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MARVEL’S RUNAWAYS Brings Heart and Great Characters to the Superhero Genre (Review)

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for the first four episode of Runaways.

Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s Runaways is one of the most beloved comic books of the 21st century, so when Hulu announced they were finally adapting the cult smash it was met with both excitement and trepidation. Telling the story of a group of teens who discover their parents are supervillains, Runaways turned the notion of superheroes on its head and its cast of young characters became firm fan favorites. Adapting such a lauded property is always a huge undertaking, but luckily showrunners Stephanie Savage and Josh Schwartz are up to the job.

The first four episodes of the show are an exercise in managing a comic book adaptation, keeping the core of the story the same while taking its time to explore and expand the world in which those stories were created. Episode one finds us joining the teens two years after the loss of one of their own, arguably the biggest change that the show makes from the comics. The members of the group are now isolated from each other, with Rhenzy Feliz’s Alex longing to get the “team” back together even if it’s just so he can reconnect with Lyrica Okano’s Nico.

Fans of superhero TV will immediately notice that, visually, Runaways is pretty different from the huge shows that fill primetime schedules. The new series makes a concerted effort to be as different as possible from the grim grittiness of Marvel‘s Netflix shows, but far more low key and authentic than the polished world of the CW. A teen-focused take on what it means to be a hero with an astoundingly talented young cast, Runaways has the potential to become another huge hit for Hulu.

Episode one does a fantastic job of establishing its core cast and hinting at some of the show’s larger arcs and themes: friendship, honesty, loyalty, and loss. There’s an original moment in the first 60 minutes which will likely unsettle many fans, at which point Virginia Gardner’s Karolina is almost assaulted at a party by some awful friends of Gregg Sulkin’s Chase. Though it might seem like a superfluous amendment that verges on exploitation, it’s actually handled well and leads down the line to a bigger and more poignant storyline about misogyny and victim blaming that the showrunners are clearly very committed to exploring.

There’s something exhilarating about seeing these characters come to life, and the casting of the teen heroes is utterly fantastic. It also likely helps that Brian K. Vaughan spent a month in the writers room; according to the showrunners, he saw the show as a chance to tell the full version of the Runaways story rather than constantly writing issue-to-issue on a comic book series he thought might get canceled. This could be why some of the larger changes still seem to fit so well, like how Ariela Barer’s Gert and Allegra Acosta’s Molly are adoptive sisters in the Hulu-verse Runaways. The two are so wonderful in their roles and more than a few of the show’s best moments come from this unexpected and non-canon pairing.

The Yorkes, Gert and Molly’s parents, have another progeny I should mention, and that would be Gert’s prehistoric partner in crime, Old Lace. The nose ring wearing Deinonychus is one of the most iconic and unique members of the Runaways. Many of us were nervous about seeing Old Lace brought to life, but the early episodes do a fantastic job of teasing her by using some really beautifully rendered practical puppetry. The big reveal of the dinosaur works surprisingly well and is a part of a great character beat for Molly and her burgeoning powers.

A massive departure from the source material comes from the fact that the show is almost as much about the evil parents as it is about their kids. This should come as no surprise since the Pride are made up of some seriously sterling acting talent and showrunners Schwartz and Savage made their names on The O.C., a huge ensemble show that focused on entire families rather than just teen protagonists. Some of the show’s strongest moments come from the newly added nuance the parents have been given with Angel Parker / Ryan Sands and James Yaegashi / Brittany Ishibashi particularly standing out as Alex and Nico’s parents, respectively. Both relationships subtly subvert gender expectations, with both the Wilders and the Minorus coming across as loving and authentic family units.

Over the first four episodes, the show gets progressively stronger and becomes even more engaging. Once the teens are fully onboard with their mission to understand just what their parents were up to in that basement wearing those scary looking cloaks the show really hits its stride. It works to set up relationships that fans know and love from the comics, with Gert and Chase getting to spend some quality time together whilst accidentally discovering Old Lace. Nico and Karolina’s budding relationship gets off to a sweet start, whilst Molly’s (not) mutant powers are truly a sight to behold as Allegra Acosta steals the show anytime she begins to get sad or mad. James Marsters’ Victor Stein looks to be the shows big bad, and we’re seriously interested to see just how far the writers are willing to stray from the source material to make that happen.

We adored the Runaways and can’t wait to watch the rest of the episodes as they arrive weekly on Hulu beginning November 21st. Will you be tuning in to binge the first three installments when they drop later this month? Can’t wait to see your favorite characters come to life? Let us know in the comments!

Rating: 5 burritos out of 5

Images: Hulu, Marvel

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