In a day and age when sarcastic girls with purple hair are the norm Gertrude Yorke memorably charmed her way into the hearts of Runaways fans and it’s only fair that she be portrayed by someone just as delightfully quirky: Mae Whitman.
In 2003 Brian K. Vaughn surprised comic fans by following his gripping run on Swamp Thing and mind-blowing introduction to Y: The Last Man with a new series aimed at younger audiences. “What are you thinking Brian? You’re the hottest, edgy writer at the moment! Why are you writing a book about kids?! That’s a step backwards!” No. No, no it wasn’t. The story follows six teenagers, the unknowing children of a super villain syndicate who discover their parents’ dastardly ways and decide they want nothing to do with taking up the family business. In fact, they run away.
Gert is spunky, cynical, and wickedly intelligent. Despite the her telepathic bond with a dinosaur her time-travelling criminal parents had locked away she was easily the most relatable character. She questioned authority with her mind, not her fists. She had a witty retort for every scary moment. She didn’t shy away from her fear but used it as badge of honor that kept her sane. While Nico was the obvious leader of the group, Gert was easily the heart. After she is betrayed by the people who raised her she cuts them out of her life without hesitation. And yet she is quick to let the other kids into her life and she establishes relationships with all of them.
The difficult thing about Gert is that you would need an actress who wouldn’t drown in the sarcasm and cleverness. It would be too easily for her to fall into that typical smarty-pants role on the team and that isn’t all she is. While she was the most book-smart of all the teenagers she wasn’t one dimensional in any way. Most times when someone is “the brain” they seem unapproachable and stoic but that was the opposite of how Gert came across! She was kind and open with her feelings. Basically she would be the beloved queen of all the nerds.
So who is capable of playing such a role? Well, Mae Whitman of course! If you don’t recognize her then you must not be from Earth because this girl has been acting FOREVER. She has over 100 credits to her name on IMDB and she’s only 25. Everything from television, movies, and voice-over work. But what makes her perfect for this role you ask?
Besides looking the part to a goddamn T, we’ve already seen all the elements that make up Gert. But what really sealed the deal for me was Whitman’s character on NBC’s Parenthood. During the first season we see her play Amber, the rebellious daughter of former rebellious daughter Sarah. She’s loud, angry, and out of control but just barely peeking behind all that black eyeliner is an old soul who is just tired of all the bullshit. As the season progresses she moves past the bitter teenager phase and shows that more than anything she yearns for a stable home. When she is wrongly accused of something she lashes out because she feels no one appreciates her effort to be a better person and when she makes a huge mistake she runs away because she thinks her family would be better off without her. Now we’re almost halfway through the fifth season and Amber is one of my favorites on the show. We’ve watched her grow so much and while she still has that witty bite she has become the sensible one.
Whitman is often cast for idiosyncratic roles like Roxy, Ramona’s only ex-girlfriend, in Scott Pilgrim vs the World or Arrested Devleopment‘s Ann Veal or the perfectly cast Mary Elizabeth from 2012’s film adaptation Perks of Being a Wallflower. In Runaways, while Gert might be loved by her friends she is seen to be sort of a loner before leaving home. Always little too smart for her peers and passionate about things that most teenagers ignore. She seamlessly fits in with the other Runaways but back home she was just as much of an outcast as all of Whitman’s past roles.
I like to think Whitman is drawn to roles such as these because she wants to show that there is more to female characters than just one signature trait. Just because a young woman is a feminist doesn’t mean she shirks away from falling head over heels in love. Or that even when you think you understand why girls do the things they do, they can surprise you with acts of whimsy and spontaneity. Or that “being strong” doesn’t mean you have to be aloof and unemotional.
Whitman has really grown into such a talented actress and it would be a dream for her to portray one of my absolute favorite Marvel characters. I think with her as the face of Gert Yorkes a new generation of young women will dye their hair and read up on socialism and not flinch in the face of danger not because it’s cool or different but because it’s their goddamn right.