Unseen Superhero Cameos Are the Hot New Thing in Comic Book Movies

By  · Published on September 22nd, 2014

Warner Bros./Screencapped.net

Stan Lee cameos and Easter eggs that are actually visible to the eye are old hat as comic book movie conventions. The hot new thing is apparently to have an unseen cameo from a notable superhero. This trend may include the slight references to the existence of offscreen characters, like the acknowledgement of Black Panther in Iron Man 3, Stephen Strange (aka Dr. Strange) in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Adam Warlock in Thor: The Dark World and Guardians of the Galaxy, but now it’s starting to be bigger than those inconsequential fan-service winks. Characters are showing up in and adding to the action of major comic book movie plots without actually being visible in the frame or named in any way whatsoever. So far, we’ve already gotten Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, in the Captain America sequel and Aquaman in Man of Steel.

Don’t recall seeing either? Exactly. They weren’t technically in those movies, but in a way they also sort of were.

More so for The Punisher, if that’s in fact who is alluded to in a recent interview at ComingSoon.net with Winter Soldier co-director Joe Russo. He points out that when Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) is on the run from HYDRA agents driving DCPD cars, a yellow Penske truck helps out by slamming into a couple of those undercover baddies, and then later a Penske truck is also involved in the death of a certain character. “The man who drives that truck is very highly trained,” Russo said, hinting that it’s also a well-known Marvel character. “He thinks on his own terms. He’s got a plan and a very specific skill set.” While nobody was named, and it’s possible Russo was just joking anyway, fans on the Internet have decided that the most likely candidate for the unseen role is Castle.

Marvel Studios via Slashfilm/Yahoo UK

As for Aquaman, his presence is felt in the scene in Man of Steel where Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), aka Superman, falls into the ocean after saving a bunch of men from an oil rig disaster. You may recall that a couple whales swim above Kent as he awakens from his flashback ‐ then, the next time we see the guy he’s made his way onto land. According to The Wrap’s Jeff Sneider, who spoke of this “nugget” on the Meet the Movie Press show last week, he overheard claim that the whales were in fact acting on behalf of Aquaman and that this will be properly revealed in the upcoming sequel/spin-off Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Maybe Aquaman had been helping out with the disaster, too. The owner of the rig, after all, is a corporate adversary of Aquaman, Merrevale Oil.

It’s very possible that neither of these “cameos” is legitimate, nor might they ever be made official, but it doesn’t matter. Fans latch onto some theories in ways that make them true much like an incorrect usage of a word leads to acceptance of that definition down the line. Batman died at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, The Joker didn’t actually kill Batman’s parents in Tim Burton’s universe, all the Stan Lee cameos are really him playing Uatu, the Watcher, etc. In The Winter Soldier, the real driver of those Penske trucks is product placement, and if the whales in Man of Steel are confirmed as being in communication with Aquaman, this is probably something being retrofitted to a shot that was mostly about atmosphere. Still, as long as nobody can prove The Punisher and Aquaman weren’t there, unseen by the camera, it’s okay for people to believe both cases are true.

Twentieth Century Fox via Screen Rant

Whether this sort of thing continues to be a trend, whether it’s all hint, theory, deleted scene (did you know Rogue has an unseen significance in X-Men: Days of Future Past where she helps maintain the Wolverine consciousness time travel plot?) or actual set-up for future movies, is unclear, but I wouldn’t be surprised if comic book movie producers capitalize on the sort of talk it generates. And if they can be ambiguous and unofficial, they don’t have to be glued to the ideas if they want to change their mind continuity-wise down the road. To add to the growth, here’s a cameo rumor I’d like to start: Sue Storm/Invisible Woman has secretly been in every frame of every Marvel adaptation ever.

[Hat tip for the Winter Soldier theory via Movies.com; Hat tip for the Aquaman theory via Mashable]

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.