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How Will Marvel's Comic-Book Curveballs Affect Their Movies?

July 17, 2014

Just a week before Comic-Con, Marvel has unveiled several sweeping changes that will utterly transform their line of comic books. First was Tuesday’s announcement — made on ABC’s gabfest The View — that Thor, their Norse god superhero, would be a woman. But the company’s next reveal, made on last night’s episode of The Colbert Report, was perhaps even bigger: Namely, that Captain America, that finely chiseled embodiment of our country’s values, will be passing his shield onto longtime ally The Falcon. Who, as fans of the Captain America films know, happens to be an African-American named Sam Wilson.

For now, these two changes will only affects Marvel’s comic books. But one obvious question looms large: How will the new characters affect the company’s mammoth movie franchises? With the revenues from their films — which have made more than half a billion dollars this year alone — dwarfing the profits from their ever-shrinking book business, it doesn’t take a Professor Xavier to figure out that Marvel (and parent company Disney) are mapping their long-term big-screen strategies very carefully.

Of the two announcements, it’s pretty clear that the new Captain America is the one most likely make the transition to film. In fact, such a change was strongly set up in this year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In the movie, a thawed-out Cap (played by Chris Evans) befriends Wilson (Anthony Mackie), a fellow military man and an expert in an advanced form of aerial combat who also happens to go as the crime-fighting Falcon. Given that Evans recently suggested that he might give up acting after he’s fulfilled his contractual obligations — after next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, he’s on the hook for two more movies — it’s easy to spin a scenario in which Mackie dons the familiar star-spangled suit. If so, it would mark a huge shift in Marvel-movie history: For while the X-Men’s Storm (Halle Berry) and Tony Stark pal Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes (Don Cheadle) each had their moments, it’s about time that Marvel gives audiences an African-American franchise-leading superhero.

A female Thor would be another compelling addition to Marvel’s movie roster. And, of course, such a project would square up nicely against DC Comic’s Wonder Woman movie, slated to hit theaters May 2016. But at the moment, this seems a distant possibility. Current Thor Chris Hemsworth has three more movies on his contract (and seems perfectly happy being paid millions of dollars to wield a hammer). Indeed, several bloggers consider such a project to be more of an intriguing thought exercise

There are a few more developments from Marvel’s publishing arm that could mean further changes in the so-called Marvel Cinematic Universe, or MCU. (Yes, there is such a thing.)  Apparently not content to let the God of Thunder steal all the, er, thunder, Marvel editor-in-chief Axel Alonso recently told EW.com  that a new Iron Man — Iron Man Superior — will land on store shelves this November, with improved armor and, most telling, a new personality that Alonso warns will make him “hard to root for.” This change, some fans posit, could pave the way for Robert Downey Jr.s eventual exit from the Marvel movie franchises. Downey, whose own worth may soon eclipse that of Tony Stark’s, has not committed to appearing in any movies after the third installment of in the Avengers series. Perhaps in anticipation of such a scenario, Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told EW that he saw “no reason why Tony Stark can’t be as evergreen as James Bond.”  

Also part of Marvel Comics’ Avengers NOW! — the book-wide reboot that begins with the new Thor and Captain America — will be the heightened profiles of several secondary characters, most notably The Scarlet Witch, Ant-Man, and Dr. Strange. If these names are unfamiliar to you now, they won’t be in a few months. The Scarlet Witch will be featured in the next year’s Age of Ultron, where she’ll be played by Elizabeth Olsen. Ant-Man and Doctor Strange will get their own movies, as well: Paul Rudd has signed on to play the bugged-out crime-fighter in a film that will open next summer, while the Doctor Strange movie is forthcoming from horror helmer Scott Derrickson. Though no cast has been announced for that latter project, it’s safe to assume that, whenever it arrives, it will be feature cameos from a few other Marvel mainstays. Clearly, both Marvel and Disney have taken a lesson from their best-known superhero team: In troubled times, it’s best to assemble, and unite.

*This post has been corrected since its original publication.

Photos: Stuart Immonen/Marvel Comics, © Marvel