How disconnected will we accept characters to be from their comic book universes?
Sony recently announced that Venom, Black Cat, and Silver Sable – all characters known for being part of the world of Spider-Man – are going to be broken away from the superhero for their own movies. Venom is getting an R-rated offshoot with sci-fi, horror, and action elements, while Black Cat and Silver Sable are sharing the screen for something possibly related to it. Basically the studio wants to move ahead with the shared universe they’d planned to spinoff from the Amazing Spider-Man run, only now these movies will have nothing to do with Spidey at all.
Many of us immediately thought of Catwoman, which took the DC Comics villain, whom we’d previously seen in a Batman movie (Batman Returns, played by Michelle Pfeiffer), and gave her a re-cast solo venture (starring Halle Berry) with no ties to the Caped Crusader. We’ve similarly already seen Venom and Black Cat before, the former as one of Spidey’s villains (portrayed by Topher Grace) in Spider-Man 3 and the latter as a supporting character (played by Felicity Jones) in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 who hadn’t yet gotten the chance to be revealed as her feline-themed alter ego.
Of course, Catwoman isn’t the only bad example. From DC and Warner Bros., there’s also the Shaquille O’Neal vehicle Steel, which like Venom is an interesting choice for a franchise detachment since the title character on the page was literally born out of a major comic book character. In that case, Superman. Earlier, 1984’s Supergirl was just barely linked to the Superman movies being produced at the time. Before that there was Swamp Thing. But couldn’t we also say the old Superman and Batman movies did the same thing by not having any mention of, let alone connection to, each other?
Marvel already has a much bigger issue with characters who are connected in comics not being connected in movies. In fact, before this year, Spider-Man himself was disassociated from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, instead just star of his own franchise. At least for three movies pre-MCU’s existence, nobody seemed to mind that he had no ties to Iron Man, Captain America, etc. Now he does have such ties, but his other associates will have no ties to him (as far as we know —they’re at least not connected to the Tom Holland MCU version of Spidey). In the age of the MCU, fans want everything Marvel to be linked up.
But then there are also plenty of people who think the interconnectivity has gotten out of hand. It’s nice to see Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War alongside all his fellow Marvel superheroes, but now it seems a bit much to have Iron Man so prominently involved in Spider-Man: Homecoming. And there’s a cameo from Captain America in the latest trailer, too. When Iron Man and Thor went back to their solo series post-The Avengers, there were reminders of the rest of the MCU, but that didn’t dominate their stories nor their marketing.
Guardians of the Galaxy is even better at doing its own thing, with the upcoming sequel supposedly unfastened completely from the hold of the Infinity Stones and anything else to do with the rest of the MCU, and it’s seen as a positive direction for that property. Guardians can exist as its own franchise within the mega franchise without always being informed by the big picture. That’s how comic books are, and that’s how comic book movies should be. It’s also what Fox is doing now with the Marvel-based X-Men franchise, allowing for stuff like Deadpool and Logan to be related yet ignore continuity (there’s also the TV series Legion, which focuses on a minor character from the X-Men comics, and so far it’s not related at all).
Perhaps the tolerated type of standalone franchise for comic book characters is one where the hero or antihero has his or her own ongoing publication? Venom has had multiple limited series and a couple monthly series that didn’t last too long, and Silver Sable had a regular title named for herself “and the Wild Pack,” but that was also short-lived. They and Black Cat – as well as Catwoman – will always be considered supporting characters in another’s universe, compared to Spider-Man and Batman, who will always be able to stand on their own as comic and movie stars.
As with any idea out of Hollywood, the Venom and Black Cat/Silver Sable movies could be good or bad depending on the care put into them. It’s an interesting direction to go in as the two movies seem at first to be a nice alternative to the modern shared-universification of everything. And frankly, I’d still love to see that standalone Aunt May spy movie announced years ago. But if Sony just crosses them over and makes their own cinematic universe with these characters, that defeats their potential and will only cause fans to keep wondering if Spidey can ever be looped in at some point.