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Marvel Universe Expands Into TV With Agents of SHIELD; Leaves DC in the Dust

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Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, which premiered on Sept. 24 on Disney's (NYSE: DIS  ) ABC network, expanded the Marvel Universe -- united on movie screens by the Avengers franchise -- to the small screen. Although it's not the first time that a comic book franchise has been adapted into a TV show, it is the first time that a TV series occupies the same universe with the movies from which it was spun off of.

Agents of SHIELD is a direct continuation of The Avengers, taking place after the climactic Battle of New York. Although many of the show's characters are new, Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) -- who was assumed to have died in the film -- returns to life to lead SHIELD, accompanied by another familiar face -- Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders).

Agents Coulson and Hill reunited in Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Source:

Agents of SHIELD, penned by The Avengers writer and director Joss Whedon, lacks the expensive epic punch of its big-screen brother, but it exhibits a charming, intimate connection to the Marvel universe by relating directly to the events that have occurred in the other films. It also fleshes out Coulson as a funnier and more likable character than he was in the films.

Above all else, Agents of SHIELD does something very "comic-book like" -- not surprising since Whedon is also an established comic book writer -- it establishes a firm continuity for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

The importance of creative continuity

It's that establishment of continuity that makes Agents of SHIELD such a game-changer for media companies like Disney, Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) , and Sony Pictures (NYSE: SNE  ) .

Time Warner, for example, has struggled for many years to tie its core DC comic characters together in a cinematic universe. The modern movie Batman arrived in waves -- with two gothic Tim Burton films, a pair of campy Joel Schumacher films, and finally the more realistic Christopher Nolan trilogy, all existing in their own timelines.

Superman was also stuck in a similar cycle -- the classic Christopher Reeve films started out strong under director Richard Donner in 1978, but burned out with Superman IV in 1987. The franchise was then partially rebooted by Bryan Singer's Superman Returns in 2006, and finally completely rebooted by Zack Snyder in this year's Man of Steel.

When Batman pulls out a credit card (Batman & Robin, 1997), it might be time to reboot the whole franchise. Source:

However, Time Warner has apparently learned from these past missteps, and is bringing Superman and Batman together in its first true attempt to build a DC cinematic universe -- an upcoming film that will star Man of Steel's Henry Cavill as Superman and Ben Affleck as the new Batman.

Sony Pictures, which owns the movie rights to Spider-Man, also seems to be struggling with the future of the franchise. After Sam Raimi's three successful films, which carefully balanced humor, drama, and action, Sony decided to take a more serious turn with 2012's The Amazing Spider-Man, a complete reboot that attempted to follow Nolan's Batman example by making Peter Parker a more serious and gloomier character -- which felt far less epic than Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man.

DC's tradition of endless reboots

In many ways, these reboots mirror the comic book worlds on which they are based. Since Batman and Superman have appeared in comics continually for decades, their worlds have been rebooted countless times. DC Comics is notorious for this, using repeated reboots like Crisis on Infinite Earths (1986), Zero Hour (1994), and Infinite Crisis/52 (2006/2007) to combine all of its stories into a single coherent timeline.

Crisis on Infinite Earths, 1986. Source:

Marvel has authorized "soft reboots" in the past as well, but nothing near the epic nature of DC's world-colliding, universe-shattering sagas. For the most part, the Marvel Universe has remained persistent. It pulled heroes from the past, like Captain America, into the present, instead of replacing him with a modern version. It didn't feel the need to wipe out everything, generation upon generation, for the sake of clarity and freshness.

This is also a core strength of Marvel's modern movie universe -- which has flourished despite lacking core franchises like Spider-Man and the X-Men -- in comparison to DC. Whereas DC spent most of the past three decades creating self-contained cinematic sagas that eventually burned out, Marvel has spent the past five years carefully crafting a movie universe as seamless as its comic book one by signing all of its main actors and actresses to multi-film contracts. Although Robert Downey, Jr. might not always be Iron Man, the cinematic universe where his character resides could remain intact for years to come.

A big boost for Disney

With Agents of SHIELD, Marvel has now expanded that seamless universe into television as well. That strategy will benefit its parent company Disney, which has struggled to find ways to revive slumping ratings and advertising revenue at its ABC network, which has become increasingly associated with female-friendly programming like Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and Revenge.

Agents of SHIELD could give Disney the boost it needs with the coveted 18-49 demographic that has increasingly leaned toward AMC programs like The Walking Dead and Breaking Bad. In addition, it could help build audience anticipation for the next few Marvel films, enhancing ticket sales of films that are already considered guaranteed blockbusters.

Lessons for other companies

Other media companies can learn from Marvel's example. Companies generally use toys, games, and comic book adaptations to keep their films relevant and fresh. However, these are all temporary solutions that require marketing for each product. What Marvel has done harkens back to the days of classic Saturday morning cartoons like Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Pokemon -- which have all been labeled as long toy commercials.

Agents of SHIELD is basically a 44-minute long commercial that returns every week to generate advertising revenue on its own. It's a brilliant tactic that could change how Time Warner, Sony, and Fox view the importance of the continuity between their film and television franchises.

Time Warner already has a DC comic book TV series, Arrow, which could be used as a starting point, and it will be interesting to see if it builds upon that series to better connect its movie and TV universes to follow in Marvel's footsteps.

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Read/Post Comments (22) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 11:49 AM, lacolem1 wrote:

    Jeez, when did MF become such a shill for Marvel.

    I admire what Marvel/Disney is doing, but it's kind of silly to dismiss WB/DC's accomplishments when you look at net revenue, film gross, and television success. Five years doesn't erase the decades of bungling that preceded it.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 11:50 AM, Amberyerno wrote:

    I'd love to see a TV spinoff of the X-Men films. I think a series based on the younger characters (X-23, Hellion, etc.) especially could work VERY well, particularly if you can work in cameos from the films:

    Patrick Stewart is one of the awesomest people on the planet, and it would probably not take much to get him to pop in as Xavier. Ditto Ian McKellan as Magneto. I think you could get Jackman to drop by every now and then, too, because it seems that he's REALLY gotten into the fandom (Jackman is on-record as being a proponent of the studios playing nice and doing a crossover of ALL the Marvel movie properties--Avengers, X-Men, and Spider-Man--all in one movie).

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 11:58 AM, MarkHoppus wrote:

    Didn't we already have a show about normal people dealing with super natural events? I believe it was called X-files and then Fringe.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 12:06 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    This article is poorly researched and dumb. I love both Marvel and DC, but DC has completely owned TV since....well, forever.

    George Reeves Superman, 1966 Batman, Lois and Clark, Wonder Woman, Smallville, Arrow (just to name a few) have been the shining light of comic books on television.

    Currently, Arrow is a ratings hit and a quality series that is getting better and better with each episode. And the new DC shows, Gotham, Constantine and the Flash will be hitting the small screen soon. How is that "left in the dust"?

    If anything, Marvel needs to play catch up with TV. The Incredible Hulk was their only great show. And one episode of S.H.I.E.L.D. does not make it a classic. And I'm not buying this whole "shared universe is always great" thing. If the "shared universe" starts to all look the same and gets stale, then you've screwed your entire roster of properties.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 12:15 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    And yes, MarkHoppus, S.H.I.E.L.D. is shaping up to be a serious rip off of Fringe. Same exact template and Whedon just slapped some red masks on the grey-suited Observers and passed it off as something original.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 12:33 PM, ickabodx wrote:

    It's been announced that there will be a DC TV spinoff "Commissioner Gordon" that will be on FOX next year.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 12:38 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    Thanks for reading guys,

    I'm not dismissing all of DC's past and future TV projects -- instead, I'm taking about the appeal of unifying them all into a single universe.

    Arrow, Smallville, the upcoming Flash and Commissioner Gordon all occupy a different universe from their core film franchises. I'm merely suggesting that SHIELD has the right idea in putting them all into the same universe.

    Constantine shouldn't even be mentioned since it's part of the DC Vertigo imprint, which is separate from the main DC universe.

    I'm also not convinced after one episode that SHIELD is a rip-off of Fringe or X-Files, although I love those shows too.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 12:57 PM, slothropT wrote:

    Rats. Agents of SHIELD had to be put in the movies' universe and be loaded down with in-jokes and sly references because otherwise, without the Marvel name and current thrust it never would've been sold. Let's face it, it was a mediocre pilot with no-name glamorkids playing bland predictable characters whose types date back to the 50's. I mean, Cobie Smulders was The Name and who the hell is she?? It also begins a trend which Gotham will try to build on of superhero shows without superheroes, based in this case on comics that no one outside the comic stores has ever heard of. You guys are pushing this whole thing so hard it makes me suspicious. Marvel's using the same tactics with movies and TV they tried with newsstands in the 90's--flood the market, make a big noise signifying nothing, and make it look like something important is happening when very little is. And you clowns are falling for it. You must be doing well on Wall Street.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:05 PM, divaddjk wrote:

    The show is kind of lame. Terrible acting so far. Marvel is just too dang cheesy for me.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:12 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    Again, poorly researched. Constantine is a part of DC's Justice League Dark and the overall DC Universe. Guillermo del Toro, who is working on the Justice League Dark film, said Constantine will be the main character and will be set in the same universe as the Justice League movie.

    Also, there have been hints that the Flash introduced in Arrow may be the lead up to his appearance in the Justice League film.

    Continuity is very fun. I like having characters exist in the same timeline, like the Avengers. But always limiting yourself creatively to that one particular timeline is not a great idea because stuff gets stale. Putting all of Marvel's chips in one continuity basket has worked out for the past few years, but is untested over the long haul.

    It might limit the writers' imaginations and ability to tell new and unique stories by mandating them to check in with Whedon and stay in line with the dozens of movies that are going on.

    Miles Morales, Peter Parker and Otto Octavius are all currently Spider-Man in comics and movies. Should all of those universes be folded into the same continuity, or should they each explore their own unique creative worlds?

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:16 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    Your headline should read, "Continuity Makes Movies and TV Shows Better", or "Marvel Starting to Dabble in TV," because there is no evidence that DC is getting left in the dust, on any front.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:19 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:

    @slothropT: As much as Marvel went crazy on the bookstands in the 1990s, DC was just as ridiculous, killing Superman, breaking Batman's back and having Green Lantern kill the entire Green Lantern Corps.

    That's just the nature of comic books, and if you remember Image Comics, they went many steps further and "Mortal Kombated" everything.

    Marvel's approach to media today, under Disney's guidance, is much more disciplined than its newsstand approach in the 1990s.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:22 PM, TMFSunLion wrote:


    Do you honestly think that "Justice League Dark" has any relevance with everyday viewers? And seriously, the Constantine movie was horrible the first time around, and I'm not sure a TV reboot would do anything for that franchise.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:32 PM, maineiacle wrote:

    CW and Fox have a tendency to turn Superhero shows into just another drama. if I wanna watch a soap apera i'll watch a soap opera.. I wanna watch a supehero show

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 1:42 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    Firstly Leo, thank you for ignoring the fact that you were wrong about Constantine being in the regular DC Universe.

    To answer your question, yes. I do think a group of supernaturally powered individuals banding together to fight evil has relevance with everyday viewers. Just like TV shows such as Grimm, True Blood, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, The Vampire Diaries...AND Marvel's Agent's of S.H.I.E.L.D. for God's sake. But you're probably right, Guillermo del Toro usually has awful taste in film projects. Yeesh.

    You are also right, the first Constantine was not good. All the more reason to try it again. Have you ever seen the first Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. TV show? The Hasselhoff version? I'm sure this TV reboot of S.H.I.E.L.D. won't do anything for that franchise either.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 2:00 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    And for anybody still reading (hopefully you aren't), this is exactly the kind of article you get when someone who knows the tiniest bit about a subject starts talking out of his ass.

    Poser: who pretends to be someone whose not.

    2. who tries to fit in but with exaggeration

    (#2 fits particularly well, especially with the article headline)

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 2:22 PM, jkarma wrote:

    Love it when people like to talk down about DC yet they fail to realize that, marvel has made several bad choices. Sure they may be doing better in terms of avengers, but they are doing horribly in other areas.

    notable examples:

    iron man 3 - the huge outcry over how mandarin was portrayed.

    hulk - both weren't really good. I liked them, but they weren't all that great.

    spiderman 3 - movie was just bad to begin with.

    fantastic four 1 and 2

    Justice leage/jlu > wolverine and the xmen, marvel anime,

    even the animated movies such as batman year 1, tdkr, jl:doom, jl:flashpoint, etc. are far better then movies like doctor strange.

    if we want to compare other works.

    dark knight > avengers. you have great actors, great script, great storyline. vs avengers where it was minimal at best. avengers is still a great movie. but its not as good as people claim it is.

    and if we want to go to other media.

    the video game market sure sucks when it comes to marvel.

    marvel heroes - tons of bugs. poorly optimized. very laggy. on top of that, a dev team that has attempted to publicly shame players.

    dcu wasn't great. but it sure was better than marvel. it atleast changed alot of concepts rather than just design.

    batman: arkham series - no marvel game can really compare to the 2 released by rocksteady.

    thor wasn't a great video game (neither was green lantern).

    tasm the game wasn't very good either.

    both have their goods and bads. but like seriouslydumb said, "this is is exactly the kind of article you get when someone who knows the tiniest bit about a subject starts talking out of his ass."

    do some research before you want to talk.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 2:39 PM, afvikingwarrior wrote:

    I agree with everything seriouslydumb wrote.

    I also think Agents of Shield was "ok" at best. I'll give it a few more episodes because I know a show takes a few episodes to come into its own, but with that being said, I was a hundred times more impressed with the pilot of Arrow than I was with Agents of Shield.

    Also, the author of this "article" sounds like a Marvel fanboy.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 2:57 PM, seriouslydumb wrote:

    afvikingwarrior: Thanks. The important thing to remember here is the author, and the website, own Disney (Marvel) stock. So the agenda behind the article is to bump up Disney stock and make it look like DC is on the ropes.

    You can tell this because: 1.) the author knows very little about comic book / TV history; and 2.) the sensational headline on the article.

    The crazier the headlines you create about Marvel beating up on DC, the better your Disney stock performs and the more money you make. Whether what you write is true is irrelevant to this purpose.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 7:34 PM, hennyboi wrote:

    Much like the other comments, I have some agree/disagree with some of the points made.

    The cross over Cinematic continutiy/universe is new and untested in recent television history and honestly interesting to see unfold. It does not necessarily make the product better.

    As of today, no shared universe product from from Warner Brothers/DC so yes until batman vs superman is released Marvel is owning it in the tv/movie department. Arrow being the only DC product on air moment, the creative team has said it took inspiration from begins (what if the rich guy embraced the league of Shadows and killed the thief) but until an official statement acknowledgment is made, i'm chalking it up to fan writers being cool.

  • Report this Comment On September 27, 2013, at 8:46 PM, InvisibleZombie wrote:

    I grew up a DC kid, though I really loved The Hulk TV show, the "wandering stranger" format was the craziest but best idea for the time, esp. FX-wise. But I think one of the benefits of continuity is less re-boots, hopefully less mis-fires as well.

    I'd hoped Smallville's introduction of DC characters would lead someplace but now it seems all that headway was wasted. So back to the drawing board once more, and the more starts and stops like that, the less likely it is we'll get another chance at the characters anytime soon.

    I think it's time the concept of a cohesive Universe expands from the page to the screen(s).

  • Report this Comment On September 28, 2013, at 5:31 AM, matthewluke wrote:


    "CW and Fox have a tendency to turn Superhero shows into just another drama. if I wanna watch a soap apera i'll watch a soap opera.. I wanna watch a supehero show"

    Fox? Besides some old Saturday morning cartoons, I can't really think of any past Fox network TV superhero shows. Maybe "Human Target" (a DC Comics property), but Christopher Chance isn't really a superhero (especially not in that TV series). Other than that, I got nothing.

    Side note: I really liked Human Target. Not so much the second season, but the first season was great. Shame it didn't get enough viewers.

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