Runaways: Another point of view
About ten years ago I’ve read Marvel’s The Runaways by Brian K Vaughan.The idea to attract new readers and the manga audience with the Tsunami Imprint (at the time manga was starting to become popular that they was trying put up something to combat the Manga and Anime market). I reading it after watching the first season of NBC Heroes. It was ok till I’ve noticed how the comic was treating the black characters. It was pretty unintentionally racist towards African Americans. (I’m going to talk about Vaughn’s run of the comic and the initial characters for the sake of discussion)
The story is about six teenagers; Alex Wilder, the genius prodigy son to rich parents The Wilders. Nico Ninoru a gothic girl with magic powers passed down from her family. Chase Stein son to scientist parents. Molly Hayes a mutant, Karolina Dean daughter of alien invaders and Gertrude Yorkes a daughter of time travelers. So at the start of the comic, the parents meet up at the Wilders to plan for a charity event. So they left their children go off to the separate part of the of house. So while the teenagers were together, Alex had an idea of spying on their parents. So they stumbled on a ritual where Alex’s father kills a young woman. So it’s revealed that their parents are part of a cult called the Pride. Their goal is to help the entity called Gibborim and the destroy the world and bring about a Utopia with their children. So now the the teenagers turn against their parents, thus creating a group called the Runaways. So in the final battle with Pride in issue 17. It was revealed that Alex was the mole in the group loyally to only his parents and their cause. His reasoning is use his friends to save his and Nico parents so that that they can have a chance to live. Alex died within the the same issue when he came out as the mole along with the team’s parents ending the first arc.
Let’s get into Alex personality with in the comic. It is shown that he would rather be alone playing games. In the first arc he is shown to have logical and strategic skill. Although it was troublesome that his teams who is mostly white have powers…I’ll get to that. He was seen as the most level headed on in the group. Now Usually in media, young African American males are either shown as loud, and street reflecting the hip hop culture. Now yeah there is black and nerdy trope which is other extreme of depictions of African Americans, Alex didn’t fall into that trope either. He was rounded, not a one off character. What kind of sets him apart from the rest of the black superheroes. Is that he is just human and not someone who was hatched from the blaxploitation films (Luke Cage), someone from the government (Falcon) or the African Region (Black Panther). Keep in mind that this is before Miles Morales came into the scene years after (there was an outrage with that reveal too). Even when he was with the rest of the group. He didn’t have any powers except his intellect. I mean if Vaughn gave him something like martial arts, but he would be in par with Robin in Cartoon Network’s Teen Titans. Then again it would look like they was doing a ripoff. During his time with the Runaways, he fell in love with Nico Minoru. Which is kind of a rare pairing, because it’s not often you get to see a Black man with an Asian woman (more rare with black woman with Asian man). Most times in media when there is an interracial couple, it’s usually the white man with a WOC (woman of Colour) rarely a Man of Colour and Woman of colour outside of each other’s race. This usually reflect the so-called dating demographics within dating sites.
Geoffry Wilder was no better off. When group learns about Pride origins. During the flashback, Gibborim have chosen parents from all walks of life. The Minoru’s a dark wizards, The Yorkers were time travelers, Steins were inventors, Hayes were mutants and the Deans were alien invaders. The Wilders was shown as street thugs something out of what white people view black crime. This is problematic from a villain standpoint. Again with black people being stereotyped as thugs and gangbangers, while the rest of the cast are shown as something from the extraordinary from wizards to aliens. The Wilders are shown as stereotypes. Now some would argue that yeah they are suppose to be like that because of their role as thieves, why not make them jewel thieves or something more than a black stereotype? Again this is an example of the writer no knowing how to write black people properly.
From a Narrative perspective, the problem I had with the story, that Alex’s Betrayal came out of left field like out of nowhere. It was rushed and served no purpose but as a shock value. His motivation was rushed and wasn’t fleshed out. There wasn’t even sufficient clues that lead up to his betray. From the looks of it, Vaughn and Marvel was up in a corner and didn’t know what do with Alex thus made him into a mole. There was hardly any evidence to consider it. Some readers pointed out that his serious mindset, logical or his distance with the group was the clue. From a narrative point of view it doesn’t work like that, unless this is a M. Night Shyamalan film where quirks are what define a person. As a villain he wasn’t very good either, because like as soon as he came out he was killed by Gibborim along with the parents. There was no room to grow as the mole or the villain. It was more like they didn’t have nothing for him so they killed him off. That happens a lot with characters of colour in movies or films. When a writer is doing diversity at a face value, usually the POC characters get the short end of the stick. Alex was rarely mentioned till Avengers Undercover (I’ll get to that on later on). What would be the logical thing is outsmart his father with him trying to pretend to be the mole and put an end to Pride with the rest of the Runaways . Then later on as time when on he can grow as a character along with the rest of the team. Now some might say that it would reduce Nico as his arm candy and defeat the feminist angle. No, it’s not going to hurt Nico’s growth at all. Because people are together, it should explore more instead of just be complacent. Real life relationships work out like that. If they stay together, I don’t know, but it would be interesting to see what could’ve happen. It’s really rare to explore blasian the dynamic of Blasian relationships in fiction. Especially in a Young Adult fiction. Which is if Runaways was made into a show or movie it would be categorized as such.
When I pointed this out, I got a lot of backlash from mostly white comic-book readers. Some were saying that it was a good move and they love it to the ones that was outright insulting. Most of the geeks of colour understood what I was coming from although he liked the story. Most of the time white audiences do not see the problem Considering the fact that majority of the media is white while POC (People of Colour) get sidelined. It’s kinda hard for them to see how is that problematic. Then it got me thinking. Maybe some people like the idea of a black villain. Not just a “Hey, I’m a villain”, but someone who betrays your trust and shows a an undercover cautionary tale. Not to trust a smart black man. Kind of like how Denzel Washington got an award for playing a crooked cop in Training Day instead of Malcolm X or John Q. What’s boggling is that when I said go without the betrayal or have Alex pull a rug underneath his father. Most of people was crying out saying that he would be just a token character. Someone recently was telling me that we should have more black villains. To some white people, it’s kind of hard to grasp a good smart black man that don’t fit the stereotypes is the lead in the story even in recent times that there are stories with intelligent black lead, some people can’t grasp that or they just outright call it author insert. Even Black Panther and other black heroes gets some flack from readers and from their respective company.
With the current events of POC not getting their stories told, and media whitewashing people of colour. (Yeah I know the comic is over ten years old but it stands) People of colour need heroes. Not just the ones that been around since the 70’s that was product of Blaxploitation, martial art films or some made akin to HBO “The Wire” (it’s a good show, but black people need to see themselves more than just problems in the inner city) If there is a good POC character as the lead. Usually white people would stop watching it because they feel that they can not connect with the character, because of their race. Then the producers or editors would pull the plug or kill off the POC character to make room for the white characters. It the usual argument that media uses to whitewash POC characters. In recent studies to shows that African Americans are affected by what they watch (in this case read) What the Runaways is showing is a message regardless if it’s intentional or not it’s kinda making a statement on how the creator or company at the time view things. (Yeah I know that Marvel is making lead way in diversity for now). Truth be told the remaining cast that stuck around is mostly white. Yeah, Nico Minoru is leading the team…but it kind of reflects the stereotypical geek demographics but just switched the gender of the remaining team. It wouldn’t be a problem if during the reveal that they have another black character to balance it out. Later on the comic had Xavin the Skrill alien who can shape shift and Victor who is latino, but they was quickly put on the bus later on in the series. Yeah outside of Nico, people of colour are either dead or put on the bus.
Recently Alex was brought back to life..but they way that the cover put it..is very disturbing. . Now some people would say oh he’s coming back from the dead so it’s ok. Not really. not if you want to show a zombie black guy, ok…but the image seems similar to the examples below. Black man showing himself as a monster while a woman (in this case a Japanese American). In media history, black males are usually seen as brute, token sidekick or in this case an intelligent brute. It’s revisiting the black is not human trope that is seen in the past. It often use to dehumanize African Americans. Although now it’s not as overt as it was back in the day, but it shows up in some works of fiction.
Notice the similarities to the cover of Avengers undercover and the Vogue Magazine. In this sense black males are depicted as handling the woman in animalistic manner. Yeah Alex was suppose to be a zombie, but there are other ways do pull that off without coming off as problematic.
To close off. The Runaways was an original concept at the time and predated the YA craze, but it fails horribly in the plot execution and the depiction of African Americans. Now people have genuine love the series and It’s ok. But look at it from a view of someone who rarely sees a positive depiction of African American outside the main ones in Marvel. It’s very telling if work have little characters of colour or if a certain race is put in a villainous role regardless if it’s intentional or not. To future potential writers when creating something new, be sure you think about how to pull off good diverse characters and twist. Be sure you think about how your story could impact the readers and think how they would feel. Also keep in mind the current social climate of the real world. Remember art like anything else is powerful and can affect people.