Tandy Bowen (aka Dagger) has been assaulted and hospitalised by a man who appeared to be her partner, Cloak. With the whole thing captured on CCTV, the New Avengers have no choice but to bring Cloak in. But Cloak has other plans. Fleeing to Los Angeles, Cloak enlists the help of the Runaways in clearing his name. Leaving the fugitive Cloak and Molly with Catholic priest, Father Lantom, the Runaways hit the town. Nico and Chase find a dealer who is pushing a mutant growth human that allows others to mimic Cloak's powers, but their investigations place them in great danger. Meanwhile, Gert and Victor have run into a certain wallcrawler, who is also looking for Cloak.
In her hospital bed, Dagger begins to glow with an inner radiance, that surprises the kindly hospital orderly who is visiting her bedside. Meanwhile, at St Patrick's cathedral Molly is using her superhuman strength to help in the church. Cloak is exhausted, and hasn't slept since Dagger was attacked. Father Lantom suggests that he gets some rest, and offers to watch over Molly. He has something he wants to show the girl.
At that moment, in a snow-filled alley, Gert, Old Lace and a starstruck Victor are staring up at Spider-Man. The kids explain who they are, and why they are helping Cloak out. Spidey has been round the block enough times to know the truth when he hears it, and a few words immediately quell any potential misunderstandings between the heroes. Spidey admits that the rest of the New Avengers don't know Cloak as well as he does. He doesn't believe that Cloak is behind the attack either. Spidey suggests they all go and have a bite to eat, it's far too cold to be standing around in spandex.
Meanwhile, things are looking serious for the rest of the runaways. Nico is still recovering from being slashed and Bo is holding a weapon to Chase's throat. Pusher Man tells his enforcer to kill Chase, but spare Nico. He can find a use for a pretty girl. But Chase keeps his cool. He bluffs that the pair have been sent by The Pride.
The very mention of mention of the kids' infamous parents gives Pusher Man and Bo pause. Chase quickly elaborates, saying that the Pride faked their own deaths and that they sent their children out as soldiers. Nico despairs. She can't believe that Pusher Man is going to swallow such a story, and for a moment it looks touch-and-go. However, there's something in Chase's voice that Pusher Man does believe, and he is delighted that he Pride are still alive. He has great respect for them, and says that he has always honoured the boundary of the Pride's domain.
Chase says that he and Nico are looking for the user who assaulted Dagger a few nights ago. The Pride need him. This is where Pusher Man draws the line, he doesn't reveal the names of his clients for anyone. Nico is terrified; she wants to cut their losses and head home in one piece. But Chase pushes it. He wants the information, and if Pusher Man won't give it to him, then Chase is prepared to use force. The pair get into an escalating argument, that is only capped when Chase admits to killing a man with his bare hands. This garners respect from Pusher Man, who gives Chase the information.
The pair materialise back in the real world. Nico is so relieved and grateful to Chase that she pulls him into a deep kiss. Chase pushes her away immediately. He doesn't feel that way about Nico, he loves Gert. Nico apologises. She doesn't know why she keeps doing things like that. She must be evil. Chase affirms that he is the evil one. Why should Chase say such a thing? Everything he said to Pusher Man was just a bluff, just a lie - wasn't it?
Across town at a local sushi bar, Spider-Man, Victor and Gert are eating wasabi. Gert is filling Spidey in on their history, and their parents. Spidey finds it a little difficult to relate - after all his 'parents' were May and Ben, and they were nothing like the Pride. Gert is suspicious that Spidey is trying to trick them into revealing Cloak's whereabouts, but Spider-Man denies this. He only wants to help Cloak, and he advises the runaways to keep their heads down while he tries to prove Cloak's innocence.
Victor, who is revealing a deep fan-boyish streak, says that the runways have powers, and that they should use them for good. After all, isn't Spidey's motto "with great power comes great responsibility". Gert scoffs; as mottoes go that's pretty inane. Those with the power never use it responsibly, and those with no power (the kids) are the ones with the responsibility of the world on their shoulders.
Suddenly Nico and Chase enter. Nico assumes that Spidey has arrested Gert and Victor. She orders Spidey away from them. After a quick exchange of snappy banter, Nico unleashes a burst of hellfire from the Staff of One. Spidey easily dodges it, and snags the staff with his webbing. A second spell, "Dreamtime", is conducted along the webbing and strikes Spidey who collapses into an unconscious heap.
Victor is outraged. Spidey was trying to help, why did Nico turn on him? Chase stands up for Nico's actions. "We don't trust people like him," he says. They don't trust adults. Even though Spidey seemed trustworthy, Gert cannot overcome her cynicism. Taking Spidey down and doing this on their own was probably the right call.
Nico says they know the identity of the man who attacked Dagger. His name is Reginald Mantz and he is an orderly at the hospital. The scene shifts back to Dagger's hospital room, and suddenly that orderly we saw at the beginning of the issue doesn't look so kindly. The orderly is scared. Dagger is radiating so much light that the doctors might move her. He can't allow that - he loves her too much, he has loved her for years. The orderly engulfs himself in darkforce, and is revealed to be a mentally unstable Reginald Mantz.
Back at the church, Father Lantom gives Molly a cell phone so she can always contact him. He wants her to consider a foster family. Molly says that she doesn't need one - the other runaways are her family. Suddenly Captain America, Iron Man and Wolverine enter the church. Cap recognises Molly as one of the Pride's children. Lantom insists that the Avengers leave. But they aren't going to do that. They haven't come for Molly: they've come for the priest.
Wolverine moves in, to 'rescue' Molly. However, Molly seems totally oblivious to the situation. She is extremely excited to see Wolverine - he is her favourite X-Man and she used to have a picture of him on her bedroom wall. Wolverine orders Lantom to step back; he doesn't. Wolverine pops his claws and pounces. Molly screams.
Another fantastic issue chock full of great dialogue, character development, unexpected twists and action. The obvious implication of the scenes with Pusher Man are that Chase did murder a car jacker when he was sixteen years old, and did hide the body where no-one could find it. This revelation is juxtaposed with his utter devotion to Gert. Chase Stein has become incredibly interesting character. The only runaway without super powers, he is the most dangerous. Subsequent issues take this, and his relationship with Gert, much further.
Alphona's art is particularly good this issue. Look at Nico during the confrontation between Chase and Pusher Man. She looks absolutely terrified. Excellent stuff.
On the Spider-Man front, this was an extremely effective use of the webslinger. All too often guest stars simply pop up for marketing purposes, with no real reason for them actually being there. Spider-Man's appearance here may not be essential to the plot, but there are very strong thematic reasons for this encounter.
Spidey used to be the quintessential teen superhero. Sitting with the runaways, talking about his family, asking them to play it safe - he looks like your Dad at a school disco. He has moved on. The Marvel Universe has moved on. It's time for the next generation, it's time for the runaways. And that is really what this book is all about. The way Nico puts Spidey down is symbolic: the runaways don't trust adults - they've never had any reason to. Adults, the older generation, their parents... they've done nothing but screw up the world. As Gert says: it is the kids that have the responsibility to put it right.
As a side-effect, this encounter also shows how far Spider-Man has drifted from his original concept. Once he was the outsider, now he's a part of the establishment. This story was set before Civil War, but all the ground work for Spidey's decisions in that crossover have all ready been laid. He's married, he's a teacher, he's an Avenger: he's not the same guy anymore. He's grown up. It comes to us all, and it's all rather depressing.
So, was Spider-Man taken down too easily? Did Brian Vaughan take liberties with Spidey's spider-sense just to illustrate the point he was trying to make? Well, maybe just ever so slightly. It all happened so quickly, it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that Nico's second spell would overwhelm the webslinger before he could react. It will rankle the purists, but I'm going to forgive it. It didn't irritate me in the same way as New Avengers #19.
A masterful use of characterisation that actually says something about the series itself. This title is operating on a wholly different level to most of the comics in the market today. Five webs.
Spidey doesn't appear in the final part of the story so there's no review of the next issue. I won't give away what happens next, but let's just say that if it's your dream to see Wolverine punched out by an eleven-year-old girl then this one's for you. Check out the back issues or pick up the digest (volume five) for the full tale. While you're there you might as well pick up all the other digests, and the hardback. How many times do I need to say it? But this book. Buy this book. Buy this book.