Binge or Purge?: Marvel’s Runaways.
Hulu joins Netflix on the Marvel train with a new team of misfit teens exploring their powers while dealing with some serious parental issues.
Everything superhero all the time is the new motto in Hollywood, and it has bled successfully onto television. While comics and TV have had an on-again, off-again relationship, Daredevil blew open the floodgates for heroes on streaming platforms. Netflix has dominated the field with their Defenders projects, and others had to play catch-up. Hulu dabbled with mutants in Legion, and Amazon…well, they tried to make The Tick work. Runaways is Hulu’s second Marvel property, and it stands out as not just another super-team going through the motions. Based on Brian K. Vaughan’s book, Runaways is notable for a young cast, mature story line and nuanced take on heroes and villains.
A group of childhood friends try to reconnect in high school after a shared tragedy has split them apart. Despite having grown apart, they are forced back into each other’s lives when they discover that their parents may be hiding a dark secret that not only sheds light on the loss they have suffered, but on some of the powers that they are now developing as young adults.
Episode 1: Reunion.
Alex has become reclusive after the death of his childhood friend, Amy. This tragedy has put a wedge between him and his old friends, who each have grieved in their own way. On the anniversary of the death, Alex reaches out but is rebuffed by his peers. A chance event in each of their lives brings them together for a fateful encounter that night, where they witness their parents participate in something unspeakable.
The first episode is touch and go. For fans of the books, you know the big twist and the show is desperate to draw out the reveal. Even the title card on Hulu gives it away, so all of the coy reticence had me getting annoyed with the pace. What the show does right, and often, is give us fleshed out characters who feel familiar but also unique. There’s a ton of faces to meet, but nobody feels half-baked or rushed. They’re complex in ways that defy good or bad. It’s great writing that makes you interested in people you may not like personally.
Episode 2: Rewind.
We get the same fateful day as the last episode, this time almost entirely from the parent’s perspective.
Episode 2 was a game changer. The parents in this show are actually cooler and more interesting, on the whole, than the kids! They each get the same time and development as the teens, making for a compelling narrative. Even more so than the children, these people are nuanced, making them compelling even if you’re watching them do horrible things. We’ve now met our protagonists and antagonists who all operate in some shade of gray between good and evil, and the conflict between them is intensely personal.
Episode 3: Destiny.
The kids and adults both circle the wagons, trying to discover each other’s secrets. As the plot thickens, we find out that the parents have vast resources at their disposal, but are starting to fracture as a group. The kids start to learn that they have their own potential sources of power, individually and as a team.
This episode is mostly exposition, helping to put all the events into perspective. We get a feel for the dynamics at play between each character, both for the kids and adults. We also get our first taste of super powers, reminding us that this may be a teen drama but it is also firmly a Marvel property.
It took a while to figure out my impressions on Runaways. It breaks from the comics in ways that are frustrating, but also clever at times. Fans of Vaughan’s work (who has writing credit on some episodes) are probably going to find it to be a mixed experience. Fans of Marvel shows are going to probably have trouble with the coy pace and lack of big action sequences. The visuals are decent, but not nearly as impressive as some of the other comic book shows. That’s probably because Runaways is a teen family drama first and super-hero story third or fourth at best.
As for myself, I was able to put aside my complaints because I found the characters to be compelling…mostly the adults. In the books, the kids are all you care about, but here the parents and their histories and interactions are the juicy parts. This series relies on interpersonal drama between multi-faceted characters. Everyone is messed up and struggling, to some extent. The interest in this series is seeing how their choices are going to come to a head, which I’m willing to stick with for at least a season.
Verdict: Binge (well, the episodes are weekly, so watch in batches, I guess.)