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Agents of SHIELD and the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe

February 2, 2015

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:

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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.

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29 Comments leave one →
  1. February 2, 2015 12:15 pm

    Actually…I am fairly glad that the X-Men are no option for the MCU, and I think some other fans feel the same. They existing in an universe in which the Avengers are celebrated heros never made any sense to me. Spider-man I can take or leave. What I am really missing is the Fantastic Four. Or, to be precise, not the Fantastic Four themselves, but their extensive rogue gallery. Especially now that the MCU has gone intergalactical.

    • bookslide permalink*
      February 2, 2015 12:36 pm

      You make a good point. But how can society back the Avengers and not the X-Men? Jealousy and governmental approval. There’s a huge difference between “I wasn’t born as smart as Tony Stark” and “I wasn’t born with a superpower.” Add in the government’s back-patting of the Avengers, and you’ve got the set-up for the Mutant Registration Act and, eventually, Civil War. (I loved Civil War.) There’s a reason there were mutants in the original Avengers; with the government’s backing, they’re poster children for tolerance, but never leaders. With flag-waving, Captain America is an Everyman–although in the MCU did his contemporaries know where he got his powers from, and that he had them at all? I feel like it’s public knowledge in the modern day but maybe not then?

      • February 2, 2015 12:50 pm

        I think the reason is a little bit contrived but might work if not for the other side of the medall. Which is “why would Captain America or any other Superhero fight for a government which hunts people with special abilities? Wouldn’t they stand up for their fellow supers if for no other reason that there is only a small step from “we hate mutants” to “we hate everyone who is not normal enough”.

        Also, like you yourself pointed out, how is the general public supposed to know if someone with special powers is a mutant or had a freak accident? How does anybody know if Daredevil, Spider-man, Captain Marvel, Cloak and Dagger aso are not mutants, too? If I were a mutant in this kind of world I would be all “mutant? Me? No, I just was at the wrong place at the wrong time!”

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 12:55 pm

        That’s why I talk about governmental approval. It’s true that there’s a thin line. This is why comic book timelines are awkward at best and terrible at worst, and why the Ultimate line is a favorite of mine, because it’s mostly realtime. Captain America gets a pass for being government-owned and -created and having originally been an underdog, which America is like “YES PLEASE ALL THOSE THINGS” for anyone. Thor is pretty. Hulk is reason to worry. Black Widow and Hawkeye are just government agents. Tony’s a genius who fought terrorists. Those things carry a lot of weight, and make sense for the MCU.

        I was really referring to the concept of Big Powers. Like, watching Ronnie fly on The Flash, and being the first flyer we’ve seen, felt monumental even if he looked ridiculous in his hobo suit. Tony in the first Iron Man felt monumental, and Thor…well, they tried. He LOOKS monumental, at least. But I think Age of Ultron is going to up the powers game with Quicksilver and, especially, Scarlet Witch, and maybe there will be a shift to something bigger on our screens. Even for all that Guardians was full of aliens, the most “magical” or powered thing they did was, uh, make a tree into a bush? It wasn’t the same as watching Colossus power up or Nightcrawler’s X-2 intro or Blink’s awesome portals.

      • February 2, 2015 1:19 pm

        I guess the magic question will most likely have to wait until Dr. Strange. Can’t wait to see how they will handle that. Currently they seem to stick to the “magic is just very advanced science” explanation (though I am not sure how Loki being able to dublicate himself translates into science).

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 1:48 pm

        I hate magic in my superheroes anyway, so Dr. Strange (and to a lesser extent, Dr. Fate) is the movie I’m looking the least forward to.

        I was even hoping during the Crises that DC was going to split their magic users into their own world. 😦

        I love Zatanna, but she is pretty ridiculous with Batman.

    • bookslide permalink*
      February 2, 2015 12:37 pm

      Also, what did you think of the new Fantastic Four trailer?

      • February 2, 2015 12:45 pm

        Generic and unnecessarily cryptic and melodramatic. Exactly the kind of trailer I hate (especially with all those people looking up and staring meaningful into the camera…groan!!!). So far, Fox has shown me nothing which makes me want to see the movie. If it gets good reviews I might give it a shot, but I won’t hold my breath. Most likely I wont pay to watch any Fantastic Four movie unless they finally cast some middle-aged actors for the roles.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 12:50 pm

        I don’t mind them going the younger, Ultimate FF route. I really liked Ultimate FF.

      • February 2, 2015 12:55 pm

        There are two things I always liked about the Fantastic four (rogues gallery aside) : That they are a family (and family dynamic is something Marvel rarely does…there are more DC examples of it) and that there is at least one Superheroine which clearly isn’t in her 20s (or genetically altered to ensure that she stays young). That is way too rare in the comic book world.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 1:07 pm

        I think that’s more wonky timelines than anything else. Jean was pushing 30 when she died, as is Emma. So it’ll happen. Time will just have to continue on.

        I never really connected to the FF when I was younger. Their wholesome family thing really put me off. Fighting as a superhero when you have kids seemed unrealistic too.

      • February 2, 2015 1:18 pm

        I see it more as a double standart. Male Superheroes are allowed to be middleaged or even old…in fact, the only well known female comic character which is definitly older than 30 I can come up with is Aunt May, and she has the role of the frail old lady who has to be protected. It is kind of annoying.

        And concerning being a Superhero and having children: The Incredibles!

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 1:46 pm

        Yeah, but their kids are old enough by the time they’re fighting crime (and they have to get a sitter for the baby). If they’d ever done The Incredibles 2…

        DC does a good job of showing what happens when you try to raise a baby in a superhero world: they die. Your nemeses will kill your children.

      • February 2, 2015 2:00 pm

        Not saying that I am particularly keen on family fluss and/or gruesome deaths, but I think it is important to explore this storytelling venue. Plus, with the Fantastic Four they can explore family dynamic without adding children.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 2:14 pm

        Yeah, but having a brother and sister and husband and friend is as family-like as…oh wait, the Avengers.

      • February 2, 2015 2:19 pm

        So far there are neither siblings nor married partners in the Avengers. This will most likely change. And I certainly look forward to Ant-man because of the father/daughter dynamic they intend to adress in it.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 2, 2015 9:32 pm

        Well, Age of Ultron will have Scarlet Witch/Quicksilver. Not sure what’s up with Ant-Man. How can Janet not be a character at all? I still haven’t heard anything that makes sense with all that.

      • February 3, 2015 3:50 am

        I think they didn’t want to use Pym because he isn’t heroic enough, so they might (might!) built up a situation in which Pym is the fallen hero and Lang is the one who was never heroic, but now becomes a hero after all for his sake of his daughter. I have the hope that not Janet but her daughter will be the Wasp eventually, but if that’s the case, they did a really good job keeping it under wraps so far.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 4, 2015 3:22 pm

        Isn’t Janet dead though in this? Uncool.

      • February 4, 2015 3:42 pm

        her daughter isn’t.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 6, 2015 9:28 am

        So? I mean, killing a major superhero before she gets to the screen–that doesn’t seem grossly wrong to you?

      • February 6, 2015 11:37 am

        If it avoids an awful domestic abusese story….plus, I honestly don’t care if they tweak a little bit at the backstories of the characters or decide to skip a generation. They already did so with GotG, and I see a lot of good reason why I would be a good idea for Ant-man, too. It’s too bad that Wask ends up as collateral damage. But I would rather have her daughter in the movie in the hope that they draw inspiration for from the bubbly character in the animated series, than the original Wasp as attachement to Hank Pym.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 7, 2015 11:06 am

        It doesn’t “avoid” anything because they can choose not to have Pym hit his wife. It’s erasure of a major player who, in the comics, began the Avengers, if this is the route they’re going. And, of course, the woman’s always the collateral damage in comics.

      • February 7, 2015 11:11 am

        Well, he never lived it down, and the relationship was always very toxic. Plus – do we really need him? We already have two scientists on the team, three if you count Jane. I see a lot of advantage in adding a thief rather than another one. I am certainly open for another version of Ant-man, and hopefully another version of the Wasp, no matter how she will be named.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 9, 2015 10:31 am

        No, we don’t need him. I meant Wasp. Fridging a major female Avenger is a terrible move for a company that’s done so well so far.

      • February 9, 2015 1:20 pm

        That’s assuming that there won’t be another Wasp.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 10, 2015 7:14 am

        Why would it matter if there’s another Wasp? Pym still gets to be the guy who makes the suit, but Janet gets dead? That’s assuming these rumors are correct. But I think you’re missing the inherent sexism in killing off a female original founder in a franchise that’s already getting hit for

        1) Only having one female Avenger
        2) Creating merchandise lines that ignore their female characters
        3) Keeping their female leads on the small screen, which means smaller budgets, less publicity, and possibly no merchandise
        4) Referring to a major female character as a “whore”
        5) Going 20 films into the franchise before getting a female lead

        Take into account that the audience going to see these films is up to almost a 50/50 gender split, and you can see why things like this matter.

        I’m hoping Janet has not been fridged, but it wouldn’t bet money on it.

      • February 10, 2015 7:35 am

        I just think it is too early to make a fuss around it. We haven’t even seen the movie, we have no idea how it is handled or what role her daughter will play. That, and I am not too hung up on the name of the Wasp as long as we get a Wasp at one point.

      • bookslide permalink*
        February 12, 2015 2:13 pm

        I think we’re coming to this from two VERY different places, so I suppose this conversation’s at an end.

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