Thursday, May 31, 2018

Memo to Marvel and Netflix: Bring on the Horror Universe


By Jerry Chandler

When you mention Marvel Comics around just about anyone these days, the first thing they’ll start talking about with you is superheroes. Certainly they’ll talk about superhero movies, because Marvel has largely owned the big screen for some years now when it comes to that market. You may even get some people launching into excited conversations about superheroes on the small screen; especially if those discussions revolve around Netflix’s offerings.

Occasionally, you even get people that mention a character like Blade. Annoyingly, and more than just occasionally, there are people that will respond with surprise when the film Blade is brought up in a discussion about Marvel movies. This is because a lot of the general public doesn’t seem to realize that Blade, vampires in general, and a whole lot more creations that fall under the monstrous and supernatural have been well established parts of the Marvel Universe for decades now. It’s well past time that something happens to rectify this.
 
 



Marvel has had a long relationship with the supernatural. Some of appears with the various characters- such as Doctor Strange -the mainstream fans of today recognize, but it’s still so closely married to and overshadowed by the superhero element that it plays more like fantasy than horror. That mainstream perception is not helped by the fact that what has been introduced into the larger movie and television MCU hasn’t yet truly shown exactly how dark some corners of the Marvel Universe can truly be.

In the last few years, there have been rumors of bringing some of these creations to life on television and/or the big screen. There have certainly been hints that the darker corners already exist and simply haven’t been explored. Way back in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, comic fans got excited when there were clear references made to Doctor Strange (obviously later made into a film) and Moon Knight. There are things that have been touched on in Netflix’s Daredevil and Iron Fist that, while not fully of those dark corners themselves, have ties to the darker corners of the MCU. We’ve even seen one of the Ghost Riders become a major part of one of the seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. Additionally, of course, there has been a lot of talk about seeing Blade return to the big screen after fourteen years (and counting) away from the box office.

But, and this might not be the most popular opinion, I’m not sure I want to see Blade on the big screen. Well, at least not just now. I think Blade might serve the MCU better by first appearing on Netflix and then moving off on his own onto the big screen. Blade is a well-known character to many who don’t know the darker MCU, and his name might help draw eyes to a product that focuses on the characters from that part of the MCU in ways other names might not. And I would definitely want that darker part of the MCU explored largely through a platform like the Netflix streaming shows rather than broadcast television or even the big screen. Here’s why.


In the last few years, horror on the big screen has been proving one thing above all else; horror doesn’t have to have a Summer tent pole movie budget to be both well done and well received. As a matter of fact, it may actually turn out better when it has a lower budget and the production doesn’t try to do the big budget, over the top bells and whistles of the larger modern Hollywood film. Netflix isn’t going to have big movie budgets for such shows, so the content might be a good fit.

However, there’s a far more important reason to perhaps go with Netflix instead of the big screen for some of these characters. The serialized format of the Netflix “season” could serve the horror content better than a single, 90-minute film. You can introduce characters and concepts from this world in well defined, well laid out, and maybe more complex ways where they can both be established and build to the next thing in dramatic fashion. You can also use exactly what you need insofar as story length with the Netflix model more so than you can with a big budget film and, frankly, even more so than we’ve seen at times with the Netflix shows.


As much as the Netflix shows for Marvel have gotten their deserved praise, they’ve also received their share of deserved criticism. One of those criticisms about the second season of Daredevil and the first season of Punisher was the seeming padding of the seasons to make them stretch to 13 episodes. There were times in each where the story simply dragged, and it felt like you were watching story content meant to stretch the season arc out to fit 13 episodes. I think the horror properties could still be 13 episodes per season, but perhaps played out differently.

Let’s say they go with a unifying title rather than a character name title and our theoretical Netflix Marvel horror series is named Journey into Mystery. They shouldn’t pad the story and drag it out over 13 episodes. They should get people who are good with horror working on it and aim for 3 episode or 4 episode arcs. The full series should follow a single main character pulled from the history of the Marvel horror universe, but each story arc would involve a few different supporting characters as the main character enters into a new corner of Marvel’s darker worlds. The action wouldn’t take place in one location as we’ve largely seen with the existing Netflix Marvel offerings, but rather the main character would be traveling and going towards these things wherever they happen to be.


Additionally, it might work better if they didn’t drop the entire season on day one. Let’s say they end up with four stories with the fourth story being the 4 episode story that pulls together whatever the decided upon season concept might be. On day one, they should only drop the first two stories. Give fans the “origin” story for the main character and the reason the character is doing what the character is now choosing to do, and give the fans the next story that follows directly on the heels of that story. Then, wait a few months to drop the next story and then wait a few more months to drop the last story. Also, have as a part of the stories the idea that time has passed between the ending of the previous story and the start of the current story. Use the time in between to do things like heel injuries, translate scrolls, or work out where the next thing they have to go find is. Use the platform of Netflix to create a feeling of the passage of time as needed.

Marvel has a long history of populating the Marvel Universe with vampires, werewolves, mummies, ghosts, extraordinary creatures, and terrifying monsters of all shapes and sizes, of both natural and supernatural origins. Marvel has had characters that were rooted more firmly in the dark mystical arts than Doctor Strange and still other characters that were cursed avengers with origins rooted firmly in horror. It’s past the time that Marvel start rolling out stories and characters from that part of its universe, and a platform like Netflix is probably the best place to do it.


The big screen and the big screen budgets belong to Marvel’s superheroes. They’ve carved out a nice, family friendly(ish) place for themselves there, and, if done right, the horror elements of the Marvel universe wouldn’t mix well with the big screen properties (outside of Doctor Strange) throughout a phase arc. However, the seeming isolation of the Netflix Marvel superhero properties from the big screen MCU properties that’s miffed fans so much would be perfect for the Marvel horror properties to carve out their own niche in. Plus, they could still mingle with some of the characters from the Netflix superhero shows (Daredevil in particular) since the tone and execution of those shows is so different than the lighter, more family friendly world of the big screen Marvel Universe.

Marvel is absolutely known for its superheroes. Marvel is almost exclusively known for its superheroes when it comes to the casual fans that make up so much of the movie going audiences pumping millions of dollars into the MCU franchise films. However, the world of Marvel Comics is not exclusively a world of superheroes fighting supervillains. There is a fan base out there who loves the Marvel horror properties. There is a fan base out there who may not know the Marvel horror properties but loves horror properties in general and might tune in for a well-done Marvel Netflix show devoted to the Marvel horror properties.

Really, what have they got to lose? Best-case scenario is they get a hit Netflix show that runs a few seasons. Worst-case scenario is it doesn’t go over as well as the other properties on streaming but they’ve established a corner of the MCU they can draw on for future stories involving established characters from streaming shows like Daredevil or to have something to pull from to have Doctor Strange interact with. They could also establish a world for Blade and possibly break-in a Blade actor before he gets his big screen debut.

There really aren’t many downsides to this, but there are a lot of potential upsides.


Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. When not wasting too much time on social media, he can be found writing regularly here at Needless Things, but has also written for websites like Gruesome Magazine as well as remembering to put up the occasional musings on his on blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, Decades of Horror, and the Subject Matter. He has also recently become a regular cohost of The Assignment: Horror Podcast.

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