It's taken them almost a decade, but Marvel Studios are finally catching onto the idea that diversity matters. Last year, Black Panther broke new ground for black representation onscreen, and twelve months later, Captain Marvel became the first female superhero to star in her own Marvel movie.
Since then, MCU boss Kevin Feige has announced that a significant male character in The Eternals will make history as the company's first LGBTQ hero, and they'll be joined soon after by an out-and-proud Valkyrie in Thor: Love and Thunder.
In reality though, this mystery character isn't actually Marvel's first queer hero at all. Just like Black Panther was preceded by Luke Cage and Jessica Jones beat Captain Marvel to the punch, Marvel's Runaways also starred LGBTQ heroes long before the films even acknowledged that queer people exist.
The less said about that cameo in Avengers: Endgame, the better.
When it comes to Runaways, attempts to diversify and portray queerness on screen aren't just transparent attempts at virtue signalling either. The relationship shared between Nico and Karolina captures something genuine by respectfully exploring their sexuality without letting it define them as people.
It's no wonder that the Deanoru fandom ship them both so hard.
everytime deanoru is referred to as the emotional core of the show i get so happy bc it’s rare for the gay couple not to just be the side romance 🥺— em • spy au 📌🕷 (@elektramora) December 5, 2019
Towards the end of season one, Runaways broke new ground by portraying queer superheroes who actually kiss on screen, and season two framed much of the romantic tension around them, sidelining the straight characters (for once) in favour of their relationship instead.
It should come as no surprise then that the third and final season of Runaways features yet another LGBTQ milestone, but unfortunately, this one doesn't quite make the same impact.
Spoilers for Runaways seasons two and three included from here on out:
Continuing right where we left off in the season two finale, Karolina finds herself trapped in one of Jonah's pods, alongside Chase and his mother, Janet. However, she doesn't understand what's going on at first, because Jonah has trapped her in an alien algorithm where the prisoner's deepest desires all come true.
For Janet, this marks a return to domestic bliss with her husband, and Chase is stuck in a perpetual loop where he saves Gert, over and over again.
Karolina, on the other hand, is living out the same fantasy that the Deanoru fandom have been longing for too. In this artificial world, Nico and her are getting married! Except, of course, none of this is actually real.
Even as the guests start to arrive, it becomes obvious that things aren't what they seem, and Karolina herself soon realises that this version of Nico isn't the one she knows and loves from back home.
By the end of season three's second episode, our rainbow-coloured hero is reunited with her lover in the real world and goes on to defy the aliens who imprisoned her in the first place.
On the one hand, it's huge to see a Marvel property explore gay marriage in any capacity. Rather than just carry on like before, the Runaways season three premiere takes its central relationship to the next level, revealing that Karolina's greatest desire is to take Nico's hand in marriage:
"It's what I've always wanted, more than anything."
This beautiful, groundbreaking moment normalises queerness with respect and authenticity in ways which will undoubtedly resonate with LGBTQ viewers — and particularly queer teens who have cheered them on since day one.
However, it's also worth noting that the marriage isn't actually real, and if we're feeling cynical, one could argue that this is all just a giant cop-out. Sure, Nico and Karolina are too young to marry anyway, but now that the show's been cancelled, fans have been robbed of the chance to see them betrothed for real in the future too.
Queer Marvel fans have been short-changed multiple times in the past. Remember when Thor: Ragnarok erased Valkyrie's bisexual moment or when Black Panther removed a lesbian romance from the final cut?
"It is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore that LGBTQ people remain almost completely shut out of Hollywood's big budget comic book films that have dominated the box office over the past several years."
For the most part, Marvel TV shows like Runaways have done what they can to address this imbalance, and after far too long, it looks like their movie counterparts are finally starting to catch up.
Endgame director Joe Russo has promised that Marvel will "focus on diversity" moving forward (via Deadline), but even then, it might be another ten years at least until queer superheroes marry for real in the MCU.
The petition for a Runaways movie starts here.
Marvel's Runaways returns to Hulu in the US on December 13 while Syfy airs the show in the UK.
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