Retro: Runners #1-5

One of the best offerings from this year’s Free Comic Book Day was Runners, a fun sci-fi comic that I raved about in my FCBD reviews for Buzzscope:

Atari Force was one of my favorite comics as a kid, and of course Star Wars remains one of the most influential movies I’ve ever seen, and Sean Wang’s Runners evokes fond memories of both, with a welcome dose of humor thrown in the mix. Clever scripting and nice, clean artwork, I will be seeking out the other four issues to this series as soon as possible.

“As soon as possible” took a little bit longer than I’d hoped but I was thrilled to hear that Wang was releasing a Trade Paperback collecting the first story arc later this summer, and even more thrilled when I met him at Wizard World Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago and he gave me free copies of the full run! The best thing was that they fulfilled my expectations from the first issue and I can wholeheartedly recommend them to anyone who’s a fan of fun, fast-paced and, most importantly, accessible sci-fi. I know I’ll be buying my own copy of the TPB when it comes out!

Wang’s titular “runners” are a diverse band of charismatic space smugglers who move questionable cargo for profit, no questions asked. Led by Roka Nostaco, the vaguely elephantine proprietor of the freighter Khoruysa Brimia, they are collectively the distillation of the best of George Lucas’ original Star Wars characters, as Wang throws in everything from Han Solo’s hotshot bravado to Luke Skywalker’s naive idealism, mixing and matching personality traits for a more appealing cast than Lucas could ever have dreamed up. The “Remastered” first issue offered for Free Comic Book Day introduces them as they head for a routine rendezvous, only to discover the ship they’re meeting up with is under attack by raiders and their cargo is in danger. After fending off the raiders, led by the vain Hamron the Handsome, they discover a surprise amongst the wreckage…a mysterious woman of indeterminate origin and race. Her identity is but one of the sub-plots Wang spins into motion in this rip-roaring introductory arc that hints at a fully realized world lying underneath and begs for elaboration.

Wang handles the action and characterization extremely well with smart dialogue and a steady pace, working the serial format the way it’s meant to be with each issue telling an entertaining story that never feels decompressed, while offering the requisite cliffhanger that keeps things moving forward. Collected as a trade – which is pretty much how I read the individual issues – it reads even better.

His character designs are pretty original and inventive, rivaling the sense of wonder I felt the first time I saw the cantina scene in the original Star Wars, and his line work is clean and highly detailed. It’s the kind of black-and-white art that feels like an artistic choice as opposed to a budgetary one. There’s a terrific character “sketchbook” in the second issue that shows the evolution of Grissom, a supporting character who appears in that issue, from her original conception as a male character back in 1996, to the female Wang ultimately went with, and it is impressive for the glimpse at the potential depth of the series that a supporting character received so much attention when the primary cast is 6-8 characters large, depending on whom you include. Factor in the detailed ships and environments Wang illustrates and it’s no wonder that this labor of love has taken a few years to get through five issues.

I hate reviews that say things like “this should be a movie,” because it can come off as slighting the comic itself, but in this case…”Runners should be a movie!!!” First, however, someone needs to sign this guy up and let him devote 70 hours/week to telling his story as a comic book because Dark Horse’s Star Wars comics shouldn’t be the best-selling sci-fi on the shelves. Slap an Image logo on this baby and you’ve got a smash hit!

Runners #1-5, (Serve Man Press, 2003-2005; $2.95/ea); Story & Art by Sean Wang.

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