Though The Avengers are Marvel’s premiere superhero team, they don’t exactly have the deepest roster of foes. Vintage villains like Ronan & Red Skull have been used & dispatched. Great potential foes, like Magneto, Doctor Doom or Galactus, are indisposed at other studios. After Thanos & his Infinity Gauntlet, it feels like the universe can only get smaller.
Fortunately, Marvel has a treasure trove of villains and storylines that might not match Thanos in scope, but deepen and personalize the universe in fascinating ways.
KANG THE CONQUEROR
HISTORY: Along with Ultron, Kang is considered to be one of the very best Avengers villains, and comes with a variety of interesting motivations. A warlord who travels from the future to conquer Earth in the present day, Kang is one of The Avengers’ oldest and most interesting villains.
EXPANDING THE MCU: As a time-traveler, Kang knows the future and the legacy of the Avengers. As such, he knows not just their strategies and weaknesses, but the best way to hurt them. Secret insecurities, personal vendettas, & latent weaknesses are all known to Kang. While the Avengers are merely an agitant to Thanos, Kang delights in brawling with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Kang won’t just attack The Avengers; he has the ability to torture them personally.
The storytelling potential for a time-traveler is also enormous. Imagine the dimension-hopping brawl of Thor: The Dark World, but instead of flitting around the nine realms, our heroes weave in and out of various time periods. Kang’s scope is not bound by time nor space.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: Since Marvel Studios is building such an intricate continuity, they may be reluctant to heavily engage with time travel. X-Men: Days of Future Past heavily featured time travel shenanigans, and the film ends by removing most of the series from continuity.
Also, Kang’s film rights are murky. He debuted in The Avengers, but a series of retcons have left him tied strongly to the Fantastic Four. His birth name is Nathaniel Richards, descended from both Reed Richards & Doctor Doom. He was also later revealed as a future version of Immortus, a classic FF villain.
Of all the aliens in the Marvel Universe, the Skrulls are probably the most iconic and most dangerous. These shapeshifting green aggressors are hellbent on conquering the universe planet-by-planet. Their biggest story to date is the 2008 Marvel event Secret Invasion.
EXPANDING THE MCU: Secret Invasion reveals that, for some time, the Skrulls had abducted key heroes, villains & politicians throughout Earth and replaced them with their own soldiers. They were slowly eroding Earth’s defenses, weakening it against a full Skrull invasion.
Like the revelation of HYDRA in Winter Soldier, the Skrulls are fantastic as the “shadow enemy.” They’re Marvel’s Body Snatchers, creatures who can impersonate your heroes with none the wiser. They were not featured or mentioned at all in Guardians of the Galaxy, suggesting that Marvel could have grand plans for these creatures.
Hell, with the way Marvel hid HYDRA before Winter Soldier, maybe the upcoming Civil War storyline is actually a stealth Secret Invasion film.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: Marvel didn’t even allude to the Skrulls in Guardians of the Galaxy, which is troubling. It wouldn’t have taken much to show a Kyln prisoner with green eyes, or a Skrull hanging out in the background on Knowhere. We know that Fox owns at least partial rights to the Skrulls; perhaps they own enough to prevent any Skrullian appearances in the MCU.
Namor the Sub-Mariner is Marvel’s first & oldest superhero, predating all other characters in the Marvel Universe. He’s the half-human prince of the sunken city of Atlantis. Namor is a complex hero; he’s closer to Magneto than Captain America, treating the “surface” world with mistrust and sometimes hostility. Though often viewed as a villain by the rest of the world, he fights tirelessly for the advancement of Atlantis.
EXPANDING THE MCU: 1989’s Atlantis Attacks crossover probably wouldn’t be the main template for an Atlantis-based story. The more iconic Namor story comes from the 1940s, when Marvel’s predecessor Timely Comics published a three-issue storyline where Namor squared off against the original Human Torch.
This was a monumental moment in Marvel’s history. It’s the first time that two heroes came to blows, and established a shared continuity among Timely’s titles. Though this is a simple one-on-one in the comics, we could easily see Namor summon an Atlantean army to take to the shores of Earth, forcing our Avengers to confront an angry yet justified populace of mermen.
Namor could also serve as a good surrogate replacement for Thor. Most of his adventures are related to Greek mythology, and with a large supporting cast, Namor could be a great expansion to the mythological realm of the MCU.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: For the time being, Namor’s film rights are partially owned by Universal. Marvel would probably rather double-down on the characters they own outright rather than the characters they share with other studios.
Made up mostly of ex-SHIELD, reformed villains & black-ops spies, the Secret Avengers are a wing of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes that fight clandestine wars away from the public eye.
EXPANDING THE MCU: Relative to other comic heroes, The Avengers have a pretty deep rogues gallery with one hitch: a lot of them are Captain America villains. Red Skull, Baron Zemo, Arnim Zola, & MODOK are just the surface of Captain America’s long history of shared villains. Though these villains have decades of complex motivation, they’re definitely a step down in scale. How do you go from stopping Thanos from destroying the universe to fighting an ex-Nazi made of bees?
Forming a splinter-team of smaller scale heroes enables the Avengers to fight the “mere” terrorists, ex-Nazis, and mad scientists that make up their rogues gallery. Perhaps lead by Black Widow or Hawkeye, this team could focus on fighting the secret wars that The Avengers are too visible to handle.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: Having a “Secret” Avengers dilutes the core Avengers brand. Though Disney would probably love an Avengers film every year, it makes The Avengers less special.
THE EVOLUTIONARY WAR
Herbert Wyndham, aka The High Evolutionary, is one of the odder members in Marvel’s pantheon of villains. He’s a distinctly Earth-based scientist, fixating on human genetic purity. He creates a “perfect” race of animal-human hybrids called the New Men. However, he’s also quite cosmic; his crowning achievement is creating Counter-Earth, a planet on the opposite side of the sun where he & his creations live. The Evolutionary War is his attempt to forcibly “evolve” all humans on Earth.
EXPANDING THE MCU: The High Evolutionary could fill an interesting place in the cinematic universe. With the rise of “registered gifted” in the MCU, The High Evolutionary could function as their Magneto, uniting them under one villainous banner to claim the Earth as their own. Though Wyndhman has deplorable genetic politics, he has found himself battling alongside the heroes several times as well. Once Counter-Earth is created, he has found himself enlisting the help of heroes to save the planet from cosmic threats like Galactus & The Beyonder.
In the comics, The High Evolutionary is involved with the backstories of multiple Marvel heroes. He rescued Quicksilver & Scarlet Witch as infants and gave them to their adoptive parents. He’s worked with the father of Jessica Drew, Spider-Woman (who is likely at least partially owned by Marvel Studios). Most importantly, he’s the creator of Adam Warlock, mainstay Guardian of the Galaxy & Thanos’ arch-nemesis.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: The High Evolutionary is Doctor Moreau in red battle armor. Having The Avengers fight animal-human hybrids could be too silly for even the universe with a talking Raccoon.
SECRET WARS / INCURSIONS
The original Secret Wars is the first huge company-wide crossover event in Marvel’s history. The Avengers, Spider-Man, Hulk, The Fantasic Four & the X-Men were spirited away to a “Battleworld” to fight their greatest villains.
2015 sees a revival of that series. Jonathan Hickman & Esad Ribic are creating a new Secret Wars series, the plot of which is known to involve something called “Incursions.” These are moments where two dimensions are on a collision course. One of them has to be destroyed, or both are. It’s high-stakes storytelling, involving the deaths of multiple universes.
EXPANDING THE MCU: It goes without saying that this storyline would have an enormous impact on the MCU. Introducing parallel dimensions, with different Iron Mans, Captain Americas, Thors, etc. would turn the Marvel Cinematic Universe into the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse. Different filmmakers wouldn’t be as hamstrung by continuity as they are in the current MCU.
It’s unlikely, but if Marvel was especially ambitious, Marvel films at other studios could even be folded into this Multiverse. Imagine discovering that the multiple X-Men timelines happen in different dimensions. What if these Incursions brought together the Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield Spider-Men? Perhaps the MCU, in order to survive, would need to destroy some of the less popular planets (like those Fantastic Four or Daredevil)? The storytelling potential is limitless.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: Introducing multiple continuities would turn an already dense mythology into a clusterfuck of timelines, alternate realities, and trying to figure out which stories “count.”
Speaking of crazy alternate realities…
Earth-X is one of the odder, more interesting stories produced by Marvel in the last twenty years. Set in a universe slightly-similar to Marvel Comics, Earth-X is the story of just about everything going wrong all at once. The Watcher, a mysterious alien living on the moon who has observed Earth for years, has been unable to view through the thick fog surrounding Earth for the past decade. He recruits a Marvel hero named Machine Man to be his eyes, and is stunned by the changes.
EXPANDING THE MCU:
- Ten years ago, an unexplained phenomenon called “Plague X” transformed humanity into monstrous meta-humans with superpowers. Those transformed by the plague are sterile, but also seem to not age. Anyone with superpowers, including mutants, remained untouched by the plague.
- Washington DC has been rubble for awhile, destroyed after Crusher Creel absorbed Ultron & leveled the city. He killed most of the US Government, & many Avengers before being stopped.
- The nation’s new capitol is New York City, where Norman Osborne is President for Life. The western United States are largely lawless & untouched by this new government. Aldrich Killian could make a an appropriate stand-in for Osborn.
- Tony Stark is a recluse, sealing himself in Avengers Tower for fear of exposure to Plague X. He’s become a puppet for his former foe, as the Iron Legion are President Killian’s chief defense force.
- The weather patterns of Earth are completely in flux, leaving very little arable land. With most of it concentrated in Russia, X-Man Colossus must lead his nation into becoming the world’s breadbasket. Black Widow would obviously be great in this role, forcing her to eschew the shadowy violence of her past.
- As punishment for his arrogance, Odin transforms Thor into a woman and banishes her from Asgard. She wanders the Nine Realms, protecting the innocent.
- Loki, after tricking Odin into banishing his “sister,” has free reign of much of Asgard. However, he starts to suspect something’s amiss about the history of Asgard & the Nine Realms, and begins investigating their origins.
- An aging Captain America leads a team of heroes in an attempt to maintain order. He heads west to California, where he comes to blows with a young man calling himself the Red Skull. This new Skull can effortlessly bend people’s wills to his own, and is forming an army of superhumans in a slow march east to conquer first the US, then the world.
- Bruce Banner has been uniquely affected by Plague X: Hulk is now separated from his body & mute, while Banner is reduced to a blind twelve year old boy. He & Hulk still share a psychic connection: Banner can see through Hulk’s eyes, and Hulk can speak through Banner’s mouth.
- The Inhumans, feeling rejected by the rest of Earth, departed for space years ago. However, now they’ve returned, not to reconcile, but to claim dominion over Earth as their birthright.
- Doctor Strange has been in a magically-induced coma for years. Clea guards over the Sanctum Sanctorum. It’s rumored that Strange’s soul is in limbo, alongside the souls of many slain heroes.
- After Plague X transformed him into a literal panther monster, Black Panther is more isolationist than ever. Wakanda’s borders have remained tightly controlled. Wakanda refuses all access to Vibranium, even though the rare metal might hold the key to understanding Plague X.
- Carol Danvers & the Guardians of the Galaxy are not involved in the original storyline. Perhaps across the universe, Danvers & Peter Quill discover that at the center of a 5-billion year old prophecy is their homeworld.
- The story ultimately reveals that Earth is a literal egg for a new Celestial, & that after billions of years of gestation, it’s time to hatch, which would violently destroy Earth.
- The reason why humans are so prone to superpowers is because the Celestials wanted the planet to have a strong defense from cosmic threats like Galactus or the Skrulls. But on the eve of the hatching, humanity itself is too great a threat, so the Celestials are coming to wipe all life from the planet.
LIMITATIONS & DRAWBACKS: Though there are a lot of weird ideas in here, I actually don’t think there’s anything that’s too far-out for the MCU. However, the one big hurdle stopping this adaptation: this is a universe-ending story. Marvel Studios has perfected the perpetual hype machine: each film is there to get you excited for the next.
With their consistent critical & financial success, we won’t be seeing an end to the Marvel Cinematic Universe for a long time.
So what crazy, weird Marvel storyline would you want to see? Sound off on this Reddit thread or stop into our IRC chat #mcuexchange on Freenode.