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 honored 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 realize that even if a film or television show’s characters end up traveling across the globe, the plot ends up leading back to the 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.
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 allteenagers see their parents as at some point, Runaways humanizes 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.