It’s been a busy year for Marvel Television! Inhumans is still screening in many IMAX cinemas worldwide, and is due to air at ABC from September 29th. Meanwhile, November will see the launch of not one, but three Marvel series; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. will return on ABC, we’re expecting The Punisher to stream on Netflix, and Runaways will premiere on Hulu.
Originally intended as a Marvel movie, Runaways was pushed to the back-burner following Marvel Studios's focus on The Avengers, but now it's been developed into a young-adult show with real promise. Comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan, creator of the original fan-favorite comics, is heavily involved with the production. That fact alone has fans thrilled!
But what can we expect from Marvel’s Runaways?
A Tale Of Generational Conflict
How many teenagers have fumed that their parents are evil? Runaways focuses on a group of youths who discover that their parents really are; they’re super-villains! In fact, the whole story kicks off when the kids unwittingly observe their parents making a human sacrifice to demonic beings who grant them success and immortality. From this point on, Runaways launches us into a story that's focused on inter-generational conflict.
It’s a smart, savvy concept, pitting two generations against one another. The original comics constantly revolved around this theme; adults continually tried to make decisions for the teenage heroes, and the teens gradually realized they had to stand up for themselves. In the end, it wasn’t the police who resolved the crisis; it was the Runaways themselves, who defeated their own parents in pitched battle and brought an end to years of super-powered evil.
First reviews of Marvel’s Runaways have stressed that the series is remarkably comic-book-accurate, so we should expect this theme to be a major one. It’s particularly relevant now given the increasing inter-generational divide in American politics. In an intriguing twist, though, Runaways seems to focus as much on the parents as on the teenagers. This approach makes sense given that the series counts some phenomenal stars among the villains. The second episode will actually retell the events of the first, but from the parents’ point of view. Early reviews have suggested that this narrative trick works really well, and it should make the parents more well-rounded as characters.
Tremendous Young-Adult Drama
There’s a reason Runaways is airing on the YA-focused streaming service Hulu. At heart, Runaways is brilliant young-adult concept, starring a group of teenagers who are struggling to work out how to deal with their parents’ evil. Along the way, though, there’s all the interpersonal drama you’d expect when a bunch of teenagers are shoved together in an intense situation.
Yes, you’re talking romance. You’re talking crushes that don’t work out. You’re talking teenagers who are on the cusp of making important decisions about their own sexuality (including Karolina Dean, one of Marvel’s lesbian characters). And all that’s set against a backdrop of even more intense arcs, with character deaths and unexpected betrayals.
As comic-book-accurate as Runaways promises to be, this is one area where the series will need to do a careful rewrite. Many of the plot twists worked so well in the comics because we didn’t see them coming (this was especially true as we came to the end of Vaughan’s run). Simply replicating the comic book arc will mean comic book fans will know exactly where things are going. Worse still, any quick check on Wikipedia would spoil the entire narrative arc. It's clearly the case that many of the relationships — and betrayals — will have to be switched up a little.
But that’s fine. The reality is that Runaways stars a great teenage cast, and the dynamic between these actors should be allowed to shape the story. So many TV shows are subtly rewritten because writers and showrunners realize that certain actors share fantastic chemistry, and I’d expect Runaways to be an example of that.
A Wide Range Of Powers
There’s a reason Marvel was smart to hold off on Runaways. It’s because the show features so many concepts; you’ve got everything from sorcery to time-travel, from mutants to aliens. Naturally, some of those concepts will need to be rewritten for the #MCU. Perhaps the most notable example is that Marvel doesn't have the license to use mutants, meaning Molly's origin will have to be rewritten. But still, the point remains that Runaways features a surprising range of characters, with varying abilities, and a fascinating diversity in terms of origins and classic tropes.
Marvel had to hold off on Runaways until all these ideas were firmly embedded in the MCU. That’s particularly the case with sorcery; when Marvel Studios launched the MCU, they weren’t sure fans would be willing to suspend their disbelief when it came to characters like Doctor Strange or Ghost Rider. As a result, the early MCU was largely science-based; even Thor implied that Asgardian sorcery was simply science beyond our comprehension. Only last year did Marvel dare to take that risk, and it paid off in spades.
The challenge, though, will be producing a TV series that uses this range of powersets effectively. While some won’t need much work (Molly, the youngest, is basically just super-strong) others will be particularly challenging. None more than Virginia Gardner’s Karolina, a character whose body gradually became composed of shimmering light. And there’s even a dinosaur, Old Lace, who we know is set to appear in the series!
First indications are that the Runaways TV show will live up to its promise. Sure, it seems likely some of the powers will be toned down a little. We’ve yet to see any evidence that Karolina is the beautiful rainbow-being we love in the comics, for example. It’s more likely that she’ll have the power to transition into this form, one that she’ll only stay in temporarily — if only so Marvel don’t blow all the VFX budget on one character.
Even taking these limitations into account, though, no critics have complained about the CGI. Marvel Television has form with top-quality VFX; just take a look at Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which has gone from strength to strength. Given Runaways is only ten episodes long, we can assume Marvel Television has put in a solid budget.
Runaways is possibly the most exciting Marvel show of the year. The themes and concepts are both timeless and remarkably relevant to the present day. Meanwhile, Brian K. Vaughan’s involvement promises to ensure the show remains on-track in terms of solid character work, and all indications are that this series will be unusually faithful to the comics. The stars of Runaways are some of the most beloved young heroes created in the 2000s, and that’s sure to leave Marvel fans thrilled.