Disney’s upcoming Big Hero Six is interesting in that it opens up the possibilities of what kind of Marvel movies Disney is interested in making with properties already under its control. This animated adventure-comedy is the first bit of cinematic diversification since Marvel came under the Disney banner in 2009, and the studio's got more planned for 2015. Street-level heroes like Daredevil, Luke Cage, Iron Fist and Jessica Jones (of the comic Alias) will soon have their own live-action Netflix original series and word is that these will be a touch more gritty and adult than what we’ve been offered by Marvel Studios up to this point. Could we see an eventual return to Marvel horror?
Marvel Studios came into its own with 2008’s Iron Man and it set the tone for a half-decade’s worth of crowd-pleasing blockbusters. Ten years before that, however, there was no such thing as Marvel Studios and the first step toward Marvel’s cinematic domination was Blade, an action-horror flick based on an unknown property from a comic that hadn’t been around since the 1970s. People point to Guardians of the Galaxy like it’s Marvel’s first big risk, but in many ways Blade was even riskier thanks to its R rating, the waning box office clout of its star, and a complete lack of presence in any of Marvel’s product at the time.
By the time of Blade’s release in 1998 the character had never even headlined a comic. He was simply a rarely used foil to Marvel’s version of Dracula from the series Tomb of Dracula. That book, which ran from 1972 to 1979, was the cornerstone of a monster revival from Marvel that included books based on Frankenstein, the Living Mummy, a ghoul named Simon Garth (star of Marvel’s Tales of the Zombie) and Marvel’s own wolf man, Werewolf by Night.
These takes on classic monsters have always skirted the outer fringes of the Marvel universe, but there are plenty of others who mix it up with Marvel superheroes on a more regular basis. Characters like Daimon Hellstrom, aka Hellstorn the Son of Satan, who has starred in his own series off and on over the years, Spidey villain Morbius the Living Vampire, and muck-encrusted Man-Thing, the swamp creature who causes spontaneous combustion in all those who fear him (and star of his own lackluster film in 2005), pop up in comics on a regular basis.
Then, of course, there’s Ghost Rider, whose own films deliberately skimped on the horror elements in hopes of bigger box office receipts. That character - essentially a vengeful demon possessing an antihero with a death wish - is back in Marvel’s control after the folks at Sony decided they were washing their hands of the Nic Cage franchise. Ghost Rider is Marvel’s most well-known horror property, and his new comic series, which reimagines the character’s human alter ego as a teenage street-racing enthusiast, could come to the screen easily as a sort of horror-tinged Fast and the Furious.
The hiring of Scott Derrickson, known for his horror efforts like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister, makes us curious what direction Marvel is taking its upcoming Doctor Strange film. We’d love to see Strange’s weird world carried over into film, and Derrickson hints at that, but we worry that Marvel wants to make Strange the same kind of broad-audience spectacle that’s its formula for success. The reason Strange’s comics have never stuck around is that he’s not a character for everybody.
Steven Strange is an aloof personality and his conflicts are almost always spiritual in nature. His dialogue and supporting cast hint at mystical lore that may or may not be made up entirely for the comic. That uncertainty can be a real obstacle for some readers, “Do I need a background on arcane occultism to understand all these words? What’s a ‘hoary host of Hoggoth’?” He’s not the most easily accessible of Marvel characters, but if his movie looks cool enough, none of that may matter.
Marvel’s pool of characters and concepts are deep enough to allow for more than just one connected universe of crowd-pleasing superheroes. This year, we had a Marvel spy thriller and a Marvel space opera, and we’re primed for a Marvel horror movie. We’re hoping that will be Doctor Strange. If not, is it too late to reboot Blade?
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