SPOILER WARNING: The following contains major spoilers for Runaways #12 by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka, on sale now.
You never know exactly where life is going to take you. Sometimes you get a straight and narrow path to your goals with minimal hurdles, but other times the path is long and meandering. In the case of two Marvel Comics heroes, even finding the path was 13 years in the making and fraught with danger, supervillains, evil parents and the occasional world-ending cataclysm. But now, after more than a decade, two Runaways characters, Karolina Dean and Nico Minoru, have finally found their way and begun dating.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Runaways and their history, that might sound like an underwhelming revelation, but this relationship is a long time in the making. Runaways #12 by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka kicks off with a flashback to Runaways Vol. 2 #7, an issue by Brian K. Vaughan and Takeshi Miyazawa that was published in 2005 -- roughly 13 years ago. Now, the two are finally getting a do-over, and it looks like the pairing might stick this time around.
Nico and Karolina’s newfound relationship (about which they’re extremely enthusiastic, we might add) is the product of Rowell’s ongoing attempts to right the series’ prior missteps. So far, that has included resurrecting fan-favorite Runaway Gert, which was a welcome change for long-time fans of the series, as Gert was always one of the most endearing members of the team before her death.
Much like Gert’s death, Karolina and Nico’s relationship was something that needed to be revisited. While the flashback at the top of Runaways #12 is appropriately awkward (it is depicting someone’s advances being rejected by a dear friend, after all), the flashback itself is rather abbreviated. The original rejection was a lot harsher.
That rejection saw Karolina even more devastated than what we see in Runaways #12, because 13 years ago she was not only grappling with her attraction to women, but also the fact that she’s literally navigating her life-changing discovery in an alien land. Karolina lacked even a basic understanding of her personal identity (her parents weren’t super forthcoming about the whole being an alien thing), making her feelings all the more confusing.
On top of that, Nico didn’t let her down gently, and didn’t really know how to deal with Karolina being devastated. It’s harsh, mid-‘00s teen stuff and hard to go back to in 2018. What’s even worse, though, is that the entire exchange largely served to introduce Xavin, the Skrull to whom Karolina was arranged to be married (who also dropped out of the sky about 20 seconds after Nico rejected Karolina).
Surprisingly, this isn’t the only time Karolina and Nico have enthusiastically gotten together. A similar, welcomed change was made in Hulu’s Runaways, which pulled no punches when it came to showing that the two were interested in each other. The television version actually saw Nico make the first move and completely paved over the relationship Nico and Alex eventually formed in the comics -- that is, before the latter revealed his treachery.
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While the 2005 comic missed an opportunity to present a functioning LGBT relationship all those years ago, the time in between has allowed the two characters to grow. Nico rejected Karolina largely because she was still a teen dealing with: the fate of her supervillain parents, her own magical prowess and the fact that she was still figuring out who she wanted to be. Karolina also had time to explore her own sexuality, as was the case with her relationship with Julie Power, and her confidence has only been emboldened by that journey.
Thankfully, all these years later, Karolina and Nico’s do-over gets the room to breathe it deserves, with multiple, gorgeous panels celebrating their long-overdue commitment to each other. The dialogue is also spot on, in that it makes clear that both parties are undoubtedly excited about their new, young love. There’s no turning back this time. Marvel Comics has a new power couple, and certainly there’s nothing that could stand in their way. Right?