Monday, July 3, 2017

Marvel TV News Update

It's been awhile since my last post and the wheels of both the TV arm of the MCU and it's big brother on film have been turning. An incidental thought before I dig into it: it's funny how all the characters Marvel reacquired who had their own films have wound up on TV rather than in cinema--I'm not sure if that's due to worries over brand confusion, doubts about their ability to sell tickets, or what. The full count: Daredevil (Fox film in 2003, now on Netflix), Elektra (Fox film in 2005, now a supporting character on Netflix), The Punisher (three films from Lionsgate from 1989-2004, now getting his own series after being a supporting character on Netflix), Ghost Rider (two films from Colombia (Sony) in 2007 and 2012, now a supporting character on Agents of SHIELD). The only exception thus far is Blade (three films from New Line (Warner) from 1998-2004), and I have more to say about him below.

The Inhumans official trailer dropped. It's not bad (despite a lot of negative buzz), although I think they would have been better served using more shots that emphasize what using IMAX is doing for them. As it stands it doesn't look as polished as Netflix, but it's still early and effects are being worked on--it's worth pointing out this trailer was cut almost two months ago so everything is very raw. I'm still not sold on Serinda Swan as Medusa, but it's an opinion that could easily change since we've barely seen her act in the role. Having Iwan Rheon (Maximus) do most of the talking in the trailer is a smart choice.

With the announcement that The Punisher will air in November (possibly November 14th, three days before Justice League), it's made me wonder what the Netflix plan is now that the full cycle of Marvel shows is fully in swing.  Here are the release dates we've had/are officially announced:

April - Daredevil
November - Jessica Jones
March - Daredevil
September - Luke Cage
March - Iron Fist
August - The Defenders
November - The Punisher

The Punisher's post-production will finish around July (based on the usual turnaround of the other shows), meaning the choice to put it a few months after The Defenders is an intended gap (whether this has to do with giving space internally for other Netflix shows or to make space for Inhumans is unknown).  I think Netflix could easily get away with doing more shows and narrowing the gaps.  If we imagine four shows in 2018 it could look like this:

February - Jessica Jones
May - Luke Cage
August - Daredevil
November - Iron Fist

This would put a second season of Punisher arriving in February of 2019.  This is all optimistic speculation, but it's plausible.  If, instead, they stick to a rotation of three releases a year, we'd get something like this:

March - Jessica Jones
August - Luke Cage
November - Daredevil

Going back to The Punisher, if we can trust IMDB (keeping the usual warnings to take the site with a grain of salt), it appears as though Frank Castle's dead family is going to appear quite a bit--presumably in flashbacks. This would be an interesting approach to humanize Frank and prevent him from being simply a vigilante.

If/when we get the announcement of a second season of Iron Fist it seems like Finn Jones wants what a lot of critics want: the show to be more mystical. Putting aside the cost of doing so for a moment (and yes, ninjas are cheaper than most kinds of mysticism), I find that desire puzzling. In terms of comics, Iron Fist has rarely had his own series (roughly 50 issues in the 70s, less than 30 issues of The Immortal Iron Fist in the 90s...and that's pretty much it). This tells you that, while Iron Fist has been a popular character, on his own it's been a struggle (only the second of those two runs is strongly mystical).  Danny Rand has worked best in combination with Luke Cage in Heroes for Hire (and vice versa), something with minimal mystical content. However much people love that mystical run of the comic, it clearly doesn't resonate with fans--people like the humorous Danny Rand hanging out with his buddy. I say this as someone who really enjoyed The Immortal Iron Fist, but that run has it's own problems: why do we care about K'un-Lun? Other than Danny being raised there, nothing really separates it from the other immortal cities. They fight over access to the mortal realm (for whatever reason), but our only attachment to it is via Danny's--that's extremely slim pickings for plots. What could the show really do with it now? All the comic run offers is the tournament of champions (partially spoiled by season one) and then the champions getting together to fight the eighth city. That's about it other than the flashbacks to alternate Iron Fists and Zhou Cheng trying to kill Danny (also spoiled by season one). These plots can only function with an audience loving Danny Rand and that's a lot to hang on Finn Jones. Going back to the dollars and cents that matter, it's difficult to imagine Netflix being able to properly do the mystical side well. In the end it puts the creative team in a catch-22; what the critics want isn't something the show can afford to do, but the popular version of Danny isn't feasible because Luke Cage is locked away in his own series. Personally I'd double down on the corporate stories--critics whined about this immensely, but it's not an element covered by the other shows and also presents problems for Danny he can't just punch his way out of it. What do I think will happen? I have no idea, other than we'll see more ninjas.

Speaking of ninjas, rumours about a Blade reboot or TV series have been kicking around for quite some time (eg), and Kevin Feige recently said "I think it would be fun to do something with him one day." This is incredibly vague and I don't want to read too much into it, but given that Feige is in charge of the movie part of the universe it might imply that Blade is looking at a cinematic return at some point. This would run against what's happened to all other reacquired characters who had prior film-releases (see above). Blade was a much more successful franchise, so it would be an interesting decision to put him in the movies. In terms of tenor I think Blade fits better in the Netflix model, but time will tell what we get (if anything). The character, incidentally, hasn't appeared in a comic since 2010 (although I believe a new series featuring him is coming soon), nor had a series since 2006 (that one intended, no doubt, to help promote the short-lived Spike TV series at that time), although concurrence in the comics is hardly a requirement for adaptation.

Incredibly, despite all the rumours (the one above, those about White TigerNamor, and Moon Knight (link above)), no new series' have been announced. This silence comes in the face of the active production of numerous other shows (Cloak & Dagger, Runaways, New Warriors, and The Inhumans). I have no idea if it's simply that Netflix has yet to greenlight another show (or shows) or if they're holding back the announcements (either for an event or simply waiting for The Defenders to drop). Incidentally, in terms of the status of these characters in comics other than Blade (his is mentioned above), the Angela Del Toro White Tiger has been retired since 2010, last appearing simply as herself in 2016; Namor is a mainstay in the universe, but his last solo series was in 2003; Moon Knight has a current series (helmed by Greg Lemire). As mentioned above, their status in the comics isn't particularly relevant.

One character whose name has been dropped to potentially appear is the Chris Claremont-created Captain Britain. Since the person musing about it was Feige my initial presumption was that he'd appear in film, although the possibility of a TV-version seems stronger once I looked into it, as his comments reflect rumours from more than a year ago about a TV series (it could have been one of the four pilots shot last spring/summer, one of which is the source of the White Tiger rumour mentioned above). For those who don't know he's Psylocke's older brother (created before she was, back in 1976), but he's not a mutant and therefore not a Fox property. Unlike a lot of the characters Marvel controls I actually read a version of the character back when he headed the mutant spinoff comic Excalibur. He's a mystical character (ala Doctor Strange and Iron Fist), but one who isn't effects heavy. This also gives me an opportunity to mention I'm one of the only people who prefers Betsy Braddock before Claremont turned her into a ninja (that includes the earlier artwork before we got the typical Jim Lee pin-up version).

The Sony stuff is below, but I'm using the picture because it's both Feige looking awkward and a callback to his tenacious but ineffectual denials. I mentioned last time that he'd finally admitted the TV and movie universes might cross over...and then he promptly denied it again. What I think is happening is Feige likes surprises and wants maximum impact for them--think of how long he denied the deal with Sony for Spider-Man and then how long he denied he would debut in Captain America: Civil War. We see this behaviour going on in the face of Amy Pascal's comments (see below) and I think, ultimately, that's also what's happening with Marvel TV. For years we've been told "it's all connected" and outside of a few cameos early on in Agents of SHIELD (in the first two seasons when Joss Whedon was still around), it's been a one-way street to the movies. Feige is well-aware that part of the appeal of the Marvel shows is their connection to the MCU proper and I think acknowledgement could be on its way. That said, I think we'll get nothing but denials until it happens.

I'd mentioned last time how odd it was that Sony was happily announcing all sorts of comicbook movies that were not in the MCU. At first it seemed like Sony was trying to set up it's own Spider-verse, but then it was reported they would be disconnected even from each other. It was difficult to make any sense out of what they were trying to do. Amy Pascal (of Sony) then said yes, indeed, it's all connected and part of the MCU...and then it got walked back and denied, before both Pascal and Feige made it even more convoluted (a "separate Sony world" that's "in the same reality"--what?). It's one of the most bizarre, hilarious, and frustrating things I can recall related to the MCU. It's a bit like "are the TV characters going to appear in the movies"--the answer is generally no, but not always no, and the "no" makes little sense in terms of both the logic of the shared universe and giving fans what they want. Most explanations I've seen (here and here) suggest a Netflix-like similarity in context, but then what sense can you make in Feige saying "never say never" to Spider-Man appearing in Venom? If Tom Holland appears in these films (as you'd expect him too), then you can't really say it's not part of the MCU--the whole thing is a clusterfuck of epic proportions.

I think Armin's initial theory is one that makes sense, because you can't have Spider-Men based characters without Spider-Man. Sony would lose the hype and stability of being part of the MCU, making their projects as close to dead on arrival as possible. This leaves only a few possibilities (in ascending order of probability): 1) Pascal misspoke on multiple occasions and is unable to simply say "no" to simple questions, 2) Pascal made her comments to pressure Marvel into expanding their deal, 3) Pascal unintentionally spoke about an expanded agreement thinking she was being vague enough not to stir the pot, 4) Pascal intentionally spoke about something under wraps to help build hype for future Sony projects. I don't believe #1 and I think #2 is just too hamfisted to be possible, so we're left with the latter two options. The subsequent backpedals seem like Feige trying to temper expectations ahead of whatever reveal or surprise is planned.

As an adjunct to this I want to address something I see repeatedly from some critics about how they wish there were more standalone comic movies without everything being connected. Marvel and DC comics take place in integrated universes--to separate the characters out is artificial and to try to impose that is against the spirit of the medium. There are comic book characters that either exist on their own or in their own particular reality (ie Judge Dredd), but if you want a Thor or Superman movie, to separate them out from the other characters is to impose a rift that's not a part of the fictional milieu that's shaped them. It's a complaint I'm tired of hearing and it mostly comes from people who are either not comicbook fans or people who like older TV and movie comic book adaptations before the MCU innovation. It's fine for people to prefer that, but at least acknowledge the medium is finally doing what it's supposed to do.

I love Joss Whedon--who doesn't? From the days of Buffy through to Firefly and the Avengers--there's lot's to love. When he left the MCU he said he wanted independence--to make the movies he wanted without interference or the obligations of a shared universe..and just a year later he started helping Zack Snyder with Justice League prior to taking over the film and accepting the director role for Batgirl. I have a lot of sympathy for Joss, but for a guy who was tired to dealing with a studio's shared universe it's more than a little odd to exchange one for another having done nothing in between (with apologies to The Letter Carrier). I'd love to know if it was simply butting heads with the now removed Ike Perlmutter that pushed him on, the mixed reaction to Age of Ultron, or both, but clearly a shared universe isn't what bothered him.

This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)

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