The Marvel Cinematic Universe has had huge successes since the release of Iron Man in 2008. With two exceptions, this success came while using B-list characters. The exceptions are Captain America, mostly known through being a patriotic superhero, and the Incredible Hulk, thanks to the 1978 TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno. Thanks to some questionable deals made to keep the company afloat in the past, Marvel Studios didn’t have access to some better known characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men, both of whom had a number of animated series.
How did Marvel start dominating? As mentioned, Iron Man, while a member of the Avengers, wasn’t a well known character outside comic fandom. Tony Stark also has numerous flaws, like many Marvel heroes. He’s a hero despite the flaws. Marvel Studios did the one thing that could get positive attention – casting Robert Downey, Jr. Downey was ideal casting; he and Stark share a problem with addiction. At the time of casting, Downey had gotten through his addiction and recovered, a journey that Stark has troubles with in the comics. Downey took to the role, providing a human side to Stark, despite the flaws.
Casting continued in the same vein for the rest of the films leading up to The Avengers in 2012. The leads and supporting of the movies leading up to the 2012 film all fit the roles cast. Even in the following phases and into the TV series, the casting remained strong. Casting choices might be debatable at times, but the roles have been filled well. Casting, though, isn’t the only part of the success.
Casting is just the surface. Another element helping in Marvel’s success on the silver screen is the types of stories told. The Marvel movies aren’t just superhero films. They’ve been another genre with superheroes added. Iron Man was a techno-thriller with superheroes. Captain America: The First Avenger was a war movie with superheroes. It’s sequel, Captain America and the Winter Soldier was a political thriller with superheroes. Guardians of the Galaxy was a space opera with superheroes. Ant Man was a heist movie with superheroes. The stories are wide ranging. Only the Avengers titled films – The Avengers, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame – are pure superhero films. They are also the major crossovers, where all the characters appear onscreen together. This isn’t quite a parallel to the comics where crossovers affect every title and Iron Man can appear in his own title, Avengers, and guest star in a Spider-Man title all in the same month. It is close enough, but the crossover is self-contained except for some plot points being set up in the movies leading up to the instalment.
The mix of genres lets each Marvel movie look and feel different, even if the same beats are being used. Captain America had a different tone compared to Ant Man. If someone doesn’t like the genre of film, there’s still the draw of superheroes, or the choice of skipping in favour of a preferred genre. The additional genres gives audiences something else to look forward to, and be able to follow the plot even when the superheroics go off the beaten path.
This mix carries over to the Disney+ series. Wandavision uses classic sitcoms to tell its story. Hawkeye is essentially a Hallmark Christmas special with superheroes. The current series, Moon Knight begins as a horror series. There’s more to the series than superheroic battles; the fights are icing to a multi-layered cake.
The use of B-listers is another facet of Marvel’s success. As mentioned above, with the exception of the Hulk and Captain America, Marvel Studio’s success has come despite the use of lesser known characters. However, since they are lesser known, that gives the cast, crew, writers, and directors a free hand to explore the characters and the setting and put a new twist in without worrying about canon. Moon Knight is the ultimate blank slate here; the character has had a number of different origins that at times conflicted that the TV series can pick and choose details and not worry about getting anything wrong.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been dominating the box office since the release of Iron Man. The secret to Marvel’s success is to have interesting, flawed characters in well written works where the story melds another genre with superheroics. While there are rumblings that the general public is getting tired of superheroics, audiences still go out to watch Marvel’s cinematic works, in part because the films aren’t just about superheroes being superheroes.
Marvel Comics’ has an eclectic team with the Avengers. Brought together because of the threat of Kang the Conqueror, six heroes pulled together to defeat the villain. Hulk was the first to leave, but not the last. Of the original team, Captain America was the last to remain as Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, and Wasp all left for various reasons. Replacing them were the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye, all three of whom were once on the wrong side of the law. Siblings Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver were part of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Hawkeye, however, began his career as a plain criminal.
Clint Barton grew up as a carny. He grew up hard of hearing thanks to abuse from his father. In the carnival, Clint was trained by the villainous Swordsman to be a criminal. Clint took to archery, using trick arrows. However, he did turn his life around and impressed Cap enough to be invited to become an Avenger. When Cap left the team, Hawkeye stepped up to become its leader.
In his time as a superhero, Clint has taken on many names besides Hawkeye, including Goliath and Ronin. He is the utility infielder of the Avengers, capable of taking on any role needed, including leadership. Hawkeye started up a West Coast branch of the Avengers, consisting of his then-wife Mockingbird, Vision, the Scarlet Witch, Iron Man, Wonder Man, Tigra, and Hank Pym as a reservist. The team broke up, being replaced by Force Works, but eventually, even that disbanded and Hawkeye returned to being an Avenger.
After the Civil War, the Avengers at one point disappeared and were presumed dead. A group of teenagers with similar abilities, at least superficially, stepped up to take on the role of the missing heroes. Among them was Kate Bishop. Like Clint, Kate had no powers but had dedicated her life to being the best archer she could. When the team broke into the remains of Avengers Mansion, Kate grabbed some gear for herself, including Hawkeye’s bow and Mockingbird’s escrima sticks. The Young Avengers also had to deal with Kang the Conqueror, and managed to defeat the threat much like the original team.
It turned out that the Avengers weren’t dead. Clint found out about Kate and, as Ronin, tested her, then gave her a card with a date, time, and location. The pair teamed up to infiltrate a black market auction and managed to rob the robbers who were robbing the auction where the heads of several major Marvel crime organizations were attending. This act gets Clint and Kate on the wrong side of the Russian mob, notable for their track suits and their vocabulary mostly limited to, “bro.” In a fight against the track suits, one throws a dog into traffic, which did not sit well at all with Clint. He defeated the mob and took the dog to the vet, where he had to fight off the Russians again.
The 2012 Hawkeye series tells the tale of what happens to Clint, Kate, the dog, the Russians, the organized crime gangs, and how Clint learns that he doesn’t have to prove to anyone, including himself, that he belongs on the Avengers. Kate uses her skills to infiltrate Madame Masque’s organization, earning the wrath of the Contessa and of the local police. With help, Clint and Kate defeat the mob that says “Bro”, but are left with being targeted by the collective ire of Marvel’s criminal underworld.
During the lead up to Christmas of 2021, Disney+ aired Hawkeye, a six-part series featuring Clint Barton and Kate Bishop. Jeremy Renner reprises his role as Clint, having first played the character in the 2011 film, Thor, though uncredited, then again in the 2012 Avengers. Hailee Steinfield, who starred in Bumblebee and voiced Spider-Gwen in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, is Kate Bishop. The rest of the cast includes Linda Cardellini as Clint’s wife Laura, Vera Farmiga as Kate’s mother Eleanor, Tony Dalton as Eleanor’s fiancé Jack Duquesne, Alaqua Cox as Maya, Fra Free as Kazi, and Florence Pugh as Yelena.
The series begins in 2012 during the Chitauri invasion of New York City, a young Kate (played by Clara Stack), is in her parents’ home in Manhattan, not far from the fighting. Figures whiz by the windows, catching young Kate’s attention. Once she figures out what is happening, she runs downstairs, only to have a wall destroyed in front of her. As she stares at the battle, a Chitauri sees her and flies towards her. In the background, though, Hawkeye notices and leaps off the the building he’s on and fires an arrow to destroy the alien’s flying cycle. Kate notices who just saved her life.
In the years since, Kate pushed herself physically, winning archery and martial arts competitions. She wanted to be as good as her personal hero, Hawkeye. Kate gets volunteered by her mother to help at a charity. Not one to leave well enough alone and suspicious of her mother’s fiancé, she follows Jack down to the basement and discovers a black market auction. On offer, items removed from Avengers Mansion. A third party, the Tracksuit Mafia, aka the Russians who say “Bro,” attack. Meanwhile, Clint, is trying to have a good Christmas with his family, though Rogers: The Musical isn’t helping. He hears about the fighting, packs his kids into a cab, then rushes to find out what’s going on. At the core of the fight are three items, a watch and the sword and costume of Ronin, a hero known in criminal circles for killing gang members.
The Tracksuit Mafia manage to get the watch. Jack picks up Ronin’s sword, far cheaper than bidding on it, and Kate uses Ronin’s costume to hide her own identity. Clint sees the costume and goes after the new Ronin, only to be surprised that she’s a fan of his. He sends his kids on home ahead of him to deal with the new situation, with the goal of getting home before Christmas. He and Kate investigate, running into Maya and her Tracksuit Mafia, Yelena who has a beef against Clint over her sister Natasha, and a group of boffer LARPers.
The series takes its cues from the 2012 Hawkeye series. However, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has long gone in its own direction. Clint Barton is a former SHIELD agent, not a former carny. The Avengers have not died or gone into hiding. There are no Young Avengers. So some things do need to change. That said, the 2021 series still has elements that appeared in the comic. The Tracksuit Mafia, the Russians who say, “Bro,” are a main threat. Clint and Kate wind up sharing the “Hawkeye” moniker. The car chase in the third episode does feature four cars chasing Clint and Kate and a 1972 cherry red Challenger. However, it’s Kate firing the arrows, but she does still complain about Clint not labelling what each one is.
Both Clint and Kate have a character arc. His is to come to grips with his past, both being Ronin and the loss of Natasha Romanov. Kate learns that her family has secrets that need to be brought out to the light of day. Both learn how to work together, much to the Russian mob’s dismay.
The series also makes the best use of Christmas music since Die Hard. Traditional Christmas music and more modern classics like “Linus & Lucy” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr., Grinch” act at times to set the scene and other times to create a mood whiplash to drive home what happened.
While not a one-to-one adaptation of the 2012 comic series, the 2021 Hawkeye series keeps to the tone of the original, a mix of humour, action, and drama, with the main characters, Kate and Clint, recognizable. The credits use a similar art style to the covers of the 2012 comics. It’s not a perfect adaptation, but with the MCU going its own way, it comes close. As a series on its own merits, it is worth watching.
And if you watch the series, don’t turn off the credits at the end of the sixth and final episode. There is a mid-credits sequence worth watching for its audacity.
Lost in Translation continues its retrospective with a fresh look at comic book adaptations.
There has been some uproar in the past few years about the number of adaptations being made by Hollywood. Looking at the past decade, there were no original works among the popular movies, with fourteen adaptations. Of those adaptations, eight came from comic books. Chances are good that if those eight were from a more literary source, which also excludes such genres such as science fiction & fantasy, romance, and all of young adult, there wouldn’t be an outcry.
But comic books are low brow, and thus are looked down on. Comics are for the masses. The studios, though, need the masses to be profitable. Some obscure yet acclaimed literary work just won’t hit screens outside specialty theatres. This isn’t to say that a comic book movie can’t be deep or moving. The issue is accessibility to the general public.
However, superhero movies, separating them from other comic book movies, are spectaculars. They’re big, loud, and filled with explosions. And they’re not going away, not anytime soon. Marvel is having a renaissance with its cinematic universe. DC is having success with the Arrowverse on TV. Until both Marvel and DC have a run of flops, they’re going to keep creating movies and TV series.
The advantage of comic books is that they are already a visual medium. The books can be used as a storyboard; this is what essentially happened with Scott Pilgrim vs the World. There’s no need to hunt through a tome to find descriptions of characters; they’re all there on the page. Superhero comics are built on action and drama with some titles having soap opera levels of inter[character conflict. Everything that a work would want to have.
The disadvantage, though, is that comics have a lot going on that just can’t fit into a 2 to 2.5 hour movie. The more characters there are to spotlight, the less that can be showcased. Finite time requires details to be dropped. With a TV series, there is more time to expand beyond the basics, but the budget per episode can’t match what a studio can throw at a blockbuster. There’s give and take.
One problem that’s starting to creep in that plagues long standing ongoing comics is continuity lockout. New readers can find that details a story leans on is in a hard-to-find long out-of-print issue. Crossovers bring their own problems. A storyline that requires readers to search for the other titles involved is a marketing move to generate more sales by introducing new readers to other titles. The drawback is that if a crossover goes on too long, the regular stories in a title get shunted to the side, especially in a company-wide crossover. Too many interruptions in the regular storyline will drive readers away.
With the Marvel movies, if someone missed a film leading to an Avengers movie, they may not know who a character is and why that character was there. Thanks to some deals made, Marvel Studios doesn’t have access to every Marvel character, most notably mutants related to the X-Men. Yes, there are exceptions, thanks to how fluid teams are in the Marvelverse, which causes headaches in lawyers and writers. Right now, most of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe are origin stories, so not knowing how, say, Ant-Man became a hero isn’t important. Missing Captain America: Civil War could affect how a view sees the subsequent Avengers film.
It’s a balancing act. A shared universe means that characters can and will interact. Fans will try to get out to all the films, but it is possible to miss one, either due to timing, budget, or pandemic, and audiences shouldn’t feel like they’re missing a chunk because they weren’t interested in or able to see a specific film.
As with anything, if something is popular, Hollywood will exploit it. Right now, superheroes are big and are in no hurry to leave. They’re filling the role that the Western and the police investigation used to have, with none of the baggage of either. Non-superhero comics can and will slip in with some members of the audience none the wiser. There is plenty of depth to plumb from the medium. We should expect more adaptations and works inspired by comics to keep appearing for some time yet.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful with characters that the general public is mostly unaware of, including Iron Man, Ant Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Wildly successful despite licensing their heavy hitters – Spider-Man and the X-Men – to other studios. The early successes came from recognizing that each character had an implied style; Iron Man fits naturally into a techno-thriller while Thor is epic fantasy and Black Panther is ideal for Afrofuturism. Marvel Studios is willing to give lesser known characters a chance as a result, allowing the mixing of superhero with another genre.
Doctor Strange first appeared in Strange Tales issue 110 in 1963, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Doctor Stephen Strange was a top surgeon in New York City, with the arrogance to go with it. However, with pride comes a fall, and the greater the pride, the greater the fall. For Strange, he had a long drop. After a car accident where he drove off the cliff, Strange found his career ended thanks to hands too damaged for even the second best surgeon to heal fully.
Unable to accept his fate, Strange exhausted his wealth to find a way to heal his hands. When Western medicine provided no hope, he switched to Eastern and learned of Kamar-Taj in Tibet. Spending the last of his wealth to get there, he scoured Tiber until he found the Ancient One, the master of Kamar-Taj. The Ancient One refused to heal Strange’s hands and instead offered to teach the doctor about mysticism, which he turned down. However, thanks to a freak blizzard, Strange couldn’t leave. He discovered that the Ancient One’s apprentice, Baron Mordo, was trying to take over Kamar-Taj. Mordo discovered Strange knew about his plans and restrained him with magic. The Ancient One was too powerful for Mordo to overcome, though.
Having witnessed the power of magic, Strange changed his mind about learning mysticism, reasoning that the only way to stop Mordo was to learn magic himself. After years of study, Strange mastered magic and became the Ancient One’s successor to being Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange returned to New York, his hands healed thanks to his mastery of magic. He settled in the Sanctum Sanctorum in Greenwich Village along with Wong, whose family line served the Ancient One during his six hundred year lifetime. As Sorcerer Supreme, Doctor Strange fought such beings as Loki, the Dread Dormammu, Satannish, and the Undying Ones, along with more terrestrial threats like Baron Mordo and Kaecilius, defending the Earth alone and along side teams like the Avengers and the Defenders.
In 2016, the character got his own film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. With Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, Doctor Strange also starred Chiwetel Ejiofor as Karl Mordo, Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius, Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One, and Benedict Wong as Wong. The film acts as Strange’s origin story, showing how he went from arrogant surgeon to Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme.
Strange’s fall is straight from the comic, updated to reflect today’s technology. He is still the top surgeon, he still is arrogant, and he still has a car accident that destroys the function in his hands. This time, the reason for the crash is him trying to use his smartphone while driving. Strange spends his wealth and uses his research skills to try to find a way to heal his hands so that he can return to work. Western medicine again fails, leading Strange to seek out Kamar-Taj.
The search leads to Kathmandu, where Strange meets Mordo. Mordo leads him to where the Ancient One awaits. Strange is hesitant, not believing in mysticism, and gets kicked out of the Ancient One’s building. However, the doctor is persistant, staying outside day and night until let back in. The persistance pays off, and Strange is taken to Kamar-Taj. Strange is put through training, having to learn to accept the idea that magic is real. But once he gets past that hurdle, his learning accelerates.
Kaecilius is the main problem. While the world is unaware, Kaecilius is working with the Dread Dormammu to weaken the mystic shields protecting Earth. His first attempt to weaken the shields failed; the Ancient One is very capable of self-defense, and decapitation is difficult against a master of the mystic arts. Kaecilius is aware of another way to bring down the shields. There are three Sancta Santorum – one in London, one in Hong Kong, and one in Greenwich Village. When Kaecilius strikes in London, the Ancient One, Strange, and Mordo arrive too late to stop the destruction. During the fight, Strange gets flung through a portal and winds up in the Greenwich Village Sanctum Santorum.
Strange has some time to recover and explores the building. He is somewhat surprised to see that he is back in New York City but takes advantage of the time he has. When Kaecilius and his minions arrive, Strange is somewhat prepared. One of the minions winds up stranded in the Sahara Desert, and the Cloak of Levitation breaks free to help Strange fight the invaders. Kaecilius does wound Strange before leaving.
Thanks to his new knowledge, Strange is able to get to the hospital he used to work at and convince a former co-worker to begins surgery to save his life. He even helps by astrally projecting to give pointers. Kaecilius’ other minion, who was left behind at the Sanctorum, manages to follow Strange to the hospital. There is a fight on the astral, but when Strange begins to flatline, his co-worker shocks him. The electrical energy passes through the astral and into the minion. Strange works out the implications and tells her to up the amperage. The next shock kills the minion, which causes Strange to question himself. While he was arrogant as a surgeon, he did believe in the Hippocratic Oath, particularly, “Do no harm.”
Strange isn’t given time to work things out. The Hong Kong Sanctorum is under attack. By the time Mordo and Strange arrive, it’s too late; the building has collapsed. Strange, not wanting to kill anyone and not wanting Earth open to the Dread Dormammu, uses forbidden sorcery, temporal sorcery, through the Eye of Agamotto. The destruction starts to reverse, but Dormammu, coming from a timeless dimension, is not stopped. Strange decides to take the fight to Dormammu, bringing along time. It doesn’t matter how many times Dormammu kills him, Strange keeps looping in time. Dormammu finally bargains with Strange and Earth is saved.
The mid-credits sequence sees Strange talking with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about being extra-dimensional beings and asking when he will go home. Thor replies that he and his brother, Loki, are searching for their father, Odin. Once Odin is found, all three will return to Valhalla. The post-credit sequence has Mordo beginning a crusade against sorcerers, especially those who break the laws of magic.
Casting for Doctor Strange is perfect. Cumberbatch has the proper look for the character, and the costume doesn’t need as much CGI or skintight material as characters like Spider-Man and Deadpool, Cloak of Levitation aside. Even with a lesser known character, accuracy does help sell the adaptation. As an origins story, things are being set up, so what is shown at the beginning isn’t what Doctor Strange is during the run of the titles he appears in. His most obvious magic items, the Cloak of Levitation and the Eye of Agamotto, are there.
There are some changes made to the background, though minor. Mordo and Strange aren’t rivals at Kamar-Taj, but break apart because of Strange’s use of forbidden sorcery. Strange’s hands aren’t fully healed, but he’s working on strengthening them. The key element of Strange’s background, though, remains intact – the pride, the fall, and the atonement, all done with a fantasy backdrop.
Marvel Studios is well aware that their success has been from being able to adapt titles from the comic page to the silver screen without compromising the characters. Fans and the general public alike can enjoy what’s onscreen. Doctor Strange is no different. The changes are minor and the film delivers a spectacle.
The Empire Strikes Back getting the Shakespeare treatment.
William Shakespeare’s Star Wars did well enough to get the next movie adapted the same way. An educator’s guide is also available.
Neil Gaiman updates on American Gods TV series.
HBO is out. Freemantle Media is in. No network has been announced. From the same journal post, Anansi Boys will be made into a TV miniseries for the BBC.
Help put clues together with Sherlock LEGO.
LEGO is still reviewing the idea, but a set of Sherlock minifigs are making their way through the review process. Other sets being considered are the Macross VF-1 Valkyrie and a Back to the Future DeLorean.
Barbarella TV series sets up at Amazon Studios.
A pilot script has been written and is now waiting for a showrunner. Amazon Studios is run by the online bookseller. Gaumont International Television, the producing company, is also involved with NBC’s Hannibal and Netflix’s Hemlock Grove.
Gal Gadot to play Wonder Woman in three films.
Besides appearing in Batman Vs Superman, Wonder Woman will appear in two other movies, so far unnamed. Ideally, one of the other two movies will be a Wonder Woman movie, but this is Warner, who can shoot their own foot at a hundred paces.
Transporter: The Series to air in US in fall.
This slipped right by me. Season two of the series, based on the Transporter movies, begins filming in February.
The Astronaut Wives Club gets ten episode summer run.
Based on the book of the same name by Lily Koppel, ABC will be airing the drama over the summer. Both the book and the series follows the lives of the women who were suddenly elevated after their astronaut husbands on Project Mercury made history as the first Americans in space.
Redshirts to become a limited TV series.
John Scalzi’s Redshirts is being adapted by FX as a limited series. Casting has not started yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the novel is adapted.
Black Widow solo movie in the works.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps going. The Black Widow will be played, again, by Scarlett Johansson. The movie will delve into the background of the character.
Speaking of Marvel… Which studio can use which Marvel character? An infographic.
The surprising one was Namor over at Universal. He started as a Fantastic Four villain, has fought the Avengers, has been an Avenger, and has had his own series. The overlap is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, who are tied heavily to both Avengers and X-Men continuity. Fox could easily commit to a Cable & Deadpool movie, while Power Pack falls under Marvel Studios.
Raving Rabbids to invade silver screen.
Ubisoft has been busy, getting deals to have Assassin’s Creed and Ghost Recon adapted to film. The latest of the efforts is Raving Rabbids, who already have a TV series.
And an update! A month ago, I reviewed the Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight animated movie and the problems it had at adapting the original novel. Over at io9 this past week, Lauren Davis posted an argument on why Dragonlance should be the next fantasy franchise to be filmed. She has strong arguments. The only thing that could hold back a new adaptation is the failure of the animated movie. However, if ninety minutes was only enough for a shallow adaptation, two hours isn’t going to be enough time, either. Will people go for a six-movie fantasy series based on three books? Going back, I argued that TV may be better for some works than movies; Dragonlance is definitely one of those works. The television format allows for the development of longer arcs, such as Laurana’s growth from elf lass to military leader.