Sunday, December 11, 2011

Some ~feelings about Chase Stein

(This is something I wrote in March on one of my abandoned blogs.)

Part One: "Isn't that a cliche?"

I guess Runaways is a geek-centric comic in that most of the main characters are geeky/alternative in some way--and I think this is sort of what makes Chase like my favorite comic book character of all time. Let me explain. I feel like a character like Chase (who is introduced as a “dumb jock,” and is a lot more than that; but that description never stops being true) is normally only presented sympathetically in really mainstream narratives, which tend to not have a ton of depth and tend to portray geek characters stereotypically. Brian K. Vaughan decenters Chase from being the character we’re supposed to identify with, but still portrays him with a lot of depth.

Chase reminds me of my best friend in high school, John. John was a jock, and he was dumb. He made gross jokes. He was also a really good friend, and he was an outsider in his own way. I feel like writers, especially genre writers, tend to be geeky/alternative and don’t portray “dumb” or non-alternative characters in a compassionate way.

Although I guess in a lot of ways I am Hipster Scum, I just don’t really identify with the value of rejecting people who aren’t intellectual or aren’t alternative. I try to relate to people based on how I get along with them emotionally and not based on their subculture or what they want out of life. I can certainly be a dick and cut myself off from people for other stupid reasons. But I guess I just get annoyed by people who are anti-anti-intellectual and I got irked with Joss Whedon for the way he wrote Chase during his run.

I also think that Chase’s lack of nerdiness/intellectualism/intelligence/alternative-ness (including the facts that he isn’t part of a subculture, doesn’t do well in school, and is often kind of dense and spacey) is an extremely important part of who he is. Because of that I find Whedon's retcon of him insulting to the character (yes, I'm 12, I can be insulted on behalf of comic book characters).

The conceit of Runaways is that all the main characters have parents who are a different type of supervillain and when the kids find out, they team up to fight their parents. Chase’s parents are “mad scientists,” obviously the most intellectual type of supervillain (which Whedon himself portrayed as a hero in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, with the villain being a superhero who is a stereotypical dumb jock). Although, like all the Runaways’ parents, they do evil with the goal of providing for their children, Chase’s parents are physically and emotionally abusive, and they are the only set of parents who are like this.

Although Chase fights with his parents and behaves rebelliously, he is written throughout Brian K. Vaughan’s run as having internalized the lessons he was taught by their abuse--basically, that he deserved to be abused because he wasn’t a good person, misbehaved, or was otherwise unsatisfactory. Chase’s parents frame their abuse of him in terms of “we’re smart, and you’re unsatisfactory and don’t know what is good for you, because you aren’t smart/intellectual.”

This value set has to come from somewhere, and it's not hard to guess. When the Steins first appear, Chase and his parents are fighting about his grades. Victor punches Chase and tells him he is a “dumb jock,” a “cliche.” Chase responds, “You’re a nerd who punches like a girl--isn’t that a cliche?” Which I think is really interesting because if you do read Chase’s dad through that lens, as a nerd who was bullied as a kid and wasn’t physically able to stand up for himself, and the violence that grew in him became his supervillainy...doesn’t that serve as a frame for his parenting? Does he have a childhood hatred of “dumb jocks,” which he takes out on his dumb jock son? It doesn’t matter if you “punch like a girl,” after all, if the person you’re punching is young and dependent on you.

So can I just say how much I love Brian K. Vaughan? He clearly isn’t mainstream or anti-nerd, as many of the positive characters are nerdy, but he also sees the potential violence in the idea that nerds are better than other people. In Y the Last Man he does a great job of portraying very diverse characters and the same is true for Runaways.


  1. I'm excited to read another blog about another topic about which I'm completely ignorant. What is even MORE awesome is your annoyance at people who are anti-anti-intellectualism, because I feel like 95% of my comments on either of the two blogs you write that I frequent portray a real lack of intellectualism on my part. And it's nice that you're not annoyed by THAT, or at least that if other people are anti THAT, you're annoyed with them. Enemy of my enemy is my friend kind of thing. . .

  2. Hey!

    I've only got the first three volumes of Runaways - hadn't known there were more, really - and I kind of liked this, too. Chase wasn't my favorite character, but I really relate to "nerd" and "jock" not being antithetical (after all, Chase *is* the techie one!) because, um, I am both of those things in equal measure.

    I feel that Joss Whedon has a certain set of archetypes that he always writes, with different twists, but there is one ur-team that informs every team he writes. One of them is just "the thug". That's Jayne in "Firefly", Wolverine in his run on Astonishing X-Men (duh) ... I think he actually managed to subvert it in "Angel," having the other characters pigeonhole Gunn as this person when really Gunn has a lot more going on, and in "Buffy" this role was probably filled by Faith, and then Spike. But this person is usually violent, aggressive, not book-smart (but usually not stupid, either), and not 100% loyal to the group. So maybe instead of writing Chase as Vaughn has written him, he kind of shoe-horned him more into that role?

    I also agree that Joss Whedon is very invested in being a nerd, and that most of the characters he writes with the most sympathy are also nerds. (Though he managed to write Buffy amazingly well, and she's as much not a nerd as Chase: she's a cheerleader, and her outsider identity comes from being the Slayer rather than anything inherent in her personality.)

  3. (And, having now read your other post about Joss Whedon, and knowing what it is he changed about Chase, it's clear to me that he wanted to make him into the nerdy, wisecracking guy, like Xander or Topher or Wash, not the violent thug.)