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MARVEL’S ‘RUNAWAYS’ BREAKS CONVENTION AND MAKES FOR AN MCU STANDOUT

Hulu’s new exclusive steps out on its own and has become one of Marvel’s best series.

Every few years, a new craze sweeps almost obsessive-compulsively through our media, be it vampires, witches, or dystopian futures. At the moment, it’s superheroes and other comics originated properties, and that moment shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.

Marvel alone is associated with no less than 17 current or upcoming television projects, most of them related in some fashion to their overarching MCU.

Streaming services such as Netflix–which post an entire season’s worth of content up in a single day–have quite a lot to do with influencing the continuation of this trend, not least because of the rapid rate that they can produce shows of high production value. This sort of binge-able format is good because people are much more likely to watch a show if the whole thing is readily available on their schedule. That means that there’s no pressure to watch it right away (unless you’re worried about spoilers) but the option is there. Unfortunately, it also means that we’re burning through comic book source material at an increasingly fast pace.

This could be a good or a bad thing. On one hand, it means that opportunities are opening up for less well-known comics to become films and TV shows, but on the other, it means that less thought is being put into quality and diversity of the content. The riskier a character or property is seen to be, the less likely it is to get made, or at least, made properly with a decent budget and resources. Many producers are still sticking to what they’ve seen work already, churning out formulaic scripts and carbon copy characters. When the source material doesn’t suit that template, changes are made until it does, which tends to produce mixed results at best.

All in all, it’s not surprising to hear that even die-hard superhero fans and comics creators themselves have been feeling a little burnt out on the trend.

When so many of these shows feel so similar, it’s extremely refreshing to find something that stands out from the rest.

Hulu and Marvel came out this past week with the first three episodes of their new Runaways show and it definitely has merit. It might actually have the potential to be one of Marvel’s best shows to date–Netflix included.

Based on the 2003 comic series created by Brian K. Vaughan (Saga, Y: The Last Man) Runaways manages to strike a healthy balance between staying true to the source material and adapting elements for the new medium, something that many other comic book adaptations have struggled with.

Runaways is the story of six teens who run away from home when they discover that their parents are basically supervillains. Evil is in the eye of the beholder, however, and the parents all feel that what they are doing is necessary to ensure their own children’s future well-being. Unsurprisingly, the kids don’t really see it that way, taking exception to the idea of people being murdered in their name. Luckily, between genetic mutations, alien origins, and other magical and technological abilities, the kids are able to fight back against their parents’ evil machinations.

Taking place across the country from New York and any weird incidents, Runaways seems to be set in its own world. And it could very well be. The series has always felt less connected to the larger Marvel events due to the fact that the kids have rarely had any long-term associations with any of the bigger teams such as the Avengers or the X-Men, although they have upon occasion worked with the Young Avengers. Shimmer, AKA Karolina, actually becomes a member of that team for a period of time.

Obviously, we’re not going to hear the term “mutant” tossed around (yet) but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence of other “gifted” individuals, super-powered or otherwise, either. Not that it means they’re the only ones — there’s always a chance that Miss America will stomp her way across dimensions to make a cameo — but for now, it gives Marvel and Hulu the option of plausible deniability. They can always introduce larger aspects of the MCU later, the same way that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D occasionally mentions events from the films. For now, they don’t have to decide one way or the other.

While it would be nice to use this connection to either facilitate a Young Avengers spin-off or at least drop in a few cameos, this isolation from the larger MCU might just be one of the best things for the show.

If you didn’t know that this show was about a bunch of superpowered kids and their parents, you might just assume it’s going to be just another teen-angst-filled dramady, and as surprising as that sounds, that’s actually a compliment.

Helmed by the creative forces behind hit shows like Gossip Girl and The O.C, the show is almost entirely character driven, much more interested in setting up the relationships between the kids and parents right away than worrying about where the plot is going. Obviously, there’s going to be romantic drama, but so far the show seems really set on digging into more familial issues. Moreso than the comics even, the show is delving into the motivations of the parents, trying to make them just as much the focus of the show as the kids.

With this sort of top-heavy character-building, there’s always the chance that a show might feel slow and bloated, but so far the pacing has worked remarkably well. The show leans hard on some classic teen stereotypes, but for the most part, they don’t feel as over the top as they could.

Alex is the friendly nerd and resident gamer. Niko is the goth loner with a natural inclination for blood magic. Karolina is the pretty, naive daughter of the pastor. Chase is the jock and low-key bully who lashes out because of his own abusive father. Gert is the super liberal feminist. And last but not least, Molly, who might the youngest of the group, but she’s also easily the strongest in more ways than one.

It’s the addition of an entirely new character, however, that really makes the show feel complete. Despite not being in the comics, the death of Amy, Niko’s older sister in the show, helps to define the tension between the kids and creates a more tangible explanation for the kids not being friends anymore. She was the glue that bound their group together. Without her, their differing tastes and personalities drove them apart.

Until witnessing their parents participating in a sacrificial ritual brings them back together.

But despite appearances, their parents aren’t overtly evil. Everything they do, they do for their kids. The show makes sure to focus on the sympathetic aspects of the parents, examining the broken marriages, power plays, and all the other drama that has lead each of them individually to this point.

The comic has always had a relatively small, devoted fan base, and by limiting the show to Hulu, the show might not spread much further but it really should. Runaways promises to be one of the more compelling superhero shows to date and will hopefully continue the trend towards the production of other, more unconventional comic book adaptations in the future.

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