Stan Lee’s Greatest Idea: A Shared Universe

Stan Lee has many great accomplishments in his past that any comic fan would be proud of; from almost single handedly creating (and at one point writing) Marvel’s superhero line to redefining how superheroes were written in comics, Stan Lee is a living legend. Perhaps his greatest idea, however, is one that is never really talked about.

Stan Lee’s greatest contribution to the world of comics was establishing that all of these  fantastic characters published under the Marvel brand exist within the same world. It was both ground breaking and almost unheard of in the 60’s, and yet now is so common place that it is often more confusing when characters by the same publisher are not living in the same world.

Whilst this undoubtedly contributed to Marvel’s early success, it is a formula that has brought continued success for the company, and one that has been used fantastically with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. By having all of their characters inhabit the same universe, across both film and TV, Marvel are establishing the possibility for someone debuting on a TV show, such as Mockingbird in Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,  to play a significant roll down the road in one of the main movies without needing to have much more than a cursory introduction. Fans of the show will be over joyed at the cross over, and those who don’t watch the TV show will either be encouraged to watch the TV show, or not.

If written well, the crossover appearance can pay dividends for both the studio and the fans.

DC comics are just beginning on the same journey. Beginning with the sequel to Man of SteelBatman v. Superman,  other DC characters will begin to filter in to the world established in the first movie, eventually culminating with a grand Justice League adventure. The difference, however, is that DC aren’t including the TV shows that are already running in the DC Cinematic Universe continuity.  What this means is that when the as yet untitled Flash movie hits sometime in 2018 there will be a different actor playing the speedster than in the Flash TV show that itself span off from Arrow. Couple this with other DC properties on the small screen such as Gotham and Constantine,  and one could be excused for thinking that DC are missing a huge opportunity to tie in to these existing properties; the ratings boost for the small screen properties shouldn’t be ignored.

During the first season of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. there were several moments when it would have been easy to stop watching the show; indeed from first hand experience,  I know many people did. Had it not been for the inevitable tie in to the Marvel movies coming up, I probably would have.  When it came time to start watching the 2014/2015 TV season, Gotham was a show I was going to keep an eye on. For various reasons I stopped watching around the fifth episode, but had the potential for a tie-in with Batman v. Superman existed, then I would have kept watching it.

It is commendable that DC are following Marvel’s lead when it comes to establishing a shared universe for their characters on the silver screen, but by ignoring the potential the characters on the small screen provide,  the DC Cinematic Universe is driving a wedge between their properties and creating more confusion than is necessary, and maybe even creating some competition between the two – after all, which Flash will fans consider to be the better version? Grant Gustin on the small screen or Ezra Miller on the silver screen?

For DC to follow Marvel’s blueprint and create a shared universe, then they create a fully shared universe not just between Batman, Superman et al, but between the big and small screens. By keeping the DC movies and DC TV shows separate, DC won’t be able to fully capitalize on the magic of a shared universe.

Fifty years ago, Stan Lee had an amazing idea that Marvel Studios realized is still just as relevant today, as is evidenced by the money printing Marvel Cinematic Universe. DC, it seems, aren’t quite on the same page.

Yet.

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