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Bringing The X-men Into The MCU: What To Do And What To Avoid

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These are exciting times for fans of Marvel and superhero movies. We thought we had reached a high point in 2012 when “The Avengers” came out. Then, we reached an even higher point this year with “Avengers: Infinity War.” Between raising the bar for superhero movies as a whole and generating billions at the box office, it seems impossible that Marvel could ascend any higher.

Well, Marvel Studios treat the impossible the same way the Hulk treats puny gods. They made Ant Man a successful movie franchise. They turned an obscure comic book featuring a talking raccoon into a multi-billion dollar phenomenon. At this point, doing the impossible is just another day at the office for Marvel and their Disney overlords.

In wake of the recent Disney/Fox merger, Kevin Feige and the brain trust at Marvel Studios will have even more tools with which to raise the bar. Even if they’re just running up the score at this point compared to the competition, there’s still plenty of room to grow now that they’ve got the entire mythos of the X-men and the Fantastic Four to work with.

This is already set to happen. Bob Iger himself has already indicated that there are plans to integrate the X-men and Fantastic Four into the MCU. How Marvel Studios will go about this is anyone’s guess and plenty of people have been sharing their guesses. I’ve tried to resist the temptation, but being a lifelong X-men fan and a lover of superhero movies in general, my restraint only goes so far.

However, I don’t want to wildly speculate or push an elaborate fan theory. Again, more than a few people have already done that. Instead, I’d like to do something a bit more generalized. Similar to my other articles on how not to screw up certain movies, I want to provide a guide of sorts.

At the very least, let’s avoid this.

I’m not going to get into specifics. Kevin Feige and a host of other people way smarter than me or anyone else on the internet are perfectly capable of handling those. Being a devout X-men fan, though, I feel like I can offer some basic pointers on what to do and what to avoid in bringing mutants into the MCU.

I think the X-men need that more than the Fantastic Four, at this point. Unlike Marvel’s First Family, the X-men entering the MCU will have far greater implications and not just because the last “Fantastic Four” movie almost killed the franchise. Mutants showing up in the MCU changes everything from what defines a superhero to how the physics of that universe operate.

At the same time, the X-men embody a particular theme, one that was relevant in 1963 when they first appeared, but has become relevant in entirely new ways in the 21st century. The last 18 years of X-men movies have tried to capture those themes, some being more successful than others. For the X-men to work in the MCU, it needs to capture those themes and get the characters right after Hugh Jackman set such a high bar.

Yes, it’s a daunting challenge, but one that Marvel Studios and their Disney overlords are more than equipped to handle. To achieve that success, and all the billions that come with it, here’s what I think they should pursue and what I think they should avoid.


Do: Tie The Events Of “Avengers: Infinity War” To Mutants (But Only Indirectly)

This is already part of the wild speculation surrounding “Avengers: Infinity War.” It would make sense to some degree, having Thanos’ universe-shaking actions lead directly to the creation and introduction of mutants in the MCU. However, I think having a direct link might undercut both the X-men and ultimate resolution of “Avengers 4.”

That’s why it would work better for both franchises if the link was indirect, at most. Part of the appeal of the MCU is that there are connections everywhere, but most of those connections are fairly loose. Sure, Dr. Strange will get a mention in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but the movie doesn’t center around setting up another franchise.

Ideally, the X-men would follow the same approach. Perhaps Nick Fury mentions some strange genetic anomalies popping up. Perhaps Bruce Banner or Black Widow mentions rumors of other living weapons, which could be a reference for Weapon X. Let those small hints establish that mutants exist, but save the particulars for an actual X-men movie.


Avoid: Having Mutants Appear Without Explaining Their Absence

This is probably the most daunting challenge for Marvel Studios to date, explaining how mutants exist in the MCU and why they’ve been absent thus far. Most people with an internet connection know why the MCU could never mention the X-men. Their movie rights were owned by another studio.

Just because Disney owns Fox now doesn’t mean that mutants can just suddenly appear. It’s not like magic in “Dr. Strange” or the Asgardians in “Thor.” These forces could operate under the radar, independently, and on a small scale. Mutants, by their very nature, cannot act like that.

The most defining theme of mutants, as they exist in Marvel, is that they’re random. They manifest all over the world in every major human population, regardless of geography, culture, language, or ethnicity. That’s not something that can just be ignored while aliens invade New York or killer robots invade Sokovia.

At the very least, an X-men movie in the MCU needs to establish a valid reason for why they’ve been absent. Moreover, it can’t just be the result of experiments or mad science, which was done in Marvel’s now-defunct Ultimate line comics and is way too similar to the Inhumans, whose TV show failed miserably.

Luckily for Marvel and Disney, there’s already an established way to do this and it came from an underrated cartoon called “X-men Evolution.” In that world, mutants are there, but their existence is kept secret by Charles Xavier. The events of “The Avengers” could give them even more reasons for keeping that secret and the whole movie could be built around mutants finally coming out.

Considering how mutants have often been used to symbolize the struggle of minorities, I think that’s both appropriate and compelling.


Do: Make The First Team Of X-men Young And Idealistic

The early X-men movies were a lot of things. Upbeat wasn’t one of them. The original “X-men” trilogy was very serious, full of brooding and tension, even among the younger characters. That worked for the early 2000s when superhero movies needed to get serious after the “Batman and Robin” fiasco. It won’t work in this current era.

The original X-men were teenagers when they first donned their costumes. They weren’t hardened soldiers like Captain America. They were lovably idealistic in pursuing Charles Xavier’s dream, believing they could be the ones that change the world. Unlike most teenagers armed only with a cell phone and no adult baggage, they have the powers to actually achieve it.

The heroes in “The Avengers” already provided plenty of jaded adult perspectives. The X-men can offer the youthful, idealistic perspective that’s so endearing, but so easy to undermine. That’s how the X-men started in the comics and that’s how they’ll thrive in the MCU.


Avoid: Making Wolverine The Center Of Everything

This is a caveat that’s just as relevant today as it was in the early 2000s when the “X-men” movies first came out. Now, I love Wolverine as much as the next X-men fan, but he is not the center of the X-men’s world. As lovable as Hugh Jackman is, the world of X-men cannot and should not be defined by all things Wolverine.

I would even go so far as to keep Wolverine out of the first X-men movie that takes place in the MCU. Establish the team before bringing him into the picture because it’s inevitable that he’ll command a lot of energy. If anything, Wolverine should get his own solo movie before he meets the X-men. Having held down three movies, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Wolverine is a great character, but he can’t be the main driving force of the X-men again. He already was with the original “X-men” movies and the MCU doesn’t need to follow that path again. Let Wolverine thrive on his own. Let the X-men thrive on their own. If they can complement one another along the way, then everybody wins.


Do: Highlight What Makes Mutants Different From Other Super-powered Beings

This is something that even the comics don’t do particularly well. Within that world, mutants exist alongside all types of heroes, from gamma-powered hulks to inter-dimensional refugees to Superman rip-offs. However, mutants are still hated and feared for being different.

The reasons for that are many, but poorly fleshed out. Unlike the Inhumans or unlucky teenagers who get bit by a spider, mutants are random. They’re born with their powers and they can’t avoid them. Being a mutant is like being a particular race. You can’t change what you are. That’s exactly what makes mutants both different and disconcerting for the public.

We already saw in “Captain America: Civil War” that the governments of the world are quite anxious about controlling super-powered beings. Add mutants to the mix and the potential for conflict is even greater. The foundation is there. The X-men just have to build on it.


Avoid: Making The Hatred And Mistrust Of Mutants Seem Contrived

This plays directly into my last point, but there’s a reason it’s worth highlighting. Like the comics, the MCU already has plenty of super-powered, super-capable beings that governments and average people rightly fear. There are legitimate reasons for that fear. Most people wouldn’t trust Elon Musk with a suit of armor. Why should they trust Tony Stark?

Fear and hatred of mutants is the primary driving force of conflict in the X-men. It’s also the primary motivator for characters like Magneto. That fear and hatred has to be different than the other logistical concerns that played out in “Captain America: Civil War.”

Dealing with mutants can’t just be about holding them accountable through some international treaty. Mutants are a lot more chaotic because they’re random and not every mutant seeks to be a superhero, which is part of why Charles Xavier formed a school in the first place.

The measures in the MCU, as well as the logic behind them, need to be different. At a time when people being detained is a hot-button issue, the X-men have could be extra relevant.


Do: Establish Minor, But Relevant Links To Other MCU Characters

A big part of the appeal in the MCU is how everything seems connected. Captain America has links to Tony Stark’s father, Howard. Spider-Man has a close link to Iron Man, as well. “Thor: Ragnarok” established some ties with Dr. Strange. “Guardians of the Galaxy” created ties with Thanos that later played out in “Avengers: Infinity War.”

These kinds of links help make the MCU the box office powerhouse that it is and those links should continue in X-men. Again, the foundation is there. Carol Danvers, who is set to appear in “Captain Marvel,” already has close ties to the X-men in the comics. Wolverine even had close ties to Captain America during World War II.  Storm also has a documented, but flawed history with Black Panther.

How these links emerge depends heavily on how Marvel Studios decides to bring the X-men into the MCU. If they shake up reality or tweak the timelines, then there will be opportunities to establish these links. If they opt for something less messy, then they can just as easily focus on setting new links for future movies. Either way works, provided it’s done right.


Avoid: Creating Unnecessary Rivalries Or Conflicts

This is something that could very well happen if those connections I mentioned earlier aren’t done particularly well. I know it will be tempting for Marvel Studios to pursue a big “Avengers vs. X-men” event like the one that played out in the comics. Personally, I think that would be a mistake and not just because “Captain America: Civil War” already played that idea out.

Superheroes fighting other superheroes can be compelling, but it’s easy to overdo. It also has a nasty tendency to bring out the worst in all the characters involved. That has happened more than once in the comics, especially recently. Whenever heroes fight each other, nobody really comes off as heroes and that’s not a healthy way to develop quality characters. It just makes them seem petty.

The X-men already have a lengthy list of quality villains beyond Magneto. The original trilogy did a poor job of utilizing them. The MCU has already dealt with a significant villain problems in the past, but has since raised the bar with characters like Thanos and Erik Killmonger. Before the X-men start butting heads with the Avengers, let them clash with the likes of Sinister and Mastermold first.


Do: Let Ryan Reynolds Continue Being Deadpool

Does this really need an explanation? Deadpool is awesome. Ryan Reynolds is lovable, talented, and charismatic. It’s not broke so don’t try to fix it. Just let Deadpool be Deadpool and let the money roll in.

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How Captain Marvel Can Be The Future Of The MCU (And How It Can Go Horribly Wrong)

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When a team is on an epic winning streak, it creates the perception that they have some supernatural ability to defy the law of averages and bend reality to their will. It happened to the 2007 New England Patriots. It happened to the 2016 Golden State Warriors. They had this aura of invincibility that made it seem as though they could never lose.

That made their eventual loss, both in championship games no less, that much more painful. However, I would argue that the winning aura of those teams pales in comparison to that of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If the MCU were a sports team, it would include the likes of Michael Jordan, Tom Brady, LeBron James, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, and Muhammad Ali in their primes and on crack.

To say that Marvel’s movie franchises are on a winning streak would be like saying a hungry lion has a slight edge over a wounded squirrel. The Marvel Cinematic Universe hasn’t just made superhero movies the gold standard of the box office by raking in $16.8 billion worldwide to date. It has set the bar so high that even close rivals have essentially given up.

Disney, Marvel Studios, and Kevin Feige are riding higher than anyone thought possible, especially for those who still have nightmares about “Batman and Robin.” With both “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” breaking a fresh round of records this year, it seems as though that winning streak is only accelerating.

I say all this not just to belabor how much the MCU has accomplished over the past ten years. I say it as a fan who loves Marvel comics and wants to see it keep winning. However, even with “Avengers 4” set to come out next year and make another couple billion, I believe this streak of superhero movie excellence is vulnerable.

It’s no secret that “Avengers 4” will likely mark the end of an era. Kevin Feige has gone on record as saying that this movie will act as an endgame, of sorts. While makes clear that the MCU will continue, with movies planned out until 2025, he also indicates that there will be major upheavals.

That’s somewhat necessary because with the conclusion of “Avengers 4,” many of the contracts for MCU stalwarts like Robert Downy Jr., Chris Evans, and Chris Hemsworth are set to expire. While it’s possible that some may find a way to keep going, others like Chris Evans have made clear that their time in the MCU is almost over.

That means for the MCU to continue its winning streak, it needs to move forward with new characters, new actors, and new ideas. It has to find a way to keep this world moving forward, potentially without the likes of Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor. That’s a huge challenge, even for a franchise on an unprecedented winning streak, and the comics have already failed to fill those voids.

That’s where Carol “Captain Marvel” Danvers comes in. If you saw the post-credits scene for “Avengers: Infinity War,” you know why she’s about to become very relevant to the MCU. I’ve talked about her before and established how things could easily go wrong with her upcoming movie. I imagine I’ll have a lot more to talk about in the coming months.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Carol Danvers and her upcoming movie, which is slated for release in March 2018, is the most important movie in the history of the genre. I believe this movie may very well determine whether the winning streak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe continues or finally falters.

I say that as someone who loves Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel. Back in 2012, Kelly Sue DeConnick effectively reinvented the character in a way that convinced me that she deserves a prominent role in any Marvel universe. In my opinion, she’s essentially Marvel’s version Wonder Woman.

Her movie has so much going for it. “Wonder Woman” established that female superhero movies could be a hit at the box office and garner critical acclaim, despite the scars left by “Catwoman.” On some levels, “Captain Marvel” is facing a lot less pressure and it has the momentum of “Avengers: Infinity War” behind it.

However, the stakes are actually higher for this movie compared to everything “Wonder Woman” faced. Recently, Kevin Feige stated that Carol Danvers will be the new face of the MCU. From a purely logistical standpoint, that makes sense. The MCU needs a new unifying force if Chris Evans’ Captain America is to make his final stand in “Avengers 4.”

I believe Carol can pull it off, as well. She has taken on more leadership roles in the comics and has become a central member of the Avengers’ main team. Combine that with Brie Larson’s charisma and Carol Danvers has all the tools she needs to keep the MCU’s winning streak going.

I believe she can do this simply by being the kind of character that Kelly Sue DeConnick molded six years ago. That version of Carol Danvers emerged from years of being a secondary character in Ms. Marvel who rarely got a chance to achieve the same recognition as her peers. She’s a classic case of a character who elevated themselves by embracing a new identity, a new purpose, and greater ambition.

DeConnick established Carol as someone who achieves so much in one field, but dares to seek greater challenges beyond. She contributed to the Avengers for years, but never pursued a greater vision until she became Captain Marvel. That idea of someone looking to the stars, seeking to achieve more, and pursuing it with unmatched drive is what will help her succeed in ways on par with Wonder Woman.

At the same time, though, there are potential risks and Captain Marvel may be more vulnerable to them than Wonder Woman. While Kelly Sue DeConnick did a lot to reinvent Carol Danvers for a new era, she has faltered somewhat. Recent events in the comics have put her heroic merits into question for all the wrong reasons. Some of Brie Larson’s politically-charged rhetoric hasn’t helped either.

To some extent, Carol’s reputation has faltered because in elevating her status in the comics, she has been hit with the dreaded Galbrush Paradox. The quirks that DeConnick introduced, such as Carol being a Star Wars fan and having a love interest in James Rhodes, have eroded in recent years. In addition, even her artistic depictions have devolved by reducing her feminine features for no apparent reason.

In wake of the vitriol that Star Wars received for its portrayal of female characters, I worry that “Captain Marvel” runs the risk of inviting a similar backlash. If Carol Danvers is not sufficiently compelling, she runs the risk of getting hit with the Mary Sue label that has plagued Rey since “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

The worse case scenario, in my opinion, involves turning Carol Danvers into a Captain America or Iron Man stand-in. In the absence of these iconic characters, and their top name actors, Feige and those at Marvel Studios may be tempted to make her too much like them. That would be a huge mistake, especially for an organization on such a huge winning streak.

Carol Danvers is not Steve Rogers, nor is she Tony Stark. She’s not just a woman who takes on a man’s role either. She’s still a woman and, especially under DeConnick, her womanly traits were on display alongside her more badass features. It’s not groundbreaking because Wonder Woman struck just the right balance, having her fight alongside men while still acting like a woman.

In the best case scenario, Carol Danvers follows Wonder Woman’s example and establishes herself as someone worthy of carrying the MCU forward. Unlike Rey, she’s a character with plenty of compelling lore to work with. The key is finding the right blend that’ll help her fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

At this point, without a trailer and only a few teases to go on, it could go either way for “Captain Marvel.” It could be the next in a long line of successes or it could be the MCU’s first failure. To date, Kevin Feige and those at Marvel Studios have shown time and again that they know what they’re doing.

Hell, they took an obscure series involving a talking raccoon and made it a global brand. Until they show they’re capable of screwing up, I’ll continue to give them the benefit of the doubt. At the same time, though, I think it’s worth bracing for that inevitable setback. All winning streaks come to an end. I just hope “Captain Marvel” isn’t the one that ends it.

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The following is a review I wrote for PopMatters for Avengers #1. Enjoy!

Marvel’s Avengers #1 Defends Old School Avenging

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May 3, 2018 · 2:06 pm

Emma Frost: The Future Of Female Villains?

Not long ago, I dedicated several posts to the defining traits of villains and why Walter White was such a game-changer, beyond getting Bryan Cranston more Emmys than he’ll ever need. I could’ve done many more posts because quality villains are every bit as integral to any story as a quality hero. Just look at Batman’s rogues gallery, and the number of cos-players that dress as them, for proof of that.

In these discussions, I kept things fairly general and if I did, I singled out a specific character like Walter White or Magneto. Well, recent events and ongoing trends have inspired me to re-address the issue of villains from a different angle. Specifically, I’d like to talk a bit about female villains.

Quickly, take a moment and recall your favorite female villain of all time. Chances are it’ll take you a moment and not just because a great many female villains made us both scared and horny at the same time. It may also be difficult because some female villains don’t exactly carry themselves as villains. Catwoman may be a thief, a deceiver, and the subject of one of the worst comic book movies of all time, but she’s not an outright villain.

Female villains are one of those difficult concepts to flesh out and not just because men can’t resist turning female villains into sexy anti-heroes, some more egregiously than others. It’s just one of those elements that either gets under-used or overlooked.

Well, as is often the case with the ever-changing/insanely-erratic tastes of pop culture, that may be changing. At a time when a new generation of strong female characters, badass female superheroes, and women who just do more than give the male characters something to obsess over, it was only a matter of time before female villains caught up.

Now I generally suck at making predictions. I’m the same guy who was convinced that Cleveland Cavaliers would never win the NBA championship last year. I’m not proud of the things I had to do for the bets I made on that game, but it does show that everybody, including aspiring erotica/romance writers, can be dead wrong. With this, however, it’s not just a prediction. It’s based, in part, on an observation.

As most regular readers of this blog already knew, I love comic books and superheros. Specifically, I have a special affinity for X-men comics. So it should come as no surprise that I follow the events of the X-men comics very closely. Well, this past week, something pretty damn major happened in the X-men comics and it has to do with this woman.

Her name is Emma Frost. Trust me, she’s even sexier than her fan art would imply. She’s a prominent character in the X-men comics and has had numerous roles throughout the series for over 30 years now.

At times, she’s been a devious villainous vixen. At others, she’s been a cunning heroic vixen. In every role she’s in, she generally makes it a point to be sexy as hell. She doesn’t mind getting naked, she doesn’t mind having sex, she doesn’t give half-a-tortoise fart about what anyone things. In short, she’s a perfect blend of Regina George and Wonder Woman.

Now Emma Frost is somewhat unique in that she’s had so many roles, but she’s never defined herself completely as a hero or villain. She hasn’t even been an anti-hero. If you were to do the villain’s journey test I laid out in a previous post, she wouldn’t complete it, but she would come pretty damn close.

The same goes for the hero’s journey. She would check some boxes, but not all. She’d just look a million times sexier than anyone else on that journey.

Why is this important? Well, in a major X-men crossover event that just concluded recently, Emma’s role changed again. After a clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, one Marvel built up over the course of two years, Emma crossed a line that effectively sealed a new fate for her. She’s a villain now. However, she’s a very different kind of villain.

What do I mean by that? Why is that even relevant? Well, to answer that, think back to what I said about listing your favorite female villains. Go back to that list again. Exactly how many of those villains are refined, well-rounded, complex characters? Chances are your list will shrink considerably or outright disappear.

That’s because female villains have a history of being annoyingly flat. Going all the way back to the Wicked Witch of the West, they rarely had many compelling traits. Most of the time, they were just evil witches or devious vixens. Basically, just think of every evil female character in a James Bond movie. That’s the extent of the depth female villains usually get.

This is what makes the development with Emma Frost so intriguing. Emma Frost isn’t like Pussy Galore or the Wicked Witch of the West and not just because she looks better in a thong. As a character, she has a rich history. She even had her own comic series at one point. She has various layers as well. She’s not just out to be a total bitch and look good doing it, although she does make it look pretty damn easy.

Emma Frost has real, genuine motivations. They’re not always pure either. For a time, she was a stripper who didn’t mind using her sexuality to get ahead in the Hellfire Club, who have been major X-men villains for many years. When she was a teacher, she watched many of her students die in an attack that she had no chance to stop.

However, she has never been one to play the part of a victim. She never uses tragedy or excuses to justify her actions. She does what she thinks needs to be done and anyone who disagrees with her can just kiss her perfectly shaped ass. Hell, she could probably charge for that and it would be worth every penny.

The recent events in the X-men comics pushed her to extreme actions and for good reason. As part of the story that set up the clash between the X-men and the Inhumans, she lost someone near and dear to her. Cyclops, a character she had been romantically involved with, died in her arms. It affected her profoundly, which is saying a lot for someone who killed her own sister.

That effect leads her to do more than just lead a conflict. They put her in a position to become a hardened, but complex villain, both to the X-men and anyone else who generally pisses her off.

Her timing really couldn’t be better. Just as everyone from Disney Princesses to Taylor Swift prove that there’s a market for strong female personalities, she’s entering a domain that’s ripe for new energy. Emma Frost could very well be the first of a new push for better female villains to go along with the female heroes that every comic company and movie studio is pushing these days.

I feel like this is a trend that needs to happen. Women can kick ass as heroes. That much they’ve proven. Why not show they can do the same as villains? Emma Frost is unique in that she has the kind of complexity that allows her to be a hero when she needs to be and a villain when she wants to be. I believe there will be a market for that kind of complexity.

Sure, some parents would still prefer that their daughters dress up as Disney princesses rather than Emma Frost, if only to avoid any Honey Boo Boo comparisons, but having strong female villains still does something important. It adds balance to the greater narrative between heroes and villains as a whole.

Now I’m somewhat guilty myself of not fleshing out female villains. In my book, “The Escort and the Gigolo,” the main villain was a woman named Madam Felicity. While I did make an effort to give her some complexity, I admit she’s not more ground-breaking than a James Bond villain with boobs.

I’d like to change that in future novels. I just hope that by then, Emma Frost will have set the bar and set it high. As any X-men fan will tell you, Emma never does anything haphazardly. If she’s going to usher in a new wave of strong female villains, then she’s going to make damn sure she’s the best and looks damn sexy while doing that. For that, she’ll always have a special place in the hearts and pants of X-men fans everywhere.

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