Dagger, Marvel’s original runaways, would make appearances in this series. Their first appearance was antagonistic, with Cloak and Dagger tricked by The Pride into apprehending their children. Their second appearance, though, would have a much grander impact.

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Cloak and Dagger are intrinsically tied together by their light and dark powers. Cloak literally cannot survive without Dagger. So the superhero community is shocked when Dagger ends up in the hospital, severely beaten, and a security camera seemingly shows Cloak assaulting the young woman. With the Avengers on his trail, Cloak makes his way to Los Angeles, where he begs the Runaways for their help in finding the true culprit.

This particular arc is momentous for several reasons, not least of which includes the simple cool factor of the series. The Runaways meet up with Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, and Captain America in their search for answers. Molly, the twelve-year-old mutant, readily defeats the latter three. However, it is the character exploration given to the team that truly gives this arc potency. Chase exposes himself as a murderer. Nico doubts her ability to lead the team, and Victor finally digs into his uncertainty about being in New York after learning about his programming. Besides, any storyline featuring Wolverine punched through church doors by a kid is more than worth it.

6. Facing Loss

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Ask any reader of RUNAWAYS who their favorite character was and most would quickly say Gert. Her cynicism and stick-it-to-the-Man lifestyle cemented her as the perfect mirror for punk rock teen readers who felt overlooked. Gert helped the Runaways act as a representative network of characters, carrying her atypical superheroine design with so much class and character that she asserted her personal brand of beauty.

With her popularity, fans were shocked when Brian K. Vaughan made the decision to kill her. Alex’s father, Geoffrey, found his way through the time stream and reformed The Pride with a group of Alex’s gaming friends. Kidnapping Molly, his plan was to continue the sacrifices to the Gibborim, ensuring Alex’s return, and Molly would be his first victim. But, in her last act, Gert and her dinosaur, Old Lace, save Molly by taking the knife themselves.

Gertrude’s death shattered my young adult heart. Over many chapters, Gert became one of the greatest heroes in the Runaways. Just one story arc before, Spider-Man told her that she had the makings of an Avenger. The future was bright for Gert, and a monster took that future away from her. Gert’s death was a horribly perfect representation of her personal ideology. As Chase stands on a cliff after he buries the only woman he loved, you can almost hear Gert whispering how unfair life truly is, and how you have to make yours count.

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7. Live Fast

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Following Gert’s death comes one of the creepiest story arcs in the series. Chase is barely holding onto his sanity. His loss breaks him. He makes only minor appearances in the team’s superheroing.  Depressed, lost in a world that only made sense when Gert was alive, Chase is desperate for an answer — a way to bring her back.

Chase’s heartbreak leads him to the doorstep of the Gibborim, his parents’ deities. Chase is tasked with sacrificing one innocent soul to them within a time limit. In return, the Gibborim would bring Gert back to life. Chase is gifted The Pride’s book of secrets, which would change based on his needs. As a result of this new power, he confronts his former team. Not to harm them. Not even to sacrifice them. Chase’s sole goal is to say goodbye. He would be the Gibborim’s sacrifice. In his mind, the world needed Gert. It did not need a broken down jock without a reason to live for.

Chase doesn’t kill himself, but his story resonated with a number of fans who had encountered such grief in their lives. He represented people who would give everything to bring those they loved back. At the height of his depression, he comes to the realization that the world didn’t need him. Furthermore, Chase was the only child in the Runaways that faced abuse from his supervillain father, and it destroyed his sense of worth. With Gert, he built himself back up, only to watch it crumble when she died. As such, this was an important moment for the series because it was the first introduction of the effects of long-standing abuse and mental illness.

8. Punisher War Journal: Hhhhrrrrnnnnnnn…

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This particular moment really needs no context. It is simply the funniest moment in the entire series and deserves a spot on this list for making me laugh over and over again.

When Wilson Fisk contacts the team, he tasks them with recovering an ancient artifact. Their association with the man draws the attention of Frank Castle, the Punisher. After nearly killing Chase and Old Lace with a rocket launcher, Frank turns his attention to Molly. The strongest twelve-year-old in mutant history sees the Punisher’s costume as a sign of superpowers. Therefore, she uses all of her strength to land a perfect right hook into Frank Castle’s gut.

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Again, this is simply a fun moment, with Molly trying to apologize to the Punisher. Frank Castle refuses to fall over, so he is compressed into this tight, uncomfortable ball of hate and pain. While it is not the most meaningful moment in RUNAWAYS, it definitely reinforces that these are young heroes. Also, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chase so proud as in the scene afterward.

9. Time Traveling Teens

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After Brian K. Vaughan had left the RUNAWAYS, Joss Whedon took the team through one of their strangest, and arguably best, adventures. After discovering that the Kingpin’s artifact was actually a superdrive for the Runaways’ vehicle, Leapfrog, the team plugs it in as a desperate attempt to escape New York’s crime lord. Here, they learn that the drive was a time-travel device developed by Gert’s parents. The parents hid the device in New York in case their time machine ever needed roadside assistance. The superdrive was a one-time battery, though, and it leaves the Runaways trapped in the late 19th century. Consequently, the team dons traditional clothing and heads out onto the streets of New York.

This particular arc was memorable for many reasons. The Runaways are immediately thrust into the battle between rival superpowered street gangs and the childhood horrors of the time period. The character of Klara, a married thirteen-year-old factory worker, best summarizes these hardships. Klara can control plant life, but her powers are a curse for it draws the attention of the gangs.

This particular story is incredibly fast paced, and the period-piece aspect drew me in right away. It was also meaningful for the team to re-encounter Gert’s time-traveler parents leading one of the street gangs. Tensions run high within the Runaways, but their experiences in the past lead to heaps of character growth and development. Chase finally finds a means to recover from his grief, symbolized by the recovery of his parents’ weapons, and Nico, the daughter of dark wizards, gains new strength and conviction after meeting her magical grandmother.

10. Nico’s True Power

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While not exactly a RUNAWAYS moment, Nico’s time in the hit AVENGERS ARENA series deserves some recognition. Despite leading the team after Alex’s betrayal, Nico’s character was never truly explored by the series’s writers in my opinion. Her powers are fueled by the very darkest parts of her psyche. That alone could grant deep characterization, but in the end, she simply lost the spotlight to her amazing co-stars.

Nico got her time to shine in AVENGERS ARENA, but only after she dies. One of sixteen teens dragged into the villain Arcade’s newest Murder World landscape, the villain forces Nico into a Hunger Games battle to the finish with her fellow teen heroes. During this battle, the machinations of technopath Apex nearly kill Nico. Watching her bleed out in the snow, Arcade reveals that Nico is a blood mage. The greater her blood sacrifice, the more powerful she becomes. Racing out of the snow, Nico pummels Apex’s machines with ease, burying her in the dirt with a single word.

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Nico’s revival is a terrifying sight to behold. She comes back as a purely destructive force. However, this has consequences. Drowning in power, she tries to kill someone, and while she had every right to defend her friends, it really explores the depth of who she is. Nico does not want to become her parents. However, in that one instance, she glimpsed their influence. Nico has recently joined with A-Force and looks to be returning to the fold in the newest incarnation of RUNAWAYS. Her character deserves the return, especially considering what this sequence explored.

Final Thoughts: RUNAWAYS

The RUNAWAYS defined my love of comic books. Much of my adoration for superheroes and the comic book genre came from this young adult classic. Masterful storytelling and potent set-pieces filled this series. However, the characters made this series stand out. I also saw a little bit of myself in all six of them and how they approached the world. Readers experienced real grief when Gert died, and true awe when Nico rises from the snow with her glowing gauntlet of power.

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More importantly, though, this story taught readers how to approach life. Whether it be Karolina’s coming out or the team’s willingness to help a fellow runaway like Cloak, even Molly’s willingness to stand up to big, bad Frank Castle, showed that human life is beautiful and complicated and totally worth it. Furthermore, it showed that no matter how young you are, you have the strength to stand up and fight back.

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