How Runaways is changing LGBTQ representation

By CATHERINE PALMER | February 1, 2018

Marvel’s Runaways, a Hulu original series, centers on a group of teens with emotional issues, superpowers, serial killers for parents and a genetically engineered, telepathic pet dinosaur. It pretty adeptly checks the boxes for as many genres as possible, aside from musical theater (although the soundtrack is lit).

But here’s the groundbreaking aspect of the series: Runaways is one of the only television shows — and the only superhero show — featuring two main characters who are part of the LGBTQ community and fall for each other. While strides in representation have certainly been made in recent years, heteronormativity remains a powerful force. Runaways takes an axe to it.

It’s routine for straight main characters to be love interests for one another (see: every TV show ever). However, LGBTQ main characters, if there are any, almost always have love interests who are minor, recurring characters. This trend is particularly evident in the Arrowverse.

Sara Lance’s (Caity Lotz) hopefully end-game love interest, Nyssa al Ghul (Katrina Law), has appeared on Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow in a limited capacity.

Curtis Holt (Echo Kellum), Arrow’s only gay main character (Lotz is now on Legends), was recently divorced from his husband, Paul (Chenier Hundal), who was featured only in a handful of episodes.

Supergirl has been the only DC-CW show so far to break the mold slightly. Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) came out in season two, and her love interest Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima) was introduced as a series regular. The two were engaged at the end of the season, but Lima chose to leave the show. So the storyline was unfortunately cut short.

Fox’s Gotham also broke the mold but in a different sense. Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor), aka The Penguin, fell for a fellow main character, his best friend Edward Ngyma (Cory Michael Smith), aka The Riddler, who was in a relationship with a woman at the time.

Penguin went to extremes to clear the competition, which majorly backfired when Ed rejected him anyway. The two have had a brutally antagonistic relationship ever since.

Aside from canon LGBTQ storylines, some main characters are shipped as same-sex pairings by fans due to the characters’ and the actors’ palpable chemistry. Perhaps the most notable examples are Supergirl’s Kara Danvers (Melissa Benoist) and Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath) — aka “Supercorp” — and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Skye/Daisy Johnson (Chloe Bennet) and Jemma Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge) — aka “Skimmons.”

Bennet and Henstridge have been vocal supporters of their ship for years. McGrath, at last summer’s Comic-Con, spoke in defense of interpreting Kara and Lena’s relationship as romantic, saying fans should watch the show and “take from it what [they] like.”

The validation made her a hero among LGBTQ Supergirl fans in light of comments made earlier in the same interview by co-star Jeremy Jordan (who plays Winn Schott) that many people found disrespectful and homophobic.

While performing a musical recap of the show’s first two seasons, Jordan shouted emphatically that Kara and Lena are “only friends” and are “not gonna get together.” Jordan later insisted that fans were overreacting to a joke, entirely missing the point that the outrage was sparked by the idea that a lesbian pairing would be considered comedic.

To be fair, McGrath laughed at Jordan’s comments too, but many fans were grateful that she was the only actor to also offer a thoughtful and supportive response to “Supercorp” during the interview.

Returning now to Runaways: The show’s LGBTQ storyline is unlike anything I have seen in a superhero series. In the first few episodes, I didn’t see it coming. In fact, I was disappointed that the show appeared to be going in a stereotypical and forced direction.

Karolina Dean (Virginia Gardner), a tall and beautiful blonde, seems headed toward a relationship with Chase Stein (Gregg Sulkin), the hot jock. Meanwhile, the purple-haired Gert Yorkes (Ariela Barer), pines for him. However, as the show progresses, the characters become much more layered.

The triangle is actually used as a device for Karolina to realize her feelings for someone else and for Chase to realize his feelings for Gert. For Karolina, that someone else is a girl, her close friend Nico Minoru (Lyrica Okano).

By about the midway point in the 10-episode first season, Karolina’s crush on Nico is hinted at quite heavily. But at the time, Nico is in a relationship with the leader of their group, a guy named Alex Wilder (Rhenzy Feliz).

Nico and Alex’s relationship actually develops quite naturally and enjoyably. However, an old secret is eventually revealed that leads Nico to feel betrayed by Alex. Karolina then bravely decides to make a move and kiss Nico, sure of Nico’s care for her but not necessarily as more than friends.

However, breaking with the canon of the original Runaways comics, Nico actually comes to a realization of her own: She is bisexual and likes Karolina back. In the comics, Karolina’s feelings for Nico are unrequited. Yet, by the end of the show’s first season, Nico and Karolina, aka “Deanoru,” seem to be an official couple.

It is also in no small part due to Gardner and Okano’s enthusiastic support for the relationship from the outset. According to a Glamour interview, the actresses continually begged co-creators Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage to write a kiss scene.

Karolina and Nico will likely face some relationship difficulties in the coming second season, since it’s a teen drama, after all. Regardless, the fact that two same-sex main characters have revelations about their sexuality and get together within the first season is huge and unprecedented in superhero television.

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