Monday, July 27, 2015

Netflix and the Hero-Population Density of the MCU

Marvel and Netflix just released another promo image for Daredevil season 2 (will they release Jessica Jones season 1 already???), and it is teasing the appearance of another super villain/hero who made his first (non-powered) appearance last season.
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In case you're not familiar with the character to which this refers, here's the nickel summary:  in the comics, Gladiator is the hero/villain name of Melvin Potter, who creates a suit for himself incorporating circular saw blades.

Yes, Melvin Potter is potentially going to create his own suit (perhaps inspired by Daredevil).  Whether he will be fighting crime or committing it, however, remains to be seen.  In the comics he began his career by deciding to become a super criminal and fought Daredevil regularly for a while before deciding to reform, undergoing therapy, marrying, and becoming a sometimes-hero.  However, we may not see this entire story play out on Daredevil the way it happened in the comics.

And Melvin Potter as Gladiator is not the only new hero/villain/antihero coming in Daredevil season 2.  Gladiator and Daredevil are going to be joined by Elektra and Punisher.  In fact, the season is rumored to be focusing on Punisher—“Daredevil vs. Punisher” in other words.  This means that Daredevil will be expanding from a single hero and a single main villain to four “super-powered” characters.

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They aren’t just doing this in Daredevil, either.  Jessica Jones is already confirmed to have the title character appearing alongside Luke Cage, with Zebediah Killgrave (the Purple Man) as the main villain.  In addition to these two, Jessica’s friend Patsy Walker is also appearing, a character who becomes the superhero Hellcat in the comics and even marries Daimon Hellstrom, the Son of Satan.  Her transformation into Hellcat has not been hinted at in the promotional material released so far for the series, but it could definitely be in the works, either for this season or for a future season.  The same holds true for Daimon Hellstrom, who would probably fit very well if they produce a Midnight Sons Netflix series down the line.

I think that this is an awesome direction for Marvel and Netflix to go—rapidly expanding the number of heroes and villains.  This is one of the things I’ve been hoping to see from Marvel almost from the beginning… and I suspect I’m not alone.

Say what you will about the X-Men franchise, but it definitely knows how to make its universe feel BIG.  Every X-Men movie throws in as many mutants as it can fit (X-Men: The Last Stand being a prime example).  When just about every character is a mutant, it is perfectly believable that this universe is as large as it claims to be.  That’s something I haven’t really gotten from the Marvel Cinematic Universe just yet.

Every MCU movie has its fair share of heroes and villains, don’t get me wrong.  However, except in team-up movies, the maximum number of super-powered characters in the movie is probably four (excluding the generic Extremis soldiers in Iron Man 3).  That’s not exactly insignificant, but it’s really not a lot of superheroes to have in a world as large as that of Marvel Comics.  Even Avengers: Age of Ultron is limited to a dozen super-powered beings (the original 6 Avengers, Twins, Vision, War Machine, Falcon (not suited up), and Ultron).  When compared to the sheer number of superheroes at Marvel’s disposal (or which can show up in a comic book) the MCU does seem to underwhelm.

Now, there is a definite benefit to reducing the number of heroes in a given story.  After all the more heroes you have, the less time you have to devote to each one’s story.  Nevertheless, when you have a small number of heroes, the world feels that much smaller by comparison.

Don’t misunderstand:  The MCU itself is very geographically large:  Avengers: Age of Ultron spread the action out all around the world.  Guardians of the Galaxy and the Thor movies expanded the MCU on a cosmic level.  Ant-Man expanded the MCU on a quantum level.  Captain America: The First Avenger, Agent Carter, and Ant-Man expanded the history of the MCU and introduced the concept of “legacy” or “mantle” heroes like Black Widow, Ant-Man, and Wasp.  So the MCU itself is not small.  But the “hero population” is small.

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When they announced Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., I wasn’t expecting superheroes and super villains to be the primary focus of the series, but I was somewhat expecting the “hero population” to expand drastically on the small-screen.  After all, you could introduce a character and give him/her an episode of introduction and then bring that character back again a few more times as needed.  And Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. did somewhat deliver on that expectation in its first season.  However, the real expansion did not come until the second season with Absorbing Man, Mockingbird, and the Inhumans all appearing.  Season 3 looks like it will expand the “hero population” even further with the introduction of the Secret Warriors and exploration of the “Terrigen Bomb of Fish Oil.”  However, we don’t yet know just how many super-humans will be appearing on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season 3.  It could remain a relatively small number again, though I suspect it will be much higher.  But even with more heroes showing up on the show, the global nature of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t really help improve the perception of the MCU as being light on super-humans.

Enter Netflix.

The Netflix series all take place in the same neighborhood of New York City.  They all focus on superheroes.  And they have the budget to portray multiple heroes.  All of these factors make Netflix a very good place to increase the “hero population” (or more precisely the “hero population density”) of the MCU:  If Hell’s Kitchen alone is home to a dozen-plus superheroes and super villains, how many of them might there be in the rest of the world?

And then this is where Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. fits in.  Where the Marvel Netflix shows demonstrate how many heroes and villains there can be in a given area, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. demonstrates that there are heroes and villains all over the world.  And if there are heroes and villains all over the world—and there can be a sizeable number in a given city/neighborhood—then suddenly the MCU does not feel so small in terms of “hero population.”

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Not every hero/villain introduced needs to have a major arc every season.  The best example I can think of is Blizzard (Donnie Gill) on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  He hasn’t really had a major character arc in either of his appearances so far, but that’s acceptable (to me anyways) because both of his appearances built up other aspects of the series.  Obviously I would have preferred if he had gotten a satisfactory character arc in at least one of his appearances, but it’s not absolutely necessary for every single character.  If the character is a minor character—and if the reason he/she is not getting more development is to focus more energy on more important characters—then it is understandable and even acceptable for that character to remain a little two-dimensional.  Future appearances can change that perception a little at a time.

I do not expect Marvel Netflix to go quite as “hero crazy” as Fox goes “mutant crazy” in the X-Men movies.  Not every character has to wear tights.  But the more heroes and villains they can work into each series, the closer the MCU can align to the sheer number of heroes available on the Marvel roster.

Are you excited about the direction that Daredevil season 2 seems to be heading, with no less than 4 “super-powered” characters?  What (minor) heroes or villains do you want to see show up as living in Hell’s Kitchen?  When do you think we’ll find out when Jessica Jones is coming out?  Let me know in the comments!

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1 comment:

  1. I don't really agree with expanding the hero population like you said with Agents of Shield. Marvel heroes have very great stories and are not the type of characters that you can put in an episode and revisit from time to time. Marvel is focusing on putting superheroes in Netflix and I think that is how the focus should be. Introducing superheroes and not expanding on their stories seems like a waste. I feel villains like Blizzard are OK but heroes should not be introduced if they don't plan on expanding their stories in a series or mini series.