'Runaways' Showrunners on Updating and Expanding the Marvel Comic [Interview]

It's been a big month for superheroes, with Justice League in theaters and The Punisher on Netflix. It's not over yet because Marvel's Runaways is on Hulu. Based on the comic created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, Runaways is about a group of teenagers who discover their parents are part of an evil cult called The Pride. They run away and oh yeah, they have superpowers, too.

Producers Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage adapted Runaways for television. They spoke with /Film about the new series at Hulu's summer TCA session. New episodes of Marvel's Runaways premiere Tuesdays on Hulu.

Is Runaways really about how kids always think their parents are the enemy?Schwartz: Well, certainly baked into the premise is this idea that every teenager thinks their parents are evil. What if their parents actually were? That's the super fun jumping off point of the show. There's a flip side to that in the story which is there's also a moment where every parent knows that what they're saying or doing to the kid, the kid is going to resent them for and hate them for. In the parent's mind, they're doing it for the kid's own good. I think really what the show is about is that moment where a teenager sees their parent as a fallible human being for the first time and a parent realizes they've lost control of their kid and they're becoming an individual and adult in their own right. I think that's the story we're trying to tell inside a Marvel show.In real life, I feel like the teenager realizes that when they still have a few years left of living under their parents' roof and the parents are fighting up hill to maintain control.Schwartz: That struggle is the story of The Runaways.Savage: Yeah, because finding out your parents are evil is not a simple thing. It's very complicated, not just in terms of what are you going to do about it, but how does it make you feel emotionally? A lot of their conflict for season one is about coming to terms with what is even happening and is there an explanation for it and our parents wouldn't really do that, would they?Schwartz: Has everything I've been taught in my life a lie? What does that mean about me? I'm a reflection of my parents. Some kids don't want to believe it. For other kids, the easiest explanation for how they feel about their mom is she's a supervillain. We really explore those dynamics.Do teenagers also feel like they're the only ones who see their parents are monsters and no one else believes them?Schwartz: There's definitely an element of that. I think, again, it hits every character differently. Also on our show, we may have some actual monsters.Are the parents a threat beyond the first season?Schwartz: Yes.Savage: Yes.So you're planning to extend the story of the first run of Runaways?Schwartz: The first run, yeah. Our whole thing was how do we open that up, live inside that story for as long as possible? Because the conflict between parent and kids is so good. It will evolve. It will change. Dynamics will shift. Alliances will be forged. It will not be the static story. We want to live with that as our central conflict for as long as we can.Who is the leader of The Runaways?Schwartz: Well, Brian K. Vaughan.Savage: I'd say it starts off as one character who's sort of the de facto leader, kind of brings everybody together and then when the kids are confronted with basically a mystery that they need to investigate, leads the charge on that. But that doesn't stay consistent throughout the series. There'll be conflicts over who should be in charge, if anyone should be in charge, who put you in charge. All those dynamics will be explored.In the comics it's Alex. Will it start out as him?Schwartz: Yeah, I think what we're saying is if you like the fact that Alex was the de facto leader in the comics, you will like the show. Just because Alex thinks he's the de facto leader of The Runaways does not mean that necessarily Chase agrees or that Alex is always right and that won't be challenged.Alex loses his leadership in the comics. Are you thinking of going there as early as the first season?Schwartz: That is one that we cannot touch.What can't you wait for people to see on The Runaways?Schwartz: Mostly we just can't wait for people to see the show because we've been working on it. We first sat down with Marvel like two and a half years ago. So we love this cast. We feel really good about how these kids are bringing these characters to life and I think bringing the Runaways to the world is the thing we're most excited for.Is the Hostel on the show?Schwartz: There is a Hostel.Savage: There is a Hostel.Is half of Runaways a high school drama?Schwartz: It's 1/3.Savage: Also we don't spend that much time in high school.Schwartz: The way we looked at it was , it wasn't this schematic question but it was 1/3 teen drama, 1/3 family drama and that last 1/3 is your Marvel. We didn't approach it as a superhero show or superhero story or these kids are superheroes.Are you open for them to discover other runaways in their world?Schwartz: Interesting question.Savage: I'd say we're open.Schwartz: There are other runaways on our show.Runaways that people would recognize from the comic books?Schwartz: We've taken this as far as we can.Do you have license to invent your own Runaways?Schwartz: That's a great question. We'll refer you to Marvel legal.Are you taking advantage of streaming in the way that some of the Netflix shows have?Savage: Yes.Schwartz: I believe so. The way the pilot lays out from the kids' point of view and the second episode retells the pilot story from the adults' point of view, the parents' point of view, those feel like a pairing, two episodes that should be consumed together.As far as content?Schwartz: Yeah, we actually get to say shit. It's so fun to say shit. I keep saying it.You can say shit on basic cable.Schwartz: I know, we've never been on basic cable. It's new for us.Are you planning to go TV-MA?Schwartz: Look, I think there's a Marvel brand to take into consideration, but I think we're trying to push the emotional turmoil of our characters, the themes, the violence, sexuality, abuse, sexual abuse. There's a lot of that stuff that does get explored on the show, hopefully in a way that feels real.Savage: We're talking about it as TV-16. Not 14.They didn't even have smartphones or social media in 2001 when the comic was written. Is that a component of the show?Schwartz: Yeah.Savage: For sure.Schwartz: That's just a reality of storytelling now, especially if you're telling stories about adults. The technology they use may be a direct result of one the parents' occupations.Is there also just the real world of how teenagers communicate?Savage: Yes, it's 100% integrated into the storytelling.Schwartz: Our approach is: Forget about the dinosaur for a minute and what is the real authentic version of what these kids are going through and how they lead these lives? Our pilot director is Brett Morgn who's a documentary filmmaker, who did The Kid Stays in the Picture and Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck. He just has this sensibility that's automatically all about authenticity and being grounded. We want that reality on our show.Do we have to forget about the dinosaur?Savage: No.Schwartz: Never.Could you do a dinosaur? The Flash can do Gorilla Grodd.Schwartz: If you're a fan of Old Lace, you will not be disappointed in the show.What were some things that, as you expanded the show, Brian was happy to see elaborated?Schwartz: They thought they were getting cancelled every issue so they were churning through story. It was really the story of these kids. I think he really relished the idea of oh, we actually get to delve into the parents' stories now too and really flesh those characters out. It was important to us that there were no true villains in the show. That was something that he really got excited about, to be able to dig into what those stories are.Savage: The relationships between the kids too as well and the romances that get built very quickly through a few accidents in the comic, get to be really fleshed out and explored more deeply in the show. You're not just like two people like each other and then they kiss. You've got to get there.Did the idea that there are more women than men on The Runaways draw you to the comic?Savage: Yeah, definitely. Josh was a fan of the comic from when it came out. I am not a comic book person. It was something he brought to me and said, "I think you'll really like this" and I did. I fell in love with the voice and the amount of humor and the cliffhangers at the end of every issue, and also the amazing diverse and female characters. To me that was just transformational in terms of attracting me to the material and feeling like it was unique and something the world hadn't seen before.Does it change things when it's not Black Widow fighting for screen time? It's really four women with two men who are their peers?Schwartz: Absolutely and by the way, the moms, the moms are bosses. It's not just that the girls run The Runaways. The ladies run The Pride too. There are strong women across the board on the show.