Did you catch Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu? Unlike the Marvel shows on Netflix, Runaways isn’t immediately bingeable; the first three episodes – and only the first three – dropped last Tuesday, with a new one slated to appear each Tuesday until the season is over. And we’ll submit that’s a good thing, because otherwise we might have had trouble getting the turkey done in time for Thanksgiving. Runaways is good enough to grab and keep your attention, and appreciably different from any Marvel show that’s come before.
The sense of place makes it unique among Marvel shows – that is, for once we’re not in New York or on some secret spaceship/bunker/moon base. It’s L.A., with all the inherent weirdness and opportunity; a Los Angeles area that is at once breezy and treacherous.
But what makes it stand out the most is the cast of characters – a true ensemble. This was also true of the source material, the 2003-launched comic book by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona. Each of the kids filled a role, was unique, brought something compelling to the table, and not just the inevitable powers/abilities. They had interesting personalities as well, and the stew of the kids together made for some great, dramatic, adventurous, and even humorous comics. One of the changes in the Hulu version that truly stands out is how much time and development are given to the parents.
Let’s take a step back. The basic premise of Runaways involves the machinations of The Pride, a group of very influential adults. The Wilders, Catherine and Geoffrey, who are respectively a top attorney and an uber-successful real estate developer and former top criminal. Leslie Dean, head of a mysterious church. Inventor billionaire Victor Stein (Buffy fans take note: played by James Marsters) and his put-upon wife Janet. Dale and Stacey Yorkes, the surprisingly crunchy top pharma scientists. Tina and Robert Minoru, top business executives and, at least in Tina’s case, secretly a powerful wizard. In the comics, they were true supervillains, and here in the Hulu show appear to be more on the borderline of such, both the super and, to a lesser extent, the villainy aspects. The members of The Pride are all parents, and their children – largely high school-age peers – stumble across their folks, decked out in ceremonial garb, committing a terrible act. World = shattered.
In the original books, the kids are off and running, literally becoming “Runaways” in opposition to their villainous parents. In this Hulu version, the kids are less sure of their folks’ motivations, or what they really saw, and are taking the time to investigate. We get more of a slow burn of the kids discovering the ways they may be special – the discovery by Molly Hernandez (in this version, an adopted daughter of the Yorkes) of a mutant strength and its limitations, for instance, or Nico Minoru’s discovery that the weird staff her mom keeps locked away can make crazy stuff happen. Chase’s casual theft of his dad’s x-ray goggles, and a momentary mention that he’s developing some kind of gauntlet/weapon. Gert Yorkes’ mostly accidental taming of the dinosaur she found in her parents’ secret basement lab. Alex Wilder’s penchant for leadership. Giving the discovery and examination of these traits room to breathe benefits the format change, where comic book tropes aren’t as much of a given and must be compellingly established.
Each character – except perhaps with Molly, who’s been aged-up in the screen version – is a near perfect visual interpretation of Adrian Alphona’s original designs. The series so far captures a lot of what’s compelling about the comic, but isn’t a slave to it: as mentioned, Molly is now adopted by the Yorkes (in the comics, her parents were still living members of the Pride), older (though still the youngest of the gang), and is now Hispanic (Hernandez vs. Hayes). But she’s still Molly – earnest, cute, determined. The essence is still there. And the fact that the kids, rather than family friends who see each other on special occasions, are at the same high school and not precisely friends? It helps create a backdrop to explore their relationship over time rather than being forced into close intimacy after immediately bolting from their folks. Good changes that work for the show.
Perhaps the most significant, and welcome, change is just how much we get to see of the members of the Pride. Their internal strife, marital dysfunction, problem-solving skills, and, especially, motivations. As of episode three, we still aren’t exactly sure what they are up to; it seems clear that the Pride occasionally sacrifices a parishioner from Mrs. Dean’s church to prolong the life of her machine-bound father, but to what ultimate end they do this, and to what end they are building a massive new structure in the city, remain to be seen.
So far, we are totally on board. This is promising to be our favorite Marvel show yet (previously we would have given it to Jessica Jones or Luke Cage). If you sign up today, you can be ready for when ep. 4 drops this week.
GEEK Grade: B+
Photos by Paul Sarkis/Hulu; Marvel Comics