'Marvel's Runaways': Cool teens versus villainous parents

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Marvel’s Runaways (Photo: Hulu)

The opening credits don’t even hint that you’re watching the newest superhero comic book adaptation. Beautiful vistas of Los Angeles — posh neighborhoods like Brentwood and Beverly Hills — fill the screen, and why not? Marvel’s Runaways is the latest project by Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, who brought us The O.C. and Gossip Girl, as well as the CW’s new take on Dynasty. Now Schwartz and Savage have chosen to adapt the comic book created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Adrian Alphona, in which six teenagers find out their parents are supervillains. And maybe, the TV series suggests, the teens themselves have superpowers too. Marvel’s Runaways, whose first three episodes start streaming on Hulu on Tuesday, is another of Schwartz and Savage’s kids-are-more-sympathetic-than-adults shows, and it works on that level.

There’s the morose nerd, Alex (Rhenzy Feliz); the rich girl, Karolina (Virginia Gardner); the jock, Chase (Gregg Sulkin); the Goth girl, Nico (Lyrica Okano); the self-described “social justice warrior,” Gert (Ariela Barer); and Molly, Gert’s younger sister (Allegra Acosta). They’re all varying degrees of stressed and unhappy, but they’re also energetic and quippy in the manner of an updated O.C. scenario. Each lives in a big, beautiful home, so it takes awhile for them to tumble to the superbad ways of their parents, who have formed a mysterious gang called the Pride. Those grownups include 24’s Annie Wersching as Karolina’s mother, the head of the Church of Gibborim, a Scientology-like cult, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s James Marsters as Chase’s dad, a very cranky mad-scientist inventor who has lines like, “The box is having dematerialization problems!”

Getting the majority of the characters listed takes up a lot of review space for me, just as Runaways’ introductions of the characters seems to take up much of the first two episodes. Why, the teens barely have time to utter gnomic teen wisdom such as, “Some people hide behind makeup, others behind a smile.” By the end of the two-hour premiere, the kids have found out about their folks’ secret meetings, even if they — and we as viewers — are somewhat in the dark about what exactly makes the Pride such a forbidden zone of naughtiness. (Although I must say, closing out an episode with the line, “I think our parents killed that girl,” is pretty cool.) It’s also not obvious, after seeing three episodes, what powers each teen possesses, other than metal-bending superstrength for one of the females.

The Marvel Comics series on which Runaways is based is widely admired, and I’ve liked other comics Vaughan has written, such as Ex Machina and Y: The Last Man. He’s listed as an “executive consultant” on the show, and Schwartz and Savage have faithfully approximated the tone Vaughan uses in his young-character creations. It remains to be seen where Runaways will go when the show really establishes what the powers of these teen heroes are — in these early episodes, it’s all the producers can do to simply sketch in the personalities of what is, when you add in the parents, a very large main cast. Right now, there’s a nice tension here between the ways adolescents often tend to isolate versus the ways they’re forced to come together as a team.

Marvel’s Runaways is streaming now on Hulu.

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