With the first three episodes of Runaways now out on Hulu, Marvel has firmly entered the realm of teen superheroes. The show is a fitting and faithful adaptation of the source material by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, marrying typical adolescent trials and tribulations with a fantasy world of super-science and magic. It also marks Marvel's second deviation from a strictly Disney-owned outlet, though Hulu is partially under the company's umbrella.
Like the Marvel-Netflix shows, Runaways doesn't seem to neatly fit into the MCU the way Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. does. And given how little lip service the films have paid to the flagship Marvel show, it's no surprise that Runaways feels very disconnected from the world of Avengers, Inhumans, and other fantastical events. While the Runaways comics also operated on the outskirts of the main Marvel Universe, they were still firmly part of that world. But just as The Punisher doesn't fit in the MCU, Runaways often feels like it exists in its own reality.
The most contentious issue when it comes to Runaways' placement in the larger MCU is Tina Minoru and the Staff of One. Thanks to one of Marvel's prequel comics to Doctor Strange, Tina Minoru debuted in the MCU last year. Appearing to be heroic rather than a villain, she served alongside other sorcerers. In the film, she even had a small role in the final battle against Kaecilius' forces, where she armed herself with the Staff of One. Confusingly, however, an entirely different and somewhat older actor was cast in the role for Runaways. Along with the actor change, the Staff itself has a different look and there's yet to be any indication that Tina was recently fighting alongside Doctor Strange in Hong Kong for the fate of the world.
The MCU has plenty of examples of actors pulling double duty, but they've been doubling characters more frequently. Tilda Johnson, a.k.a. Nightshade, is set to appear in both Black Panther and season 2 of Luke Cage next year - naturally played by two different actors. While Lucasfilm maintains a story group to keep all of their media in continuity, Marvel film and TV have been drifting further and further apart. Even the show's themselves don't seem to align, with no indication that Runaways shares a universe with the other Marvel heroes.
Another moment in the first three episodes that brings into question Runaways status in the MCU is a mention by Nico that her parents haven't been on a date since the Obama administration. While this cultural reference wouldn't seem out of place to most, it does complicate continuity as Matthew Ellis has been the President of the U.S. in the MCU since Iron Man 3. With that said, Luke Cage also name-dropped Obama, leading some to conclude that Obama served only one term in the MCU. And seasons 3 and 4 of Agents of SHIELD regularly featured the character in that same role. It's a minor thing, but one that would be simple enough to keep straight if the minds behind Runaways were in any way attempting to keep it within the confines of a larger narrative.
So far, the one real indication that Runaways exists alongside the films and other shows is that WHiH seems to be the main news source on the series. That's long been the outlet that delivers news in Marvel films and shows, with Leslie Bibb even reprising her role as Christine Everhart from Iron Man 1 and 2 to play the anchor of the outfits' online arm for several viral videos from Marvel Studios. A small thread like that seems to indicate that there's some sort of oversight or universe bible that dictates certain things, yet bigger moments seem to be swept aside.
The coming episodes of Runaways will hopefully provide more insight into this situation, but it seems clear that the minds behind the show and Marvel TV aren't too concerned. This summer, Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb was vague about Runaways placement in the MCU. And earlier this year the idea of Runaways being in the MCU was a point of query as well. So far, the debut of Runaways hasn't laid the idea to rest, and it once again seems that fans are more concerned with making heads or tails of continuity than the creators and managers of the MCU.