Kicking off in 2008, the #Marvel Cinematic Universe has become a unique Hollywood creation. It's not just a shared universe of movies - the MCU embraces films, TV series, and Netflix shows. What's more, it's supported by a range of tie-in comics, fun one-shots, and even a recent range of in-universe YouTube videos! With so many things to check out, it's easy to lose track. So today I'm presenting a chronology of everything that's part of the MCU to date!
It's an impressive story, and it has no end in sight! I'll be keeping this up-to-date - as you can see, now that the various Doctor Strange tie-in comics have been released I've been able to accurately date the rest of the 2016 slate. But let's dive into the detail, to see just how the MCU works, and how I put this chronology together...
WORLD WAR II- The Genesis of Captain America
- Key superhero events: Steve Rogers becomes Captain America; the SSR battles the forces of HYDRA
Captain America: The First Avenger was released in 2011, but is mostly set during World War II. Patriotic Steve Rogers becomes America's super-soldier, a beacon of liberty who winds up on the front lines of the battle against HYDRA. The film introduced us to Chris Evans's Captain America, and featured a supporting cast - including Hayley Atwell's Peggy Carter and Dominic Cooper's Howard Stark - that would become dearly loved parts of the MCU.
The tie-in comic book miniseries entitled Captain America: First Vengeance is set in April 1944, during the war between the SSR and HYDRA, and uses flashbacks to help us connect more deeply with the characters. The Red Skull's story is probably the most fascinating, as we see his first encounter with Adolf Hitler, and his rise within the Nazi regime.
The end-scene of Captain America: The First Avenger is set in 2011, and shows Steve Rogers awakening from decades of sleep in the ice. It's the perfect setup for 2012's The Avengers!
WORLD WAR II TO THE PRESENT DAY- S.H.I.E.L.D Is Born
- Key superhero events: The founding of S.H.I.E.L.D.; Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne work for S.H.I.E.L.D. on sensitive missions
The period between World War II and the present day is one frequently visited in flashbacks, especially in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Most of the actual coverage, though, is from Agent Carter. The initial #AgentCarter one-shot was adored by fans, and inspired the much-loved (although sadly cancelled) Agent Carter series. Unfortunately, the series's existence sits awkwardly with the one-shot, which is ostensibly set one year after the end of World War II.
Agent Carter was intended to show how the SSR was transformed into S.H.I.E.L.D., but sadly never fulfilled that goal. S.H.I.E.L.D.'s founding is largely unseen, although we know that characters such as Peggy Carter and Howard Stark played a major role. Unfortunately for the world, the founders of S.H.I.E.L.D. were unaware that, from the outset, they had been infiltrated by HYDRA. Whenever senior figures in S.H.I.E.L.D. got too close to HYDRA, the results were invariably fatal.
The Ant-Man Prelude miniseries is set during the Cold War, before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hank Pym has discovered the Pym Particles, granting him the power to change in size, and S.H.I.E.L.D. is desperate to use it. Insisting that only he should bear the power of the Pym Particles, Hank agrees to a mission in East Berlin. Although it goes unstated, it's pretty clear that in actual fact Hank has stumbled on a real HYDRA base, and the brainwashing technology is clearly an earlier version of the type seen decades later in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
2008 - Enter Iron Man
- Key superhero events: Tony Stark becomes Iron Man; Bruce Banner briefly returns to the United States; General Ross creates the Abomination
The Marvel Cinematic Universe really kicked off with 2008's Iron Man. In the run-up to this year's Captain America: Civil War, Marvel's visionary Kevin Feige decided to fix this event in 2008. In Feige's view, Marvel movies are generally set in the year that they were released, giving us a simple continuity that's fairly easy to keep track of; this rule holds unless otherwise indicated.
The Iron Man 2 Prelude - sometimes referred to as Iron Man 2: Public Identity - was a tie-in comic book series that portrayed Tony Stark's life after he outed himself as #IronMan. It also featured flashbacks showing the relationship between Howard Stark and Anton Vanko.
2010 / 2011- The Siege of Stark Industries
- Key superhero events: Stark Industries comes under heavy attack; James Rhodes becomes War Machine; Thor is banished to Earth; Bruce Banner returns to the USA
The astronomical success of Iron Man green-lit Marvel's approach, which continued the path towards The Avengers. Iron Man 2 was the result, which increased S.H.I.E.L.D.'s presence in the MCU, and introduced Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow. A tie-in comic - Iron Man 2: Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (not available in digital format) - helped set up #BlackWidow, Clark Gregg's Agent #Coulson, and Samuel L Jackson's Nick Fury for their roles in the film.
Iron Man 2 included a sub-plot in which Coulson was called away on another mission, and the end-credits sequence showed him discovering #Thor's hammer, which had been cast to Earth by Odin. That clearly means that some of the events of Thor happen at the same time as Iron Man 2. Meanwhile, Marvel's first one-shot - A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer - isn't exactly difficult to place in this continuity, as it shows Coulson's action-packed journey as he heads to the impact site.
The Incredible Hulk is set at the same time as Iron Man 2 and Thor; Iron Man 2 includes a scene with a news broadcast featuring the Hulk. The timeline is explained by the tie-in comic, Fury's Big Week; meanwhile, the Marvel one-shot The Consultant is a continuity fix for the end-credits scene of The Incredible Hulk. Another tie-in comic is set before 2012's The Avengers; Black Widow Strikes was a three-issue miniseries intended to provide character and backstory for Black Widow.
2012- Avengers Assemble
- Key superhero events: The Avengers unite against the Chitauri invasion
2012 saw the crowning glory of Marvel's Phase One, The Avengers, which united Chris Evans's Captain America, Robert Downey Jr.'s Iron Man, Scarlett Johansson's Black Widow, Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye, and Mark Ruffalo's Bruce Banner (Hulk). With an alien invasion of New York repelled by the #Avengers, this was the moment the MCU public became aware of superheroes. A lot of alien tech was left littered around New York, and the Item 47 one-shot showed just how much trouble some of that alien tech could cause.
2012 is the setting of the tie-in comic Ant-Man - Scott Lang: Small Time, which showed the crime for which Scott Lang was imprisoned. A WHiH news report, released in the run-up to 2015's Ant-Man, sets this as happening in 2012. Finally, the Iron Man 3 Prelude (not available in digital format) gives us Tony Stark's character journey between The Avengers and Iron Man 3, released next year.
2013- Meet the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D
- Key superhero events: The Mandarin's terrorist attacks threaten Tony Stark; Agent Coulson assembles his team; Malekith threatens all Nine Realms
Iron Man 3 was the launch of Marvel's Phase Two, and brought Tony Stark's world crashing down in battle with the Mandarin. It also left Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark in a quite challenging place; his character arc between Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron (his next appearance) was only explained in this year's Captain America: Civil War. The Marvel one-shot All Hail the King, set shortly after Iron Man 3, was largely an apology to fans who were unhappy at the Mandarin twist.
Marvel Entertainment finally got going with their TV series, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One. #AgentsOfSHIELD show runs concurrent with the MCU films, usually with tie-in episodes (for example, "The Well" tied in with Thor: The Dark World).
Two tie-in comics take place in this period; the Thor: The Dark World Prelude (not available digitally), which runs through events between Thor and Thor: The Dark World; crucially, it explains how Thor got to Earth for the events of The Avengers. Then there's the Captain America: The Winter Soldier Infinite Comic, a first for Marvel Comics as regards their MCU tie-ins. An Infinite Comic is a comic designed for release on the ComiXology site, working best on a digital platform. Infinite Comics are usually released in printed format shortly after, but for best results it's always wiser to purchase them on ComiXology.
The Avengers: Age of Ultron Prelude - This Scepter'd Isle was another Infinite Comic, and although it was published before 2015's Avengers: Age of Ultron, the majority of events happen before the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
2014- Hail HYDRA
- Key superhero events: Captain America uncovers the existence of HYDRA, and brings S.H.I.E.L.D. down; Ronan the Accuser threatens Xandar with an Infinity Gem
Captain America: The Winter Soldier transformed the MCU, with Captain America uncovering HYDRA's infiltration and bringing S.H.I.E.L.D. down. It had a marked impact on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., with the nature of the show completely transformed. Although the first half of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hadn't been received with enthusiasm, this twist - with Clark Gregg's Agent Coulson leading his team against HYDRA - was successful enough to convince ABC to renew the show.
Guardians of the Galaxy opened up a cosmic dimension of the MCU, with two tie-in miniseries - Dangerous Prey and a Prelude - set before the film. Comments from James Gunn have indicated that Guardians is exempt from Feige's rule; because Guardians doesn't directly intertwine with the rest of the MCU (yet), he's able to be flexible about dating the films. 2017's Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is set "around a couple of months" after Guardians of the Galaxy; as we get into 2017, I'll shift this to the correct slot.
2015- Inhumans and the Age of Ultron
- Key superhero events: Agent Coulson uncovers the existence of the Inhumans; vigilantism dawns in Hell's Kitchen; Ultron ravages Sokovia; a new Avengers team forms; Scott Lang becomes Ant-Man
2015 was an exciting year for Marvel, with Marvel Entertainment continuing Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and launching the first Marvel Netflix series, #Daredevil. As is usually the case, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. tied in strongly with Avengers: Age of Ultron, although Clark Gregg didn't get to reprise his role on the big screen - Joss Whedon felt it would confuse fans who weren't aware he'd been resurrected.
#AntMan is set before the launch of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season Three - there's dialogue in the first episode that references Pym Particles - and was preceded by a new marketing approach. Marvel set up an in-universe news channel called WHiH Newsfront. Leslie Bibb reprised her role as reporter Christine Everhart (last seen in Iron Man 2, where she got an, ah, 'interview' with Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark). The WHiH Newsfront approach added a new dimension to the MCU, giving us a glimpse of the MCU as it would be seen by ordinary people.
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 3 launched in the Autumn, while Marvel's second Netflix series - #JessicaJones - was received just as well as Daredevil. In an unusual move, this time round the TV series was complemented by a free tie-in comic (still available for free on ComiXology).
2016 - The Story So Far
- Key superhero events: The Sokovia Accords divide the Avengers; Spider-Man and Black Panther encounter the Avengers; S.H.I.E.L.D. struggle to stop the threat of Hive; Ghost Rider debuts; the Masters of the Mystic Arts schism
This year saw Marvel working across multiple channels at speed, with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. continuing and Daredevil Season Two coming to #MarvelNetflix. Dialogue in #LukeCage establishes that this series, which aired in September 2016, actually runs concurrently with Daredevil Season 2; this explains the fact that Luke Cage has no issues with the Sokovia Accords.
Captain America: Civil War was preceded by another Infinite Comic and a prelude comic that showed the Avengers working together as a team. In the week before Captain America: Civil War, Marvel's marketing department again kick-started a WHiH Newsfront campaign, which gave us a fascinating insight into the global politics behind the Sokovia Accords. This campaign ended with a 'breaking news' article covering Crossbones's terrorist attack.
#DoctorStrange has been the subject of a lot of controversy, not least because of an ambiguous reference that seems to indicate it may partly be set during the events of Iron Man 2. Ultimately, though, set details establish the film as opening in early 2016, while the director Scott Derickson has indicated it ends in the "present day". This is confirmed by the official Prelude comics, which also use the term "present day" when setting a time-period. This particular film is probably the most difficult to place in the wider MCU continuity, so I've discussed the continuity of Doctor Strange in detail in another post.
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- Beyond Thanos: Four Things We Know About Marvel's Phase 4!
The MCU is like nothing else, and only looks set to expand; where Marvel's rival DC has chosen to keep their TV and film universes separate, the MCU spans pretty much every form of media Marvel can get their hands on. With an impressive slate of TV series, and plans in progress for Phase Four, the MCU is only going to get bigger and better!
What's your favorite part of the MCU to date? Let me know in the comments!