Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Comic-book geeks' ambitious strategy a Marvel of an idea

  • Print

As it turns out, Fox's Cosmos isn't the only U.S.-network TV program exploring the vast possibilities of space and time.

Over at ABC, there's another prime-time offering that considers the big questions of how it all started and what the seemingly unlimited future might hold. Except this time, it's all focused on circumstances and beings that exist only in the fevered imaginations of some very creative people.

Marvel Studios: Assembling a Universe is an hour-long event that offers fans of the comic-book-adaptation genre a crash-bang-boom course in how the deep thinkers inside the Marvel empire made an elaborate game plan to turn its popular hand-drawn heroes into huge (and hugely profitable) stars in the realm of special-effects-driven feature films and live-action TV series.

While it could fairly be argued that this special amounts to not much more than a 60-minute promotional clip for the various Marvel properties, it's equally safe to say that those who've followed the onscreen antics of Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk and the Avengers will find it an entertaining and enlightening hour.

Equal parts promo reel and business story, Assembling a Universe looks at how executives at Marvel recognized an opportunity and formulated a strategy for capitalizing on it. Their ambitions for creating a film-franchise mega-machine were hampered, however, by the fact the screen rights to some of Marvel's most popular characters -- Spider-Man, X-Men and the Fantastic Four -- had already been sold to other studios.

As Marvel exec Kevin Feige explains it, however, the company's brain trust quickly realized that the remaining characters in the stable presented a unique opportunity because many of them had already been part of multi-layered crossovers in the comic-book world. Perhaps, they mused, a similar kind of success might be possible in the film and TV realm. And so began a plan to produce, under Marvel's own production auspices, a series of feature-film projects that could exist both as stand-alone stories and as connected chapters in a larger and much more ambitious narrative.

A key component in the strategy -- perhaps the key element -- was the hiring of Robert Downey Jr. as the star of Iron Man. Signing him, along with co-star Gwyneth Paltrow, sent a signal to the comic-fan community and to Hollywood that Marvel was taking this film-franchise endeavour very, very seriously.

Quietly but consistently, each Marvel adventure was seeded with storyline snippets that connected the movies to each other and opened up an ever-growing universe of possibilities. When Marvel's The Avengers finally hit the screen, bringing Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, Hulk and others all into the same big-screen spectacle, the Marvel master plan -- or its first phase, anyway -- was complete.

Pretty smart, these comic-book geeks.

Assembling a Universe features interviews with several prominent players, including Downey, Paltrow, director Jon Favreau, Scarlett Johansson, Samuel L. Jackson and others. There are also clips from Marvel's appearances at fan-frenzied Comic-Con in San Diego, which don't really advance the argument other than to show that fans are really, really excited about this stuff.

Of course, the hour includes clips from ABC's Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., as well as the obligatory sneak peeks at upcoming Marvel Studios projects, including The Avengers: Age of Ultron. But if there's one thing that Assembling a Universe makes abundantly clear, it's that the strategy to date has been so overwhelmingly effective that the next instalments in the expanding series will draw huge crowds regardless of what kind of promotional plan is employed.

Simply put, it's a super-smart cinematic strategy.

Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 18, 2014 C3

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes


  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.


Make text: Larger | Smaller


Total Body Tune-Up:- Shoulder Press

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A group of Horese pose for the camera in the early evening light at Southcreek Stables in Stl Norbert Wednessday. Sept  14, 2011 (RUTH BONNEVILLE) / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Two baby tigers were unveiled at the Assiniboine Park Zoo this morning, October 3rd, 2011. (TREVOR HAGAN/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos


Do you think zipper-merging will help clear up Winnipeg's traffic woes?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google