The All-New, All-Indie Cinematic Universe

Written by O'Brian Gunn

Avengers: Endgame puts a cap on more than a decade of Marvel cinematic stories.

With Avengers: Endgame finally unleashing its cinematic might on the world and bringing a conclusion to phase three the MCU, now’s the perfect time to reflect on what was and what could be. Rather than focus on the MCU or the DCEU, let’s ponder the possibilities of a smaller, independent comic book universe.

While I’m in seven unique flavors of love with the MCU (and leaning more into the DCEU with their last few movies), I have to admit that I’m feeling...not quite burnt out, but wondering “what else ya got?” We’re in a golden age of TV, and comic book properties have never been more popular, both on and off the screen. That’s both a blessing and a curse; a blessing because we get to see major and crowd-favorite superheroes brought to life off the panels of a comic book, but a curse because there’s levels of monotony and “playing it safe” to nearly every comic book property.

Watching Marvel’s Legion can be a mind-expanding experience.

I can’t even keep up with the number of shows based on comic books currently available on different platforms. I usually check out previews for them, maybe even sample a few episodes. To me, most of them usually have the same formulaic feel to them, albeit with the occasional slight remix. That’s why Noah Hawley’s Legion has long been one of my favorite comic book-based shows, and one of the few I make an attempt to keep up with.

If it premieres on HBO, everyone will watch The Watchmen.

Based on Marvel’s Legion/David Haller, the show focuses on David and his struggles with his mental health and reining his powerful psychic abilities under control, all while making sense of the source of his schizophrenia. One thing I adore and appreciate most about the show is how frakkin’ experimental, bizarre and innovative it is. It’s not afraid to leap outside the normal narrative box and take a deep dive into what it would be like to be a telepath.

With HBO bringing the beloved Watchmen to the small screen (and looking more and more intriguing with every preview I see), now’s the perfect time for a cinematic universe based on a smaller, lesser-known comic book property. One of the great things about this is the fact that this indie cinematic universe doesn’t have to focus on superheroes per se. Or if it does, maybe a different type of superhero (physically or mentally disabled superheroes) or an approach to superheroes that audiences aren’t used to seeing (focusing on sidekicks or retired superheroes).

Indie comics aren’t intended to please the masses like DC, Marvel and other major publishers/film studios. By concentrating less on satisfying everyone (and the revenue that comes with it), indie creators can focus on telling the stories they want to tell, stories they want to read, stories that explore a popular narrative in a unique way. For instance, David Yarovesky & James Gunn are adding a horror twist to the superhero origin story with the upcoming Brightburn film. Imagine a cinematic universe similar to the Alien franchise where superpowered beings could be turned into zombies or possessed by demons and became threats to the world and the very people they once protected. The movies could explore the initial contagion/possession, how the heroes cope with friends becoming enemies, how the villains are also impacted by the possession/contagion and the origins or the possession/contagion, and how to contain or resolve the possession/contagion. I’m more than ready for the super-horror genre.

If Brightburn can bring the scares, we may see a new wave of super-horror films.

How many times have Hollywood executives gutted creativity or pumped the brakes on a creator’s ideas for a movie in development? What would the MCU look like today if Joss Whedon had been able to freestyle rather than have little choice but to stick to the Marvel’s curated list of dance moves and beats? While there’s no airtight guarantee this won’t happen with an indie cinematic universe, it’s fair to say there’s less of a chance of this occurring. With less interference and fewer cooks in the kitchen, there’s a better chance of getting the diversity we crave in stories, POV and characters (especially characters).

Something else to think about with an indie cinematic universe is how such movies will be marketed and advertised. Movie trailers (often) give too much of the plot away. Indie creators can implement creative marketing strategies that still serve to build hype and get the word out, but do so in a way that doesn’t spoil the movie-going experience or give audiences a false impression of the overall tone of the movie. Even if indie creators have a sizeable marketing budget, they may still have the freedom to try something new, and the knowledge necessary to pull it off.

There are rumblings of lesser-known comic books being made into TV shows and movies. For instance, Valiant Comics’ Bloodshot is supposed to debut on the silver screen in 2020. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a trend, one that ushers in a breath of fresh air that tests the boundaries of creativity and shows that creation is the original and one of the most powerful superpowers.

Bloodshot from Valiant Comics is slated to make his big-screen debut in 2020, launching a new Valiant Cinematic Universe. (art by Arturo Lozzi)