The Marvel Cinematic Universe recently experimented with a new format and dropped the so-called “Special Presentation” Werewolf By Night on Disney Plus. The special is a delightful addition to the ever-expanding MCU, using a taut hour-long runtime to introduce audiences to the titular lycanthrope and other key but obscure characters from the comics – most notably, plant monster Man-Thing and monster hunter Elsa Bloodstone. The special further sets itself apart with a well-executed tone that pays tribute to classic horror films of the Universal Monsters era. Werewolf By Night stands out at a time when superhero media – and MCU content in particular – needs entries that are more than just retreads of a tried-and-true formula.
As the credits rolled on Werewolf By Night, I started to think about what made this first MCU Special Presentation work and other, new-to-the-MCU characters from the pages of Marvel comics would be a good fit for the format. In my mind, this could be due to the possibility of seeing a brand new corner of the MCU, the potential to showcase a specific genre, or a character that historically has a niche role in the comics and thus lends themselves to a self-contained introduction.
So with those general guidelines in mind, allow me if you please to put my Kevin Feige-style baseball cap on and propose five characters who could be interesting at the center of a future MCU Special Presentation, and the comics that could serve as inspiration for their stories.
Full disclosure: No more than two days after I started making notes for this article – with the noble herald of Galactus at the top of my list – rumors started doing the rounds that a Special Presentation focused on the Silver Surfer may very well be in the works. Sounds like good ideas are contagious, because Norrin Radd is a perfect candidate for a one-off special.
Upon his comic book introduction in Fantastic Four #48, Silver Surfer is serving a singular purpose in the Marvel Universe – searching out planets for Galactus to devour and thus sustain his life force. He is a tragic character – a slave to his master and, though he’s been granted the Power Cosmic in order to fulfill his duties as herald, the Surfer is powerless to change his circumstances. This brooding, haunted intergalactic traveler is a long-awaited addition to the MCU, and I would love to see his existence acknowledged even before he inevitably shows up in the Fantastic Four cinematic franchise.
As for the story his Special Presentation should tell, the Surfer’s most interesting conflict, in my opinion, is internal. That means no need for a galactic antagonist for him to throw cosmic bolts at. Instead, Marvel could do something quieter – for example, they could draw inspiration from the pages of the 1982 Silver Surfer one-shot written by Stan Lee with pencils by John Byrne. In that story, the Surfer escapes the cosmic barrier Galactus erected to keep him imprisoned on Earth. He returns to his home planet Zenn-La only to find its civilization in ruins thanks to Galactus, who leeched the planet’s energies in a rage after the Silver Surfer allied himself with the Fantastic Four against his master. There is a lot more going on in the second half of the one-shot than could or should be included in a Special Presentation – namely a showdown with everyone’s favorite MCU Disney+ rumor, Mephisto – but the first half is a great exploration of the Surfer’s past.
This narrative framework allows for a clean re-telling of the Surfer’s origin as Galactus’ herald, and gives the Surfer many opportunities to brood handsomely over the fact that his sacrifice did not save his home after all. A streamlined version of this story could be used for Surfer’s Disney+ introduction – wistful for his home while searching for Galactus’ next meal, he returns to find Zenn-La a shell of its former self and reflects in flashback on the actions that got him here. Galactus would only be hinted at or shown in the abstract – no cloud monsters though, of course – but his presence would be felt throughout as we get to know his herald.
Ka-Zar, Lord of the Savage Land
As a dinosaur and X-Men nerd from way back, I’ve long loved the Savage Land, so I’ll be honest – my choice of Ka-Zar here has way more to do with his place of residence than with Kevin Plunder himself. The Savage Land is a location unlike any other we’ve seen in the MCU to date – a tropical oasis in Antarctica hidden from the outside world where all manner of prehistoric life still thrives and coexists with various human and non-human societies. We’re deep into the age of the MCU embracing the weird, and there are very few locations on the Marvel Earth as strange as Ka-Zar’s home. And thanks to the introduction of Namor and Talokan in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, we now have precedent that major countries/civilizations exist on Earth, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.
As for the man himself? I don’t think MCU Ka-Zar needs a full-fledged origin story. He should already be a prominent figure in the Savage Land, playing the role of peacemaker between tribes and living a life with his wife, Shanna (with, of course, plenty of screen time given to his companion sabretooth tiger, Zabu). This dynamic is established nicely in Ka-Zar, written by Mark Waid with art by Andy Kubert. As is true of most Savage Land stories in my experience, that series involves plenty of dinosaur-wrangling and a central threat stemming from the outside world. It’s a simple, straightforward formula that would work perfectly for an hour-long special and provide plenty of opportunities to show the Savage Land in all its prehistoric wonder.
Great Lakes Avengers
While the MCU has introduced dozens of individual heroes over the years, there is a real dearth of actual teams in this universe outside of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Guardians of the Galaxy. So how about a Special Presentation highlighting a superhero group as they try to fill the void left by the Avengers after the events of Endgame? We’re clearly due for some new teams in the upcoming Thunderbolts and Fantastic Four movies, but I’m envisioning something a little more…hapless. That’s where the Great Lakes Avengers come in.
The MCU’s first foray into straight-up comedy with She-Hulk: Attorney at Law was, in my opinion, quite successful, and I’d love to see that approach taken with a team. The Great Lakes Avengers fit the bill perfectly for a comedic special, thanks to their bizarre powers and general goofiness. What’s more, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law already introduced a version of Mr. Immortal, the GLA’s leader. And while his characterization there strayed from the well-meaning but out-matched Craig Hollis from the comics, it wouldn’t be too difficult to take the live-action version and imbue him with a healthy dose of regret for his two-timing ways such that he decides relocate somewhere low-key like Milwaukee, find some allies, and try his hand at the hero game.
The vibe I’m looking for is very much in line with the GLA’s first appearance in West Coast Avengers #46, written and drawn by John Byrne. In their introduction, Mr. Immortal and fellow GLA members Flatman, Doorman, Big Bertha, and Dinah Soar are gung-ho for the chance to fight crime, and use their somewhat grotesque abilities to foil a bank robbery. In the comic, the group’s unsanctioned use of the Avengers name draws the attention of Hawkeye and Mockingbird, who take the raw superheroes under their wing. In the current version of the MCU, though, no Avengers team exists, and I like the idea of a group of wayward, untested superhumans trying to fill that vacuum to comedic effect.
“The man with the power of a million exploding suns” is to say the least a complicated character. He’s been something of a cheat code in the comics since his creation in 2000, getting the call when Norman Osborn needs a trump card or a World War Hulk needs stopping. I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time wondering if the Sentry, with his uber-specific backstory and incalculable powers, will ever make it into the MCU. He’s only headlined a handful of comics in his 22-year history and doesn’t exactly have a varied rogue’s gallery; his worst enemies are The Void and, well, himself. So with the MCU’s big-screen entry’s focused on properties with franchise potential, he strikes me as too one-note for a movie (especially considering Captain Marvel already did a version of the amnesiac hero rediscovering their true self), and certainly has limited application for any potential sequels.
But now we have the Special Presentation concept, and I think Sentry is perfect for a one-off story. The best place to draw from for inspiration is undoubtedly the series in which he made his first appearance: The Sentry (and accompanying spin-offs), by writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee. In those pages, Bob Reynolds, alcoholic and unhappy, begins to faintly recall a life as the Sentry, the first and most powerful superhero the world had ever seen. Unsure if these are truly memories or just the delusions of an addict, Bob probes his suspicions further and contacts heroes he remembers as friends and allies – Mr. Fantastic and the Hulk chief among them. He gradually regains access to his repressed powers and discovers (and disables) the device responsible for the mass hypnosis that erased him from the memories of everyone on Earth. He also discovers that he and his archenemy The Void – the ultimate darkness, capable of devouring the universe – are somehow one and the same, leading Sentry to the realization that he has to sacrifice his place in the world yet again in order to save it from himself.
That self-sacrifice should be an essential component of any MCU adaptation of the Sentry. I don’t think the other MCU heroes necessarily need to have a presence in an effective version of his story (probably don’t have the budget for an RDJ cameo anyway!). Sentry could be presented as the first and only superhero of the day through Bob’s tortured fragments of memory. But as he uncovers more about his past and why no one else remembers the Sentry, Bob decides that the most heroic thing he can do for the world is to keep the Void at bay by keeping the Sentry hidden.
I couldn’t in good conscience put a list like this together without including at least one honest to goodness X-Man. There are a number of mutant candidates who would make for an entertaining Special Presentation, but I’m most drawn to the idea of spending an hour or so with Gambit for a few reasons. First, at his core, Remy LeBeau is a thief, and a special focused on a thief means a heist. Heists are fun! The MCU needs more heists. Gambit’s origin and eccentric supporting cast would allow for an exploration of New Orleans and its seedy underbelly, replete with warring clans and colorful characters like Remy’s estranged wife Bella Donna Boudreaux. I’m desperate to see the rival Assassins and Thieves Guilds in conflict over some mysterious MacGuffin that both parties need a skilled mutant to steal.
Considering that this should be an individual story for Remy, it makes sense to look to some of the solo Gambit series that have been published over the years. In my reading, though, I found that no single series had the vibe I’m envisioning; rather, there are two series that focus on separate elements of Gambit’s story that I’d love to see melded together for the MCU. The first is the 1993-1994 Gambit miniseries written by Howard Mackie with art by Lee Weeks. This mini is all about Gambit’s family and the two New Orleans Guilds from his past as they all vie for an elixir that grants long life. There is Guild lore, Cajun accents, and costumes galore that would all bring a unique and delightful palette to the MCU. But no heists! Fortunately, writer James Asmus and artist Clay Mann dive head first into Gambit the thief in their 2012 Gambit solo series. This book sees Gambit strike out from the X-Men and indulge his mischievous instincts with some high-stakes thieving that, naturally, gets him in over his head. A combination of these aspects of Gambit would make for a wildly different character introduction than we’ve seen to this point in the MCU.