Breaking Character Stereotypes with the Girls of Marvel's Runaways
Runaways was the latest Marvel show to feel the blow from the launch of Disney + and the restructuring of Marvel TV. The third and final season dropped in December 2019 bringing a satisfying conclusion to a comic book adaptation that stood out from its predecessors due largely to the diverse cast which was The Runaways themselves.
Within that lot of angsty teens were four heroic girls that stepped out of their stereotypes to speak to their audience with an authenticity that made the show almost transcend the comic. With a strong cast to represent their comic counterparts Nico, Karolina, Gert, and Molly came to life on screen and made an important impact that will be remembered long after the show is gone.
* Mild Spoilers Ahead - Proceed with Caution!
Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano)
Nico Minoru might not be as well known as Ironman or Captain America but she is a beloved character for fans of Marvel’s Runaways. When we meet Nico in the TV series she immediately sets herself apart from the rest of the cast. Dressed goth-style and chock full of attitude, Nico appears to be a loner separating herself from everyone as she tries to process the death of her sister Amy two years before. This added thread is a departure from the comics but gives Nico a nice layer as she struggles with an inner darkness that she battles throughout the series. Her foray into Wicca starts out innocent enough but soon Nico comes to find her magic is real and very powerful. The Staff of One, and the manner in which it is purged from Nico’s chest later in the series, is a cool visual pulled from the comics and blasted on the screen. It also begs the question: “how much power is too much?” Played with a beautiful mix of strength and vulnerability by actress Lyrica Okano, it’s the first time a Japanese American is represented on screen as a heroic superhero leader. And even though she struggles with that title, Nico does step up and lead the group as they navigate treacherous waters throughout the shows different arcs. Two different rescue missions in season 3 see Nico willing to do whatever it takes to get her friends back, even if it means falling so deep into her dark magic powers that she loses herself in the process. Sacrifice for the greater good is a heroic trait imbued in every superhero. Nico is the driving force.
Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner)
At first Karolina Dean seems like the average beautiful, tall blonde that’s the standard in most TV and films. But as her character develops throughout the series the layers of the “perfect church girl” are peeled back to reveal a lot more depth to the character that is anything but average. There’s a subtle line in season 1 where Karolina mentions “I usually do things by myself.” That small line, along with the smear campaign of a doctored photo meant to embarrass her, is telling of how isolated Karolina is in her world and points out that she is not the popular cheerleader-esque type of character you would assume upon appearance. Karolina is actually much more than that standard stereotype. The comic version of Marvel’s Runaways set Karolina on a path few were telling back when it debuted in 2003. Not only does she discover she’s part alien with amazing powers and the ability to fly, but she’s also struggling with her sexual identity. Brought to life on the Hulu series in some superlative casting, actress Virginia Gardner embodies Karolina’s struggle against her true self while she tries to maintain an image thrust upon her by her parents. That’s a strong story that resonates with the younger fan base of Marvel’s Runaways. When Karolina goes on the run with the rest of the group she starts to discover things about herself that allows her to drop the facade and embrace her truths…all of them. Her character grows throughout the series and we see Karolina become more confident in who she is while at the same time maintaining her innate hope and faith in others regardless of how much hardships The Runaways come across. Karolina is the heart.
Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer)
The “social justice warrior” jumps off the page and onto the screen with Ariela Barer’s performance of Gert Yorkes. Standing firm in her beliefs, and not afraid to state them to others, Gert is another unique character that isn’t portrayed often unless it’s done in a campy way. For the comic and the show Gert’s opinions of the world’s social norms are grounded in a reality that she’s decided to hold a mirror up to rather than bury her head in the sand about. But however well-intentioned Gert’s motives are it’s when faced with the very real moral dilemma of exposing their corrupt parents that she has to back up her prior posturing. She does that with the aide of her psychically linked dinosaur Old Lace. In comic books anything goes but when bringing the world of fantasy into a reality-based series something like that can get a little tricky. Fortunately, they pull it off making Gert and Old Lace the buddy team-up you didn’t know you needed until seeing it! Let’s also not gloss over the fact that Old Lace, being a female dino, is also a big part of this kick ass girl clique. Another unique touch to the character of Gert is the fact that she has anxiety issues. Seeing this addressed on screen the way that they did added to the sense of realism even in a superhero show and provided Gert’s character a lot of interesting complexity. Having to deal with mental struggles on top of running away from home and murderous parents gives Gert a unique inner strength. That’s evident towards the end of season 3 when (SPOILER ALERT!) Gert faces off with Morgan Le Fay even though she’s mortally wounded distracting Le Fay with her cutting wit to allow the others to win the fight. Gert is the moral compass.
Molly Hayes Hernandez (Allegra Acosta)
Molly Hernandez has the biggest change from the comic to the screen. But the small changes to her character’s origins add even more depth to the young girl strong enough to lift an SUV. The thing about Molly that really stands out is her youthful zest. Even though Allegra Acosta is much older than the 10 year old Molly Hernandez of the comics you still get that sense of childlike innocence from her performance. But it’s that innocence which sees Molly tested over and over again as she suffers multiple tragedies throughout the series. It’s enough to make anyone grow up jaded but Molly’s spirit doesn’t break. Instead, she is the one that sees the time-tested love and friendship within the group of Runaways that bonds them like family. More than once you see Molly taking the floor and telling the others how they need to stick together. As young as she is, she somehow becomes the conscience while the others are wrapped up in their own individual turmoil. Molly’s interactions with the alien shapeshifter Xavin are some of the most enjoyable of the entire series as she explains to Xavin the beauty of the little things. It appears that Molly’s superstrength also translates to a super heart with the love the group needs to continue to fight their perils side-by-side. Molly is the nucleus.
Even though we lost Marvel’s Runaways on screen their stories continue with the re-launch of the comic series where even more crazy characters and adventures await.
I really love characters that have complex layers to them. I love writing about them and I love watching them which is one of the reasons I enjoyed Marvel's Runaways so much. A special shout-out to the show and the actresses who gave even more depth to these four unique heroic girls. If you haven’t already, go check out Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu or Disney + now!
Cynthia Vespia is a fantasy author and freelance writer. She loves superheroes and powerful female characters making an impact on entertainment. Find out more at www.cynthiavespia.com