I was reminded that I wanted to do this review by a Greenpeace ad that is roughly what you get if you do Runaways + Environmental Activism.
On to the review. I'm going to avoid spoilers not contained within the first few issues. I may throw in a spoilery entry later once I figure out how to do cuts (I'll throw in a text 'spoiler' as well for anyone reading via feeds). The first book is a quite strong self-contained comic written by by Brian K. Vaughan (Author), Adrian Alphona (Illustrator), Takeshi Miyazawa (Illustrator). I'm a fan Brian K. Vaughan's of "Y: the Last Man" and have enjoyed book 1 of "Ex Machina," so it isn't a big surprise I liked Runaways as well. Runaways hardcover three was recently released, so there's a good amount after what I'm talking about.
This is a superhero story but one without emphasis on mentors or tragically dead parental figures. In fact, the parents of the six protagonists are bad guys which is what leads them to become runaways. The characters ares strongly differentiated and interesting. There's not that much ethnic diversity, but this is one of few ensemble series I'm familiar with that has a majority female cast that isn't cheesecake oriented (Another example would be Powerpuff Girls, but that's all that's coming to me off the top of my head).
The anti-adult anti-authoritarian streak can be rather strong. As my girlfriend puts it, the motto of the series seems to be "Don't trust anyone over 17." However, it doesn't rely on simply making all adults stupid, incompetent, or evil (although there are a fair number of adult villains). Instead, the kids stay on their own because the villains are quite skilled at bending the system to their end and heroic adults make mistakes or just have different outlooks than the kids. Our heroes are just as fallible, although are generally far more sympathetic.
One issue I particularly like is the managing of power-sets. Many of the Runaways draw power from various gifted or stolen items that are a reasonable substitute for experience. Moreover, the balance, particularly on magic, is very well handled. Our heroes are powerful, but they face real limits that aren't just arbitrarily applied by the story. I think this is particularly hard to do with a young protagonist book and I'm glad to see it done right.
So what are book 1's weaknesses? Well, first at 27 I'm a bit out of the target audience. The anti-authority message is fun, but not really meant to be a guide to those who have authority. That's not a problem with the book, it's just a reason younger people may get more out of it than fogies like me. A bit more importantly, the pacing of the story is a bit uneven. This is a fairly predictable study in how cancellation scares affect storytelling. About the first 2/3s of the book was written with the expectation of a long storyline with episodic arcs. The last 1/3 then wraps up the series for an early end. Finally, one important villain has a rather confused motivation. I actually think that there's a good consistent explanation for said character's behavior, but it requires some speculation on my part.
Greenpeace ad via Matthew Yglesias.