Listening to the way film studio executives hem and haw about whether they’ll ever get around to putting queer characters on the big screen in live-action comic book adaptations, you’d think someone was asking them to choose which of their beloved children they were willing to sacrifice so that the others might live.
Marvel’s Kevin Feige has said that we should expect to finally see a LGBTQ character in the MCU within the decade, but after Valkyrie’s queerness was needlessly erased from Thor: Ragnarok, his words don’t seem particularly trustworthy. At this point, the only explanation as to why we haven’t seen more queer characters on screen from Marvel is because the studio just straight up doesn’t want to include them. There are plenty of gay, bisexual, lesbian, and trans characters running around in Marvel’s books, so it’s not as if they don’t have the source material. Instead, the company seems as if it’s actively trying to avoid doing what Runaways just proved is incredibly easy.
Fans of Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona’s original Runaways comic will recall Karolina’s story arc in which she gradually comes to grips with her alien heritage and the fact that she identifies as a lesbian.
Over the course of the series, she opens up to her friends about her sexual identity and even goes through the process of admitting to Nico that she has feelings for her before being turned down. Ultimately, she finds true love with Xavin, a shapeshifting Skrull who initially takes on a male human form before eventually becoming comfortable in a female body that’s more to Karolina’s preference. Karolina’s story was incredibly progressive and forward-thinking when it first came out back in 2003, and judging from the looks of it, Hulu’s Runaways adaptation doesn’t plan on trying to fix something that isn’t broken.
In this week’s episode “Metamorphosis,” Karolina begins working up the courage to admit her feelings to Nico, something that Gert picks up on before any of the other teens seem to notice. No big deal was made of Karolina’s sexuality and the show just kept chugging along on schedule. Nobody had a huge freakout, and the world didn’t end; a character just so happened to be into people of the same gender as herself. What’s more, Hulu’s Runaways plans to incorporate Karolina’s journey of self-discovery into the larger plot. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, executive producer Josh Schwartz explained how Karolina’s emotional entanglements with Chase and Nico (and Nico’s with Alex) will play an integral role in driving the story forward:
“This is all tied into Karolina’s larger journey of coming to grips with identity, which is going to increasingly drive more story as we come down the line. Realizing that everything in her life has been a lie, and everything she’s ever done has been to make her perfect mother happy, and live up to the tenants of the church that she belongs to, realizing now that her mother isn’t at all who she believed her to be, and that the church — this beautiful thing in quotes that she bought into — is actually hiding terrible secrets is going to make her feel emboldened to start becoming herself even more.”
As a gay man who’s grown rather weary of tearful, emotionally overwrought coming out stories in which impossibly pretty people bemoan the fact that other equally gorgeous folks don’t reciprocate their feelings, it’s beyond refreshing to see Karolina just... existing. Sure, her life’s about to get a hell of a lot messier and she’s setting herself up for some heartbreak, but that’s infinitely more preferable to yet another Very Special Episode about (insert character’s name here) who isn’t like other kids their age.
In Karolina’s case, all it took was simply sticking to the source material.