Runaways (2nd series) #4

Issue Date: 
July 2005
Story Title: 
True Believers - chapter four

Brian K. Vaughan (writer), Adrian Alphona (penciler), Craig Yeung (inker), Christina Strain (colorist), Virtual Calligraphy’s Randy Gentile (letterer), Jacob Chabot (production), Jo Chen (cover artist), Mackenzie Cadenhead (associate editor), C.B. Cebulski (editor), Joe Quesada (editor in chief), Dan Buckley (publisher)

Runaways created by Vaughan & Alphona

Brief Description: 

The runaways head back to La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles aboard the Leapfrog. Vic wants to speak with his mom, but Gert won’t allow it. Chase asks them to prepare for landing at the tar pits, and Nico groans as Chase gives their hideout’s location away so freely. Inside the hostel, Nico uses an incantation to render Vic helpless until they discover the truth about his family. Nico then begins a holographic slideshow highlighting possible fathers. The older Gert’s definition of ‘Greatest Evil in the Universe’ doesn’t seem to apply to the Kingpin, Electro and the Leader, but Galactus has possibilities, as does the Red Skull, which is where Victor draws the line. He brings up Ultron and Magneto, both of whom created heroic offspring, and he tries to assure them that just because his father is evil, it doesn’t mean he will turn out the same way. After hearing enough of the runaway’s nonsense, he grabs his phone from Gert’s pocket. His mother, Marianella, has been trying to get through to her son on the phone but, as she calls him, someone attacks her, knocking her unconscious. When Victor tries calling her, he finds his father on the other end of the line. It’s Doctor Doom! Meanwhile, Excelsior recovers after their battle with the ‘Children of the Corn.’ Darkhawk is having trouble with his armor, which he feels is controlling him more than the other way round. Phil Urich then gets a phone call from their mystery benefactor, asking if he’s ready to take the next step.

Full Summary: 

The cloaked Leapfrog makes its way through the night sky, over Los Angeles, and on its way back to the La Brea Tar Pits. This is the tourist attraction that the runaways have made their home. Victor Mancha is with them, and his cell phone rings. He wants to answer it, but Gert rudely informs him that he isn’t entitled to a phone call. Victor becomes agitated. It’s only his mom, so why can’t he just tell her he’s okay? She probably just heard her only child was kidnapped by a bunch of locals in a frog-shaped… whatever the thing is. Gert replies that until they shake every last branch on his evil family tree, that’s all she’s gonna hear. Molly adds that he’s a villain, and his ringtone is stupid.

Victor tells Molly that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. His ringtone is a Rick Jones song. “Superfreak?” asks Karolina. Victor replies that Superfreak was by Rick James. Haven’t any of them read Sidekick? He holds up a magazine with a smiling Rick Jones on the cover. He explains that Rick Jones has only lived, like, the dream existence. He was part of the Avengers when he was their age, and got to hang out with Thor, Iron Man and was Captain America’s partner!

Molly, still feeling grumpy, replies that they met Captain America once. He made them go into foster care after their parents got blown up trying to destroy the world. He had really bad breath, she adds. Gert asks Victor why, if he has such a man-crush on the spandex crowd, does he want to murder them all when he grows up. Victor asks why people keep saying that. He insists he’s not a criminal. He’s never even had detention before.

Chase calls for them to prepare for landing at the tar pits, so they’d better blindfold Victor before he figures out where they’re taking him. Victor leans over into the cockpit. “Wait. You guys live in the La Brea Museum?” Nico covers her face with embarrassment. “You are such a moron,” she whispers towards Chase. Chase figures the comment was aimed at Victor, and explains that they live under it, not in it. Their ‘rents used to keep one of their secret lairs there, and they use it for their new digs. Victor asks whether people notice the Leapfrog coming and going. Chase tells him that it’s pretty much invisible when cloaked, and besides, the museum’s almost always empty. “Yeah,” adds Nico. “This is Los Angeles… Nobody cares about history.” The Leapfrog plunges beneath the bubbling tar.

(The L.A. Times)

Phil Urich meets Excelsior on the rooftop. Before they land he can see they’ve been roughed up a little, and asks if they were fighting children, or Dr. Doom! Chamber tells him to shut it, and asks why he doesn’t put on his Green Gobbler armor and try taking down these little monsters himself. Phil asks what happened out there. He saw the words ‘abduction’ and ‘major property damage’ come over the wire and decided to stop reading. Ricochet replies that their runaways aren’t troubled children - they’re full-on Children of the Corn. Thanks to Darkhawk going crazy-insane-o, they didn’t just escape; they escaped with a hostage. Darkhawk turns to Ricochet and tells him he had a nervous breakdown. He grabs Ricochet by the throat and asks how many more times he’s gonna have to apologize.

He hurls Ricochet from the roof, and Julie Power has to catch him. She tells Chris to get a hold of himself, but Chris is amped, and replies, “Or what? I used to be an Avenger! I’m more powerful than every one of you third stringers combined!” Chamber retorts that he’s a second stringer, not third.

Ricochet thanks Lightspeed for the save. He thinks ‘Hawk’s power crystal is driving him totally one ring. Julie smiles, and asks if he’s an LOTR fan. He replies that he’s seen the extended editions twenty-three times. Julie tells him to read the books. There’s so much beautiful stuff Peter wasn’t able to put in.

Turbo asks Darkhawk to power down or, so help her, she’ll throw him off the roof herself. The armor fades, and Chris tells her he doesn’t know what to say. This isn’t who he is. He used to be able to handle the armor when he was younger but, the older he gets, the more he feels like it handles him. He tells the others that he knows it might cost them a million bucks, but he can’t be part of this mission.

Phil tells him it was never about the money. It’s only ever been about helping kids, and now there’s one more out there that needs rescuing. Chamber asks what they’re supposed to do about it. Chris has gone mental; Turbo’s at fifty percent now that her wrist things have been blown to hell, and Phil’s a glorified dispatcher. They shouldn’t get him started on Rainbow Brite and Mister Discus, he adds, motioning to Ricochet and Lightspeed.

Phil receives a call on his cell phone, but the I.D. is blocked. He figures it’s their patron saint calling to inform them that they’re fired. Their patron saint has been watching Excelsior’s performance on a monitor, and he informs Phil that it’s not exactly been a gold-star day for the twixter set. Phil asks him to hang on while he gets Turbo, but he actually wants to speak with Phil himself. He tells Phil he was wondering how committed he is to his cause. Is he ready to take the next step?

(La Brea Tar Pits)

Inside the runaway’s hideout underneath the tar pits, Victor looks around and comments how it’s not exactly Four Freedoms Plaza. With the Leapfrog taking center stage, he checks the rest of the room out. There are paintings of the runaway’s deceased parents hanging on the walls, and several gadgets and mechanical objects scattered about. A river runs through the cave, and an amphibious vehicle bobbles on the water’s surface.

Karolina tells Victor that whoever said the bad guys have the best taste never took an interior decorating class. He should have seen how much green and purple their parents had down there before she started going all “Queer Eye” on the place. Chase asks if this looks like a freakin’ open house, and to get Victor to the brig. Gert reminds him that the hostel doesn’t have a brig. Something tells her their parents usually opted for the death penalty with their enemies.

Molly asks what they’re gonna do if Vic tries to electrify one of them again. They don’t even know how many powers he has. Nico guesses there’s only one option. She raises the Staff of One, as Victor turns to her and pleads for her not to kill him. Nico says ‘Insulation’ which created a cloud of purple foam, which covers Victor from head to toe. Standing over him, she asks him to zap with everything he’s got. Vic tries, but nothing happens. Nico then helps him to his feet, and tells him that her incantation should hold him until they discover the truth about his family.

Vic wipes the insulation from his clothes, and reiterates that his mom is an architect’s assistant by day, a student by night and a waitress by later at night. His dad was a U.S. marine who died in the Panama invasion when he was just a baby. Nico asks if he has any evidence to back his story up, but Vic responds by asking if she has any evidence to prove he’s wrong! Chase reminds him that Gert came back from the future Terminator-style and said his old man was the greatest evil in the universe. Gert adds that she reserves the word ‘evil’ for very few things outside of fat-free ice cream and non-Mac computers.

Karolina puts her hand on Victor’s shoulder. She knows this must be tough for him, but points out that he can trust them in that someone can live a whole lifetime with their parents and still not know the first thing about them. Vic never even got the chance to meet his father. Molly asks Nico if she can’t just cast a magic-something to show them his past, but Nico says she already used that spell on the future Gert. If they’re gonna uncover the truth, they’re gonna have to do one thing they never thought they’d do again: homework.

(The Mancha home)

It’s evening, and Marianella Mancha is on the phone trying to call Victor, but all she gets is his answering machine. It asks anyone calling to call back after ‘Lost’ is over. She leaves a message, telling him that if he gets it, she wants him to know she’s sorry; so sorry. She made a deal with the devil. She kneels down as her body weakens, and tells him she did it for him. “Tell the people who took you, Victor. Everything I ever did for….”

Before she completes her sentence, a voice behind her asks whether, “You’re not speaking to the authorities, are you, Marianella?” Marianella turns and asks for forgiveness. She didn’t think they’d be there so quickly. She looks up, and says, “Espera usted no es…” before being zapped with a burst of electrical energy. Her neighbors are oblivious to what’s happening next door.

(La Brea Tar Pits)

The runaways and Victor seat themselves around a holographic display. Chase gets into the right mood by grabbing a carton of popcorn. Nico hosts the show, and the first image to appear is that of the Kingpin. Chase asks, “That blob is the Kingpin of crime? He looks more like the Kingpin of Crisco.” Nico asks him to knock it off. Their parents built this holographic rogue’s gallery to keep tabs on the market share controlled by their international competition. She thought they could go through their files to see if any of these guys might potentially be Victor’s real father.

Karolina thinks this is like the most surreal episode of Maury Povich ever. Victor thinks this is stupid. In the highly unlikely event that he is the son of Charlie Manson or whatever, he didn’t raise him. Nico informs him that even adopted kids need to know if their parents had a history of heart disease, or alcoholism. Knowing about your past is the only way you can protect your future. The second image appears; that of Max Dillon, better known as Electro. She says his extra-normal abilities obviously have a lot in common with their guest’s.

Gert points out that Electro’s a two-bit hood. Can he really be the ‘greatest evil’ of anything? Nico replies not yet, but asks Gert to remember that the older version of herself came from twenty years in the future. Who knows what Electro might become between now and then? Gert suggests that if this is the case, then Vic’s father might not even be a villain yet. Maybe it’s a hero who flips in the next decade or so. Nico thinks they should stick to the ne’er-do-wells for the now. She struggles with the controls, and Victor, a gadget geek, helps out.

The next contender is the Leader, a gamma-irradiated egghead. Gert thinks Mancha’s got brawn to go with his brains, not to mention whatever X-factor let him wallop Karolina with those bleachers. Maybe he’s the son of Norman Osborn, she wonders. Karolina asks why they’re only considering men from Earth. She thought Gert said Vic’s father was the greatest evil in the universe. Good point, concedes Nico. The next image, she explains, used to be an urban legend, but their parents wrote that he’s one of the greatest threats the Earth has seen. Galactus appears, holding the Earth in his hands.

Molly doesn’t think he looks that scary, but Nico informs her that in reality, he’s supposedly over thirty feet tall. Chase gets halfway through a disgusting thought about Vic’s mother, before Vic warns him not to finish it. Gert says the biggest crime most of these guys committed was their wardrobe! What about men who were really evil, like Hitler? Nico asks Vic if he can get the file up on the Red Skull, but Vic draws the line there. His dad wasn’t a Nazi, he insists. And what if it is? Lots of children of horrible people grow up to be productive members of society.

Ultron’s image appears next. Vic explains that he was a demented killing machine, but he still created the Vision, who turned out to be, like, one of the greatest heroes ever. Karolina doesn’t think he can compare nuts and bolts to flesh and blood. Vic next brings up Magneto. He was the father of two Avengers; Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Gert mentions the fact that they were both part of something called the unironically named Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, This doesn’t exactly help Vic’s case, she adds.

Victors a little tired of all this. He’s sorry for what their parents did, but it didn’t happen to him. Gert asks him to chill out, but Vic grabs her and holds the remote against the side of her head. He warns the others to do exactly as he says, or he’s gonna blow her head off. The kids all stand up, concerned, but Gert asks them to relax. He’s holding a remote and is powerless. Vic stumbles over his words a little, but explains that he flipped the remote’s vibranium battery when they weren’t looking. If he presses one button while the polarity is reversed, it… it won’t be pretty.

Nico can’t risk any of them getting hurt again because she let the wrong boy into their lives. She asks Victor what he wants. He reaches his hand into Gert’s pocket. “Hey,” she cries. “Get your meat-fists off the merchandise, perv.” Vic tells her not to flatter herself, and pulls out his cell phone. He calls his mom, and tells her he’s all right. He’s about to tell her to send the cops to the tar pits, before a male voice answers. He tells Vic that he’s afraid his mother is unavailable at present, but perhaps he could spare a moment for his dear old father.

Vic’s eyes widen. “What? Mister, I don’t know what you’re…” The man interrupts him. “No, Victor, not mister… Doctor!” Back at the Mancha home, Marianella is tied and gagged, sitting on a wooden chair, with Dr. Doom standing right behind her.

Characters Involved: 

Karolina Dean, Molly Hayes, Nico Minoru, Chase Stein, Gertrude Yorkes (all Runaways)

Old Lace

Victor Mancha

Chamber, Darkhawk, Green Goblin, Lightspeed, Ricochet, Turbo (all Excelsior)

Marianella Mancha

Marianella’s neighbors and passersby

Dr. Doom (or someone dressed like him)

(on book cover)

Rick Jones

(on television)

Darkhawk, Ricochet, Turbo (all Excelsior)

(in paintings)

The Hayes’, the Minoru’s and the Wilder’s,

(as holograms)

Electro, Galactus, Kingpin, the Leader, Magneto and Ultron

Story Notes: 

Rick James was a musician, born James Johnson Jr., who had an extravagant lifestyle and influenced the funk-punk movement considerably before his untimely death in 2004.

Rick Jones has been around since the early 1960’s, firstly as a friend of Bruce Banner, then becoming close to Captain America, and more recently as Genis-Vell’s partner following the Destiny War. They have now separated.

The runaways met Captain America in the final issue of their first series.

Children of the Corn was a short story written by horror writer Stephen King, and subsequently (as with most of King’s stories) was turned into a movie in 1984 starring Peter Horton and the Terminator’s Linda Hamilton.

The second-stringer comments are based on long-established ideas of character importance, according to the fans. For instance, Captain America and Black Panther are clearly first stringers, whilst Iron Fist and Brother Voodoo could be considered second-stringers.

LOTR is The Lord of the Rings, written by J.R.R. Tolkein and turned into a movie trilogy by Peter Jackson.

Rainbow Brite is a cartoon character aimed at very young children. Her friends included Twink and Starlite.

A ‘twixter’ is considered to be someone in their twenties, usually college graduates who are often unmarried and living at home, who haven’t yet made the mental leap from teenager to adult.

Four Freedom’s Plaza is the former home of the Fantastic Four.

Queer Eye for a Straight Guy is a television makeover show where five gay designers try and transform what they consider a drab straight guy into something new.

Nico asking Victor to zap her with everything he’s got seems rather reckless in light of her relative inexperience with the Staff of One. If her incantation hadn’t worked, she’d have been toast.

The invasion of Panama by the United States took place in 1989.

Victor’s answering machine message probably refers to the television show, Lost, which airs on Wednesday nights on ABC.

In The Terminator (1984), Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T101 Terminator came back in time to kill Sarah Connor, the mother of John Connor who began a rebellion against the machines in the future. It failed, but spawned two sequels.

Crisco is a manufacturer of cooking oils, approved by the Heart Foundation of Australia, no less.

Maury Povich is an American talk show host.

Charles ‘Charlie’ Manson is currently serving a lengthy prison sentence after recruiting followers who carried out murders on his word. In 1969 he told his followers, known as ‘the family,’ to carry out murders and leave clues to implicate the Black Panther movement. They killed seven people, including Sharon Tate, the wife of movie director Roman Polanski who was eight months pregnant.

The Kingpin, Electro, the Leader, Norman Osborn, Galactus, the Red Skull, Ultron, Magneto and Dr. Doom are all established classic Marvel villains. However, none of them really seem to fit with the ‘greatest evil in the universe’ theme.

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