"Everything's connected." Those two words sum up the core concept of the Marvel Cinematic Universe: that everything, from the movies to the TV series to the tie-in comics, all occurs in a single shared universe. That's great in theory, but the reality has proved very different. Even the cast of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — which is soon to return for Season 4 — have openly expressed their frustration that the films never "acknowledge" them. Although this is the case at present, there are promising signs that Doctor Strange may finally achieve the impossible and draw the MCU together like never before...
What's Gone Wrong?
The MCU has one simple problem: diminishing audiences. Think of it like this:
Let me explain. The outer circle are viewers of the movies alone. The second concentric circle are viewers of the movies and TV shows. The final circle watch the films and TV shows, but also read the tie-in comics. Naturally, this is an over-simplification, but the point still stands; only hardcore fans will have experienced the MCU in its entirety. This means that, when putting together a film, producers and directors have to deal with the fact that the majority of viewers will have limited experience of the broader MCU.
That's why, for example, Joss Whedon chose not to have Agent Coulson appear in Avengers: Age of Ultron. He understood that the majority of viewers only knew that Clark Gregg's character died in The Avengers, and were unaware of his resurrection. Rather than distract the majority of viewers with an unexplained resurrection, Whedon avoided the whole issue.
Although logical, this is causing real tension. Matters were made worse last year, when an organizational restructure at Disney broke up Marvel's original structure. Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige was left reporting to Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger, while Marvel Entertainment's Jeph Loeb remained reporting to Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter. With no clear reporting lines between the two companies, it's undoubtedly become harder to coordinate the different elements of the MCU.
Will Doctor Strange Resolve the Problem?
#DoctorStrange looks set to change all that. There's been an unprecedented amount of synergy between Marvel Studios's announcements and featurettes, Marvel Comics's tie-ins, and Marvel Entertainment's announcements.
- 06/22 - Marvel finally name the main villain, played by Mads Mikkelsen: #Kaecilius, a minor Doctor Strange character elevated to an important role.
- 07/06 - The first issue of the Doctor Strange Prelude unveils the Masters of the Mystic Arts, and includes Kaecilius as a character. It also introduces Tina Minoru, a nod to the possibility that the #Runaways could come to exist in the MCU. Daniel Drumm - brother of Marvel superhero Brother Voodoo - is also present.
- 08/18 - Marvel Entertainment announces Runaways TV series, to be aired on Hulu.
- 08/24 - The second issue of the Doctor Strange Prelude gives us a taste of the characters of Baron #Mordo and the Ancient One.
- 08/26 - There are rumors that the Doctor Strange reshoots include adding the characters of Tina Minoru and Daniel Drumm.
- 08/31 - Doctor Strange featurette names the Zealots and reveals their plan.
- 09/07 - The final Prelude comic, a standalone Infinite Comic titled The Zealot, explores Kaecilius's motivations in depth and includes a nod to Tina Minoru being a member of the Zealots. It also referenced the Book of Cagliostro, an arcane source of dark knowledge that (in the comics) is tied to the Darkhold.
- 25/09 - Linda Louise Duan uploads a video indicating that she's playing the role of Tina Minoru in a cameo in Doctor Strange.
- 09/27 - Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season 4 Episode 2 dropped a reference to the Darkhold, which soon becomes the A-plot for the first half-season.
- 10/18 - Doctor Strange promotional clip includes a glimpse of Linda Louise Duan's cameo in Doctor Strange.
Look at the chain of events. Kaecilius is named less than a fortnight before the first tie-in comic introduces his character (and names him). The Doctor Strange featurette name-checks the Zealots, and less than a fortnight later the final tie-in comic bears the title of The Zealot. Tina Minoru appears in the first issue of the tie-in comics, and a month later Runaways is announced; if the rumors about the reshoots are accurate, then she'll make her debut as a cameo in Doctor Strange, and go on to appear as a villain in Runaways. It's clear that Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics, and Marvel Entertainment are actually working closely together.
Don't Forget Ghost Rider!
Meanwhile, it's no coincidence that Marvel is adding Ghost Rider to #AgentsOfSHIELD - just when Doctor Strange introduces magic to the MCU. The first episode of Season 4 openly embraces the supernatural (it bears the title "The Ghost"), and signals Marvel Entertainment's willingness to head into the world of sorcery and magic.
As a result, Jed Whedon told EW:
“The tie this year will feel more of a reflection of the movie, less an interweaving plot. As that movie hits the world, it comes at the right time in our show, and you will see some of those same ideas being explored.”
That said, there are distinct possibilities for an overlap. We know (from the various Prelude comics) that the Masters of the Mystic Arts patrol the world to protect it from dark magic, and it's hard to believe they wouldn't be drawn to #GhostRider. In that case, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is clearly heading for a strong tie-in with Doctor Strange. We don't yet know how events will play out for the Masters of the Mystic Arts: will they survive their inevitable battle with the Zealots? Regardless, this conflict looks set to have repercussions for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is known for tying in to most Marvel movies, but most of the connections are throwaway references (Pym Particles are named-checked at the beginning of Season 3) or standalone episodes ("The Well" springs to mind, set in the aftermath of Thor: The Dark World). The exception, of course, was the tie-in to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which revitalized Season 1 and set up the Hydra arc that would be so crucial right up to Season 3. My instinct is that this is the kind of tie-in we're going to see with Doctor Strange, one that utterly transforms the nature and direction of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
This would be a smart move, drawing the various threads of the MCU back together and reminding us all that everything really is connected. At the same time, of course, it actually doesn't change anything for Doctor Strange; the movie still stands on its own two feet, not actually acknowledging the TV series, while Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. orbits the film.
- How Doctor Strange Will Add Magic to the MCU!
- Your Guide to the MCU's TV Series!
- Everything You Need to Know About Marvel's Ghost Rider!
As you can see, it's clear that Marvel Studios, Marvel Comics and Marvel Entertainment are working together far more closely than we previously expected. The build-up for Doctor Strange has shown that Marvel Studios's marketing was carefully coordinated with the tie-in comics and Marvel Entertainment announcements, suggesting that the relationship between the companies has been strengthened in recent months. That can only bode well for shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Runaways, which are likely to be massively transformed by this next Marvel blockbuster.
Perhaps it really is all connected after all!
Do you think Doctor Strange will reunite the movies, TV shows and comics? Let me know in the comments!