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Hulu's Runaways Erased Its Genderfluid Hero, But Gen V Shows Their Power

The Boys spin-off offers an exploration of gender fluidity that was long overdue in superhero TV.
  • Derek Luh and London Thor as Jordan in Gen V (Photos: Amazon Studios)
    Derek Luh and London Thor as Jordan in Gen V (Photos: Amazon Studios)

    In 2005, Runaways writer Brian K. Vaughan broke ground by introducing the Skrull Xavin, Marvel Comics’ first genderfluid character. Lady Loki would follow in 2008 and Mystique would be revealed to have fathered a child in 2023’s X-Men Blue: Origins #1, but Xavin was the first time the publisher portrayed a shapeshifter swapping genders as more than just convenience and part of their deeper identity.

    Xavin is introduced as male, a prince betrothed to Runaways’ alien hero Karolina Dean in an arranged marriage meant to bring peace between the Skrulls and the Majesdanians. When Karolina offers to give the relationship a go in order to save lives but reveals that she is a lesbian, Xavin responds that for a Skrull “changing gender is no different than changing hair color” and assumes a female form.

    But things aren’t really that simple. Xavin feels the weight of their people’s expectations, appearing male for the wedding even though they say they feel more like a “blushing bride.” They regularly alternate between male and female human forms, tending to especially rely on their male form in fights to be more intimidating. Karolina refers to Xavin as her girlfriend and the subject of Xavin’s true gender causes her some anxiety and confusion. When the team’s youngest member, Molly, suggests everyone would be more comfortable if Xavin was always female, Xavin admits that, like the rest of the team’s teenage heroes, they’re still trying to figure out who they are.

    Unfortunately all of this nuance was erased in Hulu’s Runaways adaptation, where Xavin was portrayed entirely as female by Clarissa Thibeaux. Introduced in the show’s second season in 2018, Xavin was still a shapeshifter and still wanted to marry Karolina (Virginia Gardner), this time due to some poorly defined prophecy, but there was no gender conflict. The erasure of this key part of Xavin’s identity was especially disappointing given how much progress had been made with nonbinary representation in other series like Billions and Steven Universe since the comics initially released. Runaways saw aliens possessing people, other dimensions and time travel, so it’s hard to imagine that a gender swapping character would have been too confusing for viewers. 

    Disney, which owns Hulu, has often sought to minimize LGBTQ+ presence in its shows and movies, boasting of progress like a gay kiss in The Rise of Skywalker or a gay character in Onward but relegating its representation to background characters. The Boys savagely mocked the desire to simultaneously monetize inclusion while simplifying queer narratives in Season 2, when Homelander outed Queen Maeve as a lesbian even though she’s actually bisexual. Dubbed “Brave Maeve,” she is forced to do a movie about struggling with her sexuality while her partner is pushed into the public eye and encouraged to wear masculine clothing. It’s a scathing commentary about how narrow expectations of queer identities shape the way they’re portrayed in media.

    The Boys spin-off Gen V shows how well Xavin’s plot could be done through the character of Jordan Li, a bigender superhero played alternately by Derek Luh and London Thor. Jordan was born male, but after being injected with Compound V developed the ability to change genders, with their two forms having different superpowers. The female form is more offensive, capable of unleashing devastating energy blasts, while the male form is effectively invulnerable. Coming to terms with their gender identity was a struggle, but it quite literally made them stronger. Jordan’s costuming is also beautifully done, with the supe wearing a necklace that’s a blend between a string of pearls and a masculine chain and always looking sharp in a varsity jacket.

    Things aren’t any easier for Jordan than they were for Xavin. Their parents prefer to think of them as male and they even sometimes let themselves be cowed into accepting this. Godolkin University doesn’t rank Jordan among their top heroes even though they’re extremely powerful because the status is also tied to marketability, and a genderfluid hero isn’t going to be widely accepted. Even Jordan’s friend Luke (Patrick Schwarzenegger) questions why Jordan changes genders when they go out, leading them to defensively explain that they felt like it. Jordan is so desperate for any type of approval that they let themselves be manipulated by their professor into covering up his power enhancement experiments.

    Jordan’s romantic life is equally messy. After hooking up with new student Marie Moreau (Jaz Sinclair) in male form, Jordan wakes up in bed in female form and is afraid of how Marie will react. They try to push Marie away, predicting rejection, but find Marie accepts them as bigender, even though she chides Jordan for leaning on a male appearance when trying to win an argument. 

    Gen V takes the nuance Vaughan presented in the relationship between Xavin and Karolina and enhances it; first, by making the characters college-age to allow for more mature storytelling and by cultivating excellent performances from the cast. This is a series with an exploding penis and puppet carnage, but for all of its over-the-top elements, it provides a beautifully mature exploration of gender fluidity that was long overdue in superhero TV.

    Samantha Nelson is a freelance critic and pop culture writer whose work has appeared in publications including IGN, Polygon, The A.V. Club, The Verge and GamesRadar+. She lives in Amsterdam and loves cooking, traveling, playing games and reading comic books.

    TOPICS: Gen V, Hulu, Prime Video, The Boys, Marvel's Runaways, Marvel