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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Static Thoughts - 15 Netflix Shows for Marvel's Phase 2

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At time of writing Marvel has produced 4 massively successful Netflix series, with 5 more currently in development plus Iron Fist barreling towards us at high speeds.  Basically, Marvel has completely colonized the world of Netflix programming with the same level of success and drive as they brought to conquering the world of summer blockbusters.  

Given this, I figure it’s well passed time to start pitching new shows they could add to their Netflix roster, especially given how many Marvel characters would be better served by a series than a movie.  The diffused time frame, tight budget, and altered expectations basically set-up the Netflix realm to handle any number of more difficult or obscure Marvel characters and I’ve got 15 here that deserve their shot in Marvel’s inevitable Netflix Phase 2. 

Like all of my lists this one is going to be a smattering of “probably in the works,” “likely to happen soon,” “that would be nice,” and “never going to happen.”  This choice is in the first category as Ghost Rider’s appearance on Agents of SHIELD this season probably means his Netflix series is already in the works.  

The bottom line is that Ghost Rider is one of those characters like Punisher whose premise is so ideally suited to episodic storytelling the only reason he hasn’t been adapted is FX constraints.  Given Agents of SHIELD managed to make a passable Rider with some of the worst FX aesthetics this side of Gotham I think they’ll be able to do the same on Netflix. 

As for what would actually be in the show, personally I’d like to see Johnny Blaze as our Ghost Rider.  I know we’re supposed to like Robbie Reyes better because he’s diverse and his origin is richer, and that’s certainly true, but Blaze is still the Rider I grew up with, and beyond that, I’ve never cared for the Reyes design aesthetic.  

However, the radical thing about Ghost Rider is that his format is designed to support multiple Riders, which is definitely something the show should lean into.  Honestly, I think Marvel would be better off doing a Ghost Riders show bringing in Blaze, Reyes, Danny Ketch, Alejandra Jones, and even Vengeance.  It’s a big universe of Riders with a lot of potential- might as well embrace it.  

Another supernatural character to go along with Marvel’s new trend of introducing magic to their universe.  Speaking of, it’s certainly notable that 4 of the 6 latest Marvel productions include magic or the supernatural (Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Agents of SHIELD, and Iron Fist.)  The Hood would add its own unique spin on the mystic side of Marvel by being the first production to feature a villain as its main character. 

The Hood is one of the more recent crime lords of Marvel while also being one of their coolest.  Bryan K Vaughn created him, that’s the same author of Y, the Last Man, and Saga, so he definitely knows his stuff.  His deal is that he was a low-rent crook in New York who stole a mystic cape that’s possessed by a demon.  The demon gives him incredible magic insights while the cape lets him fly and turn invisible. 

He eventually became a Kingpin level crime lord in his own right and has thrown down with some of Marvel’s biggest names, even Doctor Strange.  I think by this point we’ve collectively proven crime shows are great and basically doing a Sopranos style series but starring a Supernatural villain would be an easy win for Marvel.

Much like Ghost Rider, Hellcat technically already exists in the MCU.  Her real name is Patsy Walker, and you may remember her as Jessica Jones best friend from her Netflix series.  A major subplot of that show was Patsy wanting to be more heroic herself and help Jessica take out Kilgrave so having her throw on a costume and start fighting crime herself would be a logical next step.  However, just being another do-gooder in a cat costume isn’t really what makes Patsy Walker all that compelling.  It’s more about her unique status as a child star turned superhero.  

She’s basically a superhero celebrity in the same vein as Wonder Man or Booster Gold, which ended up a big crux of her most recent comic series.  It’s a really unique angle for a hero and blending it with a comedic tone and ‘girl in the big city’ style series approach actually works.  Given Netflix’ success with Gilmore Girls and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmitt, they could easily pull off a similar approach but with costumes and super people. 

I’m going to put this one in simple comparison terms at the start- Bojack Horseman is a show about angsty anthropomorphic animals dealing with life in a highly stylized fantasy universe.  Howard the Duck is the story of an angsty anthropomorphic animal dealing with life in a highly stylized superhero universe.  It’s not hard to see the one-to-one parallels here and how a similar adult-oriented dramedy animated series with talking animals could be a real jewel in Marvel’s crown.  

Given the embarrassing history of Howard, I also wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel was keen to wash away one of their biggest failures in the modern cinematic pantheon.  However, if they didn’t want to go with an animated approach, this is one of the properties I think would make a good movie for Marvel Netflix.  Given that we’ve seen Howard exists in the MCU you could easily spend an hour and four minutes seeing how he ended up in the Collector’s vaults or what he did after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1. 

I’m honestly surprised this hasn’t popped up on any Marvel radar yet.  Blade is the movie that launched the Marvel blockbuster boom of the 2000s and still stands up as one of the better superhero films of the era.  Honestly, I think the only reason Blade hasn’t gotten a chance to rise back up to the top is because the MCU hit its initial stride in the midst of Twilight and by the time the phenomena receded we were locked into the big, blockbuster aesthetic of Phase 2.  

Given that vampires are still profitable and Marvel seems more willing to produce smaller ventures like Daredevil or Ant-Man now is the perfect time to bring back the day walker.  Also, given how many monsters and supernatural street fighters are on this list I feel like making Marvel’s Netflix Phase 2 all about Marvel Horror would be a good call and Blade could easily be that lynchpin. 

You have to assume they’re moving heaven and earth over at Marvel to get Kamala Khan into the MCU.  She’s basically the only one of their big, splashy diversity pitches to actually track without needing to share a title with another hero.  I mean sure, Miles Morales and Sam Wilson Captain America are pretty popular but making them fit with Peter Parker and Steve Rogers on screen would be a major challenge- not Kamala.  At the same time, the latest Ms. Marvel is easily the most exciting addition to the comics to come out of Marvel’s diversity boom, mainly because she exists outside of any kind of push for more characters under a particular banner.  

What I mean is, even while accepting characters like American Dream, Iron Heart, and Silk are good to have around for diversity it’s also pretty clear they primarily exist to expand the Captain America, Iron Man, and Spider-Man brands respectively.  Ms. Marvel actually has a unique identity and mythos all her own centered around her own unique philosophy, all of which is grounded in a worldview and perspective that would fit perfectly into the grounded style of a Netflix series. 

So, un-fun copyright fact times- Marvel doesn’t fully own the rights to the Hulk.  Back in the late ‘90s, Marvel got out of bankruptcy by selling the movie rights to a ton of characters and while it’s reclaimed some of those rights most are still held by others, with the Hulk’s film rights residing at Universal.  That means that if Marvel ever wants to make a solo Hulk movie, they need to team-up with Universal Studios to do it.  

However, the TV rights are still totally up for grabs, to the point there was a Hulk prequel show in the works at Marvel for quite some time.  So, if they wanted to do a She-Hulk series and then have her move over to the mainstream movies as a way to wrong-foot Universal’s requirements that would probably be a good call.  The great thing about a She-Hulk Netflix show is that her comics have long favored comedy over fisticuffs and her position as a lawyer gives her a natural place to fit into the lives of the Defenders. 

Now we’re getting more into the realm of “never going to happen, but what if” entries because there’s no way the Destroyer is getting a Netflix show.  He’s a great character and would make for a superb series, especially if Marvel adapted his MAX comic by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, but that probably won’t happen.  The pitch is that the Destroyer was one of several other heroes who operated during WW2.  He has super strength and invulnerability and wears a ridiculous costume.  

However, what makes him a great fit for a show is the pitch from his MAX comic, where he’s a super powered senior citizen still going on missions for the military.  It's an exquisite idea, having some dude in his ‘80s getting into fights with giant monsters and terrorists because his powers haven’t slowed down with age or anything.  This would basically be the chance to make a Marvel answer to Taken or The Equalizer, one of those old guy action movies, with the added benefit of the costume letting you hide the stuntmen and CGI work. 

Here’s another obvious choice that I would believe is in development somewhere.  Even though he hasn’t been as successful as his two brothers, Moon Knight is basically the third part of the urban supernatural trinity with Ghost Rider and Blade.  That’s mainly because people have only recently started discovering Moon Knight as a character but it’s been a hell of a thing to witness.  His premise is that marine Marc Spector was fighting in Egypt when he fell into a shrine to the Moon God Khonshu and became his avatar.  

Now he defends the night from human and inhuman threats, usually the latter but basically anyone who stalks the night can be his victim.  He works for a ton of different possible adaptations, be it just “Batman, but he fights supernatural monsters” or diving into his weird schizophrenic history.  I mean that literally by the way, in both Moon Knight’s original series and his mid-2000s revival he was explicitly depicted as having a mental illness, so it’s not like there isn’t a diversity option here. 

I’ll certainly admit that Nighthawk is a much more recent character than anyone else on this list, but given that people were screaming for a Ms. Marvel movie the second she premiered I’ll let that slide.  What’s more, this version of Nighthawk actually goes back to the 2000s, it’s just that he wasn’t really worth your time or attention till the recent David F. Walker series for Marvel.  

The original Nighthawk was a purposefully transparent Batman rip-off as part of a story where Marvel wanted to pit the Avengers against the Justice League.  Later, Nighthawk got revamped to a more unique looking character and got a series to give him purpose and engagement in these troubled times.  This most recent version of Nighthawk is basically “what if Punisher and Batman were the same black dude.” 

Seriously, the whole idea is that he’s a black superhero with Batman’s levels of branding and resources but Punisher’s style of justice, with the added twist that Nighthawk fights racists almost exclusively.  That’s not limited to just white supremacists, neo-nazis, and the KKK incidentally, he puts the beat down on racist cops all the time as well.  Like I said Nighthawk is probably too recent and too hot for Marvel to adapt but if they really wanted to push some buttons, he’d be the man to push them. 

Let’s put our cards on the table with this one: Marvel needs an Asian superhero lead.  This goes beyond simply needing greater diversity in their films into needing to actively make-up for how much bad will they’ve generated between Iron Fist and Doctor Strange.  Given that along with everyone’s desire these days to crack it big in China, Radioactive Man would be the perfect cure for Marvel’s woes. 

Originally pitched as a villain, Radioactive Man eventually transitioned into more of an anti-hero, an incredibly powerful being who was only “evil” because he favored China’s interests over the West’s.  That’d be an interesting angle to explore in a show, especially given the worsening political climate, and his position as a walking nuclear deterrent certainly makes him shockingly relevant these days.  

What’s more, he’s a character you could easily cast with a high profile Chinese star, and it’s not like Marvel hasn’t been willing to craft shows and movies cast almost entirely with people of color.  Throw in the military thriller structure that fits the Netflix series format so well, and this one’s a no-brainer. 

This may sound like a strange pitch given they’re getting a new movie before the decade ends but hear me out.  Rather than making a modern set Ant-Man and Wasp show, Marvel should make a prequel series exploring the careers of Janet van Dyne and Hank Pym during the cold war.  We know from Ant-Man that the two worked as part of SHIELD during the ‘70s and ‘80s as special agents and we even got to see some cool footage of Ant-Man taking out a South American facility.  

That’s a whole lot of cool story potential, especially given how much cool Marvel junk was just hanging about back then, not to mention it’d be a chance to bring back Howard Stark and Peggy Carter and even meet a young Nick Fury.  What’s more, this would be another opportunity to explore Black Widow’s origins given the Cold War setting and all that’s before even getting into the pulpy weird science that’s always been key to the Ant-Man universe. 

This is probably the most obscure character on the list (which is pretty shocking given the next two entries,) but he’s also one of those really weird Marvel leftovers that I absolutely cherish.  So, Sleepwalker was an early ‘90s quasi-horror character Marvel cooked up when Ghost Rider provide to be a surprise hit during that decade.  He’s a weird kind of dream alien who lives inside a guy’s head and comes out while he’s asleep to use his reality warping powers to fight weird, Z-list super villains.  

That blend of style over logic and just rolling with the sense of being an absolutely Z-list hero of the Marvel Universe is why I love Sleepwalker so much.  He could easily work in a serious adaptation exploring darker, supernatural stuff but I’d also be fine with an over the top approach that embraced the “maybe it’s a joke, maybe it’s not” style of the original comic. 

Not every team needs spin-offs for its members, a fact that’s especially true for the Agents of Atlas.  The team popped up in the late 2000s as a weird revival of an old What If comic.  The original What If comic asked, “What if the Avengers had been founded in the ‘50s” and imagined a team comprised of ‘50s pulp and schlock characters.  There was the Human Robot, a ‘50s style killbot with a human mind, Gorilla Man, gorilla body plus human brain, the Uranian, psychic alien from Uranus, Venus, Roman Goddess of love, and Namorita, Atlantean royal.  

Together with Jimmy Woo (hey, ANOTHER Asian hero option) they pulled a kind of Green Hornet con- they pretend to be an evil organization so they can take down the really bad guys.  I’m not sure that approach needs to make it into a Netflix series given the heroes are weird and cool enough to function all on their own but it’s at least a framework if you wanted to go that way. 

D-Man is a comedy superhero, as evidenced by his Wolverine parody costume, but more than that he’s got possibly the most serendipitous character pitch I’ve ever heard.  You see- D-Man is a superhero wrestler, by which I mean he had super powers that he used as part of a super-powered wrestling territory in between occasionally doing some good.  This idea of a super-powered wrestling company was actually a major plot device in the comics, with the Thing even leaving the Fantastic Four for a time to pursue the championship title.  

Diving head first into the big personas and crazy costumes of wrestling coupled with the verbosity of superheroes and the sincere drama of sports stories could be an incredibly winning combination for Marvel.  What’s more, they could easily just pay some real Wrestlers to show up in the series as super-powered versions of themselves and reel in the viewership. 

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