Runaways – one of Marvel’s new shows featuring teenagers – might also be one of its edgiest, with ethnically diverse characters from all walks of life and a mostly female superhero team. Fans and critics seem to be embracing the series, which follows six teenagers as they unite against a common foe – their supervillain parents.
It has received positive reviews and social-media buzz, with fans and critics comparing it with coming-of-age stories such as the 1985 film The Breakfast Club and popular teen drama The OC (2003 to 2007). At a press day in Los Angeles earlier this year, two of its young stars, Ariela Barer and Allegra Acosta, tell the media the premise is the perfect metaphor for teenage rebellion and angst.
Barer, 19, plays Gert Yorkes, a punk feminist activist who has the power of telepathy. She says the show is “this beautiful coming-of-age metaphor for a teenager, put in a very tangible way that people can connect to. We are giving these powers and this voice to a group of people learning that their authority figures are not as reliable as they once thought”.
Acosta, 15, plays Molly, the group’s youngest and most cheerful member. She has superhuman strength and cannot be hurt. The actress notes that the diversity in ethnicity and background in the show reflects a fact of life for many young Americans today.
“We’re playing these realistic characters. I could see some of my friends in us because you see every race, females and males, and we’re all just coming together to create a bad** group of superheroes.”
Crucially, the diversity in the group extends to their personalities too, says Barer. Showing this motley bunch can still get along despite their differences “is a wonderful message for young girls that we don’t have to be pitted against one another in the way we have been told our whole lives to do and, that despite these insecurities, we can find empowerment with one another”.
Acosta believes the creators of the source material comic books of the same name, Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, did not envision these characters as “idealised versions of a teenager”.
Yet, they did not dumb them down. “We’re still growing. We’re still learning and we make mistakes and that’s the whole point of growing up and I feel like that’s why (viewers) can relate to all our struggles,” she says.
“But we have some sense of what we’re doing and it’s cool because people tend to have pre-conceived notions about kids and teenagers in general. The fact that we’re showing just how strong they can be on their own and how they have a voice and an opinion is super fantastic.”
On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Runaways has an 83% critics’ score and 89% audience score. This puts it ahead of Marvel’s X-Men spin-off The Gifted (71% and 79% ), which debuted last year and also has teenage superheroes as central characters.
Stephanie Savage, Runaways’ producer and co-showrunner, thinks part of its success stems from the relative freshness of the comic-book source material, a series that debuted in 2003.
Its creators were thus able to “create a world with four amazing female members on the team and two guys and include some diversity in the families that you might not have seen if the comic was written 50 years ago”, she observes.
“Vaughan wrote the original with a lot of the voice that still feels relevant today,” she adds. “It came out the same year as the first year of The O.C. and it felt like it was sympatico with empowering young people and speaking to them directly in their voice.”
The producers and cast note that, true to its target demographic, the show first caught on on social media, where it has amassed an enthusiastic young fanbase.
Acosta says this is typical of “my generation, Generation Z – a lot of it starts on Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter”. “That’s the mainstream media for us.” – The Straits Times/Asia News Network