Friday, October 31, 2014

What's Left for Marvel Studios?

Well, Marvel just announced their "Phase 3" in the Marvel Cinematic universe. And Phase 2 still has two more films to debut with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man. Of course, there is also Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., now featuring comic character Mockingbird, as well as the upcoming spin-off series Agent Carter. And don't forget the Netflix deal featuring Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and Jessica Drew all teaming up as the Defenders.

All of this leads me to ask... what's left? Naturally, the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man properties are out of reach, with each planning long-term franchise films under other studios, so what properties does Marvel Studio have left that could translate well to film or television?

10. The Eternals

If Thor's tale is truly coming to an end, as the title Thor: Ragnarok would suggest, it could be just the right time to introduce Jack Kirby's other pantheon. Although not initially written as part of the Marvel universe, The Eternals created a rich mythology of cosmic beings as only Jack Kirby could envision.

When a race of faceless titans from space known only as the Celestials visited the planet Earth, they manipulated the DNA of early hominids to create two incredible races: the Eternals and the Deviants. The Eternals were perfect immortal beings living high in the mountains while the Deviants were hideous mutated creatures living deep underground. Locked in ageless conflict, their tales gave birth to the myths of man. Greek myth, in particular, was inspired by names like Ikaris, Sersi, Thena, Ajak, and Makkar. Every few thousand years, the Celestials would return space to judge their creation either by blessing or destruction. Like the comic, a film would center around the latest (and perhaps, final) judgment of the Celestials.

Additionally, this could be an interesting way to introduce the character of Hercules to the Marvel Universe. Although not a part of these stories in the comics, Hercules debuted years earlier as part of a more traditional Greek pantheon and a counterpart for Thor. Since the Greek gods have not had the same level of development as the gods of Asgard, this could be a clever way to streamline the character.

9. Squadron Supreme

If Marvel really wants to stick it to DC, they will produce a Squadron Supreme film. Although it wouldn't be set in the same Marvel universe, this could be a way to expand into the Marvel multiverse.

The Squadron Supreme began as blatant counterparts of the Justice League from another universe as a means to have the Avengers fight their competition from another company. Years later, in the 12-issue Squadron Supreme miniseries, their story was expanded as a cautionary tail of a small group of well-intentioned people who think they can run the world. This was revamped more recently as Supreme Power by J. Michael Straczynski which focused on the alienation and manipulation suffered by the heroes of this world prior to their authoritarian take over.

As a film, it could easily be seen as a criticism of the Distinguished Competition's more grim and gritty approach to filmmaking.

8. Runaways

Runaways is a huge fan favorite Marvel series created by Brian K. Vaughn and featuring such writing talents as Joss Whedon and Terry Moore. The series focuses around a group of teenagers who discover that their parents are supervillains. They come together as a team to foil their plans before running away to live on their own.

Since the characters of Runaways have no costumes or codenames, they are very easy to adapt into other media, but perhaps they would do best as television show. As a companion to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Runaways would be an easy sell to a younger demographic, and with a cabal of villains at the heart of the premise, it would be easy to work in new characters with powers of their own.

The only thing that might give Disney pause is the fear of promoting running away from home as a solution to your problems.

7. Ghost Rider

Now that Marvel has the license back to Ghost Rider, it's just a question of where they will use it. No doubt that Doctor Strange will open the doors to the supernatural world of the Marvel universe, so will Ghost Rider be there to drive through them? Will they continue to use the character of Johnny Blaze after the last two films?

Although Blaze has the strongest origin and longest association with the character, Ghost Rider actually soared to popularity with the introduction of teenager Danny Ketch as the host of the Spirit of Vengeance... although that probably has more to do with his dramatic redesign. In those comics, Johnny Blaze returned as a drifter with a shotgun that fired hellfire. I could definitely see that approach inspiring the Marvel films, especially if they want to distance themselves from Nicholas Cage.

6. New Warriors

One popular element of superhero comics that is sorely underrepresented are teenage superheroes... and, particularly, teenage superhero teams. Since they don't have access to X-Men or Spider-Man, Marvel is likely eyeing their remaining teenage superheroes and none have a longer history than the New Warriors.

The New Warriors were an unsupervised, unsanctioned group of teenagers who took their inspiration from the Avengers. Although coming from different backgrounds and heroic origins, they came together to fight for justice, but often make mistakes along the way. Their most infamous mistake was  joining a reality TV series which led directly to a botched mission, their own deaths, and the deaths of many civilians, including children.

Although the team's roster has changed dramatically over the years, I would stick with fan favorites like Night Thrasher, Namorita, Darkhawk, Firestar, and Speedball along with the popular duo of Cloak and Dagger.

5. Blade

Like Ghost Rider, Blade was recently reacquired by the Marvel parent company, but his original film kicked off the trend of A-list superhero movies way back in 1999.
Rumor has it that Marvel is considering hiring Wesley Snipes to reprise the role. It certainly makes sense. Snipes redefined this character as much as Robert Downey Jr. redefined Iron Man. Why wouldn't they want him back?

And while my dreams of Captain America/Blade: Howl of the Cap-Wolf may have been deterred by Civil War, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if we get a cameo in Doctor Strange. Maybe they could even join Ghost Rider as a new version of the Nightstalkers.

4. Moon Knight

One of the last classic solo characters yet to be featured in film or television, Moon Knight was an attempt by Marvel to create their own Batman in the late seventies, but with a supernatural Egyptian curse as the hook.

Marc Spector was a mercenary who betrayed his own commander when they were raiding the temple of Khonshu, a lunar god of vengeance. Beaten nearly to death, Spector was reborn as Khonshu's avatar.

Fighting injustice at night, Spector dressed in the vestments of Khonshu's warriors, but he became increasingly unstable, adopting multiple identities. It is unclear if he is experiencing utter madness or if he has been possessed by spirits beyond his understanding.

3. Young Avengers

While the New Warriors were inspired by the Avengers, the Young Avengers deliberately attempts to recreate that classic dynamic but in an all new generation of young heroes.

The first incarnation of Young Avengers were formed after the dissolution of the classic Avengers. The team is gathered by Iron Lad (a time-traveler from the future) who recruits Patriot (grandson of the prototype Captain America), Wiccan, Hulkling, a new female Hawkeye, and Stature (the size changing daughter of Ant-Man, Scott Lang). Years later, after the team had disbanded, they are reformed by a child version of Loki along with the new additions of Kree warrior Noh-Varr and other dimensional powerhouse Ms. America Chavez.

The one drawback on this concept is that a lot of these characters have their origins based in events that have not yet happened in the Marvel cinematic universe. Not the least of which is that an adult Loki is currently being played by the extremely popular Tom Hiddleston.

Still, with this many characters to choose from, a clever writer could work around these issues and there are a lot of reasons why they should. This team has a history of unstable leadership and tragedy with a very fun and stylish sensibility. It could offer the best elements of Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Iron Man with the added benefit of youth appeal.

2. Thunderbolts

With all the villains piling up in the Marvel universe and the heroes fighting amongst each other, this would be the perfect time to introduce the Thunderbolts!

Originally, they were the Masters of Evil, villainous counterparts to the Avengers. Yet when the Avengers had seemingly died, they adopted new identities as a superhero team. Yet in playing the role of the hero, many of them began to question their own decisions and even became the heroes they were pretending to be. Led by the disfigured Nazi Baron Zemo disguised as Citizen V, the team included the manipulative psychologist Moonstar, the mechanical genius Techno, the supersuit-flying Mach-5, the size-changing Atlas, and the energy projecting Songbird. After being exposed, the team went fugitive and attempted to redeem themselves, eventually becoming an official government run team designed to give supercriminals the opportunity to reform.

As a film, the Thunderbolts would be an excellent fit if the Avengers were disbanded or disgraced, but the sequel Avengers versus Thunderbolts would be epic.

1. Nova

In some ways, we've already had a preview of this film as Guardians of the Galaxy featured the planet Xandar, home to the Nova Corps.

Led by Nova Prime (Glenn Close), the Nova Corp are the peace-keepers of the universe. The original comic featured Richard Rider while the more recent comics (and Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon) feature Sam Alexander, a younger Hispanic character. In either case, the story is the same: a young man is thrown into the dangerous task of keeping order in the wonderous depths of Marvel universe.

If Guardians of the Galaxy was Marvel's replacement for the Fantastic Four and Inhumans is their replacement for X-Men, Nova would be an excellent choice as a replacement for Spider-Man.