Elevator pitch: Sky High meets Saved by the Bell, but on *Battleworld.* Youth from the various realms of Doom’s planet attend an elite academy, where failure is not an option. So when a band of misfits and outsiders end up in detention, their recourse is to … run away and make it to the exam room.
Not exactly the theme of “runaways” I was expecting, and the only character recognizable from the previous series is Molly Hayes, who actually is played a bit for laughs because she’s such an outsider to the main cast. Instead, we get a diverse collection of teen heroes like Pixie and Jubilee (who is still a teenager, now?), Cloak and Dagger (ditto?), and Amadeus Cho, Skaar, and Delphine Gorgon. Plus a new character Frostbite, and a few others who are never named nor recognizable in any way. (You would think that a setting like the Victor von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths would allow for all kinds of Easter Eggy cameos.) Oh, yeah. We also have the Winter Soldier as an upper classman … hall monitor? Instructor? House leader? Something like that.
Despite the curve balls of setting and casting, this was a fun romp. The personalities are bold, if a bit clichéd, and bounce off of each other well. There’s a sense of zaniness to the world, without being too silly or satirical, so that the Runaways’ rebellion and anxiety are natural and sympathetic. No one wants to outright tear down the system or batter down the walls of Doom or anything— they just want to survive the high school experience all the while realizing how absurd it all is. That sounds like pretty much any high school anywhere.
There are a few iffy storytelling choices, as I’ve intimated when talking about the cast, which means the momentum of the story is carried more by the cliché structure overlaid upon it all. Too many questions remain. Why is Molly allowed to be so out of place, if the school is so tightly controlled? Why are Cloak and Dagger’s powers/codenames mixed up, and why does Tandy/Cloak not actually wear a cloak? Aren’t they a classic couple, but now they are brother and sister? Uhm, ew. Why is the teacher never named? At first I assumed it was Emma Frost, but only after re-reading it a couple of times did I make the connection– the teacher is actually the headmaster, who is actually Valeria Richards.
Now, I like the twist of Valeria being the headmaster, and this opens a lot of interesting directions for the story to go. It helps make this issue be a very complete set-up for things to really get messy and out of control, and we love those kinds of stories.
Most of the problems I’ve mentioned come from the artwork. Just look at the final scene with Valeria. There is little indication that the group is talking to Dr. Doom, who is striking a generic pose on just one of many video panels, and that’s in the background in front of characters who seem to be talking to each other. How are we to know that he’s even participating in the scene? Doom does get one line of dialogue, only at the end of the page, and again it’s from a video screen— this time it’s not only in the background but also cut off by the edge of the page! That’s some pretty basic information about the scene that’s nearly completely unreadable.
The strengths of the art really is in the characters’ expressions. They really help to sell the various attitudes, from the slyness to Amadeus’ smile and the smugness to Jubilee’s posture. Winter Soldier’s faces are priceless. These expressions and poses get abstracted sometimes, however, resulting in some skewed anatomy that create a fine line between feeling loose and vibrant or just feeling loose and sloppy. The colors don’t really help that much. Most color choices are pretty drab, especially in the backgrounds, and there’s little to differentiate among the costume colors, which means the bold blacks of jackets and/or hoodies are unbalanced with every other character. You’d think there would be a lot of opportunity for school uniforms, here, but they don’t seem to be a feature.
Overall, it’s a quirky corner of Battleworld filled with tweaks on characters we all like that will result in some pretty hilarious hijinks. Things do get a bit cliché with the familiar high school setting, and there is more that a little exposition that’s unclear, both with some scripting and artistic fumbles. But the expressions are lively and there’s a lot of promise for some raised stakes, giving a kind of momentum that makes me anxious to see where it all goes.