The Many Genres of Marvel Comics
Most people equate the comic books that gave birth to the Marvel Cinematic Universe with superheroes and nothing else. But Marvel has published comics of every variety, even after dropping the Atlas and Timely Comics banners in the early 1960s. The Marvel Comics Group has released horror stories in Tomb of Dracula and Werewolf by Night, the ‘70s romance anthology Our Love Story, and Kung fu stories starring Shang-Chi and Iron Fist.
Even when starring superheroes, Marvel Comics have run the gamut of storytelling possibilities. “Why?,” one may ask. Because even the best superhero comics get repetitive after a while. The most unapologetic defender of the Defenders, the Champions, and the All-Winners Squad will eventually lose interest in the same old plots about musclemen punching, dying, and coming back to life.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be learning a similar lesson. After a decade of box office dominance, the MCU sheds viewers with every new release. Any number of reasons could account for the shift in dominance, from poor quality control to increased competition, to simple audience disinterest. But in nearly every case, detractors mention the Marvel formula, a storytelling structure that demands galactic stakes, characters hanging out, and lots of witty banter.
Too often, these reviews miss the few times that the MCU has changed up the genre, such as the martial arts action in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, or the horror in Werewolf by Night and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. But that may be less an indication of viewers’ lack of attention or the quality of those entries and more proof that Marvel has not committed enough to the change in structure.
Musicals and Genre Fiction
Of all the possible genres for Marvel to attempt, musicals may be the most germane to what’s come before. Superheroes wear bright colors and break into fantastic feats at a moment’s notice. Battles between good guys and bad guys function as debates between worldviews, as Professor X and Magneto compare their relative philosophies as much as they attack each other.
Moreover, there’s a long history of integrating musicals in genre fiction. Many unlikely stories have been adapted to stage musicals, including Evil Dead, Barbarella, and The Toxic Avenger. So effective was the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode “Once More With Feeling” that Joss Whedon revisited the idea for Doctor Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog. Even Star Trek recently tried its hand at song with the well-received episode of Strange New Worlds, “Subspace Rhapsody.”