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The news that Marvel’s Runaways has been picked up for a pilot at Hulu is something that likely delighted fans of the original comic book series, which featured a hook so simple that it was genuinely surprising no one had thought of it before: Sure, every teenager thinks their parents are the bad guys at some point of their lives — but what if you discovered that your parents really were the bad guys?
Runaways launched in 2003 as part of a wave of new titles from Marvel’s comic book arm called “Tsunami,” intended to draw in new readers with a mix of all-new concepts and fresh takes on existing characters. Other titles featured Spider-Man villain Venom and, far ahead of their Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD debut, the Inhumans. Runaways was one of the former, a series set on the opposite coast from the New York home of the majority of Marvel’s comics and featuring an entirely original cast of characters and mythology as the offspring of “The Pride” — the heads of Los Angeles’ supervillain crime community — tried to escape their parents and what they worried was their own evil destinies.
The team, as the series began, was made up of Nico Minoru, the daughter of “dark wizards”; Alex Wilder, the strategic genius son of mafia bosses; Karolina Dean, who discovers that she’s actually the child of alien invaders; Chase Stein, the bone-headed son of a pair of mad scientists; Gert Yorkes, the daughter of time-travelers; and Molly Hayes, a mutant daughter of mutant parents. They would later be joined by a shape-shifting alien called Xavin, a cyborg called Victor Mancha and a young girl who came from the year 1907.
Runaways was the creation of Brian K. Vaughan — who was also writing DC/Vertigo’s post-apocalyptic Y: The Last Man at the time and would later write for ABC’s Lost and co-create CBS’ Under the Dome — and artist Adrian Alphona, later a co-creator of Marvel’s critically acclaimed Ms. Marvel series with writer G. Willow Wilson. An immediate critical hit, it was a slow burn in terms of sales, initially getting cancelled after 18 issues before a revival based on the success of collected editions the following year.
Vaughan and Alphona stayed with the series for just 42 issues, with both creators leaving after the two-year mark of the second volume. The series had changed significantly during their run, which was one of its key appeals — the way that the comic could use the mythology of superheroes to act as a metaphor for the teenage experience: Friends could become foes, power shifts could stand in for puberty, and everything was a process of discovery in one way or another. Another fan-favorite element was the diversity of the teens on the team, both in terms of outlook and gender, but also sexuality, with the group featuring LGBTQ characters during a period where Marvel was less openly invested in character diversity.
If this sounds reminiscent of what Joss Whedon did for television with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it likely wouldn’t surprise you to discover that Whedon followed Vaughan as writer of the series for a six-issue storyline, before the series was relaunched for a second time with a new creative team in 2008. As with the first series, the third volume struggled to find an audience; despite a change in writer and artist with the series’ 11th issue, the series was canceled mid-storyline with issue no. 14 in 2009.
To all intents and purposes, that was the end of the Runaways as a stand-alone entity. Various characters from the team have appeared subsequently, either as a group in series such as Avengers Academy or as individuals in series such as Avengers Arena, All-New X-Men or the current A-Force series. Marvel revived the Runaways name with a miniseries in 2015, but the character lineup was almost entirely different from earlier series with only one character appearing in both versions of the team.
In a time before Ms. Marvel or The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Runaways was a glimpse at the potential mass appeal Marvel properties could have if they featured something other than straight white male leads. That the Runaways concept has fallen into disrepair in the comics world when Marvel is pushing diversity into A-list characters and concepts like Captain America, Thor and Iron Man feels unfortunate, to say the least. With any luck, the Hulu TV show could be exactly what Runaways needs to get on the road again.
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