In this ongoing series, I – Fergus The Justifier – will attempt to help Marvel hew to the path of the righteous and stay their difficult course, snatching No-Prizes from under their very noses as I shove wisdom up their nostrils. To me, my valiant allies! Let us convene a noble roundtable!
Hearing the recent rumours about the cancelation of Marvel’s Inhumans – before it even airs – made me angry. I’m sure Marvel is none too happy either. Whether or not it’s really already cancelled, one thing is clear: it isn’t very damn good. After the recent disappointments on Netflix (Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Defenders stuuuuuuuuuunk), I think it’s fair to say that Marvel’s losing their mojo.
No one has enjoyed this slew of Movie Marvel Mania more than myself. It’s been a dream come true. As a kid reading Marvel comic books in the early 80’s (That’s the 1680’s, btw) I fell in love with Marvel’s genius philosophies: characters with real world problems who live in a shared reality – just like the rest of us poor saps sentenced to live our lives out in the real world. My friends and I would always completely geek out whenever one character crossed over into another’s book. The idea of a New York City teeming with super-powered individuals who routinely bumped into each other set our young minds on fire. Genius.
Cut to a few years ago and once again Marvel looked to be making genius decisions. A slow build to introduce the core players. A gradual blending of the narratives, leading to a grand team-up of truly epic proportions. Methodical. Patient. Smart. Just like what Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and the rest of the merry Marvel Bullpen did to establish the Marvel Universe back in the 60’s. Exactly like that, actually. And therein lies the poison apple that has fallen from Yggdrasil.
In the 80’s and 90’s, there wasn’t a single comic book fan who didn’t envision a connected Marvel cinematic universe of some kind. For my part, I saw it as the perfect opportunity for an animated TV series, simply entitled Marvel Team-Up or the Marvel Universe or something equally functional. And sure, some cartoons did begin to try this. But while they had multiple characters and guest stars showing up in their cartoons from time-to-time, they did not have true cross-overs between series like they did in the comic books. The crazy thing is, we all just accepted all the stand-alone “one single hero in the entire world” approach to superhero movies. Budgets, you see. Character rights, you see. Logistics of every kind, don’t ya see. “The movie world is a different animal, it can’t be done.”
We lived in a sheepy fog of lowered expectations, just happy to be seeing something, anything up there on the big screen with superheroes running around.
Until somebody finally, finally saw the light.
Iron Man. 2008. The year Marvel clued in and remembered what made Marvel Comics great in the first place. Whether by true design or happy accident, they concluded that replicating the original genius of the Marvel Universe’s creation would work for their movies. Once committed, they stuck to the plan. They trusted the plan and they trusted their source material. Things like Asgardian “magic” were introduced slowly so as to not freak out the norms. But they hewed true to the source material. He didn’t wear it for long, but Thor even wore his crazy winged helmet.
But then slowly, over the ensuing the years, they’ve allowed the old Hollywood mentalities to slowly creep back in. Which leads us to:
WTF? Never mind how stupid the costumes are (I didn’t know Attilan had biker apparel shops). Never mind that they are all aware of our presence and staring at us.
Look at Black Bolt’s stupid face. Just look at it. Why in God’s name are we looking at Black Bolt’s goddamn face?! No amount of acting, no amount of looking intense and troubled, can make us want to look at Black Bolt’s goddamn face. Ignore all the problems with the Adam’s Family wannabe Medusa and the…rest. I mean…
Jeez. So…bad. I will admit to feeling a stab of excitement when I saw Crystal’s hair – just so cool to see those black bands translated to real life. But absolutely zero of the rest of anything is any good.
But I digress…
Black Bolt’s face.
Where. Is. His. MASK?!
No-Prize #1: Not Trusting Your Source Material
I think every single fan who saw these first images immediately barfed inwardly and sighed. No mask on Black Bolt.
Stupid, typical TV deviation. We are almost back to this:
They go all in on prehensile hair and yet say no to BB’s mask?! So sad to see Marvel slipping back into all of the old habits that crippled their past TV endeavours. It’s insane that despite all of their success, they still seem to be partially blind as to why they have succeeded so spectacularly: honouring the source material. Now, this is way more true for the TV division. But still, once the rot sets in it’s only a matter of time. It’s a wall built of bricks etc.
In the comics, Black Bolt is a figure of mystery and incredible power. The whole appeal of the character is his sad mysterious detachment. Forced to remain separate and secluded, the character always resonated like a building-sized tuning fork whenever he actually interacted with anyone. Silent and rarely seen, masked and inscrutable, mysterious as f*ck. Hmmm.
Doesn’t sound like someone who interacts with others much. Doesn’t sound like the best candidate to be the main star in your new TV series. Unlessssssssssss…
Hey, let’s not have him wear a mask! Let’s have him be a real, honest-to-goodness normal-type character who just doesn’t talk.
You can just hear the BTS conversations:
“No one will stand for a character who is masked all the time!”
“No actor of any repute will agree to act behind a mask!”
“Tony Soprano never wore any goddamn mask!”
This is old-timey TV thinking. You see it in the movies as well, of course. Didn’t you just love it in the Spider-man movies when the mask would always come off in the climatic battle? Didn’t you love seeing Michael Keaton looking totally f*&king weird-o Phantom of the Opera at the end of Batman Returns?
“We pay all this damn money for these actors, we are going to see their faces by God!”
“No one will stand for not seeing the actor’s face for the whole damn movie Goddammit!”
“I’m not signing up to act behind a mask for the whole thing, the fans want – nay, need – to see my face!”
Nobody wants to see any stupid actor’s face once you put on your suit. One of the best things Homecoming did was that scene where Spidey is eating with his mask lifted up just over his mouth. So iconic. It’s perfect and true to the comics. Thank you for that Marvel.
Look, Black Bolt is one of the most alien characters in comic book history. Being able to read his facial expressions lessens that. A lot. He shouldn’t even have facial expressions. The “real-intense-jaw-clenched-staring” just doesn’t cut it. Next they’ll be dressing him in regular ‘ol Earth clothes. Oh. Wait. They did. Gee, nice suit Black Bolt – is it Armani?
Now, I haven’t seen Inhumans yet. I’m sure the dude they cast to play Black Bolt is a fine actor. He looks the part I suppose. But I would be much happier if they had just cast some nobody and never removed his damn mask. And never had him look and behave so normal. And never speak. Which I’m sure will happen at some point. They just can’t resist.
Showrunner Scott Buck from an article in EW:
“Black Bolt is a very difficult character I would think for Anson, but for any actor to play. But Anson is tackling it in a hugely fantastic way. It’s a little bit difficult to write him, because Black Bolt does not speak, but yet he is our hero and he is the center of the show, so it does certainly present challenges in how you tell his story, but fortunately we came up with a really good story.
Anson is terrific. I think everyone’s going to be very pleased and excited by his Black Bolt. We’re not doing voice over. If you read the comics, you see Black Bolt does find a way to communicate to people, but he’s also a very enigmatic character as well, and he keeps a lot inside. That’s part of what’s so fascinating about him is that a lot of times, we don’t know what he’s thinking.”
Well you’re right about that, Mr. Buck. But you’re very wrong in saying that Black Bolt should be the “hero” or the “centre” of the show. In the best Inhumans stories that I can recall, the drama unfolded around Black Bolt, or in front of Black Bolt, or away from Black Bolt – carried by the other members of the royal family. Like in this amazing story from June, 1970. He’s kept in the background. Because he’s basically unknowable. That’s the character. That’s what makes him totally badass. You can’t make him any sort of regular, normal character. When I was regularly reading comics, whenever Black Bolt would deign to physically inject himself into a story it was a BFD. Like Dad raising his voice when you were a kid (which usually did feel like mountains were being levelled).
It’s too late for Inhumans. Such a shame. It could have been the first truly way out Kirby-esque Marvel property. But the next time some version of the mask-or-no-mask debate comes up, maybe they’ll decide to trust in their own successes and have faith in the damn source material. While they’re at it, they can give Thor his helmet back. And give him the yellow wrap boots – don’t be afraid. it’s time!
Maybe it’s just inevitable that ridiculous and conventional TV thinking eventually creeps back in. Maybe Marvel is over-extended and there aren’t enough truly visionary showrunners in the world. But for the love of God, either bite the bullet and make an Inhumans show or don’t. They didn’t. Now they gotta pay. Unfortunately we all will as well. It’s not “superhero fatigue” that will kill off this crazy-train of comic book films. It’s conventional Hollywood thinking and bad writing.
Now gimme my No-Prize…