So I’ve seen Doctor Strange 2: Multiverse of Madness. And overall it was good. I enjoyed it (see my comments on the Wearing the Cape Facebook Group page). But . . . I don’t think I like where the MCU is going and MOM is only the latest example of the problem. Hear me out.
When the MCU was introduced it was tight. As a “world” it was ruled by the law of the Conservation of Weirdness. We had superscience (which included even the Cosmic Cube), and that was it for the Iron Man and Captain America movies. Even the Thor movies, ostensibly all about “gods” and giants and even “dark elves” gave us only “space-god magic.” Which, it was strongly implied, was really superscience. Case in point; the Soul Forge.
Jane Foster:Is that a quantum field generator?
Nurse:It’s a soul forge.
Jane Foster:Well, does a soul forge transfer molecular energy from one object to another.
Nurse:[Surprised] Yes. . .
Jane Foster:Hmm. Quantum field generator.
Pure technobabble of course, but the Bifrost is a wormhole, Asgardians are aliens, and Asgard “magic” is superscience. “Space magic.”
Then we got Dr. Strange.
Marvel Studios managed to thread the needle, here; they represented Dr. Strange’s magic, human magic, as mental control of various energies, almost a kind of psionic power. With all the cauldrons and candles missing, even incantations and runes and other other occult paraphernalia remove and replaced by mental focus and gestures, it managed to fit the superscience weirdness paradigm. Barely. Just another branch of superscience, call it Psychic Studies. Move along, nothing to see here.
There was almost a hitch in the tight weave in Black Panther. Remember this?
That’s the Ancestral Plane, where T’challa talked to his dad. But it could easily be waved away by the skeptical as hallucination; he was on an exotic drug at the time, after all.
But then we got this:
That’s right, Moon Knight gave us a “new” pantheon of gods. Not space gods, oh no. These gods aren’t aliens misunderstood, not at all. Meet Taweret, a genuine psychopomp deity (guide of the dead). The other Egyptian gods are just as real as she is, and oh yeah, apparently there is an infinite number of planes of existence for “untethered souls,” aka the spirits of the dead. And Moon Knight pulls a Jesus through indisputable divine miracle.
And yes, as different as it is, Moon Knight is an official part of the MCU.
Meanwhile back to magic, at least of the non-divine kind, last year we had this.
Another form of magic, this stuff much closer to the “true” supernatural than the MCU has seen before. Still cinematically portrayed with light shows, but still. And runes make a reappearance; Strange makes total irresponsible use of them in Spider-Man: No Way Home when he almost breaks the world to solve a teen’s personal crisis.
Which brings us all back to Multiverse of Madness and this:
Candles! And a Dark Book, the Darkhold, also known as the Book of Sins, the Book of Spells, and the Book of The Damned. This nifty little tome was created by none other than Chthon, a kind of ultimate Lovecraftian demon.
So to keep score, we now have; superscience, space gods and psi-magic, but now also supernatural magic and real gods–at least godlike beings actually doing the things gods were believed to do, like running spirit realms. Of which realms we know of two for sure (Taweret commented favorably on the Ancestral Plane), with the implication that when anyone dies, becoming an “untethered soul”, they nip off to the spirit plane that matches their belief system.
Oh, and don’t forget demons and spirits of the damned.
Who’s next in the MCU?
And don’t get me started on the Eternals, with the Celestials another return to the Space Gods trope as the actual creators of the worlds, shapers of the universe as we know it. With the Eternals being yet more inspirations for our myths, of course, rather than actual gods, demigods, etc. themselves.
The MCU is no longer tight. Conservation of Weirdness? What’s that?
Don’t get me wrong; if nothing else, in its drift the MCU has simply come to resemble the original Marvel Comics properties on which it’s based, which all take place in an ultimate Kitchen Sink Reality, both for fantasy and for sci-fi.
And I’m still enjoying the stories (most of them) so I can’t complain. But it’s madness, I tells you! Madness!
15 thoughts on “It’s Madness, I tells you! Madness!”
Now, when is Capes going to be ready. 😉
With the comics, any writer could add anything. With the much smaller MCU, I had some hopes. Obviously, I was a fool. They prefer to cast the widest net to catch all the fish.
On the other hand, as Mary points out the Kitchen Sink approach is practically a founding superhero trope by itself. Which as I said, is why I can’t complain.
Personally, I think a wild and wacky world, where strange fantasy and SF trope jostle (like, oh, Capes), is part of the charm of the superhero genre. Too much SF or too much fantasy pushes it toward those genres, even if toward mecha or urban fantasy.
Wild and wacky is fine, really. But three different kinds of “gods”? In my opinion that’s a bit much. It’s a matter of taste, of course, but as a writer whose had the Conservation of Weirdness rule stamped on his writer’s soul, it feels like heresy.
Part of it having less time to build up each one individually. It’s not clear the universe really is big enough for them all. That’s where decades of comics helps.
Speaking as someone who was irritated at the first Thor movies insisting that the Asgardians weren’t really divine, Marvel getting over its reticence to call a god a god is only a plus in my eyes. 😀
In the comics, the Asgardians were definitely gods.
One comic even had Thor “hearing” a prayer from a worshiper of himself.
Eh, the comics weren’t consistent on it. (What a shock.)
Want to review just how inconsistent Asgardian history has become? Try to make sense of this;
Weirdness has to be doled out in measurable amounts. It’s a seasoning, not a main course, and the more of you have the less relatable a work becomes. At the start the MCU was “the real world except with superheroes.” People reacted to the weirdness like, well, people would. The Asgardians show up in a sleepy desert town and trash the place, and the government reacts by trying to make weapons to even the odds. New York is invaded by aliens, and people don’t know what’s happening and freak out. But the more of it that happens, the less interesting it becomes.
Comics have the problem of continuity. No matter what crazy things happen the comics keep going, the characters keep going on adventures, keep dying and coming back, and Earth gets invaded by aliens every Tuesday. Movies and shows can have that problem, but they don’t have to… if the studios are willing to let them go. If they don’t replace actors that age out, if they let characters permanently die or hang up the cape
I think the MCU should have ended with Endgame. Half of all life had been wiped out and restored. Several characters were dead or retired. Good time to call it quits, right there. But hey, money talks, and these movies make a ton of it.
Part of the problem is that they try to keep it the real world. In SF and fantasy, writers regularly take it off into other worlds. Or even like in our host’s superhero universe. I’ve played with “superpowers mean real change” myself.
But when superpowers are presented as NOT changing the world. . . .
You have to wonder “Why Would Anybody Stay In New York City in the Marvel Comics World”?
IE All those super-being fights, alien attackers, etc. [Crazy Grin]
Indeed. Part of the reason for the added world background in the Barlow’s Guide to Superheroes sourcebook was because I wanted to show a lot of the world-changes that I couldn’t focus on in the books.