Geiger's Culture Counter: Comics have a universe problem
Though I haven’t seen it yet, the critical consensus of “Spider-Man: Homecoming” is that it’s another blockbuster for Marvel. While that’s great, this seventh modern movie to feature Spider-Man with a third actor as Peter Parker highlights a few issues with comic industry’s fascination with shared universes.
Ever since “Iron Man” laid the foundation for the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, executives everywhere have been trying to copy the format to get in on the success.
In 2013 Marvel realized they could expand upon solo superhero movies and their team-ups by going into television with ABC’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The show focuses on Clark Gregg’s Agent Coulson after he died in “The Avengers” and comes back to life to lead his own team. Then in 2015 they entered the world of Netflix bringing with it “Daredevil,” which led to shows like “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and their inevitable meet-up in “The Defenders” this August.
Though all of the characters aren’t seen in the same place, they feel the reverberations of their actions. When S.H.I.E.L.D. fell in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” it drastically altered the show for Coulson’s team. Each Netflix show references the alien attack on New York seen in the first Avengers film because that’s where they live.
Different mediums on different platforms work when the characters are at separate tiers. Avengers handle interstellar threats, S.H.I.E.L.D. protects on a global level and The Defenders focus on New York.
It’s also reasonable for movies and TV to not constantly interact because of shooting schedules and budgetary constraints. Additionally, producers don’t want to burden the public with viewing each episode or film to understand what’s going on. However, things get murky within a comic company’s own stable of television shows.
When CW’s “The Flash” spun off of “Arrow” in 2014 the network created its own universe—aptly dubbed the Arrowverse—complete with crossovers. Even “Supergirl,” which technically takes place on a parallel Earth, joined in on the fun when it left CBS for CW.
It should be noted that Grant Gustin’s Flash here is not the same as Ezra Miller’s Flash set to hit the big screen in “Justice League.” That’s totally fine and understandable for those aforementioned budgetary reasons. The Superman in “Supergirl” isn’t Henry Cavill, either.
What’s not fine is other CW shows not inhabiting the Arrowverse. CW’s upcoming “Black Lightning” will not have a scene of Jefferson Pierce enjoying a cup of coffee with Oliver Queen because it is not part of Arrowverse—that’s a missed opportunity. The creators cite not wanting to do a five-way crossover episode, especially because the new show is filmed in Atlanta instead of the usual Vancouver.
But that’s a weak argument because not everyone needs to take part in crossovers. Hulk and Thor were absent in “Captain America: Civil War.” Just have some dialogue or newspaper headlines reference the other crime fighters and it’s all good.
And though the Arrowverse is 100 percent DC Comics, it’s not the same world as Fox’s Batman prequel “Gotham” or NBC’s short-lived Wayne Enterprises office comedy “Powerless.” Confused yet?
It gets even more complicated when licensing rights enter the picture. Spider-Man first fought with The Avengers in the comics in 1964, but it took so long for him to appear alongside his pals in cinema because Sony owns him. There’s a difference between being a Marvel movie and a Marvel Studios movie.
Sony is now working on movies that star Spider-Man villains such as Venom, Silver Sable and Black Cat yet they could lack Spider-Man himself. Because the partnership between the studios is so new, executives aren’t quite sure how the universes interact. Their films may each have Tom Holland’s Peter Parker and the to-be-released “Venom” may be in the same world “Spider-Man: Homecoming” but not the MCU.
Meanwhile Fox owns the X-Men franchise, which is why mutants like Storm and Cyclops aren’t hurling lightning bolts and shooting lasers with Thor and Iron Man. Though Magneto’s son Quicksilver appears in both “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” in the latter he is referred to as “enhanced” because the m-word belongs to Fox.
It’s a little annoying but I can live with that because I don’t want FX’s “Legion” to interact with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” The fantastic and cerebral show about Professor X’s son doesn’t mesh with the lighter and action-y spy show. Yet Bryan Singer has mentioned that “Legion,” while stand-alone, has ties to the X-Men universe. I’m somewhat worried on what implications that statement has for the show.
The fact that producers have to mention where their feature fits in which universe at San Diego Comic Con panels, journalists have to write explainers with infographics or fans have to do their own digging on Wikipedia shows that it’s gotten too convoluted for its own good.
If you’re going to make a shared and interconnected universe, go all out in a sensible manner or don’t do it at all. Don’t fragment the characters and story beyond comprehension.