A lot of exciting announcements came out of the 50th San Diego Comic Con, but if I had to pick a winner—and this is to a certain amount of surprise on my part—it would be announcements about Marvel Phase 4 and the ongoing MCU.
We knew there was more coming, of course we did. But I don’t think anyone expected Kevin Feige to drop quite as many major bombs about Marvel Phase 4 as he did during the studio’s Hall H panel on Saturday.
Let’s catch up on those announcements as well as some of the less well known elements of those announcements, shall we?
Marvel Phase 4 Announcements at SDCC
WARNING: There is a Spider-Man: Far From Home spoiler in the Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness section, which is beneath the Shang-Chi and a relatively short WandaVision section. Proceed with caution if that is a matter of importance to you.
Black Widow (May 1, 2020)
We all know who Natasha is and the basics of her backstory at this point, at least the MCU version of said. We also know that, obviously, this film is going to take place before the events of Endgame.
Just to fill in some gaps, however, in the comics, Natasha Romanoff (or Natalia Alianovna Romanova, aka Natasha Romanova) was born in the late 1920s (she’s approximately 10 years younger than Steve Rogers) and is, in fact, a Russian version of a super soldier, having been “bio- and psycho-technologically enhanced” either by The Hand or in the Red Room (accounts vary). The rest of her backstory is a more convoluted version of what we’ve gotten in the MCU. It will be interesting to see how much Marvel pulls from the comics and how much they invent, considering AI Zola clearly stated in Winter Soldier that MCU Natasha was born in 1989.
As to the other characters who have been announced as part of the film:
Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh): is a rival spy, also trained in the Red Room, who initially sees Natasha as a rival. There’s some really disturbing stuff where S.H.I.E.L.D. captures Yelena and forcibly swaps her identity with Natasha’s to “teach her a lesson about spies being tools who are used for nasty business” I’m kind of hoping they skip, because ew. She darts in and out of the spy scene, running a lingerie empire and using the proceeds to help sex workers and get medications to those affected by AIDS, and then pausing to team up with various Avengers and teams before eventually being killed by Natasha.
Pugh stated that Yelena is going to be a, “Sort of sister figure” to Natasha in the film, which is definitely none of the above. So…that’s a big old wait and see.
Alexi/Red Guardian (David Harbor): If the MCU is going with the original origin for Alexi/Red Guardian, this could get interesting because Alexi Shostakov, one of the Soviet Union’s most acclaimed test pilots, and their answer to Captain America, is also Natasha Romanov’s supposedly dead-on-a-mission husband.
He’s also one of several people to have used the title of Ronin over the years.
Melina Vostokoff/Iron Maiden (Rachel Weisz): Once an agent of the Russian government, Vostokoff eventually got sick of living in the shadow of the Black Widow and went freelance. I’m guessing she’s one of the big bads of the piece and I’m really hoping that she brings her Femizons along for the ride because, damn, Femizons.
Tony Masters/Taskmaster (Ray Winstone?): Tony Masters was born with the ability to duplicate the movements of any other person after seeing them once. While an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Masters found a dying scientist who gave him a syringe filled with a Nazi version of the super soldier serum. Masters injected himself and gained additional powers, but the memories he gained acquiring the abilities of others overwrote his personal memories and he forgot about his life as an agent and his wife, Mercedes Masters. Mercedes took advantage of the fact to remake Tony as a double agent.
Masters made a pile of money from the bad guys and took the name Taskmaster, working as a mercenary for crime lords and training others to do the same. There’s a super weird arc involving Deadpool. Taskmaster has: been hired and failed to take out Moon Knight, been a prisoner of the Thunderbolts, participated in the siege of Asgard, regained his memory, lost it again, worked with the Secret Avengers, worked with Hydra, worked with A.I.M., been a target of both organizations, tried to expose evil Cap, freed the Champions from Hydra imprisonment, and gone back to being a mercenary.
I’m…not entirely sure why he’s the villain of the piece. Maybe he’s a friend from Natasha’s early S.H.I.E.L.D. days? An enemy from her KGB days? Maybe they’re subbing him in for Alexi as her ex-husband? Maybe he’s what happened in Budapest? Regardless, he’s confirmed as the main villain in the film and, while there’s no confirmation of who will be playing him, Ray Winstone is fifth on the cast list on IMDB with no character name attached and he wasn’t at SDCC, which makes me suspect it will be him under the skull mask.
Mason (O-T Fagbenle): There’s a Phineas Mason in the Marvel database but I’m pretty sure that’s not who this is supposed to be. If anyone has any other ideas, feel free to let me know, but I think this may be an original character.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Fall 2020)
I think everyone’s pretty clear on this one, however, Mackie confirmed at the panel that yes, he will be wearing Sam’s Cap suit and he will be carrying the Shield. Also, as @rustypolished (Meg Downey) pointed out on Twitter, since Blade is being rebooted (which will be discussed later on), there are canonically vampires in the MCU which means werewolves can also exist, which means we can have that gleefully ridiculous Cap Wolf storyline from a few years back.
Eternals (Nov 6, 2020)
Like the Guardians of the Galaxy, the Eternals were, not all that long ago, one of Marvel’s more obscure comic properties. Separated from the rest of humanity by the Celestials (remember the giant head space-station Knowhere? Quill’s a-hole dad?) and intended to be the defenders of Earth, they almost immediately found themselves embroiled in war with their less pretty, more visible counterparts, the Deviants. Oh and, FYI, these experiments led to the potential for genetic mutation in humans left behind on Earth (perhaps those “mutants” Feige mentioned in passing at the end of the panel. Some of whom end up at a school and then on a team. Starts with a letter toward the end of the alphabet…)
The Eternals are long lived and, as such, have a low birth rate. They can breed with humans, but the resulting offspring are almost always “normal” humans. They fight a lot. With the Deviants. With one another (some of the Eternals think the universe would be better off if they ruled it. Some don’t).
A cosmic energy accident leaves the Eternals with god-like powers and the ability to come together to for the Uni-Mind as desired.
The Eternals have been generally beneficent toward humanity, saving huge numbers of people when a conflict between the Celestials and the Deviants caused the sinking of Atlantis and when Apokolips attempted to obliterate all life on the planet (listen, I don’t make the news, I just report it). Others established portals between their cities and human settlements, such as Olympia and Mount Olympus, and impersonated various pantheons such as the Olympians. The Eternals helped the Inhumans move Attilan to the Himalayas when the later were concerned for their safety.
After World War II, some of the Eternals joined with some of the Deviants and a faction of humanity to form the Damocles Foundation, which worked to create a specific breed of superhuman to rule the Earth. Others hid among humanity and acted as heroes when needed.
When the Celestials came again to sit in judgment, the Eternals once more formed the Uni-Mind on the chance the Celestials judged unfavorably. The Celestials dissolved the Uni-Mind and most of the Eternals left to explore space though a few stayed to continue protecting the Earth.
The Eternals are effectively immortal, and can regenerate as long as they are able to maintain their mental hold over their bodies. Even if their molecules are dispersed over a wide area, they can, with sufficient will power, eventually come back together. Channeling cosmic energy also allows the Eternals to utilize: super strength, energy blasts, flight, levitation, telepathy, mind control, generating illusions, teleportation, transmutation, forcefield generation, fusion into the Uni Mind,
Remember how much we all loved the Kirby-esque look of Ragnarok? Hold on to your butts because the Eternals are his creation.
The upcoming Marvel Phase 4 movie could be about any of these story lines or none of them. Thanos was an Eternal with Deviant DNA. As aforementioned, Ego was a Celestial, as was the head from which Knowhere was created. The Celestials also experimented on the Kree and the Skrulls so there are plenty of connections to the MCU as it exists now. Thor also ran into the Eternals at one point, but they erased his memory of the encounter, so…it’s really anyone’s game.
The cast includes: Angelina Jolie as Thena, Ma Dong-Seok as the Forgotten One, Richard Madden as Ikaris, Kumail Najani as an as yet unnamed character, Salma Hayek as Ajak, Brian Tyree Henry as Phastos, Lauren Ridloff as Makkari, and Lia McHugh as Sprite. It is worth mentioning that Ridloff, a deaf actress, will be playing the MCU’s first deaf hero.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (February 12, 2021; Chinese New Year)
Move over, Iron Fist. Please. Nope, a little more. A little more. All the way to the edge there. Nope, I can still see you…good. He’s gone.
Welcome to the stage, Shang-Chi.
First off, let’s all acknowledge that some of the source material for this character is from the ’70s (first appearance was 1973) and is therefore going to be problematic. Let’s also assume that Chinese American screenwriter David Callaham and Asian American director Destin Daniel Cretton are well aware of what they’re working with and are going to fix it. I can’t change it right now, however, so bear with me and I apologize in advance for any names or tropes below which offend.
Shang-Chi was raised by his father, immortal sorcerer and assassin Fu Manchu, including via alchemy and virtual reality while he slept. After his first assignment, Shang-Chi realized his father was evil and faked his own death, then began attacking his father’s organization. Fu Manchu sent assassins against his son, none of whom were successful. As he traveled, Shang-Chi met up with several other martial arts based heroes, though he eventually became tired of the game and retired.
And of course came out of retirement to help a friend, after which, he teamed up with the Daughters of the Dragon (Misty Knight and Colleen Wing) during the period of the Superhuman Registration Act as a superhuman bounty hunter.
Shang-Chi has trained Spider-Man, been a member of the Secret Avengers, the regular Avengers, saved Danny Rand’s ass, and rescued a bunch of folks from certain death during the Infinity War.
Legendary actor Tony Leung (Infernal Affairs, Red Cliff) will play the Mandarin, who was played for laughs by Ben Kingsley in Iron Man III. It is rumored Leung’s incarnation of the organized crime boss, raised in poverty and the victim of forced labor, will be extremely displeased to have had his name stolen by someone else. The film likely takes its name from an arc in which Mandarin found an abandoned space ship, killed the pilot, and took small cylinders from the engine he began wearing as rings. Ten of them, to be precise, each of which contained a warrior spirit that influenced the Mandarin so that his life goal would be to resurrect it.
Simu Liu (Kim’s Convenience) will play Shang-Chi after a year long Twitter campaign and a last minute screen test (he tested last Sunday and was cast the Tuesday before Comic Con).
Awkwafina will also star though her role has not yet been revealed.
WandaVision (Spring 2021)
All we really know about WandaVision is that it’s set mid-century (hence the font) and that they’ve add the only character I have any intention of caring about: one Monica Rambeau. How they’re going to get an adult Spectrum to the ’50s I’m not sure, but I assume it’s going to be via some shenanigans Wanda pulls to bring Vision back, with problematic results.
Doctor Strange In the Multiverse of Madness (May 7th, 2021)
The thing to remember here: CNet quotes Kevin Feige as having said, “Just because Beck lied about the Multiverse doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.” Which we know because when Banner went to ask the Ancient One for the Time Stone, she warned him any misstep could result in a catastrophic fraction of the timeline. So, what’s going to cause that rupture?
During the Hall H panel, Feige announced Elizabeth Olson as Benedict Cumberbatch’s co-star for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness and also that WandaVision would feed directly into the second Strange flick. My guess is that she’s going to grab the time stone, which is, if you’ll recall, housed in Strange’s Eye of Agamatto, cause the fracture the Ancient One warned Banner about, and she and Strange are going to have to fix it.
I’m actually super excited to hear that this second Strange installment is going to live in the horror realm. First of all, director Scott Derrickson is really good at horror. Second, Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo did a fantastic horror-tinged run on Doctor Strange (see: Doctor Strange Vol. 1: The Way of the Weird) a couple years ago I would love see incarnated on screen. It will also provide a legit reason for Mordo to return; in Doctor Strange, Mordo was devastated to learn the Ancient One fed on energy from the Dark Dimension. In Aaron and Bachalo’s run, Strange is in so deep, he can no longer sustain himself with food but, instead, has to ingest pieces of creatures from the Dark Dimension to survive.
I can’t imagine Mordo would let that slide.
Thor herself appears at one point for a “Bizarre and revolting team up,” during which she calls on Jane Foster’s medical knowledge to excise evil brain tumors and Strange excises them from existence by eating them. It is literally one of the best things that has ever happened in comics.
This run also put Wong and Strange on the much more equal footing we’ve already seen the MCU and added a delightful occult librarian. The sanctum could use some fresh blood and a lady who isn’t isn’t an ex or in awe of the Sorcerer Supreme.
Confirmed: Loki did actually die in Infinity War.
Also confirmed: The Loki who stole the tesseract from the lobby of Stark Tower during the time heist in Endgame is on the loose.
Building on the What If…? comics of yore, this animated series, featuring most of the MCU actors reprising their roles in VO form, will play with alternative Marvel realities. Their first episode will feature Peggy Carter as Super Soldier Cap with Steve in an armored suit as her co-hero.
For those of you who don’t know why the internet went wild over a font: the one Marvel chose for the Hawkeye show is either very telling or a really, really mean misdirect, because it’s the font that was used for the title on the covers of what the majority of us agree was the best ever run of any Hawkeye book ever: Matt Fraction and David Aja’s Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. It was a shared book between Clint, Kate Bishop (“She’s Hawkeye. I’m boy Hawkeye”), and the real star of the show, Pizza Dog. It was a sort of what an Avenger does in his off time story which, in Clint’s case, is try to save an apartment building from a bunch of Russian gangsters, argue with his brother, get his ass kicked a lot, and drink unhealthy amounts of coffee while getting shown up by his protegée, which he doesn’t have a problem with at all.
Is this the Hawkguy we’re hoping for? Yes. Is it the Hawkguy we’re going to get?
I’m not sure how, since Marvel has saddled him with an extraneous family and has completely missed the mark on his personality. Plus, the Clint Barton in the Fraction/Aja run is deaf, as the character has been since childhood. There was, in fact, an entire issue done with empty word balloons and in sign when Clint’s hearing aids were broken. Is Marvel willing to make the leap with Clint? I’m not hopeful.
I am hopeful that the show will be a handoff from Clint to Katie and that, in further MCU movies, should Hawkeye be featured, it will be Kate filling that place on the team.
Thor: Love and Thunder
Taika is back. Chris is back. Tessa is back and Valk is looking for her queen. Jane Foster’s Mighty Thor is coming. And while I personally would rather the role go to someone other than Natalie Portman, I am thrilled this is the direction Marvel has decided to go with Thor.
Waititi said at the Hall H panel that he is taking inspiration from Jason Aaron and Russell Dauterman’s run on The Mighty Thor (sensing a theme? The man does good work) which was…well, it was mighty. In it, Jane Foster, who has breast cancer, is called upon to take up Mjolnir, which she does without a second thought despite the fact each time she transforms, her cancer advances more rapidly.
I’ll be straight with you here, people: I never finished reading this run. I couldn’t. One of my best friends died of metastatic breast cancer when it was about 2/3 done and Aaron’s writing/Dauterman’s art is so affecting that once she was gone, I couldn’t pick the book up without feeling her die all over again. It is that incredible.
I’m not sure this is the through story Marvel is going to go with; I doubt they lured Portman back only to have her meet a tragic demise. Additionally, the premise of Jane getting the hammer is that Odinsson is rendered temporarily unworthy; that was his big fear during Endgame and we know it was proven baseless, which makes revisiting the idea repetitive and silly.
In Taika we trust, though. I have faith he’ll come up with something marvelous.
Per Feige, Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage, True Detective) called him and said he wanted to do the thing, and “When Mahershala Ali calls you and says he wants to do the thing, you do the thing.” Which means we’re getting a Blade reboot. I’m sure Wesley Snipes is pissed. Alas, no one cares because this…this is going to be some day-walking magic.
Eric Brooks was born in London. While in labor, his mother experienced complications and sought the assistance of a doctor who was actually the vampire Deacon Frost. Frost fed on Eric’s mother while she was in labor, passing enzymes on to the baby, who was affected but not completely turned. His mother died.
Brooks was eventually taken in by vampire hunter Jamal Afari, who he saved from a vampire attack, who trained the boy. Brooks took to calling himself Blade and began his career. He and Afari were separated when Brooks killed a man he believed was a vampire, but was in fact mentally ill, and Afari took the fall.
Brooks dedicated his life to avenging his mother, though, along the way, he joined several different groups of hunters working to eliminate Dracula. This hunt culminated in Blade being committed to a psychiatric hospital, though Doctor Strange eventually arranges for his release (which is…totally something that could actually happen now and I am suddenly looking forward to that interaction. Probably a little too much).
We get to bring some history into this whole thing when Marie Laveau teams up with Deacon Frost to raise an army of the undead and Blade teams up with Brother Voodoo to stop them. He has also teamed up with Spider-Man, almost accidentally killed Ghost Rider, been shot by the Punisher but walked it off, joined a black ops hero team, fought vampires with the X-Men, and fought Thanos with Spectrum, and also with the Mighty Avengers.
There are…really a lot of ways this one could go. I hope it’s as balls to the wall crazy as the originals were, because why wouldn’t you? But those movies were also made before the MCU was a cohesive whole, and I’d love to see Blade integrated into the larger universe even if just by reference or cameo, especially now that there’s Deadpool and Ghost Rider and mutants to play with.
As to those properties we didn’t hear much about: remember, D23 is at the end of August. I’d imagine we’ll be getting more on Captain Marvel 2, Black Panther 2, Spider-Man 3, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Fantastic 4, and “Mutants” there.