Who Owns S.W.O.R.D.?
Following the finale, many fans began taking to social media to ask the various creatives behind SHIELD if we could indeed expect to see SWORD next year. So far, the only word that’s come back was from visual effects supervisor Mark Kolpack. According to a series of tweets he sent out, Fox owns the rights to SWORD, but he quickly admitted he wasn’t positive about that fact.
On the surface, this makes sense given what we know about Fox and Marvel’s deal. But it gets more complicated when you consider that SWORD appeared in 2004, three years after the last update to the contract between the two companies. By digging into the agreement, however, things become clearer. You can read the full thing here, but the gist is that Fox has the first rights to adapt any characters connected to the X-Men. That means that if Marvel wishes to use SWORD, they’ve got to make sure Fox don’t have plans to do the same. With SWORD, it’s tricky, as Fox could easily add a space element to future films. After all, SWORD could be the first line of defense against the Phoenix in next year’s Dark Phoenix movie. Then again, the idea may just further complicate Fox’s Marvel universe.
In the plus section is the idea that there’s precedent for Marvel and Fox playing nice and even sharing ownership. In exchange for Fox tweaking Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s powers in Deadpool, the studio allowed Marvel to use Ego in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Likewise, the latter movie introduced the Watchers, a popular concept from Fantastic Four comics—the rights to which Fox also own. It was recently revealed, however, that Fox and Marvel co-own the Watchers, alongside other characters like the Skrulls and even Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, the two most well-known examples of dual ownership.
There’s also mutants like Molly Hayes from Runaways and Squirrel Girl from New Warriors, both mutant characters (though Squirrel Girl's origin has been altered recently) who will be appearing in upcoming Marvel TV shows. Of course, the rights get trickier when it comes to television itself, as Marvel still have ownership over all of their characters on the small screen. It’s for that reason that Fox had to strike deals with Marvel TV for Legion and The Gifted. It’s that last bit of info that makes the strongest case that, regardless of who owns the film rights, Marvel should have no problem introducing SWORD to the MCU.
If Not S.W.O.R.D., Then Who?
It’s worth considering alternatives to SWORD, in case all of this speculation is wrong. After all, Coulson could easily be in some other space station. He could even be in some other location entirely, with the whole idea of space just being a red herring. But assuming he is floating through the cosmos, let’s take a look at some other possibilities.
The two biggest ideas from the comics that could play out are Alpha Flight and The Wall. Alpha Flight was recently confirmed to be owned by Fox, but the rights question makes it just as tricky. Though it once featured a number of mutant members, recent years have seen it more connected to Captain Marvel—with Brand in tow. With Carol Danvers soon joining the MCU, however, it doesn’t seem likely Marvel would use the idea on SHIELD, even if they were able to. Still, there’s a chance it could appear just like Ghost Rider and the Inhumans have debuted on the TV show.
The Wall, meanwhile, is more of a metaphorical concept. Though space bases are involved, the idea is more about a lone individual guarding the Earth from extraterrestrial threats. For decades, Nick Fury was the Man on the Wall, until he passed the mantle onto Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier. The idea of Coulson being the Man on the Wall is an alluring one. For one, it has him once again following in the footsteps of his friend (if it’s put forward that Fury once held the post in the MCU). It also means that Coulson could be up in space by himself. While this seems odd at first, it would tie into the deal Coulson made with Ghost Rider to take the Spirit from Robbie Reyes.
There’s also a chance that this is merely a separate SHIELD or government outpost with no real ties to the comics. After all, the Framework and Project Looking Glass were huge sci-fi concepts invented for the show. The former allowed for some rich storytelling and the big final arc, while the latter opened up a world of fan theories and made AIDA into a true big bad. All told, it’s not hard to imagine some new group or headquarters being dreamt up for the show.
Though the show won’t be returning until the beginning of 2018, we probably won’t have to wait long to learn that fate of Coulson and what next season will bring. In two months, Comic-Con will likely offer some teases about the future of the show, and the premiere of Inhumans in the fall will offer a prime place to promote season five of SHIELD. Whether or not SWORD is involved in the new season, everything from Coulson in space to the potential for the return of Ghost Rider will provide Agents of SHIELD with more than enough to sustain another exhilarating run of episodes.