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Marvel’s ‘Runaways’ Deviates From The Canon To Give Us A Queer Asian Character

The season finale of Marvel’s Runaways aired today on Hulu and it did not disappoint.

Marvel definitely pulled out all the stuntsespecially the ones I thought they’d shy away from. Last week, we reported that the queer storyline between Karolina and Nico was meek and vanilla when a kiss between this duo seemed to materialize out of thin air, and Karolina’s sexual discovery didn’t feel realistic or organic. This week was totally different, and I’ve completely 180-ed on how I feel about these characters.

In the season finale, Nico refuses to leave Karolina at a particularly difficult moment. After Karolina insist she leave, Nico pugnaciously declares that she’s staying. Nico is suddenly overwhelmed with fear and longingand admittedly, I was a little confused.

In the Marvel canon, Karolina makes a move on Nico, but Nico ultimately rejects her. Knowing this, my reaction to last week’s episode was skewed. I had thought, “Oh great: Straight girls: 1, Lesbians: 0.” Especially considering Nico’s reaction to the kiss: she seemed surprised, puzzled, and not very into it.

But apparently, Hulu is now straying from the canon. Throughout the episode, we see a series of moments where Nico is clearly deeply conflicted and actually terrified that Karolina is injured.

Eventually, the intrepid and powerful Karolina convinces Nico to run, and she follows the rest of the group away. Distantly, they see a massive flash and assume the worst: Karolina has been killed. Nico devolves into total panic, hysterically clamoring that she and the rest of the Runaways need to go back and fight for her. The rest of the group is level-headed and actually somewhat unmoved, but Nico asserts that Karolina would show up for them, and they convince her to let it go for now so they can run.

While the teens seek shelter in the streets and hills of Los Angeles, Nico eventually sways them to save Karolina, even if it puts them back in danger. At this point, Nico’s bullheaded pursuit in saving her crush is actually adorable. Losing Karolina obviously jolted her into realizing how much she cares for her.

Alex, another Runaway, is the last to agree to the rescue mission, and though it’s never heavy-handedly touched on (like everything else in this show), I assume he’s picking up on Nico’s adoration for Karolina. Alex and Nico had a fling previously, but he doesn’t know that the girls kissed. Next season, I’m sure his jealousy will bubble to the surface.

But, let’s be honest: Alex is a total snooze-fest. He’s the lamest character by far, and is always pulling bitch-boy moves like, “Hey guys, here’s an idea: let’s NOT save our best friend who just saved us.” I don’t care about Alex, and it’s not just because Karolina is about to swoop in and Mr. Steal Yo Girl him.

Later, as teens in teen shows do, the group masterminds a bullet-riddled plan to rescue Karolina from the private lair in her mother’s church, and somehow succeeds. Once she’s safe and sound in their makeshift hideout in the hills near the Griffith Observatory, we finally get the #Kico moment we’ve been waiting patiently for all season. Nico rounds the corner of the van, where Karolina is changing her shirtNico blushes and can’t help but stare. She thanks Karolina for saving them earlier and Karolina smiles sweetly but strongly in the way I’ve always wanted a valiant superhero lesbian to look at me. Nico admits that some of the others wanted to run, and Karolina flirts, “Not you.”

At this point, Nico is blushing head-to-toe and violently rotating between locking eyes with Karolina and surreptitiously glancing over her shoulder. Nico declares, “Nope, not me,” takes a deep breath, then leans in and kisses her.

This kiss is overflowing with the emotions that the first kiss lackedNico is fraught with sexual tension and fear, Karolina is visibly beaming at the “finally” of it all. You’d be hard-pressed not to let out an involuntary “Aww.” The whole encounter was dripping with the sweetness and innocence of first love mixed with the freedom and release of first queer love.

Mushiness aside, Karolina and Nico’s story is so important. Karolina is the first lesbian superhero lead in a Marvel show, and last week’s episode was Marvel’s second on-screen queer kiss ever (making the finale’s the third).

But Nico’s story is just as crucial. Asian-Pacific Islander queer women are rarely portrayed in film and television, and while I had assumed Nico wouldn’t end up being queer because of the Marvel canon, Hulu has made an important decision to feature her as a queer lead, too.

GLAAD’s 2017-2018 report on LGBTQ inclusion stated that only 7% of series regulars on broadcast TV are Asian-Pacific Islanders, which is the highest number yet. What’s worse, this season, LGBTQ Asian-Pacific Islander regular characters on broadcast TV dropped from 13 percent to four percent (as well as four percent on cable, and 6 percent on streaming).

In 2014, Jamie Chung portrayed Mulan briefly on Once Upon a Time. Jeanna Han had a short-lived, small role on Scream Queens, only to be killed off early on. Last year, 13 Reasons Why featured a queer, female API character, Courtney Crimsen. Kimiko Glenn’s SoSo is half-Japanese on Orange is the New Black. But outside of these few, queer API women are nearly invisible in television.

Toward the end of The Runaways finale, Nico wakes up big-spooning Karolina in the middle of the night. She gets up to talk to the ever-gloomy Alex, who is sitting by the fire alone, scheming their next move and being boring. The end of Season 1 left much to be desired, and I’m sure this Karolina-Nico-Alex triangle will explode in their faces eventually.

Marvel’s Runaways was just renewed for another 13 episodes, and I can’t wait for more running away and more queer female superheroes.


Jill Gutowitz

Jill Gutowitz is a writer and humorist currently living in LA, originally from The Void.

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