Comics on Film: The End of the Marvel Cinematic Universe As We Know It

Comics on Film: The End of the Marvel Cinematic Universe As We Know It

Dec 01, 2017

This week, Marvel Studios released the first trailer for the highly anticipated Avengers: Infinity War, coming in May and starring a significant amount of the major players introduced over the course of the last decade in the highly popular film series. Infinity War looks extraordinarily ambitious based on the trailer alone, with a lot of characters and plot threads needing to be balanced against the realistic expectations pertaining to what can be accomplished in a single film.

As the publicity machine begins to amp up for Infinity War, Marvel Studios personnel are beginning to talk in more open terms about both the film and the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe itself. After all, with this May also marking the tenth anniversary of the original Iron Man film starring Robert Downey Jr., and with it the beginning of the MCU at-large, it's not unreasonable to wonder aloud about how much longer the MCU in its current form – much less with its current cast – can sustain itself.
To that end, we got a couple of very interesting statements from Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige about the past, present and future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with a slight indication that the end as we know it – at least for the original incarnation of the universe – is in sight.
It All Hinges on Avengers 4
With Infinity War effectively serving as the third full-on Avengers film with an expanded cast comprising of other heroes like Doctor Strange and the Guardians of the Galaxy, we do still know that a fourth film comprising the Earth's Mightiest Heroes is an inevitability. it now appears as though that film, in whatever form it takes, will be a firm dividing line between what we know, and what's still to come from Marvel Studios. Speaking with Vanity Fair on the topic, Kevin Feige gave this cryptic clue about what that as-yet untitled entry in the MCU will mean for the film series going forward.
Avengers 4, he said, will "bring things you’ve never seen in superhero films: a finale." He continued by saying, "There will be two distinct periods. Everything before Avengers 4 and everything after. I know it will not be in ways people are expecting."
For obvious reasons, Feige didn't elaborate on that statement, but it conjures all sorts of possibilities for what that could mean in future MCU films, especially as it pertains to the universe itself. While in the same interview Feige promises at least 20 more MCU films on the docket for release, he seems relatively clear about the idea of continuing the universe while still having the ability to tell a final story with many of the characters we've already seen. So, how can this effectively be accomplished in a medium like film? Likely pretty easily, actually, and once again, comics can help provide some guidance (if this is where they're going, of course).
How Comics Have Reshaped Their Universes
One of the realities of being a comic book fan in any era since the 1960's is knowing that the publishers and characters will constantly be reinvented in order to fit more appropriately with the times. In 1985, DC Comics took a very active approach in remaking their comic book continuity with the massive crossover series Crisis on Infinite Earths, which is a story that seems to fit the rough ideas outlined by Feige in his Vanity Fair interview in terms of remaking a shared universe while allowing it to continue on.
By the mid-80's, DC Comics editorial teams had felt that the clashing alternate universes and expansive nature of continuity going back to the 1930's had become too cumbersome for new readers, and sought to refresh their shared universe by remaking it for modern readers, with fresh jumping-on points. The story that Crisis told was one of a cosmic, multiversal calamity so large and encompassing that it reshaped the very fabric of reality in the DC Universe itself through the destructive capability of the Anti-Monitor (pictured above from Green Lantern: The Animated Series), effectively allowing the stories to begin again with familiar characters and new situations from their earliest days with no constraints from prior continuity.
This led to an explosion of new creative teams telling far-reaching stories, many of which are highly regarded today. It was in the wake of Crisis that writer/artist John Byrne reimagined Superman and his supporting cast in a way that is largely seen as the standard for how that character should be portrayed. It was in this aftermath that writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli created Batman: Year One, one of the most popular and enduring Batman stories ever told. Writer Mark Waid would go on to define Wally West as the Flash for an entire generation of readers, and a reinvention of many wider, universal aspects of their catalog allowed DC Comics to connect with an entirely new generation of readers.
Bringing Comic Book-style Continuity to Comic Book Cinema
Other comic book events, like DC's Zero HourFlashpoint, and Rebirth have taken similar approaches in reshaping their universe, while events like Marvel's 2015 version of Secret Wars and the current Legacy initiative take similar (though not as drastic) approaches in reshaping their universes and characters to try and connect with new readers and observers.
Given Feige's description of both a finale and a dividing line, perhaps Avengers 4 will serve as a "Crisis style" event that will allow the MCU to persist, but in a new form. This is all just speculation, of course, but it definitely makes the mind light up with possibilities over exactly what the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe can look like.
Either way, at the end of the day, the beginning of the end for this phase of the MCU looks like an inevitability, and it will see some kind of reinvention by the time the fourth Avengers film hits theaters in May of 2019. It's likely pretty safe to say that the Avengers aren't going anywhere, but when it comes to the form they'll take by the time a fifth Avengers film comes around? That's anyone's guess.
What's yours? Leave a comment!

Chris Clow is a comic book expert and former retailer, and a writer with work having appeared in the Huffington Post, Fandango and others. He also hosts the podcasts Discovery Debrief: A Star Trek Podcast and Comics on Consoles. You can find his weekly Comics on Film column every week here at, and you can follow along on Twitter @ChrisClow.

Categories: Comics, Features, Geek, Editorials
blog comments powered by Disqus

Facebook on