One of the reasons it took so long for me to get into the superhero genre is that powers always seem like a burden. No one gets excited about the fact that they could fly or lift trucks over their heads. If it were me behind the panels, I’d have the time of my life. Maybe this, then, is the reason that the RUNAWAYS comics by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona connected with people. In this team of teenage superheroes, powers were a blessing, something that made them unique. And no one on this team loved their powers more than Molly Hayes.

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Molly injected hope into the superhero genre. For every brutal Wolverine or Punisher moment, Molly would take to the streets beside her fellow Runaways and fight crime with super-strength and a smile. She even went to the lengths of designing her own costume. However, as the youngest team member, Molly’s story is also the most tragic. Too young to understand her parents’ misdeeds, her need for structure and support gives her story a needed seriousness. With her recent appearance on Hulu and in Rainbow Rowell’s current run on the comics, now is the perfect time to look into the history of this character. Whether you call her Princess Powerful or Bruiser, meet the mutant powerhouse, Molly Hayes.

Origin: Gene and Alice Hayes

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

RUNAWAYS focuses on a group of teens as they come to grips with their evil parents, The Pride. After stumbling upon a sacrifice performed by the ‘rents, the team slowly learns about their own powers and vow to right the wrongs of The Pride’s crime empire. As such, the main arc of any of the RUNAWAYS’ heroes deeply ties into that of their parents. Of the twelve members of The Pride, Gene and Alice Hayes, Molly’s parents, have the least time on the page. With new insight gained from RUNAWAYS #4 by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka, their story has achieved a new depth.

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Growing up, Gene and Alice were close. Gene, a perpetual troublemaker, ran away from home at a young age. After meeting Alice, Gene began to run to her and her mother’s house. They grew up as siblings, and an unbreakable bond developed. Their X-Genes activated around the same time, giving them the same powers. Though powerful telepaths, Gene and Alice suffered the biting cultural lash-back surrounding their mutant genetics. After a brutal attack by an angry mob, the pair were spirited away before they could fight back.

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The beings behind their teleportation were the Gibborim, three ancient god-like beings who sought to rewrite Creation. The trio required sacrifices to boost their great powers. Gene and Alice, the outcasts, were chosen for their anger at the world and their fearsome potential. As the years went by and The Pride had children, Gene and Alice began to despise their fellow villains. All except the alien Dean family seemed to taunt and dislike the Hayeses. Before the Deans and Hayeses could betray The Pride, their children stepped in.

Origin: Molly Hayes

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Being the youngest member of the Runaways, Molly Hayes is only eleven years old at the beginning of the series. Her parents, a doctor and a speech therapist, gave their daughter a lot of love and support in that time, belying their villainous natures. Unlike her teammates, though, Molly didn’t witness The Pride’s annual sacrifice.

Every year, these villainous parents kidnap a young runaway from the streets of LA. Seeing them as nobodies who wouldn’t be missed, the Pride would then stab them through the heart and drain their life force. Dragged away by Karolina Dean before the sacrifice begins, Molly never witnesses this truly evil act. While the teenaged Runaways escape their homes and discover their powers, Molly’s life seemingly goes on as normal.

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Later that night, the Runaways return to rescue Molly. The team storms the Hayes household, only to find Alice Hayes and Leslie Dean, Karolina Deans’ mother, guarding the young mutant. A battle ensues, and Molly wakes to find Nico attacking her mother. Panicking, the adrenaline causes Molly’s X-Gene to activate. Standing, eyes glowing pink, Molly moves to protect her mother until she realizes that her friends are in danger. Her first use of her super strength sends Leslie Dean flying through a wall and into the family pool.

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After the team’s first battle, they escape with Molly to their home base: the Hostel. This Pride stronghold was abandoned long before, and the team makes it into their new home. When Gert, the team’s astute cynic, states that they need new names, Molly wishes calls herself Princess Powerful. The name Bruiser, suggested by Chase Stein, eventually sticks. Together, Molly Hayes and the Runaways take to the streets, managing to defeat their parents.

Sleeping Brawler

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Of the Runaways, Molly Hayes’ powers require the least amount of explanation. She can hit stuff really hard and lift really heavy things. While we do not yet know the extent of her strength, Molly is the physically strongest member of the team. With her super strength, Molly has been able to push over a monster as tall as a skyscraper. In a battle with Cloak and Dagger early in the series, Molly manages to rip Cloak’s cloak away from his body. Through Cloak’s mystical connection to the Darkforce Dimension, this feat should be nearly impossible. Finally, after Cloak is wrongly accused of attacking Dagger later in the series, Molly protects her new friend by punching Wolverine so hard he flies six blocks away.

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Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

Her powers, though, come at a cost. Her young metabolism cannot handle the strain of her super-strength, and she needs heavy rest after long periods of exertion. After knocking over the skyscraper monster, for example, she sleeps for the next 24 hours to recover her energy. In X-MEN: BATTLE OF THE ATOM #1, a Molly Hayes from the future arrives to send the time-displaced X-Men to their original timelines. Despite displaying similar levels of strength in the battle, she doesn’t seem to suffer from the same fatigue. This signals that as she ages, her powers will draw less and less energy from her. However, only time will tell if this is cannon.

Youth and Innocence

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

As the youngest member of the Runaways, Molly Hayes’ personality is the most excitable. When she first learns about her powers, she falls in love with the idea of being a superhero. Even before learning about her mutant heritage, Molly wanted to be a member of the X-Men, collecting posters of the team in her free time. For Molly Hayes, even though super heroics can be unforgiving and brutal, having powers is awesome.

This sense of excitement dwindles near the series’ end, however, as Molly faces more and more trying events. The death of Topher, a vampire that briefly betrayed the team early in the series, first cemented that superhero-ing isn’t a game. However, it isn’t until the death of her parents and later Gertrude Stein that Molly fully realizes the implications of her powers.

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A Need for Family

As mentioned earlier, Molly’s story might just be the most tragic of the other Runaways. Despite her happiness and her overwhelming positivity, Molly Hayes never reaches that angsty teenage phase. She never grew to see that her parents had flaws. After the team ran away, Molly is the only one that mistakenly forgets who her parents were. One of the most memorable moments stems from the battle with Cloak and Dagger. After Molly rips away Cloaks cape, Tyrone Johnson, the man within, appears before her. Before transforming into a superhero, Tyrone had a serious stutter in his speech that appears to return when Cloak is out of costume. Molly notices and suggests that he should see her mother, the speech therapist.

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel comics

This dialogue is followed with the obligatory moment where Molly realizes what she said. The look of heartbreak on her features is palpable and feels wholly realistic. At eleven years old, Molly Hayes has lost her parents. Even while her parents are still alive, Molly can’t turn to her mother when she scrapes her knee. She can’t talk to her parents about puberty or boys or anything else. Her normal life has crumbled, and as the youngest Runaway, she takes longer to come to terms with this loss. Slowly, as Molly grows up in the series, she realizes that she does not have a traditional family. She has to make one for herself.

Reconnecting

Molly Hayes
Image courtesy of Marvel Comics

As the Runaways slowly come together as a sort of foster family, Molly starts to build some important new connections that help to bolster her confidence. Chase Stein, though at times a bit overbearing, becomes something of an older brother figure. The pair fight and argue, but they also spend more quality time playing than the other Runaways. Meanwhile, Gertrude Yorkes becomes a maternal figure for the young girl. She acts as Molly’s source of support and confidence throughout their constant struggles. Even Victor Mancha, a late addition to the group, builds a strong connection with Molly, becoming something of a best friend figure.

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All of this matters because Molly constantly bolsters a sense of community in the Hostel. On a number of occasions, Molly’s interventions were the only thing keeping the Runaways from falling apart. In that way, her need for community becomes a full-circle support structure. Having built a community with these other teens, Molly receives the support and compassion she needs to develop properly. Meanwhile, by fighting to keep this community together, she shows how important the new family is. As such, the rest of the team begins to fight just as hard for their small family.

On to Hulu

Molly Hayes
Courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Moving onto the new Hulu original series, Molly Hayes has seen the most changes. For one, her entire heritage has changed from an eleven-year-old Caucasian girl to a thirteen-year-old Latina named Molly Hernandez. However, this change of ancestry doesn’t wholly affect the character. The biggest change stems from her parents, who in 7 episodes have only made one appearance. Molly Hernandez is an orphan, fostered by Gertrude Yorkes’ parents.

Her new heritage provides even more diversity to an already culturally rich team. Part of me hopes that this will provide a point of connection between Molly Hernandez and the possible appearance of Victor Mancha. Victor, a later addition to the team, comes from a Hispanic background and took on a best friend role with Molly in the comics. If Victor makes an appearance, I would love to see an in-depth exploration of various Hispanic cultures from both these characters perspectives.

Molly as a Foster Child

Little is known about the fate of Molly’s parents on the RUNAWAYS television show. The current running theory is that they betrayed The Pride and were punished accordingly. If we want to look at the corporate side of this fight, RUNAWAYS takes place in the MCU, meaning that it has to fit the world-building already in place. This means that mutants do not exist in this world. As such, excluding Molly’s parents from the show does away with any messy handling of the origin of her powers.

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On the other side, though, this narrative decision actually helps makes Molly’s comic book themes come to life. By having her as a foster child, Marvel provides other foster children a rallying character. Also, the need for community becomes that much more obvious. In RUNAWAYS Episode 3, Molly tells Alex Wilder’s mother, Catherine, that she still calls her foster mother ‘Stacy’ because “She isn’t my mom.” Even after eight years together with the Yorkes, Molly doesn’t feel truly at home. As such, when the Runaways come together, she gets that sense of much-needed community.

 

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Final Thoughts: Molly Hayes

Molly Hayes can represent many things to every reader. I attached to her positivity as I was reading through RUNAWAYS for the first time. At the heart of her story are key themes of self-reflection and community. As the youngest member of the team, Molly Hayes shows younger readers that they have skills to add to any situation. For readers of any age, though, Molly represents a mindset of smiling through the pain. Even after her parents’ betrayal, even after all of the turmoil in her life, Molly Hayes stands as a bright icon amidst a team of moody teens. She stands up for her friends in every instance, and that makes her worth your time and energy.

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