Are We Finally Running Away Yet?
Runaways: Seasons 1 & 2
When a new superhero movie or show is announced, generally there's an assumption that the creators will pick and choose the parts of past continuity they like to craft some kind of new, "Elseworlds" adventure for the hero. This is something DC and Marvel both do, as recently as with the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. and Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., respectively. Heroes in these cinematic continuities have been around for 60+ years and have seen many reboots, side-stories, and Elseworld/What If continuities that have reshaped what fans know about the characters.
Put another way, when DC states they are making a new BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. production, there are parts of the continuity fans expect will be kept -- a guy named Bruce Wayne becomes Batman after the death of his parents, and is aided in his quest first by Alfred, his butler, and then Commissioner Gordon, Dick Grayson / Robin, and so forth. Beyonds these characters and basic facts, anything relating to Batman, his villains, and the rest of the continuity is fair game for inclusion and reinterpretation. This has to be the case because trying to cram all of the history of Batman into a single movie would be impossible. TV shows get a little more leeway to slowly explore the character's history, but even then changes are made for he sake of adaptation. The character has been around long enough that the creators can be given a lot of leeway to do different things with the character (just look at Gotham as an example).
It's hard to say if newer comics, though, should get that same "pick and choose and reinterpret" treatment. When watching the first season of the MCU-adjacent Runaways, what struck me were the differences between the original comics (which started its run in 2003 and was regularly ended and relaunched over time) and the show (which started in 2017). A lot of the original continuity was changed, and, honestly, it didn't always feel like it was changed for the better.
In the show, we're introduced to Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz), Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano), Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner), Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer), Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin), and Molly Hernandez (Allegra Acosta), six teenagers from the wealthy section of Los Angeles who discover, one evening, that their parents are actually super-villains. As leaders of Pride, their parents set about various plots and plans all to improve their own standing (and wealth). Realizing their parents are evil (witnessing the 'rents sacrifice a teenage girl), the kids... stick around for a while, plot and scheme their own plans, and then, by the end of the first season, they finally go on the run.
This was the first big departure from the comics. Although the characters are similar in their setup -- Alex is the brains, Nico has a magic staff and can perform spells, Karolina is an alien with light-based powers, Chase is a tech-wizz who has a pair of powerful gloves called "fistagons", Gert has a dinosaur at her beck and call, and Molly is supernaturally strong -- the shows takes a lot time to get them moving as a team, to make them actual "runaways". In the comics this happens instantly -- the kids see their parents be evil ad immediately run, taking the gear they need with them. By the end of the first set of comics, the parents have been defeated and the kids are official a superhero team. Two seasons in, we're still waiting for the parents to even get taken down a peg.
Pacing is the show's Achilles heel, and it's what really holds the show back from greatness, even two seasons in. While the teens struggled to figure out what to do and where to go in the first season, second season spends a lot of time spinning their wheels, never giving them a clear goal of what they should be doing -- at least, not a consistent one. Their goal is to end Pride, but they never come up with a good plan on how to do so, and what ending Pride actually means changes from one week to the next. Does it mean taking out their parents permanently (i.e., killing them), or just ending the organization and sending their parents to jail. Or are they more worried about the Gibborim, the church that Karolina's parents run that is secretly a front for aliens. Are the aliens the true villains and are their parents just puppets. The show waffles back and forth, sometimes making the parents trusted agents for the kids and, other times, forcing the two sides apart.
This issue plagues so many interactions in the show, causing a lot of tonal whiplash among the characters. One of the teens might hate their parent in one episode and then suddenly trust them implicitly the next, only to go back to immediately hating them again and not trusting anything they say, all with no rhyme or reason. And I get it, I understand why the show is this way: the parents are actually interesting characters, a big change from the comics. In the comics, the parents are one-note villains, there to serve a purpose and motivate the kids before they're bumped off.
Here, though, the show goes out of its way to build real, interesting characters out of all the parents, forcing us to view them as real people. It's a great twist, and one of the show's improvements over the comics, but it also slows down the pace since we have to spend a lot more time with the parents. It also means that sometimes we have to have the teens team up with their parents, but these interactions get stilted and weird and never really gel properly in the overall tone of the series. The parents fluctuate in their motivations just as often as the kids, meaning no one on this show can ever just settle down and be a single, consistent character for any length of time. The characters just do things because the story demands it, not because it makes sense in the context of the character.
There's also a lot more time spent on the aliens, the Gibborim, than ever happened in the comics. Originally conceived as ancient-gods, Titans that used to rule Earth, the Gibborim are reinvented as light-based aliens that can move between human bodies, slowly taking over their hosts. While their mechanics are interesting, the aliens themselves are not. They're given a lot of time on the show, but they never stop being one-note, megalomaniacal villains. The show never gives us a way to really understand them, what they want, or what their plans are, so we can't invest in them. When, half-way into second season, their ancient ship is destroyed before it can escape Earth, I wasn't sure if I was supposed to be happy about it since it wasn't clear what harm the aliens were really doing. And then it's revealed that the aliens are still somehow alive, and pissed off, and all I could think was, "of course they were. Wouldn't it have been better just to let them leave? Who are the real villains here?"
In short, the how of Runaways is a mess. Individual episodes, and moments there in, can be quite fun on the show, but overarching seasons never come together in satisfying ways. I really want to like the show, but it feels like the other thing that really works about it are the parts that come from the original comics. Everything that's new, that's changed from the original story is a complete mess, weird parts grafted onto to an otherwise tightly plotted story that only drags things out. If this show is to succeed, it needs to pair out a lot of the stuff that isn't working. It needs to become a tightly focused show about the teens themselves having superhero adventures.
It needs to make them Runaways. No parents, no Gibborim, just six teens, on the run, fighting crime. Give me that show and I'll be a happy camper. Maybe after a third season it can finally get there, but it's going to be a struggle for me to go back at this point. The show just isn't good enough at this point to make the effort of watching new episodes worth it.