Marvel’s Collapsing Multiverse

April 6, 2017

It becomes more apparent by the day that Marvel Studios is in unstoppable, perpetual motion. Even in the wake of “Iron Fist” — the studio’s first complete critical failure — focus has already shifted to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Marvel’s multimedia shared universe shows no sign of slowing down at this point with its a massive Venn diagram of films, television, comics and toys all sharing endless hype and profit in the center.

But is this shared universe truly multimedia anymore? Is the Marvel comic universe a Venn diagram, or merely separate circles?

A big epiphany comes in “Jessica Jones,” when a character mentions the Battle of New York — the world-saving battle between the Avengers and Loki’s army. But that battle technically happened when the film was released 2013, and “Jessica Jones” came out in 2015. Between these two years? Ironman saved the President, Captain America exposed Hydra insurgents in S.H.I.E.L.D., London was nearly destroyed by Dark Elves and Pym Industries imploded. Yet the most significant thing that happened in this universe is still the Battle of New York.

This plot neglect becomes especially egregious by “Luke Cage.” The television series takes pace after the Superhero Civil War in “Captain America: Civil War,” but no one wants to mention that Captain America and multiple Avengers are now wanted fugitives for committing treason.

It’s become an open secret that the television and film departments of Marvel Studios are not seeing eye-to-eye, creating a jarring amount of disconnect as the series grow increasingly separated from their franchises. When “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” was first announced, audiences were tantalized with the promise of a new television world crossing over and co-existing with the blockbuster films. But while producers, writers and actors play coy with the idea of “The Defenders,” “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and the upcoming “Inhumans” crossing over with “The Avengers” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the lengthy film cycle seems to be preventing television actors from making the leap into cinema.

In an interview  at a panel for the Television Critics Association about the release of “Luke Cage,” Marvel TV head Jeph Loeb attributed the difficulty of cross-format interaction to the difference in production schedules.

“Part of the challenge of doing this sort of thing is that the movies are planned out years in advance of what it is that we are doing,” Loeb said. “Television moves at an incredible speed. The other part of the problem is that when you stop and think about it, if I’m shooting a television series and that’s going to go on over a six-month or eight-month period, how am I going to get Mike [Colter] to be able to go be in a movie? I need Mike to be in a television show.”

A reasonable-sounding argument — but upon further inspection it doesn’t make sense. Given that it would be all in-house, certainly a schedule could be made where various projects are spaced out enough as to not strain any actor — though that would force Marvel to consider not releasing three films a year and show just a bit of restraint. Actors wouldn’t be pulled between Paramount and Universal — it’s all one studio. Not to mention that stunt doubles and computer-generated imagery could help fill in a lot of the action gaps. And how are the television writers not kept up to speed with the overarching film plans? That wasn’t a problem with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” where the revelations in “Captain America: Winter Soldier” rolled right into the television show the following week.

Internal studio conflicts also feed the issue. While Marvel would never comment on these reports and rumors, there has been much talk about Marvel’s Creative Committee. What was the Creative Committee? Devin Faraci of Birth. Movies. Death. explained that it is a now-defunct team that provided feedback on upcoming Marvel productions.

“It was a group of people who would give notes and thoughts on Marvel productions as they made their way from script to screen.,” Faraci said. “Some of the guys on the committee included Alan Fine, who came with [Ike] Perlmutter to Marvel through Toy Biz, Brian Michael Bendis, who is a prolific Marvel Comics writer, Dan Buckley, publisher of Marvel Comics and Joe Quesada, former editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics and the current Chief Creative Officer of Marvel Enterprises.”

Over time, the Committee became infamous for its constant interference in the pettiest of details. Its termination is publicly understood to be primarily because of this nagging involvement.

Are Marvel’s big heads refusing to integrate their various departments out of professional pettiness? No. But it does seem that the headaches created — on top of the complications of coordinating projects — result in a scenario where no one is rushing to make it work.

Actor Anthony Mackie recently commented at Wizard World Cleveland on the Marvel multiverse with his own opinions, saying he didn’t think too much overlap would work.

“Different universes, different worlds, different companies, different designs,” Mackie said. “Kevin Feige is very specific about how he wants the Marvel Universe to be seen in the film world. It wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t work at all.”

But wasn’t the premise of Marvel Studios to bring together different worlds and universes? To take the various separate media circles comic books exist in and combine them? It can be done. Sure, it’s difficult — nothing about making a shared universe is easy. But someone needs to make that Venn diagram.

A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, April 6 print edition.

Email Carter Glace at [email protected].

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