Where the Wonder Women Are #32: Karolina Dean of the Runaways

So you think your teen years were tough. Karolina is an alien AND a lesbian. When she and her fellow Runaways discover that their parents are all evil, she has rather more to take in than the rest of them because of the sudden revelation that instead of being the daughter of two famous Hollywood celebrities, she is in far the daughter of two solar-powered alien invaders.

On the bright side, she can fly and shoot rainbows out of her skin. So there’s that!

When we first meet Karolina, she appears to be every bit the stereotype of a Californian blonde – remember Dawn from the Babysitters Club? Karolina is a bit of a hippy, a vegan, a flawless beauty, and the sort of person who generally believes the best of people.

This is a bit of a problem because unlike the other kids, she misses the moment when their parents sacrifice an innocent girl, and then struggles to take their word for it. Later, when the Runaways decide to ransack their various family homes to collect evidence as to the wrongdoings of their parents, Karolina finds a message she is supposed to read in the event of her parents’ deaths: she is to remove the medical alert bracelet she has worn her whole life.

Freed of what turns out to be an alien artefact, she starts to glow with her alien, sun-induced powers, and life is never the same again. She has many struggles to cope with her powers which are not exactly subtle, and overwhelm her body. Oh, what’s that, another supernatural metaphor for being a teenager? Your body is changing against your will, you say?

When they choose their hero names, Karolina wants to be ‘Lucy in the Sky’.

On the surface a beautiful, sweet and popular girl (who comes from a background of immense privilege), Karolina struggles with her identity as a ‘freak’ – and it becomes clear that while this is at least partly about the shock of discovering she is not human, it’s not just about that. The revelation about her sexuality is a very slow and subtle one over the original 18 issues – I spotted it early and enjoyed watching that aspect of the story unfold, and thought that it was handled very sensitively as a piece of background characterisation.

In later volumes, after the original parental plot is resolved, Karolina declares her feelings for her close friend Nico, who had recently sworn off boys but still turns her down on account of being straight. Karolina later meets the fiancé originally arranged by her parents, Xavin of the Skrull race, and returns to her home planet with him/her – a trip which allows her to better come to terms with her alien heritage as well as training with her powers.

Xavin is a shape changer and originally appeared in male shape but regularly takes on a female form in order to be more appealing to Karolina. She occasionally switches back to male appearance when a male body is more convenient (intimidation purposes, etc., which Karolina thinks is sexist) The gender switching makes it hard for the group to accept Xavin as a trusted member. Her tendencies towards extreme violence are also not overly helpful in this regard and Nico in particular is very suspicious of her even after she has joined the team.

Karolina’s own hesitations and suspicions about Xav’s changeable nature are put at rest when she discovers that when under pressure or stress, the form that Xavin is more likely to retreat to is the female.

Since her trip to her home planet (which ended in war breaking out just before she and Xav were supposed to get married), Karolina has learned to control her powers far more effectively, and can now choose whether or not she glows or hovers in the air – she can also control mighty solar blasts, fine laser beams, and forcefields. Like a solar battery, though, once she runs out of juice, she needs to recharge.

Did I mention she sparkles like a rainbow?

Where the Wonder Women Are:
0: Introduction
1: Black Canary
2: Rogue
3: Hawkgirl/Hawkwoman
4: Black Widow
5: Wonder Girl
6: Captain Marvel
7: Vixen
8: Abigail Brand
9. Jubilee
10. Batwoman
11. Catwoman
12. Huntress
13. Robin
14. Batgirl
15. Jean Grey
16. Ice
17. Emma Frost
18. Fire
19. Lady Sif
20. Supergirl
21. The Wasp
22. Gypsy
23. Misty Knight (and Colleen Wing)
24. Mystek
25. Kitty Pryde
26. Crimson Fox
27. The Invisible Woman
28. Dr Light
29. Hawkeye
30. Maya
31. Nico Minoru

2 replies on “Where the Wonder Women Are #32: Karolina Dean of the Runaways”

  1. Ben Payne says:

    I thought they handled Karolina’s coming out story really well. I didn’t think much of her at first but I thought she became a really interesting character….

  2. tansyrr says:

    Yes, she was set up to be That Pretty Blonde at first and then it got all subversive, which was nice to see in a teen story considering all the narratives surrounding Pretty Blonde Girls.

    I particularly liked the fact that the series totally set it up early as if she and Chase were the romantic couple to be, which would have been SO DULL AND WRONG, then pulled the rug out in several directions at once.

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