The passage of time is a strange thing for superhero comics. Heroes that have been active for decades are somehow still in their mid-30s, even as years pass and timely references to our own world are made. Trying to make sense of a timeline can be futile, especially when comics like Runaways #2 show just how easy it is to make everything completely insane.
Image: Marvel Comics. Art from Runaways #2 by Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson.
Runaways #2 — the latest chapter of Rainbow Rowell, Kris Anka, Matthew Wilson, and Joe Caramagna's continuation of the cult Marvel series — deals with bringing back the disparate elements of the original team from Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona's beloved book. It starts in dramatic fashion with Chase Stein altering time to prevent the death of original Runaway Gertrude Yorkes during the events of Runaways #18 back in September 2006.
Runaways #18 art by Adrian Alphona, Craig Yeung, and Christina Strain.
Gert's return plays a major role in Runaways #2, as Nico and Chase have to deal with trying to explain everything that's happened in Gert's absence... including why the Runaways themselves have gone their separate ways. Some friends, like Victor Mancha, the synthezoid teen brother of The Vision, are gone altogether. (Victor died during the events of the haunting and brilliant Vision solo series last year, a title I will happily recommend to anyone for anything at any available opportunity).
There's a lot of anger on Gert's behalf on why her sacrifice has been undone, and why the Runaways themselves have fallen apart without her. But Gert's return also throws up an altogether much more wild and fascinating proposition for Marvel fans, simply because we get a quick acknowledgment of how many years it's been since Gert died... and the answer is bonkers.
Despite Gert's death taking place in an issue released just over eleven years ago in our world, only two years have passed in Marvel time. Of course, comic books aren't exactly known for their rigorous keeping of one specific timeline. Hell, it feels like Marvel and DC reboot and relaunch and explode everything every other month! But cramming down 11 years into 2 is a little outlandish even for Marvel's already fraught comics timeline. It'd be easy to pass this off as saying Runaways itself has been retconned to have happened sooner, or this new run takes place in the past. But it can't be earlier than 2012 considering at one point the ride service app Lyft, launched in June of that year, gets a mention — unless the Marvelverse just so happened to popularise rideshare apps 4 years before the real world did.
The acknowledgment of things like the events of The Vision doesn't help, either. That series was set in the "All-New" Marvel continuity, where the new team of Avengers was in operation. That fact signals that the new Runaways series also takes place after Jane Foster and Sam Wilson have assumed the mantles of Thor and Captain America. Even if you fudge the dates on things, this means that the last 11 years of stories we've read must have happened in that two-year timeframe. Which means, in those two years:
- Civil Wars I and II happened.
- The Skrulls revealed their secret invasion and infiltration of the superhero community and SHIELD, starting an all-out war.
- The Ultimate Marvel Universe smashed itself into the 616-Universe, destroying both, which was eventually fixed into an all-new universe in Secret Wars, with a built-in eight-month timeskip between those two events.
- Vast clouds of Terrigen Mists spread across the planet, creating thousands of new Inhumans, and eventually got destroyed when it was discovered they'd also started sterilizing Mutants.
- Steve Rogers lost his superpowers, regained them, became a fascist and took over the United States, and had his regime toppled.
- Roughly a billion superheroes have died, and been resurrected, from Captain America to Wolverine and everyone else in between.
- A bunch of other crazy shit happened too because we've been reading these comics for the eleven years since Runaways #18.
It's very silly, and it makes no sense the minute you start thinking about it. Which makes this so very comic book in the first place, because the timelines are all so warped anyway the fact that all this happened in just over a decade would still be pretty outlandish.
But, this is comics — Runaways #2's interpretation of the timeline in the grand scheme of things doesn't really matter in a world where this sort of compression goes on all the time. And this head-scratching wrinkle could easily be tweaked or re-written entirely by another comic. It's part of the joy of everything in these ludicrous worlds, trying to dance around and slot in what happens where.
So for now, Runaways gets to have its timeline cake and eat it, getting to lean on the dramatic effect of just two years between Gert's death and return while gleefully ignoring that it's been 14 years since their journey first started. But still, it's hilarious to try and imagine all those events happening in such a short time frame. How are Marvel's heroes not totally exhausted?