Marvel Spotlight Won’t Fix the MCU’s Biggest Problem

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Marvel Spotlight gives Marvel a platform for character-driven stories that can stand alone from the larger MCU continuity.
  • The new Marvel Spotlight projects aim to gauge audience interest in new characters before committing them to the main MCU narrative.
  • Marvel Spotlight’s success depends on Marvel’s ability to keep it separate from the interconnected MCU, which may prove difficult in the long run.


Marvel’s most recent series release on Disney+, Echo, is the first to be launched under the new Marvel Spotlight banner. When Head of Streaming Brad Winterbaum made the announcement about the launch of the new banner, he claimed that Marvel Spotlight “gives us a platform to bring more grounded, character-driven stories to the screen, and in the case of Echo, focusing on street-level stakes over larger MCU continuity.”

Winterbaum also went on to say that content released under the new platform does not require the audience to have seen other MCU content to understand what’s happening. In a nutshell, these projects exist just outside the main MCU narrative. It’s an interesting move on Marvel’s part, a strategic change for a studio that needed to make one, but is Spotlight the way to go? In a word, no. In more words, Marvel Spotlight, as it is currently envisioned, is a bad idea, and the release of Echo (and more recent comments from Winterbaum) reflects that.

Echo

Maya Lopez must face her past, reconnect with her Native American roots and embrace the meaning of family and community if she ever hopes to move forward.

Release Date
January 9, 2024

Main Genre
Drama

Seasons
1

Studio
Marvel Studios

Streaming Service(s)
Disney+


Marvel Spotlight Has a History in the Comics

The Marvel Spotlight name isn’t random but actually has a history in Marvel Comics that dates back to 1971. The comic book anthology series was the brainchild of president and publisher Stan Lee, and gave Marvel a place to try out new characters without the need to launch a new series, something which was of financial benefit and a gauge of a character’s popularity before either axing them or committing to a series with them. Marvel Spotlight #1 was released in November 1971, and featured Marvel’s first Native American superhero, Red Wolf. The series ended in April 1977 after a 33-issue run and was revived again in 1979 for 11 issues before being canceled a second time. In the comics, Marvel Spotlight is notable for the first-time appearances of a number of popular Marvel heroes, the likes of Werewolf by Night, Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, Moon Knight, and Spider-Woman.

In essence, the “new” Marvel Spotlight has the same objective; introducing a new character (or bringing an existing character, like Echo, into a storyline outside the MCU) and gauging interest. If the new character captures the audience’s fancy, then they are likely at some point to join the main MCU continuity. If the character is a dud, they can be pushed aside without having to try and explain in the main MCU continuity what happened to them. This would be the one area in which Marvel Spotlight actually has some benefit. By avoiding the need to be interconnected to the outside MCU, Marvel Spotlight projects don’t need to try and tie into an increasingly convoluted narrative.

Related

‘Moon Knight’ Should’ve Been the First Marvel Spotlight Project, Not ‘Echo’

Every day I wake up… and wish ‘Moon Knight’ was TV-MA.

Why Is Marvel Spotlight a Bad Idea?

The new banner for 'Marvel Spotlight'
Image via Marvel Studios

Of course, the benefit of being just outside the MCU continuity is only as good as Marvel is at keeping the Marvel Spotlight projects at arm’s length from its kin, and therein lies the rub. Can Marvel commit to doing so for an extended period of time? It doesn’t look promising. Variety reports claims that both Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man) and Chris Evans (Captain America) have signed on to return to the MCU in Avengers: Secret Wars. It’s been just over four years since Avengers: Endgame, and already Marvel is planning on resurrecting one martyr and a presumably dead, or an incredibly old, Star-Spangled hero. The Blip lasted longer, so just how long can Marvel resist bringing the Spotlight content into the main continuity? On a related note, Marvel has spent the last 15 years conditioning fans to expect that everything released in the MCU is interconnected. Literally everything, including the presence of What If…?‘s Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell) in Doctor Strange in the Multitude of Madness. If they want Marvel Spotlight to work as intended, then they need to alter fans’ expectations, and we all know just how reasonable fans can be (not you, dear reader, you’re good).

Bob Iger, not all that long ago, candidly admitted that Marvel overextended itself by increasing content, resulting in “diluted focus and attention” and subpar VFX. How does Marvel Spotlight remedy that? It doesn’t. Let’s go back to grade school math. Say you have 10 apples that you are selling at the market. One day, you decide that seven of those apples will be at the front of the stand, and the other three just off to the side. How many apples do you have now? The same 10. Marvel Spotlight doesn’t necessarily mean less content, just less content that’s intimately connected with the MCU. Unless “grounded and character-driven” means less reliance on VFX, then they’re still in the same boat, with VFX artists doing the same amount of work, only sending it in two different directions.

Additionally, the timing of Marvel Spotlight itself is odd. It isn’t that Echo isn’t a great place to start, but wouldn’t it have made far more sense to announce Marvel Spotlight when they announced Werewolf by Night as the first feature under Marvel Studios Special Presentations? It definitely would have been more fitting, with Werewolf by Night having been introduced in Marvel Spotlight #2. Both specials under that banner (the second being The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special) encompass everything that Marvel Spotlight is trying to be; a place for new characters (Werewolf by Night, Swamp Thing), and a place where existing characters, like the said Guardians, have a storyline that isn’t tied to the main MCU continuity.

‘Echo’ Doesn’t Reassure Us

If the release of Echo was meant to assuage such fears, it isn’t happening. Reviews of the series place it as above average (Collider’s own Chase Hutchinson gave the series an 8 out of 10), but not drop-what-you’re-doing-and-binge great. Then there is the fact that Echo was given a binge release, something that only hurts the show. Finally, there’s Winterbaum’s recent comments, indicating in an interview with Screen Rant that the Netflix series of Marvel shows, Daredevil specifically, are, in his words, part of the Sacred Timeline.

In his defense, he did say it was his personal standpoint, not an official one, but try putting that cat back in a bag. When Daredevil was released on Netflix in 2015, it was noted that the series inhabited the same universe as the MCU before Marvel Television and Marvel Studios became separate entities. Winterbaum’s comments, and the presence of both Charlie Cox‘s Daredevil and Vincent D’Onofrio‘s Wilson Fisk in MCU projects, now bring the Netflix host of series back into the MCU as canon. If that does indeed become the case, then the claim that the audience doesn’t need to have seen other MCU content becomes moot.

Ultimately, not only is Marvel Spotlight a case of “too little, too late,” but has a touch of “been there, done that” as well. There is a chance that Marvel Spotlight brings back the creative spark, quality, and uniqueness that marked the MCU’s Infinity Saga (and Echo has certainly found a niche in its TV-MA content) — but don’t hold your breath.

All 5 episodes of Echo are streaming on Disney+ in the U.S.

WATCH ON DISNEY+



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