Originally launched in July 2003 as part of the Tsunami line of Marvel Comics (back at a time when Marvel loved toying with having different imprints, with Tsunami specifically dedicated to being more manga-esque), Runaways was intended as more of a lighthearted, adventurous title skewing towards younger readers - though it still packed quite an emotional punch when needed.
Its premise is simple enough: six children accidentally discover that their parents are not only superpowered, but also evil, after walking in on a human sacrifice ceremony the adults are performing. Horrified at what they witnessed, the youths all agree to run away, with their explorations of identity (already bound up with their adolescent age) and their parents’ pursuit of them forming the basis of the initial storyline.
Although the premise, characters, and their backstory were mostly created from scratch by writer Brian K. Vaughn for the title, elements from previous rounds of Marvel Universe world-building were worked in, and as the book continued to be cancelled and restarted time and again all the way up until just recently, its team members were swapped out with other, pre-existent characters – including none other than Cloak and Dagger, who are also heading up their own youth-oriented television series over at Freeform.
Such an eclectic patch of references and continuity extensions should make Hulu’s upcoming Runaways series engaging and loads of fun, although it does raise the rather interesting question of whether it will be able to fit inside the decidedly-different mythology of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While we continue to wait on a definitive answer from Marvel TV, we can still dive in and explore all the rich material that the show will envelope us with, Avengers-related or not.
The cast of characters
Each of the six leads hail from a couple that has a decidedly different basis for their enhanced abilities: “mad scientists,” extraterrestrial invaders, time travelers, mutants (in typical X-Men fashion), dark magic, and good, old-fashioned Mafiosos.
Here’s a quick, non-spoilery rundown of what each character is capable of – in the comics, at least. We’re not quite sure yet whether Marvel will end up changing their power sets for the Hulu series, possibly as a means to make it fit in with the MCU.
Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano) – like her parents, Nico is a witch, granting her the ability to utilize magic (not unlike Doctor Strange, who gets a more scientific basis for his mystical arts in the films). At the beginning of the comic, she has to wield a mystical item known as the Staff of One in order to invoke her magic; though ancient in age and nearly infinite in its abilities, the staff has the interesting twist that it cannot cast the same spell twice, since the second occurrence will produce unpredictable results.
(Fun fact: it is eventually revealed that the Staff of One even scared Dormammu, the overarching nemesis from last year’s Doctor Strange, possibly single-handedly providing an opening to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.)
Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer) – Despite possessing no enhanced attributes herself, Gertrude does hail from parents that have access to time-travelling technology, which allowed them to bring back a genetically-engineered dinosaur from the 87th century. This dino, for reasons that are explored in the story, has a telepathic connection with Gert, and thus constitutes the young girl’s differentiating ability – it can attack on command, for instance, or otherwise act on Gert’s emotions. Since the Runaways are initially of the mind to give themselves codenames, like all proper superheroes possess, Gert names her dinosaur Old Lace, as a complement to her handle of Arsenic. Although the latter never ended up sticking, the former did.
Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner) – Her “model-perfect exterior” belies her extraterrestrial interior: Karolina is a Majesdanian, an alien race created exclusively for Runaways but which is revealed to be endlessly at war with the long-lived-in-the-comics Skrull (who are known as the Chitauri in the MCU). The Majesdanians absorb solar energy and reemit it as rainbow-spectrum colors, making her something of a hallucinogenic creation on the page; Karolina can manifest this stored-up energy in various forms, including blasts, beams, and force fields. Oh, yeah – she can also fly, since one of the unwritten rules in comic books is that solar-based aliens automatically can do so.
Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin) – Much like Gert, Chase attains his superpowered calling card by stealing from his parents, who just so happen to be “mad scientists” and, as such, have a hidden laboratory full of improbable devices. The two that young Master Stein take a particular liking to are a pair of x-ray goggles – which are surprisingly effective, even through miles of rock – and a pair of futuristic gauntlets called the Fistigons, which grant their user mental control over their built-in flame throwers.
Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta) – Named Molly Hayes in the books, the youngest Runaway has the most traditional origin: she is a mutant, born with a fluke in her DNA that allows her extraordinary powers. Interestingly, while both of her parents brandish telepathic abilities, Mol possesses superhuman strength and invulnerability. She’s arguably just as strong as the Hulk, though with the drawback that using her strength tends to exhaust her, making her instantly pass out.
Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Felix) – The leader of the group, Alex is actually the only “normal” member of the bunch, being the son of mob bosses. But this hasn’t stopped him from receiving child-prodigy-esque levels of intelligence, putting him on par with someone of inventor Tony Stark’s (Robert Downey, Jr.) stature; he’s particularly gifted in the realms of logic and strategy, making him a formidable presence on the battlefield, even if he doesn’t possess a mutant or alien physiology.
Alex does, however, eventually come into possession of his teammates’ fantastical items over the course of the initial major storyarc – specifically, Chase’s x-ray glasses and Fistigons and Gert’s Old Lace. It’ll be interesting to see whether these specific story beats end up on the small screen.
Just as important as how each of the main players’ powers connect them to the larger Marvel Universe (if not the Cinematic one) is the reason for their banding together in the first place. Each of their parents is a member of a secret mystical organization known as the Pride, which has a penchant for the sacrifice of innocent souls once a year for a greater (and arguably worthwhile) cause.
The exact nature of their endgame will, presumably, be a major component of the television show, so we’ll refrain from revealing it here – except to say that it has as its basis the prehistory of the Earth. In the Thor comics, the Elder Gods were introduced some 35 years ago as, essentially, Titans from Greek mythology - god-like beings with “vast cosmic powers” who were (more or less) the first race of lifeforms to call the planet home. Though their presence and their influence both have substantially waned in the billions of years since their time, there are those who remember and who still serve. The Pride is one such group, making their impetus understandable – you’ll see – if leaving their methodology still abhorrent.
With the Thor films already digging into the true alien origins of much of humanity’s mythology, and with Doctor Strange introducing us to parallel dimensions which are ruled by sinister, destructive forces – and with the various Marvel TV series doubling down on interdimensional travel and supernatural resurrections – the groundwork seems pretty well laid out for the Pride, their rebellious offspring, and their various domains of superpowers.
All that remains now is to see whether Marvel will pull the trigger and fully integrate Alex, Nico, and the gang with the likes of Agents Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).