The Series: Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona (and others, including Joss Whedon).
The Heroes: The teenaged sons and daughters of a secret society of super-villains known as the Pride.
The Ideal Format: A live-action Netflix series in the vein of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.*
Who hasn't said they hate their parents at one time or another? Who hasn't thought about—or actually followed through with—running away from home? Being a teenager is a confusing welter of hormones and emotions, and everybody looks at authority figures with distrust from time to time.
But what if your parents and their friends weren't really the nice doctors, businessmen, actors, and engineers they pretend to be? What if their little cocktail parties were hiding something darker? Like…human sacrifice?
When you realize Mom and Dad are super-villains bent on world destruction, what else can you do but run away?
That's the foundation of Vaughan and Alphona's story of superpowers and rebellion—and they created a helluva cast:
- Alex Wilder: the group's computer nerd leader—he is an absolute prodigy when it comes to logic and strategy…and the son of mafia bosses.
- Gertrude Yorkes: the brainy, pop culture-savvy rebel with purple hair—and a velociraptor she shares a telepathic link with thanks to her parents' travels through time and dimensions.
- Karolina Dean: seems like your typical New Age vegan, but in fact, she is an alien princess who can fly and shoot beams of energy from her hands. (A surprising fact she doesn't learn until she takes off her medical alert bracelet, something her parents insisted she wear at all times.)
- Chase Stein: the “dumb jock” of the group; which is ironic given his parents are super-geniuses who have created flamethrower gloves and a machine that can bring about the apocalypse.
- Molly Hayes: the youngest member, but also the team's secret weapon—for a little girl, she packs a punch that can fell even the Hulk. Probably because she's a mutant, just like dear ol' Dad and Mom.
- Nico Minoru: the goth who discovers the slightest cut can enable her to cast magic, just like her witchy demon-worshipping parents.
Later in the series the original Runaways are joined by:
- Victor Mancha: the cyborg “son” of Avengers' baddie, Ultron.
- Xavin: a shape-shifting Skrull who becomes lesbian Karolina's girlfriend.
- Klara Prast: a mutant girl with plant-based powers from 1907 who flees to the future to escape being a child bride (whoa, talk about dark stuff; slow your roll, Whedon.)
There's teenage rebellion against authority—and then there's doing what's right, even though it hurts. Not all of our young protagonists initially want to fight their parents, who've always treated them lovingly and whose true natures come as rather a shock.
But, when they learn just how evil Mom and Dad really are, the only thing they can do is run away from home and start trying to repair their villainous damage.
So far, Marvel has done a phenomenal job of developing their tent-pole characters. Even before the MCU built up steam, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers were household names. They've been around for decades and have starred in thousands of comic arcs.
From a financial standpoint, it makes sense: playing it safe and focusing on pre-established characters means (practically) guaranteed money in the bank. For every risk like Guardians of the Galaxy, there have been three Spider-Man movies (when will we—and Peter—ever know peace?).
But we can't keep rebooting the same five characters, people. We need to switch things up with some new blood.
New blood is just what Runaways could provide; even though they've been around for a decade, they're still babies compared to most of the superhero stable first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
Unlike Marvel's current roster, The Runaways are very definitely products of the early 2000's. They've never had archenemies inspired by the Viet Cong, Nazis, or the Cold War era; they've never needed to be updated to fit the current political climate. The oldest of the group, Chase, is a mere seventeen, while the youngest is only eleven. Most of these heroes can't even drive, for Pete's sake.
I, for one, would love to see a series focused on a group of kids who've grown up taking computers and cell phones for granted—at one point Karolina mocks her mother, who's password is password, and says that “old people” don't understand modern technology.
And, what a nice change of pace it would be to have heroes who face life and death situations, yet don't have to struggle with alcoholism or torrid past relationships.
Plus, this is a storyline that would make for some really smashing drama. So many hero origin stories revolve around losing a loved one to crime—Bats, Spidey, Daredevil; I could go on and on—but what if your motivation for taking on the bad guys is the knowledge that your parents are the bad guys?
So, not only do our heroes have to sort through the typical turbulence of adolescence, struggling with things like puberty, first love, and deciding who they want to really be as people, they also have to fight baddies and rescue the innocent.
Peter Parker's been doing it for decades, but at least he could still go home to a nice dinner and Aunt May every night. The Runaways are all on their own, and what delicious drama that creates…
Runaways also eschews a lot of the fundamental tropes of superhero comics. The kids all give themselves codenames at the end of the first major arc—but then promptly abandon them.
Unlike the Avengers, they never actually refer to themselves as “The Runaways,” and no one wears a uniform. Nico leans towards handmade goth fashion, but she was like that even before she discovered she was a witch. The teens all dress like typical teens, and refer to one another by their actual names in the midst of battle. For audiences who may be growing weary of all of the elaborate trappings of superhero-dom, this series would be a refreshing change of pace.
Another great plus in Runaways' favor is how diverse the cast is. Alex is black, Nico Japanese, and Victor, while actually a cyborg, was raised by a Latina “mother.” Karolina is a lesbian, and Xavin is gender-fluid and gay. There are biracial romances and characters who aren't skinny or traditionally pretty. There's a character for almost everybody, and this series would shake up a heroic landscape that is still disappointingly white, male, and straight.
Runaways would also be a great way to weave in other characters in cameos or short story arcs—for all of its newness, it's still very firmly enmeshed in the Marvel universe. The kids all frequently discuss the Avengers and recent superpowered events, and cross paths with more established characters like Cloak and Dagger—who were once teenaged runaways themselves—and the Hulkling.
Wolverine himself even appears in a story; in true Wolvie fashion, he promptly takes young Molly under his wing. For a gruff, grumpy guy, Logan sure does collect a lot of sweet kids under his wings. What a great pseudo-dad to have in your corner; especially when your own is a telepathic villain.
The current track record proves that Netflix would be the smartest choice for an adaptation; Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter have both been solid shows, with good fan bases and relatively warm critical reviews, but Daredevil and Jessica Jones have, in my opinion, far outpaced those network series in terms of overall quality.
A Netflix adapt would ensure more creative freedom and the opportunity to fully showcase the darker and bloodier edges of the Runaways story. Also, the shorter season format would be kinder, allowing the screenwriters to focus fully on each arc as a unique whole.
And while a lot of fans lament that Runaways seems to—for now, at least—be finished, that could also play in its favor, too. Having a firm beginning and end would make an adaptation an easier thing to sell and produce, and since the characters haven't been rebooted a dozen times, the story is a decisive and unconfused one. No need to debate which timeline to focus on or which version of Nico to bring to the screen.
It's time to show a different kind of superhero. Time to give the younger generation heroes that look and sound like them. And Runaways would be a brilliant step in that direction.
*ANGIE ASKS—HULU DELIVERS!
The Hulu folks' ears must've been burning—or else someone is keeping tabs on this space—because the streaming platform is adapting April's Page to Screen choice, The Runaways, into a live action show!
The show-runners will be Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who co-created the soapy dramas Gossip Girl and The OC. The pair have a solid track record with teenaged characters, and Schwartz has a solid background when it comes to superhero-style antics, given his work on Chuck.
I'm hopeful that the two will be a good fit for Runaways, since the series has healthy doses of both teenager drama and superhero action/angst. Schwartz and Savage's past projects were multi-season successes with strong fanbases, which bodes well for Runaways in terms of budget, production values, and longevity.
Fingers crossed that Hulu does good by Niko, Chase, Karolina, and the others!
Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. Come find the angie bee at Tumblr.