A common trend throughout the MCU has been that many of the key narratives used have been adaptations of some kind from the comics. Whilst few have been directly copied, with many creative liberties taken in terms of plot points, action set pieces and even the characters utilized, there has still been an overwhelming trend to take ideas from the source material. This isn’t a groundbreaking notion and of course one which is followed by many other comic book movies; although not perhaps in the same way. The minds behind the MCU are especially good at taking a big crossover event and adapting it so it fits it into the pre-established universe. We’ve seen it so far in the likes of Civil War and Infinity War and it is almost guaranteed that we will see something akin to that again.
For instance, with the introduction of the Skrulls into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in Captain Marvel, it’s probable that we’ll be watching a Secret Invasion arc in the not too distant future. But, that isn’t the huge crossover that I am talking about throughout this article. The narrative I am talking about, could feasibly still be linked to the conclusion of a Secret Invasion, or perhaps from the fallout of Endgame. Dark Reign is a storyline that could feasibly be written into the next phase of Marvel movies, running throughout all of those titles and culminating with a new crossover film. The Dark Reign of the MCU could very much be the next big thing for the heroes of Earth.
Before I start discussing how Dark Reign could be implemented within a movie context, I think some background understanding of the narrative is key. The Dark Reign story was launched in the aftermath of the Secret Invasion and ran throughout 2008 and into 2009. It was a storyline that had an impact on almost every major title in Marvel and incorporated numerous characters. The basic premise was one in which the world heralded the villains and gave them ultimate control over the country. As the Secret Invasion came to a conclusion, Norman Osborn was thrust into the public eye as an international hero.
With the failures of the Avengers and leading heroes such as Tony Stark, the people saw an opportunity to appoint a new representative and protector; one that would serve as a much better hero than those who had stood up before him. With his new power and responsibilities, the former Green Goblin quickly came to abuse and corrupt the system. He took on the moniker of the Iron Patriot, an armor we have seen in Iron Man 3 and set about creating his own team of Avengers.
These were a series of impostors, villains under the guise of famous heroes and consisted of people like Venom as Spider-Man, Bullseye as Daredevil and Moonstone as Ms. Marvel at the time. As part of his control, Osborn also set up his own security infrastructure, including the launch of H.A.M.M.E.R. which was his version of S.H.I.E.L.D. This all culminated in the Siege narrative that saw Osborn attack Asgard on the request and manipulation of Loki. Throughout this whole period, the heroes of Marvel must go into hiding in order to protect themselves from this new regime, whilst the villains of Earth are left to cause havoc without any limits.
This is a premise that can translate significantly well to the MCU, although some adaption will, of course, apply in order for it to work within this context. I believe part of this storyline will perhaps work best with a couple of other narratives from the comics, one of which was alluded to and predicted by one of my colleagues here at MCUExchange. Charles’ thesis was that by the end of both Avengers films, the teams would have caused so much chaos to the world that Thunderbolt Ross takes charge and launches a new security regime that represses Marvel’s heroes further. Part of this motivation was the potential death of Betty Ross and one of the predictions involved in the creation of the Thunderbolts.
I believe all of this could potentially happen, with an upcoming disaster, whether it be due to an MCU Secret Invasion or something else entirely, Thunderbolt Ross will probably start a Dark Reign. However, he isn’t inherently evil in his character, just firm in his beliefs. It would take another corrupting individual to push all of this forward. One with the money to back it up, the fame to be the face of this new initiative and the villainous tenancies to convince Ross that creating a Thunderbolts teams full of villains, could be the best solution to the crises.
There is a reason Norman Osborn has not been introduced thus far in the MCU and I believe that this is why. Introducing the billionaire into this situation will make it much more important when he has his eventual fall into madness. You could even suit him up as the Iron Patriot, to provide a face for the Thunderbolt team that people would trust. There are of course parallels to be made towards our current political climate, with a celebrity figure and military men taking charge in order to better the country.
In order for the this to function well, the team that is used to oppress the other supers needs to be well balanced. A commonality between the Dark Avengers as they were known and the Thunderbolt’s original run, was that the teams were portraying heroes rather than showing their genuine villainy. This is something that could be written in, to sooth the public in terms of who they are allowing onto the streets to protect them. We’ve seen Thunderbolt Ross had no problems with taking morally dubious steps in order to fight the Hulk; although the inclusion of Osborn will allow for the eventual redemption of Ross.
The key for this narrative to work is for there to be a consistent ominous atmosphere that the world no longer belongs to the Avengers as it once did. To portray the genuine desperation of the heroes in each of their tales, would be the way in which the stakes felt real for Dark Reign. The way in which Ant-Man and the Wasp had the FBI constantly checking up on Scott, which felt like the law was constantly catching up to him; it can be done in this way but we know those coming for them aren’t looking to learn magic tricks.
Having multiple villains in each film will also show the height of this takeover, with the streets populated by low-level antagonists that slow down each heroes’ journey, in order to show how much more difficult this situation is. Some kind of resistance or uprising will likely begin from the people, with this being a great opportunity to introduce the Defenders to the movieverse, now that their TV shows are canceled. Having them run an underground movement, much like they did during the super-hero registration act and during the Dark Reign, will be a good way to keep the momentum of the ongoing conflict.
The feeling of desperation and an omniscient state can be brought over to all the major sequels until it culminates in a large crossover film, that acts as Siege did in the comics. It would portray the fall of Osborn and Sentry, the rise of the Green Goblin and the redemption and probable demise of Ross. The location would have to change due to Asgard being wiped out and Wakanda has been used before for this sort of thing, so a new location would have to be used, possibly New York, taking it all back to where it began for the Avengers.
I really believe Phase 4 could be built around this really strong narrative and these branching elements from a variety of locations in the source material. It’s actually something that might have even been teased already, with the idea of a villain masquerading as a hero being added to Far From Home and the potential for the Osborn building to be built from the old Stark Tower. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below or on social media.