One thing movie studios love to do at the moment is tell you absolutely everything about their upcoming film. They'll reveal a cast, then a few subtle posters, before their extended trailer and 'featurettes' make actually going to see the movie a total waste of time. Marvel is not one of these movie studios, and audiences are eager to learn what their new shows, exclusive to Netflix, will have to offer.
It's all rumour and hearsay at the moment; the internet brings us as much miscommunication as it does solid information, but we do know that there will be at least four shows of thirteen episodes. Names like [Luke Cage](movie:586393) and Jessica Jones (aka Power Man and Jewel, Knightress and Powerwoman) have been bandied about, along with [Daredevil](movie:47230) (Matt Murdock) and [Iron Fist](movie:6462) (Danny Raid-K’ai).
Phrases like ‘street heroes’ and ‘interconnectivity’ are cropping up, and Marvel may finally cement the dominance of their media empire over DC. But Marvel don’t always get things right; the first half, at least, of [Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.](series:722469) was a resounding disappointment thanks to Joss ‘Oh, I’ll Get My Brother To Do It’ Whedon. So how can Marvel bring their A-game with this latest series?
Firstly, they have to think about the format. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s 22-episode run was plagued by pacing issues; they pushed their ‘band of misfits’ together far too quickly, let some storylines fester and wrapped up others way too fast. Netflix is a binge-watch service, first and foremost - which means the showrunners have to give us some good cliffhangers, where you’re falling over yourself to click ‘next episode’. Sit down and watch the entire first series of Battlestar Galactica - it’s epic, it’s complex and it’s fantastically paced.
We don’t necessarily need origins of every character - what are flashbacks for, huh? - but we need time to get to know these superheroes and their supporting cast. Give them - give all of them - strong backstories, give us fully-realized characters with depth and motivations. You know, make us actually care about what happens to them. We’ve got thirteen episodes for each character, by the sounds of things, and every frame should be worth it.
What makes comic books so great? What led them to endure, in an era of Kindle readers and Twilight? There are a few reasons, but the one most applicable here is social and historical context.
Okay, it’s a dull reason, but it makes sense. All the great Marvel heroes were a product of their time: No Cold War? No [Black Widow](movie:1070824). No Axis Powers? No Captain America. Comic books have functioned as everything from propaganda to postmodern-critique, and Marvel would be foolish to forget that. Give us a series that deals with zeitgeist. [Captain America: The Winter Soldier](movie:254973) managed it, with its commentary on surveillance and corruption. Iron Man gave us some lazy racist stereotypes fresh from a post-9/11 psyche.The X-Men comics in their entirety serve as a ham-fisted metaphor for the civil rights movement. Comics, as we know them, cannot exist without reflecting, re-presenting and retelling the modern world, and neither should these shows. Give us controversy and real, relatable issues.
Marvel’s next stop on the drawing board is to think about where television is headed. Shows that have seen cult success like [Orange Is the New Black](series:761587) and [Sleepy Hollow](series:839489) had something in common - diversity, and quality representation of marginalized groups. OITNB has fans clamouring for a second season, launching the careers of talented actresses into new heights, while Sleepy Hollow essentially took [Supernatural](series:200506) and made it, y’know, watchable.
It’s already looking good, with Luke Cage and Jessica Jones seemingly getting a lot of attention, but that guarantees approximately nothing. Unless the writers give us well-written, complex characters that aren’t just white, heterosexual, cisgender men, it’ll be close, but no cigar.
Their priority should, in my opinion, be taking risks. They’ve already got the audience, they’ve got the budget - lazy writing has no place in a new internet order. Leave the sexist, racist cliches that dominate modern media at home, and make some mind-blowingly good television. It’s not a lot to ask, right?