Long time Runaway Karolina Dean recently left the group, to try and foster peace on her home planet. Nico, who once spurned Karolina's romantic advances, is taking it very badly. Earlier today, Cloak arrived on the west coast to ask for the Runaways' assistance. His long-term partner, Dagger, has been hospitalised and there is video-evidence 'proving' that Cloak was responsible. The New Avengers are looking to bring him in, and he needs someone to help him clear his name and bring the real perpetrators to justice. Cloak and Dagger once did a good turn for the Runaways, and they are more than happy to return the favour.
New York, twenty-four hours ago and the New Avengers have been mobilised in the hunt for Cloak. Iron Man joins Wolverine atop a bridge, but nether of them have had any success in tracing the teen: Iron Man's high-tech gizmos haven't found a thing, and Wolverine lost Cloak's scent long ago. Logan doubts they'll succeed. They need a local, someone who knows New York like the back of his hand. They need "the kid".
In the here and now, Cloak materialises back in New York city with the Runaways in tow. Travel through the darkforce dimension is harrowing with Victor and Chase particularly badly affected. Being life-long residents of Los Angeles none of the group are prepared for the cold and snow. Cloak says that he will take them all to meet with Catholic priest Father Lantom, who has been offering Cloak and Dagger sanctuary for the past few months.
Lantom is flabbergasted that Cloak would travel across the United States to drag five runaway children into the horror of his life. Has Cloak learned nothing from his own experiences? Lantom believes that Cloak is innocent - that he would never harm his partner - but he believes that Cloak should turn himself over to the authorities. Cloak disagrees. He doesn't trust the authorities and he knows that, deep down, Lantom doesn't trust them either. He believes the Runaways are his last, his best chance to get at the truth.
Lantom is convinced by Cloak's words (and altar-girl Nico quoting from the Bible) and allows Cloak to show them a security video of the attack on Dagger. In the video, Dagger despatches three thugs before another figure appears in the picture. We only see the newcomer from behind but it looks like Cloak. Dagger assumes it is Cloak and the newcomer manifests powers from the darkforce dimension that he uses against Dagger. He also says something that the video doesn't quite pick up.
The attack is horrible and Chase shield's Molly's eyes. The video evidence is damning, but (as Cloak points out) doesn't truly prove that it was him. He produces a glove from the crime scene that he stole from the NYPD evidence locker, he says he has never worn one like it in his life.
The thugs that Dagger was attacking were drug-dealers that were pushing MGH or Mutant Growth Hormone: a narcotic that allows the addict to temporarily take on superhuman powers. It is possible that if the drugs that originally gave Cloak and Dagger their powers were laced with MGH then a user might be able to replicate Cloak's powers. The drug dealers were known to operate around Washington Square Park. The runaways have somewhere to start the investigation.
Given the hour they decide not to take Molly as an eleven year old girl (no matter how superhumanly strong) would be too suspicious. Molly is by no means happy about that. Nico uses the Staff of One to transform Old Lace from a dinosaur into a small dog and the group splits up into two teams: Victor, Gert and Old Lace go to investigate the glove Cloak found, while Chase and Nico track down the pushers.
Walking through the city, Nico and Chase discuss the merits of east coast superheroes versus Hollywood celebrities when they come across a suspicious looking guy in trench coat that Chase is certain is a seller. Despite Chase's efforts to appear as though he knows what he's doing the seller spots him as an out-of-towner immediately. However, when Nico says they are looking to score a little "darkforce", he says that they need to speak to Pusher Man. The seller opens his coat revealing an entrance to the darkforce dimension reminiscent of Cloak's powers. The pair step through.
Chase and Nico find themselves in a lobby where a number of hopefuls are looking to score some MGH. However, they are immediately in trouble. Nico's Staff of One is detected as soon as they enter. The girl minding the entrance (Bo) takes Chase's knife and cuts Nico on the arm. The blood causes her to disgorge the staff, which Bo immediately takes. Chase is ready to start a fight over the attack on Nico, and he may well get one. Sitting in the room is the flamboyantly dressed Pusher Man who says: "Let's show these cats what we go with narcs."
Meanwhile, in the hospital a concerned Captain America is standing by Dagger's bed side. She looks in a very bad way - she has been beaten and her head is bandaged. Cap asks an orderly if anyone else has been to visit Dagger besides Cloak. The orderly reveals that Father Lantom of St Patrick's has spent many hours sitting next to Dagger. This strikes Cap as suspicious.
Back on the streets, Gert, Victor and Old Lace are still looking for clues. Gert is complaining about her burrito, but Victor really loves New York. Gert suspects this is just because his 'father' programmed him to like it. Suddenly, Old Lace detects something amiss in a near-by ally. As they enter they hear a voice from above them, it is asking them questions: do they know Cloak? Why would a tracer hidden in the glove Cloak stole lead the voice to a couple of kids? Gert snaps, and yells at the voice not to call her a kid.
"Wow," says Spider-Man descending from above on his web-line, "I was just telling a hairy little Canadian guy the same thing."
Reading this title for any length of time, it becomes obvious that this is a labour of love. Nothing here is derivative or stereotypical of either the genre or the characters. Runaways was a fresh and original concept when it was launched in 2003, and it remains so today because it is a title that is continually reinventing itself. There are no certainties, no tired plots and no compromises.
And it's also nice to know that Brian Vaughan hasn't just got a handle on his own characters. When was the last time you actually heard of Spider-Man getting the respect he deserves? Obviously it's not something that Wolverine would ever say to his face, but now we know how the Canuck feels. Wolverine is not the only one who is the best at what he does. It was a nice touch in a comic full of nice touches.
What more can I say? From the opening page to the closing cliffhanger, this is a book that has been beautifully paced and plotted. All too often these days comics are written with only the trade market in mind, not so Runaways. This might be part two of a four part arc, but that doesn't stop this issue from having a beginning a middle and an end. It's the sort of thing we should be taking for granted, but it's noticeably absent from numerous other titles.
In many ways Runaways is an old school Marvel title. It has interesting characters, tragically flawed but still trying to be noble. It respects its own history as well as the continuity of other titles and characters (such as using the Mutant Growth Hormone), but it doesn't do so at the expense of the story at hand. And, most importantly, it's a damn good read.
It's one of my favourites, that should be no secret. I could sing the title's praises until the sun grows cold, but in the interests of unbaised commentary I will point out that this issue isn't quite perfect. Adrian Alphona is a master of drawing people, not backgrounds. For a story set in New York his work looks a little sparse. The lack of surrounding detail in (for example) the church slightly detracts from the scene. However, this is the only citicism I could find in the issue, and I had to look really, really hard.
Four and a half webs purely because there are better issues of Runaways than this one, and I can't give them all five webs. If you don't read this title, do yourself a favour and pick up an issue. Brian Vaughan gave Spidey the respect he deserves, it's only fair to the same for his comic.