During an investors call this week, Disney announced that they’ve signed a three-year deal with Joss Whedon that will see him write and direct The Avengers 2 and help oversee Phase Two of the Marvel cinematic universe.
As part of that deal, Whedon will also be developing a live-action television series for ABC that will fit within the shared universe the films do. What that is we don’t yet know, but we can safely say it’s something he wanted as part of the agreement.
Let’s examine some of the commonly suggested and rumored properties that Marvel Studios can potentially develop for television on ABC with the help of Whedon. Items listed must qualify under a few conditions, namely that Marvel Studios actually owns the rights to the character(s) and that said property fits within the Marvel cinematic universe.
The Incredible Hulk is currently the one Marvel television project furthest along in development at ABC, with Guillermo del Toro and David Eick (Battlestar Galactica) serving as showrunners. Del Toro’s latest update, coming earlier this week, revealed they’ve picked out an established writer (with a busy schedule) who they’re waiting on – but he remained intentionally mysterious on who exactly.
Not long after del Toro’s update, Disney announced the Joss Whedon deal with Marvel Studios, including word that he would be helping develop a “new” TV series for the same network which makes us curious if he’s going to be helping bring Bruce Banner to TV just as he did in revitalizing the character in The Avengers. Considering the initial plan for this series was to follow a younger Bruce Banner, if Whedon were involved, it would need to fit within the film continuity and ideally, would star Mark Ruffalo. That makes an in-film-continuity Whedon-del Toro-Hulk TV series entirely unrealistic – but one of the most fun possibilities.
VERDICT: Not likely.
Cloak and Dagger, along with The Incredible Hulk, are two of the three properties ABC Entertainment President Paul Lee said were in development for television last year. This one would follow the story of Tyrone “Ty” Johnson (Cloak) and Tandy Bowen (Dagger), two teens who meet after running away from their homes and stumble into superpowers. They use their abilities to help other runaway children and to rid the streets of drugs.
While Cloak and Dagger never succeeded as a long-term book series on their own, the pair continually make guest appearances in other books, including Runaways. Little is known about the status of the show and it makes us think it’s going nowhere.
VERDICT: Not going to happen over the other options.
Jessica Jones was the third series in early development at ABC before the project was canned a few months ago. It was being written by Dexter and Twilight’s (we know) Melissa Rosenberg. Much of Jones’ early life in the comics involves Spider-Man and Daredevil, both of which cannot be used by Marvel. Jones is a relative newcomer to Marvel Comics and stands out due to her dropping the superhero life in favor of being a private detective. She has a child with hubby Luke Cage and is best friends with Ms. Marvel.
If there’s one thing Joss Whedon is most consistent with, its his ability to bring strong female characters to the screen, and we’ve now seen that on both television and film – where Scarlett Johansson stole the spotlight for much of The Avengers. Jones has been involved in all of the recent Marvel crossover events but her story arcs are reliant on other major players.
VERDICT: There’s a reason it was dropped by ABC already.
Runaways was very close to becoming a film already, with Marvel Studios preparing to shoot Runaways in March 2011 and Peter Sollett directing. It was originally meant to share 2012 with The Avengers but the studio shifted all of their attention and marketing efforts to promote their flagship title instead. Writer Drew Pearce was moved to Iron Man 3 but still hopes to see Runaways hit theaters eventually. Since Marvel is going Cosmic post-Avengers with Guardians of the Galaxy and still needing to introduce other characters before The Avengers 2, the film version of Runaways is becoming less realistic.
For TV however, it may be perfect, especially for Joss Whedon who just so happens to have written a few issues of the comics. He was even rumored to be directing Runaways before Sollett signed on and he got The Avengers instead. If Whedon was picking his own show to develop for Marvel, this would be it.
VERDICT: A top contender for Whedon.
During the Marvel Studios Comic-Con 2010 panel for Thor and Captain America, Marvel pres Kevin Feige responded to a fan question about The Punisher where he confirmed that Marvel Studios had reacquired the rights to the character after Punisher: War Zone failed at the box office (and among critics). Last year, Criminal Minds writer/producer Ed Bernero was putting together a pilot for a Punisher TV show which ABC and Fox both passed on, leaving the character in a state of live-action limbo.
Punisher was rumored to, at one point, potentially be a part of the Captain America sequel, but as we know now, that’s not the case – as the film will instead tell the story of The Winter Soldier. Punisher is a very violent character and would have to be retooled quite a bit from Bernero’s idea before ABC would want to take a second look at it. While this is a very unlikely possibility for Joss Whedon, the one thing Punisher has going for him is the crossover potential with other characters. That and they could easily get Tom Jane back in the role considering his personal love of the character. Watch his Dirty Laundry short film about the Punisher if you haven’t already – you won’t regret it.
Feige said this before the release of Thor and Captain America: “Punisher’s back in house, and various plans are in the works.”
VERDICT: The Punisher won’t be on ABC.
Not long after Samuel L. Jackson locked into a nine-picture contract with Marvel Studios, he name-dropped S.H.I.E.L.D. as a movie his character would appear in. By all accounts, this movie doesn’t appear to be something Marvel is currently developing and instead, Captain America: The Winter Soldier may serve as a SHIELD movie, featuring Steve Rogers working with plenty of characters from the organization.
With Whedon’s show taking place in the same continuity as the films, and SHIELD being a part of all of them in some way, there are plenty of opportunities to have the show and movies promote each other. Just think of the guest appearance possibilities. Better yet, if the Helicarrier were to be used, Marvel Studios already has the sets and digital assets constructed from The Avengers film production. Adding credence to this rumor is Deadline’s scoop from a few weeks ago indicating that Marvel’s TV division has a “a kernel of an idea” that they’re talking with ABC about, one that would be set in the film universe but wouldn’t star any of its characters. Its described as a “high-concept cop show” and was “referred to as Shield.” Coincidence?
Perhaps TV star Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill) could be involved in such a series?
VERDICT: A SHIELD-focused TV series is the most likely option.
Iron First and Luke Cage are two characters who have been frequently mentioned in interviews over the years as characters Marvel wants to develop but neither has come close to being realized. A Heroes for Hire team-up that would feature both characters seemed more likely but there’s still no activity on that front from Marvel Studios. Marvel had hired Rich Wilkes to pen an Iron Fist screenplay two years ago and we’ve heard little since. Same goes for Luke Cage where two-and-a-half years ago Marvel was reportedly chatting with a “notable Hollywood star” about the role.
The Heroes for Hire comics have relaunched several times with different casts of characters over the years and the potential for a superpowered ensemble who use their abilities for money is smart. Better yet, if certain characters stand out, they can pop in films should Marvel Studios desire to use them. The concept of the show allows for characters to be swapped in and out when needed and can allow for a wide variety of creative and unique storylines.
VERDICT: Very possible if Marvel doesn’t have room for Iron Fist/Luke Cage films.
Damage Control represents a brilliant look at the stories we love in comics from a perspective we would otherwise rarely consider. Damage Control is a small part of Marvel Comics history, having only released in four limited mini-series, but the concept behind it is everlasting.
It follows a construction company (partly owned by Tony Stark) that essentially deals with the aftermath of superhero battles. Think the ending of The Avengers – someone has to clean up that mess from the alien invasion.
While Damage Control would offer an entertaining and interesting crossover with events from the films, there are only so many stories to tell and would be better served folded up into a SHIELD TV show.
VERDICT: On its own, no, as part of a S.H.I.E.L.D. show, yes.
The Defenders series originally brought together Dr. Strange, Hulk and Namor as the core three heroes of the team (Hulk and Dr. Strange being the headliners), with Silver Surfer as the fourth. Over the years a variety of lesser known characters joined the group led by Strange, but only Strange has remained the constant over the years.
A Defenders show could substitute for (or crossover with) Guillermo del Toro’s Hulk TV series and its ensemble cast and potential for additional characters could appeal to Whedon. Silver Surfer cannot be used of course due to Twentieth Century Fox maintaining those rights but the latest rumors had him and Galactus potentially reverting back to Marvel Studios in exchange for an extension on the Daredevil license.
The group was initially formed to fight demons from another dimension when the Dr. Strange comic series was canceled – and worked to defend the planet ever since. The Defenders has been revived under modified titles over the years with the latest version coming last year from Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson. Interesting timing. And get this, its roster includes Dr. Strange joined by Hulk, She-Hulk, Iron Fist, Namor and Silver Surfer.
VERDICT: Better than a Hulk solo show, but too ambitious for TV.
When The Avengers fell apart, the Young Avengers stepped up, comprised of a team of “super-powered fanboys” who, in typical comic book fashion, just so happen to perfectly fit the molds of their older counterparts. For Captain America, there is the super soldier named Patriot and for Iron Man there is Iron Lad.
While the books are legitimately good, in essence, a live-action Young Avengers is simply a lower-scale Avengers with mimics of the headliners from the films. It’s is a little too outlandish for TV.
VERDICT: Not a realistic option.
Runaways (which could still be a film) and a SHIELD-focused series are the two most realistic options for Whedon to help develop at this point, but Heroes for Hire would also lend itself well to TV if the characters weren’t also being developed for feature film use.
There are plenty of other suggestions we’ve read from readers and Twitter that we’ve intentionally not included. The Inhumans and Black Panther for instance, won’t be introduced via live-action TV. The She-Hulk comic lends itself well to television as a mix of a lawyer procedural and Hulk-smash action, but with a Hulk series coming to ABC, it doesn’t make sense to prepare a separate standalone She-Hulk at the same time.
Blade, like Punisher, was reacquired by Marvel Studios but it’s not a fit for ABC prime time. Blade is an R-rated character and to be done properly, needs an R-rated film (same for The Punisher, really). Let’s not forget the failed Spike TV Blade series from 2006.
The most obvious items left out are properties owned by other studios. So, count out any chance of Daredevil, Fantastic Four or X-Men TV shows on ABC since they’re all owned by Twentieth Century Fox – the same goes for Ghost Rider and Spider-Man who are owned by Sony Pictures.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.