Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage, the writer-producer team behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl, know a thing or two about teenagers whose problems seem larger than life. So Brian K. Vaughan s Marvel comic book series Runaways might have seemed a natural fit for them to adapt to television. After all, the comic is similarly packed with culture-savvy, quip-ready teens, whose main difference from their O.C. and Gossip Girl counterparts is what binds them together: not simply a shared school or neighborhood, but also their complicated inheritance as the progeny of actual supervillains.
But when Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Savage began writing their first script for Runaways on spec, they decided to flesh out the characters of the parents (who barely register a blip in the comics) and make their motivations more understandable. Mr. Schwartz said that this push toward retooling the zippy superhero comic as a slower-paced family drama keeps Runaways more relatable.
I think we ve all woken up to the idea that just because there are people in our lives who are figures of authority, it doesn t mean they re definitely there to protect us, he said.
In November, Mr. Schwartz and Ms. Savage got on the phone to talk about the adaptive process, some of their changes and how this Marvel property connects to the larger Marvel universe (or not). These are edited excerpts from that conversation.
Brian K. Vaughan joined you in the writers room. How did that help your process?
JOSH SCHWARTZ We were really lucky to have him join us for the first month. Brian was very honest he said that they went through so much story so quickly in the comics because every issue, they thought they were getting canceled. So we were like: Hey! Both of us all three of us have been accused of moving too quickly through story! Let s talk about that.
Because that was something you ran into on the first season of The O.C.
SCHWARTZ [Laughs] And that led to a lot of really healthy conversations about the reasons why, and the fun of when the story is moving really quickly, how that can be thrilling for the audience, and how you just want to make sure there s enough to sustain the show long term.
Is that how you landed upon making the story multigenerational?
SCHWARTZ It s twofold. One is that Marvel Television has a much more grounded approach to how they like to tell stories. They like to have things rooted in some kind of reality, even if it s a reality from the future. And so our parents don t have superpowers the way the parents did in the original. And we like the idea of telling the story in a way where it was more of a question for the audience where their sympathies should lie. With the parents, you think they re the villains, and then you start to discover that the truth is actually more complicated. And we can explore multiple points of view.
STEPHANIE SAVAGE We did want it to appear as a mystery. With the kids, we wanted to establish how they really felt about their parents and each other. And on the parents side, we wanted to make sure you d understand how the parents operated, what the assumptions were the first time they did this, what they think they re doing, and how it connects to Leslie Dean s church and to the tech that some of them are using in their own companies. We wanted it to be the thing that brought all those other elements together.
SCHWARTZ And then the audience would react similar to the kids What the hell did I just see? versus seeing something that was more literal and obvious. This felt like an opportunity to create a whole other set of questions, and really help put the audience in the same shoes as the Runaways.
Let s dig into some of the other choices you made during the adaptive process. Bringing the Gibborim forward, for instance, via Leslie Dean s church, which seems to be inspired by Scientology?
SAVAGE Definitely in some of the superficial aspects, in terms of the celebrity culture, the science fiction underpinnings, the origin story. And our Church is also inspired by the Source Family, and the other sort of semi-hippie organizations of the 1960s and 1970s.
Karolina s story in the comics combines her coming out as both an alien and a lesbian in a liberating way. She s finally able to be her true self. So what was the thought process behind adding an attempted sexual assault to her story?
SCHWARTZ Obviously you want to handle something like this as sensitively as possible, and be aware of the context in which the scene is playing now. We were looking for something where the result of it would be revealing things about Chase s character that he was not one of the guys anymore, one of these bros, that his inclination as a character was to respond in a way that clearly would ostracize him from his group of peers, rightfully, and that s something we actually want to embrace. So it was done to both explore character and also lead to a greater intimacy between Karolina and Chase.
SAVAGE It s a big deal that he s the first person she tells about her power. So what did he do to earn that trust?
SCHWARTZ Ultimately, the story is about Karolina grappling with her identity and figuring out who she can trust, and the changes she s going through.
How interconnected will this show be to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Does being on Hulu, as opposed to Netflix, ABC or Freeform, prohibit crossovers?
SCHWARTZ I know what you re getting at. We liked the idea of being on Hulu where there weren t any other Marvel shows to be connected to. It wasn t, This is our back door to play with the whole sandbox. We re very happy with the toys in the Runaways sandbox. We re not saying The Incident didn t happen. We re also not referencing it. The Runaways had crossovers within their story, but their initial story, these initial characters, and the Pride, live in their own world. Obviously, they re in Los Angeles, and so they re 3,000 miles away from the rest of the Marvel universe in New York. But our thought was always that this is a show where you don t have to have seen the other Marvel shows, or the other Marvel movies. You can come right in. This is our world and our reality.
What would happen if you wanted Cloak and Dagger to pop by? Or Seth Cohen s favorite, Spider-Man?
SCHWARTZ If there s an opportunity down the line, we re open to that. We re not saying anything is or is not going to connect in any way. We re not saying one way or the other. Marvel has snipers with red lasers on our foreheads right now, so we have to be very careful about what we say about the M.C.U. [Laughs] We ll probably be assassinated tonight, thank you. Our lives are in your hands. Just remember that.