Runaways is one of my favorite comics of all time. It’s one of the ones I recommend to people just getting into comics. So imagine my joy when it was announced that the characters I knew and loved would finally get the TV treatment. After years of an adaptation just being rumored, one of Marvel’s best works finally hit screens in 2017, and didn’t disappoint.
Taking the central premise of “teens find out their parents are evil” and running with it, Runaways is more Degrassi than Daredevil, which is a good thing. Focusing more on the dynamics of both the teenage protagonists and their antagonist parents than the mystery that is PRIDE’s mission helps the show immeasurably. Yes, figuring out the reason for PRIDE’s ritual sacrifices is important, but it’s not as important as Alex’s guilt about posthumous character Amy, or Karolina’s journey of self-exploration. Producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage’s background in shows like The O.C. and Gossip Girl pairs perfectly with a concept like this. Taking the first three episodes to establish each of these characters and how they work with each other before getting into the meat of the mysteries around the story was a great call.
Each character gets to break out of the mold that they were originally cast in, particularly Chase. In the comic, Chase is portrayed as a stereotypical dumb jock who can’t catch a hint. He’s essentially sidelined at the end of the first volume and relegated to the role of getaway driver afterwards. Here, portrayed by Gregg Sulkin, Chase sees probably the most depth of any member of the group. He’s the ace of Atlas’ lacrosse team and faces constant abuse from his father because of his grades, both holdovers from the original book, but is given a huge boost in the intelligence department. Sure, he isn’t as clever or skilled with hacking as Alex, but he proves time and time again to be more than capable as an engineer, helping his father create his signature weapon, the Fistigons.
Speaking of Alex, his portrayal in the show immediately subverts expectations that might have been set by the original Runaways. He’s the groups resident Smart Guy, yes, but he’s much more warm and open to the group, actively approaching them in the first episode in attempts to reunite them. His comic counterpart, comparatively, openly laments the idea of hanging out with them, Nico notwithstanding.
Nico herself, despite being the most fleshed out character in the comics, thanks to her role as group leader, sees more growth. The addition of her having a deceased sister and making her mother a bit more overbearing and cold makes her a bit colder in turn, which helps her dynamics with Alex and Karolina. Karolina, Gert and Molly all remain largely unchanged, save for Gert being updated for this decade and Molly being her adoptive sister after her parents’ untimely death ten years prior.
The members of PRIDE are the biggest beneficiaries of the move to TV, as they’re given far more time to exist and be present, both with and without the kids. It’s hard to place a finger on which parents shine the most, as they’re all written and performed so well. They get to step out of the role of “antagonists who claim to be doing what they are for the greater good but never prove it” and actually be these flawed, sympathetic figures. It’s what makes the idea that any of the kids would hesitate to expose their crimes that much more believable.
Take Nico’s mom, Tina, for example. She comes off cold and pushes her family away, but only after her worst nightmares have come true. Alex’s dad, Geoffrey, is similarly flawed. His sketchy past and dirty dealings being revealed to the hacker make him want to turn his father over to the cops, but the viewer gets to see things Alex doesn’t. Everything Geoffrey does is genuinely for Alex’s safety, and there doesn’t appear to be a limit on how far he’ll go to protect his son. Gert and Molly’s parents, Dale and Stacey Yorkes, are the most endearing of the bunch from the outset and get more endearing as the series goes on, actively proving how much they don’t want to be apart of everything.
While the other shows in Marvel’s streaming stable suffer from running out of steam halfway through, Runaways keeps pace all the way through. It benefits largely from only having a ten episode season, and having sixteen characters each with their own sub-plots happening. Nico is trying to uncover the truth around her sister’s death, while Janet is trying to find a way out of an abusive marriage. Chase wants to make his dad proud of him, Molly wants to be taken seriously by the rest of the group, and Karolina is coming to terms with her sexuality.
Giving each character time to explore these side stories gives the larger story time to breathe, instead of focusing on one major plot that wraps halfway through and starting a second major arc that would be best served for another season (looking at you, Luke Cage), makes the show that much more enjoyable.
All in all, Runaways is at the very least the second best season of television Marvel has produced, behind season one of Daredevil, and might just be better than that. It was very much worth the wait and season two can’t come soon enough.