Runners: Bad Goods (2005)

One of the great things about doing science fiction in comics is that creators can show anything their imaginations can create. Unlike movies or TV, there are no constraints of budget or time. The only constraint is the creator’s imagination. Whatever he can imagine, he can lay down on the comics page.

Sean Wang really gets that idea. In the first collection of his self-published science fiction series Runners, Wang introduces readers to a place that’s very different from where we live, where strange-looking aliens are as normal as the person down the street, and where enormous space stations are just another place to live and work. It’s a place where rogues battle each other, where spaceships are just another ordinary tool, where seemingly normal people often have bizarre and unique abilities. It’s an amazing creation in its seeming depth and cleverness. Under the hand of many creators, this might be a stale and cold exercise at universe building. Under Wang’s hand, this is a fun and inviting place to visit.

The world of Runners is bizarre and unique to Wang, a fascinating one-man show of creativity and invention. It’s funny and exciting, full of mystery and drama, all carried off with the pacing and attention to detail of a creator who really knows his world. It’s clear that Wang has thought through his world deeply and is excited to share it with his readers; there are enough mysteries and odd elements to keep this comic running for many years.

And, since I’ve been wrong not to mention it before, this is a damn funny and exciting space opera as well. Each chapter has some very funny and exciting elements. Chapter four is almost completely filled by a madcap chase through the largest and most breathtaking space station I’ve ever seen. The main group of runners, a group of smugglers living and working in unpoliced space, have run across the dread pirate Hamron the Handsome, an intensely vain and self-involved man obsessed with his appearance. In issue #1, the runners caused great psychological pain to Hamron by hurting him in a way that damaged his appearance. (I don’t want to ruin a good joke by telling you the punch line) Hamron has friends in high places, so he goes after our pals. Their run through the space station is hysterical, breathtaking fun.

There seem to be quite a few mysteries in the back story of this comic. Front and center for this volume is the background of the strange blue-skinned girl the team find on an abandoned freighter in issue one. She remembers nothing of her past and doesn’t even know her name. The search for the true identity of the girl they eventually name Sky takes up a big part of the collection, and the revelation late in the book about her origins only leads to a deeper and more interesting mystery.

Wang’s art is just breathtaking at times. His depiction of the space station and space vehicles display a ridiculous level of detail while at the same time not seeming busy. His aliens look authentically alien, but they have consistent and readable body language. His storytelling is fresh and friendly, and does a terrific job of moving the story along smoothly. I especially like the used and worn look of the world of Runners. Like the space vehicles in the original Star Wars films, these vehicles look like they’re traveled long distances and are worn and used. Wang’s world isn’t clean and tidy; instead, it looks, quite logically, as if people and other creatures live in it. 

This review sounds like a puff piece for Runners, like a press release put out by the publisher. But I was very pleasantly surprised by this tremendously inventive and intriguing comic book. My only real complaint about the book is that it sets up many mysteries but resolved few of them within its pages. A few small payoffs for the readers might be a nice prompt for us to feel like more mysteries will be solved in future issues. But this is a minor complaint. If there’s any justice, and if he can keep up his production schedule, Sean Wang’s Runners might fill the gap left by the completion of Bone. Wang’s no Jeff Smith just yet, but the potential is there.


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