Publisher: Marvel Comics
First Appearance: Runaways #1, vol. 1 (2003)
Created By: Brian K. Vaughan & Adrian Alphona
When Karolina and her friends discovered that their parents were actually evil, murdering criminals, she was probably the one who had the toughest time coming to terms with it. For one, the gentle, infinitely kind girl had a hard time believing the worst of anyone, especially her movie star parents. And second, well. Discovering that your movie-star-slash-murdering-criminal parents were also banished Majesdanian aliens, and thus so was she, was kind of hard to take.
She did accept it, though, and ran off with the other kids. Despite some lingering depression and inability to fully control her solar-based powers, she was loyal to the team and joined in on the crime-fighting attempts. But things went from bad to worse when she tried to kiss one of her female friends, Nico, and was rejected.
Soon after, a Skrull named Xavin showed up and declared that she was Karolina’s fiancée. (Skrulls don’t possess male/female gender identities, but Xavin usually defaults to a woman in human form, so for the sake of this post, I’m going to use feminine pronouns.) Their parents had arranged the marriage long ago to broker peace between their warring worlds. Her spirit broken, Karolina agreed to leave Earth to marry Xavin, despite protests from the other Runaways.
On Majesdane, Karolina learned how to fully control her abilities. But before the wedding could take place, war broke again, and Xavin and Karolina ended up back on Earth. During their time together, they’d developed genuine feelings for each other, so Xavin stuck around and joined the team. Despite her loyalty to Xavin, Karolina harbored an attraction to Nico, and her confusion over Xavin’s gender led to friction.
When Majesdanians arrived on Earth arrest Karolina for her part in the recent war with the Skrulls, shape-shifting Xavin knocked her out and took her place. When Karolina awoke, Xavin was already on her way to Majesdane; Karolina was devastated.
Mostly recently, S.W.O.R.D. (Sentient World Observation and Response Department) tried to deport Karolina, along with other aliens on Earth. They didn’t quite manage it, and she helped save the world from truly evil aliens instead.
So What’s So Great About Her?
It’s no big secret that superhero comics are largely constructed to fit a straight man’s fantasy. As such, the women are stacked, gorgeous, scantily clad, and ready to be the nearest male hero’s arm candy. On the rare occasion that they would really rather be on the arm of another lady, it’s usually staged so it appeals to the male gaze first. The romance and women themselves come in a distant second.
With Karolina, this isn’t the case at all. Her coming out process was very quiet and drawn-out, something she was dealing with while also coming to terms with her parents’ true nature. Accepting her sexuality took a backseat, understandably so, and Karolina is such a quiet character that it’s unsurprising that she mostly kept it to herself.
Speaking of which, I have to admit that I love quiet heroes. Obviously, forceful, outgoing personalities are a lot more common among superheroes—not only are alphas more likely to jump into the fray, they’re easier to write. Karolina’s quiet bravery is very nuanced and artfully constructed. Honestly, she’s also often a breath of fresh air amongst the rest of the sarcastic, loudmouth Runaways.
But anyway, Karolina’s coming out and subsequent relationship is personality-driven and comes across as very real, an admirable feat for a glowing alien dating a shapeshifter from a genderless culture. Their relationship is as intense as any first serious relationship and fraught with bickering and promises of undying devotion. The course of their love doesn’t run smoothly—Karolina’s feelings for Nico don’t go away immediately, and she’s not actually comfortable with Xavin not having a concrete, recognizable gender of choice—because hey, what relationship is perfect? Especially a teenage relationship.
Another way the creative teams make it clear they’re keeping the characters’ ages in mind—there are no sexy makeouts or anything close to sex scenes. What we do get are plenty of affectionate moments and implications of a sexual relationship. The fact that I’m actually impressed a comic isn’t sexually exploiting a teenage lesbian is really depressing, but hey, that’s the state of comics right now.
Karolina’s so introverted, so inclined to put others first, that it’s hard to say a lot about her personality. She’s sweet, strikingly pretty, and has a strong social conscious, but sometimes she gets lost in the crowd of extroverts. As pleased as I am to see a realistic, sympathetic portrait of a lesbian hero in comics, the fact that this has been her primary personality trait for the last few years is really unfair to her character. As much as I’ve missed Xavin, I’m excited to see what her absence brings out in Karolina.
Runaways (vol. 1) #1-18
Runaways (vol. 2) #1-30
Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways #1-4
Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #1-3
Runaways (vol. 3) 1-14