While the whole world, ourselves included, fawns over Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, we think it's time to turn our eyes toward what could be Marvel’s next game-changing genre-buster. But this time, they only have to look as far as the back shelf at Marvel HQ to find it.
Back before Marvel knew they’d be able to pull off the insanely ambitious team-up flick The Avengers, the company was looking at several different comic properties to make up a few contingency plans for what could’ve been a very different Phase I. One of those movies that was scripted then shelved, never to be seen again? Runaways, based on the 2003 comic created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona.
In a nutshell: The series focused on a group of teenagers who learn their parents are actually minor supervillains, so they go on the run out of fear and eventually take on their parents in a generational battle of good and evil. The characters are fantastic, the story is tight, and it’s grounded in that way that feels nice and comfy -- a sort of superhero Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Needless to say, Vaughan’s initial arc was one of the best stories in modern comics, though the title admittedly went downhill fast after he left and a mishmash of different writers stepped in (including a miscast Joss Whedon), who all failed to match that opening salvo. But the first arc is a fantastic tale, and Marvel said as much when they hired Drew Pearce to turn it into a screenplay.
But all that changed after The Avengers showed Marvel they can effectively print money by staying close to the superhero formula they helped create. Why take a shot on Runaways when you can keep cranking out Avengers features and established spinoffs? Here’s how Pearce explained it to The Hollywood Reporter:
“We were really close to being made, and then this movie started to happen called The Avengers. Oddly, it pulled focus from the unheard-of brand Runaways, and it really did kind of consume the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's there -- maybe it'll be a Phase Three movie. I really hope so. I'm really proud of it and I think it'll be a brilliant film, but I think it all depends what Kevin Feige, the president of Marvel, his master plan is.”
Though the script has never leaked, it was apparently fantastic (at least according to everyone who has read it), and Marvel liked it so much they brought Pearce back years later to pen Iron Man 3. Though he still holds out hope it could happen, Pearce told The Playlist earlier this year that Runaways is admittedly a hard sell to fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
"It was a fantastic, challenging, but really satisfying experience. I think we ended up with a script that was really exciting for the Marvel Universe. It's something I know is still something that Kevin [Feige] is still very fond of and think could be a great movie. Whether it shows up in the Marvel Universe is a different question because I feel like 'Runaways' is somewhat more of a marketing challenge, as opposed to here is one guy who the movie is named after. It's a lot easier to market 'Dr. Strange' than to market ‘Runaways.’”
But all that was before the bizarre tale of a talking raccoon and super-powered tree went on to positively dominate the box office. Guardians of the Galaxy was arguably the riskiest movie Marvel has made to date, and it paid off bigger than anyone could’ve ever hoped or expected. In a post-Guardians world, there’s literally no property off the table. Hell, Runaways was a much better-known property than Guardians just a few years ago — so there’s no reason this coming-of-age story can’t find a place in the grand scheme.
Yes, as strange as it is, Guardians does still fit that Avengers-esque mold of a super-team (albeit a much weirder team than Earth’s Mightiest Heroes), but in a lot of ways, so does Runaways. Vaughan’s opening arc introduces us to the teens and shows their early struggles — aka origin story — and it definitely features that tried-and-true team dynamic.
The Runaways comic is a fantastic read, and we’d love to see more people get a chance to enjoy that story in another medium. But, by the same token, a lot has changed since Pearce wrote that screenplay all those years ago. One biggie? Marvel has quickly become a major player in television the past two years, and if they can ink a multi-series deal with Netflix for everything from Jessica Jones to Daredevil, who says a Runaways miniseries can’t work?
The story is one of those that could be well-suited to either a film or miniseries, and in all honesty, the extended freedom of television might even be a better fit for Vaughan’s story. Plus, Gert, Nico, Alex, Molly and the rest of the gang represent something you really don’t see everyday in the Marvel universe — a team largely comprised of strong women, with just a handful of men sprinkled in (SPOILERS: and one of those dudes is evil). Plus, they have an effing dinosaur. C’mon, with Jurassic Park coming back, dinos are all the rage these days. Right?
With Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel has proven it’s a company that can still be brave in the face of an absolute mountain of blockbuster success. But at this point, just making Guardians of the Galaxy 2 isn't enough. We want more. The Marvel Comics universe is a rich tapestry of amazing characters and stories, with many of those falling outside the purview of the big-name Avengers.
Yes, keep cranking out Avengers movies, Captain America sequels and introducing new heroes like Ant-Man — but clear out a spot or two on that massive master plan to take a few more chances. If you’re willing to make so-so sequels like Iron Man 2 and Thor: The Dark World, there’s no excuse for letting something as ambitious and unique as Runaways rot on a shelf. The time is now, Marvel — don’t make us sic Old Lace on you.