Runaways is the latest Marvel comic adaptation to grace the small screen and manages to do a decent job of standing out from the other superhero shows on the market. With its focus squarely on the conflict between the teenage cast and their parents, this charming show manages to ground itself in realism whilst still feeling like a superhero origin story in the process. Whilst Runaways’ drama does feel a little contrived at times, complete with a cataclysmic ending and contrived character actions late on, it’s largely the group dynamic and character relationships that elevate Runaways and make it a unique superhero show in a crowded market.
The story follows the lives of 6 teenagers as they struggle to find their place in high school after breaking off from the tight circle they formed with each other years before. A mystery shrouded death in the group fractures them, causing them all to go in separate directions and try to find their place in the world. One of the kids Alex (Rhenzy Feliz) decides to try to reunite the group on the anniversary of their deceased friend to honour her memory. From an Emo to a feminist right through to a jock, Runaways goes all out to differentiate the different characters yet somehow it never feels unnatural; the characters comfortably adopt their archetypes but there’s enough depth here to avoid it feeling cheesy. When the group come together, uneasiness and tension ensues as they realize how vastly different to one another they are now.
It’s ultimately a common goal that binds the group together as they uncover a sinister plot involving their parents and set out to try to stop them. Having not read the comic its difficult to grasp how well the show manages to interpret the story but visually, the kids look very similar to their comic counterpart. This dynamic between the kids and their parents helps Runaways stand out and whilst it might not be as innovative or world-changing as some of the other Marvel shows, there’s a good dose of originality injected that helps the show stand out in a very crowded market.
The character work is where Runaways shines. There are echoes of Heroes’ first season at play here; the likeable characters and the way they interact with one another is realistically depicted with well written dialogue that feels like natural dialect for teenagers. There’s a good dose of romance and love triangles at play here too and whilst some of the messy romantic drama won’t be for everyone, it does feel like the perfect fit for a plot involving teenagers. The way Runaways jumps between the present and past, shifting the focus from the parents to the kids and back again never feels confusing or nonsensical. Runaways seamlessly handles these time jumps to make them feel natural in the overall plot and thankfully answers a lot of the questions it asks throughout the show.
Runaways is at its best when it follows the relationships between the parents and kids, feeding off the energy between these two groups. When Runaways shifts its focus from the characters to a more world-ending apocalypse at the end of the series it feels a little too tired and clichéd which is a bit of a shame. This is a plot line we’ve seen numerous times and whilst it helps to build for a climactic end, for large periods of Runaways its the characters that make this show as appealing as it is. The various relationships and dynamics between these people is interesting and whilst it could be argued that some of this is a little contrived, it’s also the one part of Runaways that makes it feel like a show about high school kids that stumble upon special abilities rather than a generic superhero origin story. The way the characters take a while to discover their powers further reinforces the dramatic focus of the show with the superhero elements an added bonus.
Runaways is a fun show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Some of the allure and excitement at the start of the show does peter out as the series draws toward its finale but there’s still enough here that’s enjoyable and original. The characters are memorable and well written and their interactions with one another realistically depicted, making it one of the reasons Runaways works as well as it does. Although the show does fall into the generic apocalyptic climax that so many other Marvel shows adopt, Runaways does a fine job until this point of answering the questions it raises throughout the show. Runaways is unlikely to win any awards but it does a good job of solidifying itself as a different kind of Marvel show and in such a crowded market, that’s certainly an impressive feat to achieve.