Agents of SHIELD and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe
We comic book nerds are constantly mourning the fact that the rights to many Marvel characters are in different hands. In fact, these hands, currently:
Although Marvel has managed to do great things with the characters whose rights they retain, there’s still a hole in the fans’ hearts that everything isn’t being pulled together at once.
Mostly? It’s Spider-Man and the X-Men. The flagship money-maker and the mutants. And while being without Spider-Man in the Marvel U is sad, it’s something we can live with, because he’s one character and he can obviously hold his own even without interacting with anyone else. But as the MCU grows larger and larger, the lack of mutants has been felt more and more. It’s one thing to have a bunch of accidents that lead to powers, or “Gods,” but without the X-Men, Marvel isn’t whole.
This was most obvious at the beginning of the television show Agents of SHIELD, where a team is assembled to deal with all the change that’s been happening in the world since smart people and aliens have decided to make a new world. They have little to do that feels like it’s important, except track down one guy who suddenly has powers. This does lead to much bigger things, but the show really gets going–ask anyone–when it’s finally allowed to connect to the larger universe after the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Still, something is missing. Let’s call it that “X-Factor.” (HA.)
Marvel has decided to deal with that issue by basically substituting The Inhumans for the X-Men. The Inhumans, a team I barely remember anything about although I’ve read about them in tons of stories, are, um, some people with powers. Aliens? I forget. Uh, but their powers come from something called Terrigen Mist, and are everything from a world-shaking voice to, um, lots of hair?
Look, all I really know is that Crystal and Quicksilver get married. And there’s a big dog.
Don’t get me wrong, some fans LOVE the Inhumans, but they don’t have the name recognition, let alone the emotional attachment, that the X-Men have. And they don’t have the Big Metaphor that the X-Men have always managed to represent: the Other, the Civil Rights Movement, homosexuality in America, the Holocaust. Take a situation where people have felt lesser, and you can put the X-Men in there (except slavery, and even then you could probably write a paper on how the X-Men and the Morlocks are basically like being able to pass and not being able to pass as white over the centuries–has anyone written this paper? I’d love to read it!). The Inhumans can bring powers in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that’s not the same as filling the gap that comes from a lack of mutants.
I think one of the biggest problems is that the MCU had is that it hadn’t addressed this lack far sooner. If you compare the MCU to the DC television universe, well, DC has actually paced everything much better. They began with Arrow, a man with no powers, and occasionally having him run up against some science-based powers as time went on. But once they decided to add Barry Allen, the Flash, we’re suddenly inundated with powers–along with scientists, inventors, and criminals who want in on this new world. That took, what, three years? Not even. Ten years into the MCU and we’ll be seeing that The Inhumans movie, by the way. Meanwhile, if you want to keep up, you’ve gotta watch Agents of SHIELD. Except Marvel, ABC, & Netflix decided to hold off putting the show’s first season–which started with little praise before the Captain America movie set off some real stakes for the team (and we learned the actor who plays Ward needs more than being written as “generic hero-dude” to make a facial expression)–up for streaming until it was too late for the large amount of Millennials/Gen Xers living “Netflix/Hulu-only” to catch up to season two before the episodes disappeared into the Nowhere between Hulu and Netflix. Once again, people like me, who haven’t had television service in years and relies only on Netflix and, now, Hulu, can’t keep up with a universe that’s building a huge chunk of its world on television.
What a mistake.
So now I get to spoiler-dodge, and I’m not the only one of my friends doing so. I could pay for the season pass, but I’m still not the kind of person who’s interested in owning things without a physical copy. But this isn’t about me, although I think it’s important to note that I’m one of many in a small but growing demographic that the industry is ignoring.
With so many people NOT watching Agents of SHIELD, will The Inhumans make it into the MCU in such a way that people are going to care? Will they be in, bit by bit, in the next few movies to prepare the way for their 2018 movie debut? Or is Marvel putting all their eggs in the Agents of SHIELD basket?
I love that Agents of SHIELD is now connected to the larger universe, but are about 22 episodes a year an investment that people really want to make?
I put a lot of faith into the people behind the MCU, but they misstepped not making Agents of SHIELD a mid-season replacement so it began after Winter Soldier, they misstepped by not giving the binge-watchers time to catch up to season two before the premiere (although DC almost did the same thing with slightly more time with Arrow), and I don’t think The Inhumans are a misstep so much as they are a misdirection–look at the powers over here and you won’t miss the X-Men!
Sorry, guys, I DO miss the X-Men–or, at least, I miss the Big Powers and the Big Emotional Connection I have to the X-Men characters. The girl with all the hair isn’t going to cut it for me. Or the dude who can’t talk.
But maybe the big dog will.