Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways comic is rightfully well-loved, and it was difficult to imagine how Marvel could adapt the series as a live-action television show that truly honoured the spirit of the source material. But that’s exactly what Hulu managed to do. And it’s impressive as hell.
Though the first season of Hulu’s Runaways only covers the first six issues of the original comic book, the show expertly uses that story arc to introduce us to a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that we’ve never really seen before: Los Angeles. When you think about where the MCU’s most important stories have taken place, you realise that even if a film or television show’s characters end up travelling across the globe, the plot ends up leading back to the US East Coast. In a way, this makes sense given that up until very recently, the Avengers called New York City home and all of Marvel’s projects revolve around that particular team to varying degrees.
But Runaways makes it clear from the moment its opening credits begin that it isn’t at all concerned about what the Avengers are up to. Its characters are instead living in the sun-drenched valleys of the West Coast, which might as well be an entirely different world. There’s a glamour and facade of tranquillity that permeates Runaways‘ opener that speaks to the show’s message about appearances being deceiving.
The charmed lives the titular Runaways enjoy are all thanks to their parents’ wealth and status, and the evil deeds they were willing to commit in order to achieve success. Rather than simply making the parents out to be traditional villains for the kids to run away from, Runaways slows itself down in order to really unpack just what it means when children first see their parents as flawed, fallible people and choose to break away from them.
Runaways, like many shows about moody teenagers, revolves around family drama. But one of the things that has stood out about the show the most is how it takes the time to genuinely flesh out its huge cast in order to make each family’s dynamic feel authentic. No two families are the same.
Unlike the comic book, where Nico, Alex, Gert, Molly, Karolina and Chase’s parents all come across like the sort of two-dimensional villains that all teenagers see their parents as at some point, Runaways humanises the members of the Pride in a way that actually makes them that much more terrifying. From the earliest teasers we had of the show, Runaways let you know the show’s adults were involved in some sort of cult activity involving the sacrificing of children, but the creators don’t actually expect you to find the sacrificing itself to be the most unsettling thing about the Pride.
Rather, the real horror the Runaways are confronted with is that their parents have been able to live secret, murderous lives while maintaining the appearance of relative normalcy. Many an easy joke has been made about how the Runaways didn’t immediately run away from their homes after discovering their parents’ murder cult, but what the jokes miss is the deeper story that Runaways is trying to tell.
Over the course of this past season, Runaways had gradually muddled it and Marvel’s own definition and ideas about what it means to be a villain. The parents are introduced as things that go bump in the night, but as time goes on, their motivations and desires have been revealed as being far more complicated. That kind of character development isn’t new to television by any means, but it’s a revelation for the Runaways, and their story is ultimately the one we’re meant to focus on.
In seeing their parents for who they actually are, the Runaways are faced with the daunting task of making sense of their own identities. Each comes to a different conclusion about who they are individually, in relation to their parents, and in relation to the chosen family of their team. This also includes the shaping of these various identities, building toward their futures as superheroes.
The members of the Pride go through a similar arc of growth, and though they try to end the season on a relatively sympathetic note, the parents’ assertions that everything they did came out of love for their children rings false in a way that bodes very well for the show’s future. Even though it dedicated ample time trying to make us sympathise with the Pride members, in the moments we actually see them with one another – even when they’re talking about how much they love their children – there’s a darkness just hovering around the periphery.
They may not be willing to admit it to themselves, but the Pride is mired in a kind of villainy and evil that goes beyond “I did it for my family.” Runaways‘ adults aren’t just accessories to murder, they’re willing participants. They did what they did because, at some point, each of them wanted some form of power they realised they were willing to kill for. That sort of drive may begin as an urge to provide for and protect the ones you love, but in time, it can curdle and harden into something much more nefarious – something the Pride definitely has the makings for.
Out of all the things that really make Runaways shine, though, it’s the ways in which it deviates from the source material that should make the show’s future interesting to see. From details as small as Molly no longer being a mutant, to larger ones such as the Church of Gibborim being reimagined as a Scientology-esque new religion, Runaways has taken care to craft itself in a clever way that perfectly straddles the comics and the MCU. As the series progresses there will be even more opportunities to remix and reform the shape of the Runaways’ lives (such as whether Karolina and Nico will actually end up together) that are sharp pivots from the books but could very well tell an even more fascinating story in the end.
Yes, in the end it took an entire season for the Runaways to run away, but as is almost always the case, it’s the journey and not the destination we should be paying attention to. Runaways isn’t a slow burn by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a show that wants to take you on a journey – a road trip even. The adventure’s going to be a long one, but that’s absolutely fine because the company’s awesome.