So, I saw Iron Man 2 each day of this fine weekend. The first was opening day. The 2nd was a private screening hosted by Main Street Comics. The third was with Mom for Mother's Day. Think what you will but I just had a great thought about my beloved comics. Always the underdog, dismissed as disposable shite while simultaneously broadcasting unexplored realms of invention and imagination, the medium of comics has now achieved a new milestone with the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Just to establish a little background, before Bryan Singer's X-men, there was Donner's Superman and Burton's Batman. Sure, Blade stirred the waters a bit but no one knew he was a comic book character and those who did knew he never even had his own title. Besides, it would take a hell of a lot more than Wesley Snipes to banish the memory of be-nippled Batsuits from our minds. By the time Spiderman reached the upper echelons of Hollywood's hallowed box-office top-grossers, a new era had been ushered in. As dutiful hacks played the part of skeptics and asked if it was a fad, the forces of common sense already knew the obvious. Like any other film genre, there would be good films and there would be bad films. At this point, the odyssey from Captain America with the motorcycle helmet to Captain America with the rubber ears to Captain America's shield being used as a red herring in this weekend's Iron Man 2 couldn't be a more perfect metaphor for the same quest for credibility comics are still earning the hard way.
Now, here we are, 10 years later. Superheroes are here to stay, in Hollywood that is. They have raised the bar for blockbuster action/adventure, fantasy and sci-fi. Eventually, the ruthless addiction comic fans have to smart characterization, snappy dialogue and "big picture" interconnectivity started seeping into these cinematic events and forcing the bar to raise not in response to special effects innovations but by aspiring to comics' tapestry-like approach to storytelling. And so the Marvel Cinematic Universe concept was born.
The original Iron Man film introduced moviegoers to a spy organization called S.H.I.E.LD and its intrepid leader, Nick Fury. This would be the Big Bang of the MCU. Then, following a fleeting glimpse of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence and a slightly more overt reference to the "super soldier" concept from Captain America, Robert Downey, Jr. shows up as Tony Stark at the end of The Incredible Hulk. Still with me? With Iron Man 2, we have a full-fledged supporting role for old Nick Fury and he introduces us to Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, S.H.I.E.L.D co-founder Howard Stark and a last second clue to the mystery of how the science-based world of Tony Stark's Iron Man coincides with the more "enchanted" elements of the Marvel Universe. By 2012, we will see all of these elements and characters converge into the event film of the future: The Avengers.
So what does all this amount to besides geek porn? What exactly was my great thought? The Marvel Cinematic Universe is not just a milestone in the history of comics. It is a milestone in cinematic history. That's right. Having established itself as the treasure trove, the veritable goldmine for immensely profitable ideas, comics creators are now well on their way to ushering in a never before seen synergistic frontier. Sequels are old hat for Hollywood but franchises linked together as the basis for ONE film starring the original lead actors from each said franchise? You're welcome. Oh, and don't forget one thing. Comics have been blowing minds with the same brand of ingenuity every month for the last 75 years or so. Enjoy.