It was something that “civilian” moviegoers and television viewers had never imagined. They couldn’t even conceive of the options that lay just beyond the horizon, once the floodgates were opened. But those of us, who had read and studied comic books and the various worlds contained therein, had fully understood the joys and possibilities of the shared universe for decades. However, even we had no idea that any of them would ever be reproduced on screen in any significant way. Yet, here we are, in the 21st Century, enjoying the fruits of the labor of several highly creative individuals.
Marvel has its MCU, Netflix shows and even television shows that tie-in to varying degrees. DC Comics has the DCEU and — fitting their personality — in an alternate universe, there’s the CW Network’s “Arrowverse”, a shared universe unto itself. Long gone are the days when we tuned in to the weekly adventures of a hero and had to pretend that he or she was an anomaly in their universe. Special effects notwithstanding, probably the hardest things to watch today in George Reeves’ Superman, Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman or Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk (and I love them all) is the fact that these incredibly powerful heroes were limited to battling Earthbound, powerless criminals. Each was the only powered entity in their respective universe and, in many cases, they ended up stopping the bank robbers and terrorists that Batman and Captain America would have already taken down. So, of course, that lead to the title characters being remarkably “powered down” in their series as compared to their comic book counterparts. Wonder Woman had no powers out of costume and couldn’t even fly. The Hulk died after falling from a plane that exploded in the air. Yeah . . .
However, there are other, not so obvious, tropes that really need to be abandoned in the age of the Shared Universe. First, I think we can all agree that it’s well past time to move beyond the premise that the protagonist is crazy. The one thing that I truly disliked about Marvel’s Defenders Netflix series was their treatment of Daredevil. Every other hero had a supporting cast that offered . . . well . . . “support”. Matt Murdock spent much of his time trying to explain himself to Foggy and Karen, who acted like they had no idea where poor Matt was getting his delusions. What!?! They’ve seen aliens falling from the sky and being fought back by Captain America, Thor, the Hulk and various others. Tony Stark stated on TV that he was Iron Man and Black Widow was on TV giving out SHIELD secrets after they stopped HYDRA. They know superheroes exist. And let’s be real, Matt Murdock is a blind man who can navigate the world better than either Foggy or Karen ever dreamed and fight like he walked out of an action movie. Why do they think he’s any crazier than, say . . . Iron Fist? People in the real world (our world) don’t dress in spandex or body armor and chase criminals, but, in that reality, it’s obviously something that certain people do. After a while, I started wondering what was wrong with Foggy and Karen.
I’ve seen a therapist attempt to denigrate Oliver Queen on the Arrow TV show in the same manner. Likewise, it used to add humor when the Joker would tell Batman that they were both crazy because Batman dressed like a giant bat. Now, it’s getting old. It was so refreshing when Black Lightning firmly told his ex-wife that he wasn’t fixating on anything, he had powers and he was going to use them to stop the rampant crime in their city. Then he moved on and did just that. When there is so much evidence that there’s a history of normalizing said behavior, it’s actually sillier to constantly compare their world to our world. And that doesn’t even speak to the number of powerful villains that are now being used and have to be confronted by someone other than the police. I’m not saying there needs to be a crossover or cameo every other episode. But this is something that certain people do in these realities. It may be time for writers to move on.
On a similar note, the significant others, bosses, coworkers, best friends, etc. who actually know that these people are out there saving the world . . . or the city . . . or even just a few blocks yet somehow can’t quite understand that they may need to be excused from a mundane act or two have to be written better. They’re not providing a real-world dilemma. They just look really . . . extremely selfish. The sun is about to crash into the Earth and Becky Sue is asking: “But . . . what about me? You promised we could have some time.” Seriously!?! And don’t even get me started on: “I won’t be here when you get back.” Yeah, well if that bomb blows up half the city, you probably won’t. So, what do you really want your hero to be doing with his or her time?
And, lastly, can we stop killing off major villains? Honestly, I believe killing off major characters, in general, can be a sign of lazy writers running out of ideas. But I’m just focusing on villains here. I know that a lot of people feel that it adds realism for the antagonist to meet a bloody, final defeat. However, as a former prison employee, I’d have to ask . . . what planet is that? Prisons are packed to the limits and are one of the surest sources of job security (. . . if you can handle the internal politics). The bad guys ain’t dying off, people. (Zod’s death in Man of Steel served a purpose, but is the rare exception.) Part of what makes the Joker so cool is that you never know when he’s coming back or what he’ll have planned when he does. His psychosis grows with every appearance and it’s like he’s trying to top himself. And, as powerful as Killmonger’s death was in Black Panther, imagine knowing that he was always out there . . . threatening the throne . . . trying to advance an ideology that’s actually shared by a large number of people.
The best bad guys aren’t used often, but it’s almost an event when they return. And most of them can’t be defeated the same way twice. It just takes a little more creativity that way. Be blessed . . .