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Karolina Dean

Contributed by D.L. Buccieri

Karolina Dean is the daughter of Hollywood actors Frank and Leslie Dean.  At the series’ beginning, the Deans are portrayed as the most normal and functional of the six families introduced, despite the Dean’s involvement with Hollywood.  Karolina is a prototypical “teen beauty,” tall and skinny with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a retro-chic wardrobe topped with a genuinely pleasant and courteous persona.  In issue #1, Karolina and her parents, along with the Minoru, Stein, Wilder, Yorkes, and Hayes families all convene at the Wilder’s mansion for the parents’ annual fundraising meeting, while the children (Nico Minoru, Alex Wilder, Gertrude Yorkes, Chase Stein, and Molly Hayes) entertain themselves in Alex’s game room.  The children are a diverse group ethnically and in age: the youngest is Molly, age 11, and the oldest is Chase, age 17.  Upon the annual reunion, Karolina reveals a subtle hint towards her sexual orientation when she completely drops a conversation with Chase to comment on Nico’s handmade clothing and how great Nico looks in the garments.  Runaways author/creator Brian K. Vaughan wrote in his initial pitch (available in the Runaways vol. 1 hardcover compilation) that Karolina was to have a secret crush on an undisclosed person, and with that in mind, subtle signs of Karolina’s feelings for Nico can be found throughout the first volume, starting at the aforementioned moment.

Once settled in the game room and gripped by boredom, Karolina joins the others as they attempt to spy on their parents’ clandestine meeting.  The children see their parents dressed in strange costumes seated at a round table when Geoffrey Wilder wheels in an innocent teenage girl.  Alex foresees trouble and instructs Karolina to escort young Molly back to the game room.  Neither Karolina nor Molly witness the ritual sacrifice of the young girl, but the group eventually informs Karolina after she agrees to run away from home with them; Karolina agreed primarily because Nico agreed first.  The children begin by ransacking their own homes for clues regarding their parents’ mysterious actions.  They discover their parents are all members of a secret organization called the Pride, apparently bent on controlling all crime in Los Angeles.  Among the “goodies” acquired during their home searches are Gert’s 87th century telepathically-controlled and genetically-engineered deinonychus named Old Lace, Chase’s x-ray goggles and Fistigons (flame-throwing and manipulating gauntlets), Nico’s mystical Staff of One, and a copy of the Abstract, the Pride’s magical “record book,” complete with a decoder ring.  At Karolina’s house, the group finds Frank and Leslie Dean’s last will and testament, revealing that Karolina was only left a piece of paper with the circular “No” symbol covering an image of the Rod of Asclepius, the symbol for medicinal practice.  Alex suggests that Karolina take off her medic alert bracelet, since it’s the only thing around with the Rod of Asclepius on it.  Karolina grows angry, unconvinced that there’s anything abnormal about her or her parents and removes the bracelet in frustration.  Karolina’s skin and hair immediately becomes fluid in appearance and shines all colors of the electromagnetic spectrum, leaving light rays almost “flowing” off of her body.  It is here Karolina discovers she is an extraterrestrial and berates herself for being different, a subtle metaphor for her other “abnormal” trait.  Karolina cries and bemoans the discovery, claiming she was much happier “in the dark,” but soon realizes that she can fly in her alien form and becomes exceedingly ecstatic about this newfound power.  Alex theorizes that the medic alert bracelet is not a real medic alert bracelet at all, but rather an “anchor,” designed specifically to hide Karolina’s powers.

After a few altercations with their parents, the children make way to Chase’s secret collapsed mansion hideout, which he calls the Hostel.  They choose to band together and bring their parents’ organization to the ground.  Team members who desire them to take superhero codenames.  Karolina is a devoted Beatles fan and takes the codename “Lucy in the Sky,” a reference to the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”  These codenames are used with diminishing frequency over the course of Runaways vol. 1 and since the series’ re-launch with vol. 2, the codenames have not been used and only referred to once in passing.

Karolina constantly struggles with her alien heritage (and her sexuality, in secret) in the runaways’ early times together, feeling that it she is a “freak” amongst the group, the only one who needs to actively hide her true self.  The group briefly takes in supposed teen runaway Topher, who ends up being a vampire.  He successfully seduces Karolina and she kisses him, solely because she wanted “something to feel the way it’s supposed to feel.”  After Topher is outed as a vampire, Karolina’s sexual and heritage-based insecurities prompt her to offer her life to Topher first; she tells him and the whole team  that she doesn’t think she’s a good enough person to continue living.  Unfortunately, Karolina’s blood, like her skin, is also infused with solar energy, so Topher barely starts drinking her blood when the solar poisoning dusts him.  When Alex asks Karolina how she knew her blood would do that, she replies that she didn’t and meant every word she said.

The runaways have a brief encounter with former teenage runaways Cloak & Dagger who promise to send the Avengers over to LA to investigate the Pride’s dealings.  After a week without word, the runaways quit waiting for help and decide to take on the Pride themselves.  Alex’s research indicates the Pride needs to sacrifice an innocent soul to their Biblical benefactors, the Gibborim, every year.  The runaways ambush their parents at the sacrificial site; both teams are equally matched, but the runaways prove the victors – only Alex and Karolina remain standing.  Alex punches Karolina across the face, knocking her out and revealing himself as the Pride’s mole within the runaways.  Alex tries to persuade Nico, his girlfriend, to join the Pride and take a seat with him and their respective parents in the Gibborim’s promised new world.  Nico declines and revives Karolina – she leaps at Alex in a blind rage.  However, Alex manages to bind Karolina with power-dampening chains and threatens to execute her if anyone moves against him.  Upon this near-death experience, Karolina overcomes the death wish she expressed during the encounter with Topher as Molly succeeds in destroying the Pride’s sacrifice.  When the Gibborim show up, they incinerate Alex for his part in the orchestration, while the Pride cover their children’s escape from the rampaging giants.  The children escape the underwater site in the Leapfrog, the Pride’s land/sea transport, as the lair collapses in on itself; they resurface to see Captain America waiting for them.

In the months following the Pride’s demise, the orphaned runaways are separated into foster homes.  Karolina is sent to live with foster parents who are addicted to prescription painkillers.  She organizes a secret reunion for the runaways; she and Nico are the first to arrive.  Karolina asks Nico how she’s coping with Alex’s death and any prospective future romances.  Nico responds that she’s sworn off boys forever, to which Karolina sheepishly grins, blushes and replies, “Cool.”  All of the runaways eventually turn up for the reunion, during which they break into an Avengers holding facility to retrieve Old Lace and the Leapfrog.  The group decides they need each other, pile into the Leapfrog and run away.

In the months following their escape from foster care, Karolina fights under Nico’s command, de facto leader of the motley crew since Alex’s demise.  They’ve taken up residence in one the Pride’s old lairs beneath the La Brea Tar Pits, still calling their hideout “the Hostel.”  Karolina expresses more comfort with being an extraterrestrial and makes strong hints at being a homosexual, especially as she stops to compliment Julie Power on her beauty during a battle with superhero therapy group Excelsior over the custody of Victor Mancha.  Victor is a prophecied future supervillain and Avengers-turncoat called Victorious; a future version of Gert came back in time to warn the runaways about Victor and ordered that they neutralize him while he’s still young and not as powerful.  The team eventually befriends Victor after learning his “father” is Ultron and that Victor himself is really a cyborg; Victor rewrites his encoded “supervillain” programming and joins the team.  Soon afterwards, Karolina comes out to Nico with an attempted kiss, which Nico rejects outright.  Karolina’s “outcast” insecurities resurface for a short while before her Skrull fiancée Xavin comes to Earth in search of Karolina. Unbeknownst to Karolina, her parents arranged Xavin’s and Karolina’s marriage as part of a peace-weaving effort between the Skrull and Majesdanian homeworlds.  Though initially cautious and shy, Karolina admits to Xavin that she is a lesbian and can’t marry him because it wouldn’t be fair for either partner.  At that moment, Xavin reveals that Skrulls are a shapeshifting race and takes a female form, saying that Skrulls are so used to switching gender that it is “no different than changing hair color.”  Karolina agrees to leave with Xavin, excited to see a new world where she doesn’t need to hide her true heritage or sexuality.  Karolina shares a tearful goodbye with Nico and leaves her medic alert bracelet as a remembrance token before departing for Majesdane.  Though the whole team is saddened to see Karolina go, Nico hurts most of all.

While on Majesdane, Karolina learns to mentally control the shift between her glowing Majesdanian form and her camouflaged humanoid form, along with fine tuning her other alien powers.  As the wedding draws near, Xavin tells Karolina that he had the wedding band learn “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” for their wedding song, as a gift to Karolina.  However, the matrimony does not go as planned and the couple flees towards Earth as their homeworlds reignite the old war.  Karolina and Xavin crash land near the Hostel and return in time assist in the rescue of Molly Hayes from a new Pride, led by a time-displaced 1985 version of Geoffrey Wilder and Alex’s old MMORPG friends.  After the rescue, Xavin inspects her and Karolina’s escape vessel to discover that it’s damaged beyond repair and that the two will most likely never see their homeworlds again; Karolina reassures Xavin that the runaways will be all the family they need.  Karolina is welcomed back to the cadre immediately, and Xavin is accepted into the group after Gertrude Yorkes’ untimely death.  Karolina’s sexuality is not a problem for any of the runaways, but most of them (excepting only Karolina) are a bit uncomfortable around Xavin’s constant shapeshifting.  He decides to take the form of Nico one night, unbeknownst to Karolina.  Xavin gets Karolina to admit that she still is attracted to and has feelings for Nico, but Karolina ultimately refuses to cheat on Xavin.  Xavin lifts the façade, surprised that Karolina did not recognize his scent as she normally does.  However, they barely have time to argue before the runaways band together to find Chase and stop him from exchanging his soul to the Gibborim in exchange for Gert’s life.  By the time the crew returns to the Hostel, Iron Man and the pro-registration forces of Marvel’s Civil War are waiting for them.  Karolina and Xavin join the runaways on their cross-country trek to evade registering their identities with the government.

Key Issues
Runaways vol. 1 #1 – Debut
Runaways vol. 1 #3 – Discovers her alien heritage
Runaways vol. 1 #10 – Reveals her death wish to the team
Runaways vol. 1 #17 – Overcomes her death wish upon her first near-death experience
Runaways vol. 1 #18 – Organizes the runaways’ mass escape from foster care, makes her first overt display of affection towards Nico
Runaways vol. 2 #7 – Comes out to Nico, meets Xavin
Runaways vol. 2 #8 – Comes out to the team, leaves Earth for Majesdane with Xavin Runaways vol. 2 #16 – Returns to Earth with Xavin
Color Scheme
Brian Weber, the first colorist for Runaways, chose a distinctly rainbow-like pattern to color Karolina’s alien form in the series’ early issues.  Though it has been debated amongst fans, no authoritative word has confirmed or denied that Karolina’s original rainbow color scheme was a nod towards her homosexuality.  Since Brian Weber departed, the second (and staple) Runaways colorist Christina Strain primarily colors Karolina in pastel shades of yellow, pink, and light blue with a “glitter-like” effect on Karolina’s skin – less symbolic of a rainbow, yet still draws enough attention to pose the question of whether or not this color scheme was meant to symbolize Karolina’s sexuality.

Powers and Abilities
Like all Majesdanians, Karolina’s natural form is luminous, iridescent, and visually fluid, depicted with waves of rainbow-like light floating off her body, though body structure is essentially humanoid.  Series creator Brian K. Vaughan established early in the series that Karolina’s powers are based on absorbing the sun’s rays, much like Superman.  However, Karolina only has a finite amount of power she can use in one day; if she taps it all, she must wait until morning to start absorbing sunlight again.  This has only ever happened once.  Originally, Karolina required her custom made “anchor” bracelet to hide her alien form. However, after spending some months on Majesdane, Karolina learned to control the change and can make it at will.

In her Majesdanian form, Karolina is able to manipulate solar energy absorbed by her body to produce large concussive blasts, fine laser-like beams, and forcefields capable of stopping cave-ins and barrages of bullets.  She can also focus and intensify the heat of her concussive blasts to melt steel.  Karolina’s parents were able to bind people and objects with their powers, but Karolina has yet to demonstrate that ability. Karolina’s Majesdanian form also grants her the ability to fly.

Karolina Dean’s creators are Brian K Vaughn and Adrian Alphona. She first appeared in Runaways #1, volume 1 and was confirmed as lesbian in #7, volume #2. Karolina was engaged to Xavin, but became estranged. Read Xavin’s profile.

This bio is outdated and doesn’t yet include her relationship with Nico Minoru from the current (2017) volume of Runaways.

Art by Jo Chen from the cover of Runaways #10 (volume one).

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