Marvel's Cinematic Universe is getting a hell of a lot bigger in the next 5 years, with new heroes joining the likes of Captain America and Iron Man in Cinemas. Don't know your Doctor Strange from your Doctor Who? Who the heck is Blackagar Boltagon? Here's your handy guide to Marvel's latest Silver Screen Superheroes.
Warning! As we're going to talk about the MCU as a whole during this guide, there will be Spoilers for all aspects of the MCU, up to and including Agents of SHIELD's first season and Guardians of the Galaxy, beyond this paragraph. If there's anything you've not seen, be wary going any further. Everyone else, let's begin...
Is that really his name?
Yeah. It's not even a superhero code name, it's actually him. Stephen Strange was a renowned Surgeon at a New York Hospital, known for his deft skill as well as his distant bedside manner. He gets involved in a car accident which almost kills him, but Strange survives only with crippling nerve damage to his hands, effectively ending his career as a Doctor. Desperate for a cure to his condition, Strange travelled to Tibet after hearing rumours of a mystical being called the Ancient One - and although the wizard wouldn't cure him of his nerve damage, he saw power within Stephen and instead offered him the chance to learn the arts of magic and mysticism.
Yes, Magic - Doctor Strange's mystical powers aren't high technology or science so advanced, but actual magic. He's known as the Sorcerer Supreme, and defends Earth from demonic threats (like his archnemesis Dormammu, a giant, fire-headed demon who is consider to literally be more powerful than the Devil himself) and alternate mystical dimensions.
Actually, now that you mention it, he sounds familiar...
That's because if you've seen The Winter Soldier, you've already heard his name in the MCU thanks to this guy:
When Cap and Black Widow confront Hydra turncoat Agent Sitwell about Project Insight, he mentions that SHIELD (and thus Hydra) have been using it to monitor and potentially eliminate superpowered threats, offhandedly mentioning targets like Captain America, Bruce Banner... and a man called Stephen Strange. So by the point that The Winter Soldier is happening, Strange has probably already established himself as a magic user in the MCU.
Cool. So how does he fit in with the Avengers?
In the Comics, Strange has never really been part of the main Avengers team, but he is part of the New Avengers, a splinter group of heroes that was born out of the Civil War comic arc (which the MCU will deal with in the next Captain America movie, due out before Doctor Strange in early 2016) - and more recently is part of the secret, slightly dodgy organisation known as the Illuminati alongside the likes Tony Stark, Black Bolt (more on him later!) and Reed Richards, who try to anticipate future threats to the world and nip them in the bud before they happen. Kevin Feige recently confirmed that the Avenger's team line up post Age of Ultron would be changed from its current roster, so maybe we could see Stephen join up with his big screen pals sooner than his appearance in his own standalone movie. Also, he might be Benedict Cumberbatch, but no one's really sure yet.
Wait a second, that's a dude. Isn't this meant to be a woman?
It is, and it is - but this is the first Captain Marvel of the comic books. Introduced in 1967 (and not to be confused with Captain Marvel, the DC comics character, who is now known as Shazam - this awesome video by World of Heroes should bring you up to scratch with the character's crazy origin!), the first Captain Marvel was actually an alien being from the Kree race - more on them later, but Guardians of the Galaxy's Ronan the Accuser was one of them - first sent to Earth to spy on the planet on behalf of his Empire. However, Captain Marvel (who's name was actually Mar-Vell. COMIC BOOKS EVERYONE!) grew weary with his superiors and decided to protect the Earth instead.
Right. So... why is the movie Captain Marvel a lady?
Because she's the current Captain Marvel! Many people have taken on the mantle over the years, but before she was Captain Marvel, Carol Danvers was a superhero of her own, Ms. Marvel.
You see, Carol - an officer in the US Air Force - was actually the girlfriend of Mar-Vell's human alter ego, and in a bit of comic book logic craziness, absorbed his powers after a Radioactive explosion merged his DNA with her own, appearing as Ms. Marvel for the first time in 1977. Carol took on her former lover's role in 2012: At the time, she was Marvel's only female-led Comic book series, and is seen by some Comic critics as the spark of a new wave of diversity in Marvel's work that's lead to the likes of Kamala Khan, the Muslim Ms. Marvel, and the new female Thor. Her no-nonsense badassery has earned her a massive legion of diehard fans who've been campaigning for her appearance in the MCU for a long time, affectionately known as the Carol Corps.
Awesome! So how will she show up?
We don't really know yet - but what Carol will be is an important part of the MCU, not just as Marvel's first standalone Female movie lead (sorry, Black Widow), but also for the fact that she can bridge the Cosmic and Earth-based sides of the MCU together. She deals with extraterrestrial threats in the comics like the Kree anyway, and she's even teamed up with the Guardians of the Galaxy before, so when Thanos comes a-knockin' in Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 and 2019, Carol could help in bringing Star-Lord and co. together with the Earth-based Avengers.
Although Anthony Mackie and Don Cheadle have both played black heroes in the MCU, Black Panther himself - holds the lofty title of being the first Black hero in 'mainstream' comics, making his début in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966, and now he'll be the MCU's first non-white Lead when he gets his own movie in 2017. Yay!
Neat Stuff - What's his deal?
Black Panther - or to give him his actual name, T'Challa - isn't just a superhero, he's also chief of the Panther Clan, granting him rule over the African nation of Wakanda. Worship of a Panther Deity (as well as originally the consumption of a mystical herb) grants T'Challa peak physical fitness and strength, and aside from that, he's considered one of the smartest people on the planet, with a Doctorate of Physics from Oxford, and a brilliant inventor. The comics also recently gave him an energy blade weapon too, making him even more deadly. Oh, and he also married the X-Men's Storm, making them one of the most badass superhero power couples of Comic Books - however their marriage broke apart after the Avengers vs. X-Men comic arc, but they remain good friends.
Wait, Wakanda. Where have I heard that before...
Wakanda is a technologically advanced nation, and vastly wealthy as it's home to the biggest deposits of the ultra-rare and ultra-powerful metal Vibranium - the material Cap's shield is made out of. Wakanda's been mentioned several times in both the Iron Man and Captain America movies - and a lot of rumours imply that we might be heading there for the first time on screen in Avengers: Age of Ultron. The first trailer for the Avengers sequel features a fleeting shot of Andy Serkis, who many have speculated is playing Ulysses Klaw, one of Black Panther's arch-nemeses from the comics.
That all seems quite important, but what else do I need to know about him for the movies?
Other than the fact that it looks like Age of Ultron will set up some hints for Black Panther ahead of his own movie, he's actually making his début (played by Chadwick Boseman) in Captain America: Civil War in 2016. In the Civil War comic arc, Black Panther was a neutral diplomat at first, but eventually sided with Captain America's anti-registration forces - so there stands a good chance that the MCU's Panther will stand with Cap against Iron Man there, too.
Okay, seriously. Who?
Despite being one of Marvel's oldest creations - like Black Panther, they débuted in Fantastic Four, two years before him in 1965, and have cropped up regularly ever since, but even then they're very obscure. They're basically unheard of by the mainstream and even despite their presence in the comics, they're a niche group. But hey, that didn't stop the Guardians of the Galaxy, did it?
So who's on Team Inhumans?
Well, no one. The Inhumans aren't a team - they're a race of beings, a genetically altered branch of super advanced humans who've been in hiding on Earth (and sometimes not on Earth) for millions of years.
Yeah! Strap in, because this gets super weird...
Millions of years ago, the Kree (I told you those guys would show up again!) came to Earth and conducted genetic experiments on Cro-Magnon Humans, hoping to not only evolve their own species but create a race of soldiers to fight the Skrulls. These experiments basically gave the Inhumans superpowers, but the Kree abandoned them. Unable to live alongside the 'normal' Humans, the Inhumans exiled themselves to the technologically advanced city of Attilan (currently Attilan is based on a habitable area of the moon, because comics), choosing to remain hidden away from Humankind for millions of years.
The Inhumans learned to harness a gaseous compound called Terrigen Mist, which could alter their DNA even further than what the Kree did to them (it's also deadly to non-Inhumans). At first experimenting with the Mist lead to Inhumans being horrifically deformed - and so their society evolved into a rigid (and incestuous) Caste system that revolved around selective breeding to generate healthy, superpowered members of Inhuman society. When an Inhuman comes of age, they can choose to be exposed to the Terrigen Mists as a rite of passage, which unlocks latent superpowers (and other genetic mutations) and affects each Inhuman in a different way.
Well, obviously there's not going to be a whole race's worth of characters in the movie. Who are the most important ones?
Most of the Inhuman's stories - and usually the group that's dubbed 'The Inhumans' as a team - revolve around the Inhuman royal family.
Black Bolt (guy in the blue-black suit with a spork sticking out of his head in the picture above) is King of the Inhumans, and is considered one of the most powerful Inhumans ever. His vocal chords can manipulate energy, which usually is displayed as a powerful scream, but it also means that Black Bolt rarely talks - a wise decision, considering his voice can kill people. The Royal Family all have latent telepathic links to each other, so Black Bolt usually communicates through his wife (who is also his first cousin. I wouldn't be surprised if the selective breeding part of the Inhuman's origins doesn't show up in the movies). That's Medusa, the orange haired woman above, Queen of the Inhumans. Her hair is actually her superpower - it's super strong and super flexible, and Medusa can control it, even grow it, with her mind.
Karnak (far left) is another of Black Bolt's cousins, but while he has increased strength, endurance and speed, he chose not to be doused in the Terrigen Mists, so he doesn't have any other superpowers - he instead trained himself in martial arts and in being able to pinpoint an opponent's specific weaknesses. He's brother to Triton (the green aquatic-looking fella on the far right), who aside from the obvious genetic mutation that gave him fins and green scales, can breathe underwater and swim at incredible speeds. Gorgon (The male character next to Triton) is basically a Satyr and has hooves, with which he can cause huge shockwaves by stomping. Finally rounding out the family is Medusa's sister Crystal (the blonde-haired woman), who is basically the Avatar - she can manipulate the elements and bend Air, Earth, Water and Fire to her will.
Oh, and as if this wasn't enough Comic Book craziness for you, they're usually accompanied by Lockjaw, a dog that was accidentally exposed to the Terrigen Mists:
He can Teleport himself and people near to him anywhere instantly. COMIC BOOKS.
This all sounds a little crazy. How will they fit in in the movies?
Well, there's two ways to look at this. Let's look at it first in the context of reality - Marvel can't use Mutants in their movies at all, because Fox owns the rights to the very concept of them. No X-Men, not even the word mutant can be uttered - hence why The Winter Soldier's stinger featuring Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, both Mutants in the comics, being kind of hamfistedly called 'Miracles' by Baron Von Strucker. The Inhumans could serve as a quasi-stand in in the MCU, and they share some thematic crossover with Mutants in the fact that they're outsiders, unaccepted by Human society and considered outcasts. It'd be a convenient way of telling what are usually Mutant-based stories, but without having to deal with Fox's ownership.
In-universe, the Inhumans, like Captain Marvel, can help serve as a connection between the Cosmic and Earth-based sides of the MCU considering their history with the Kree (and the fact that Attilan has recently been based on the Moon rather than Earth itself in the comics) - and to be honest, there stands a very good chance that Marvel have already started seeding the Inhumans into the MCU. It's all rumour and speculation at the moment, but a lot of people seem to believe that Age of Ultron will introduce Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch as Inhuman characters to get around their Mutant origins. At the same time, Agents of SHIELD has been playing quite a long game with Skye's origins: The team came across a Kree corpse during the show's first season, and when Skye was critically wounded, she was healed with a transfusion of the Kree's blood, and recovered with virtually no side effects, a potentially strong hint that she's already a Kree-Human hybrid - or basically, an Inhuman. If either of those points turn out to be true, we could be seeing a lot more of this obscure group of Comic characters a lot sooner than their 2018 standalone movie.
And that's pretty much the basics (and then some) of what you need to know about the new Heroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you're interested in learning more about any of these characters, our sister site Kotaku recently posted a guide of some of the comics you might want to check out ahead of the next 5 years of Marvel movies. Check it out!
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