What Has Marvel Got To Lose?

[This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin.]

So having seen Thor 2: Return of Loki and some other guy with blond hair, it’s obvious (and as in being discussed all over the internet) that Marvel is going large. Huge. Enormous.

This all sounds like it may lead to a rather “rocky” crossover with a real gem of an idea that could get you stoned if you did it wrong. Wow, that metaphor got out of hand.

So what is Marvel doing having, as it were, thrown down the gauntlet?


There’s nothing different at all. That’s why it’s intriguing. They’re just doing what they’ve always done – though on a different level.

For decades Marvel has managed a large stable of characters and titles that were part of one giant universe (and occasionally sub-universes, New Universes, and acquired universes). This isn’t unusual; we expect it. The two big comics houses (and many others) have a giant mass of related characters, stories, and settings to work with.

The advantages of this are obvious:

  • Familiarity. Having these familiar properties draws people in – and familiar properties that are “tied together” are even more compelling.
  • Continuity. The backstories, the new stories and the crossover events all add to a sense of “realness” that interests people.
  • Cross-interest. How many of us in the past read a comic because we heard about it in a crossover and were familiar with some concepts from another? Read one in that setting and you might just pick up another.
  • Specificity. If there’s something you don’t like you can avoid it and if there’s something you do like you can find it. Having a mass of related properties and ideas just increases the chance of keeping someone inside the related properties; they may drop a title but not the universe.
  • Amplification. Introduce one idea to a lone book and it stays there. Introduce an idea to a larger universe and that idea – a character, a concept, a plot – can be used again and again or have long-reaching influence. Just look at the near-endless crossovers we’ve grown used to . . . or how a single character can take off (I’m looking at you, Squirrel Girl and Deadpool).
  • Adaption. A large amount of interlinked properties gives you the ability to turn them into other forms of media that best fit their natures. This for a film, this for TV, this for a video game. Of course since it’s tied all together, every transition just publicizes the whole.

So Marvel had this huge comics universe with occasional media and game forays. Now they’re building a giant cinematic universe spread across movies, television, and Netflix.

Completely par for the course.

Marvel is building another interlinked universe in a different set of live media. All of the benefits above apply, only they get to do it with live actors, on video, and with a world gasping at their ambitions. They also get to do it anew without having to use decades of continuity – but get people interested in their other products. Sounds like a smart move to me.

They’re just building another media empire (as well as their own digital empire, apparently). Remember who owns them now: Disney, the master empire-builder.

What’s going to get interesting is to see how far Marvel will take this. Will the cinematic/video universe do more than the comics one? Will they stay split or merged? Will there be “main” and peripheral continuity? Will this be more like the various ups and downs of what’s “real” in Star Wars?

I have no idea, admittedly, I’m along for the ride too. But as said, they’re really doing just what they’ve done before, so no matter the ride, some of the scenery is going to be awful familiar.

– Steven Savage