or, “What SHIELD really stands for.”
or, “Why the hell is Ghost Rider in Agents of SHIELD?”
Yes, I did work on that acronym for quite a while. So the fourth season of Agents of SHIELD has started up and a Ghost Rider has been introduced. Speaking as a writer, this makes no sense to me. Marvel’s Netflix series (a.k.a “Marvel Nights” [ha!]) has already introduced mystic undying ninjas and will introduce Iron Fist (yay!), master of mystic martial arts and mystical puncher of things ordinary people shouldn’t punch. Given that all of the Marvel Nights series (except for Punisher, probably), is building towards a Defenders movie in which they fight a version of the Serpent Society (I’m guessing from Luke Cage’s antagonist) and of course the Hand. Also probably Elektra will come back from the dead, because comic books. Anyway, the point is that the Marvel Nights series has already touched on several mystic themes and is building towards a mystic showdown. The mainstream MCU, of which “Agents” is part of, has avoided the existence of magic like the plague. The MCU has gone so far as to make the magic of Asgard (and the dark elves) into just very, very advanced technology. “Agents” is a high-tech action series and has only dealt with magic in so far as what the Asgardians accidentally left behind, which has established is actually just technology.
So why the hell is Ghost Rider in Agents of SHIELD and not getting his own series/special in the Marvel Nights? The answer is (I’m guessing anyway) – Dr. Strange will hit theaters on Nov. 4. It’s all about marketing and not at all about story. Like I said, from a writer’s perspective (that is, someone who crafts stories), this particular move does not make sense. “Agents” is the wrong genre and the wrong tone for something as dark and serious as Ghost Rider. The only advantage “Agents” has is the network budget and I think that’s certainly a handicap that could be overcome on Netflix. But no, alas, the poor “Agents” suffer yet again by executive meddling and editorial mandates.
The corporate synergy that is occurring is, to me, on an unprecedented scale. Do I like Marvel comics? A few, here and there. Do I like the MCU? Yes, very much. Do I like Marvel Nights? Yes, very much. Do I like Agents of SHIELD? Kind of, sort of, but it’s hard for me to get into it because I feel “Agents” is less a TV series in its own right and more of a slickly produced informercial/tie-in for the MCU. Thus it has and always will be subject to the whims of the overlord of ABC and Marvel, Disney. And Disney has decided that the “Agents” can best serve by reminding people that there’s this mega-blockbuster coming out soon they really need hit the billion dollar mark on to consider it a success. This means the series has taken some nonsensical turns in the context of the show’s world. The latest is the introduction of Ghost Rider, because the overlords decided the potential movie-going audience needed to be introduced to the concept of magic and that Dr. Strange isn’t just this stand-alone movie. This makes me so grateful Guardians of the Galaxy was allowed to be its own thing, although I think I recall the Agents did start making a lot of contact with aliens around that time.
I’m not so näive as to think something like this wouldn’t happen. Disney has always been good at marketing and integrated marketing. Corporations exist to make money and have no emotional investment in the product being pushed. A little bit of cross-marketing doesn’t bother me too much. A wink and a nod here and there, or an Easter egg, can be fun. But this? I dislike that major plot points in that series can be traced directly or indirectly to the movies. I don’t mean the aftermath, either, like after Thor 2. I mean plot points that are relevant to movies that are coming out in the near future. Heck, one of my co-workers had the end of Captain America 2 mostly spoiled for him because he watched the finale of “Agents” first.
The idea of using a television show to sell a product in another medium is not new, of course. This cross-marketing has been most prevalent with children’s shows. Several popular shows were created to sell toys and other product tie-ins. It was possible to find out the plot line to the next season of “Power Rangers” just by going to the toy store before the new season debuted on television. Jem and the Holograms was created to sell dolls. The first animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was created to sell toys, not the mature spoof comic of origin. In fact, the reason the show got so weird so fast is because the writers had to accommodate the toy line. But frankly, I don’t think children should be subjected to such thinly disguised advertisements for something else and I certainly don’t enjoy this tactic being used on adult media.
I don’t like it in children’s media not because I have small whiny people demanding I turn over my hard-earned cash for some overpriced bit of plastic they’ll lose interest in within two months (although that is a good argument). I don’t like it because the need to sell hinders and sometimes outright cripples creativity. Sometimes the marketing is so emphasized that the particular piece of media loses narrative coherency altogether (have you ever seen any one of Disney Channel’s live-action TV shows?). The reason children have been subjected to this is because while children are certainly not stupid, they haven’t learned critical thinking skills yet, so they can enjoy media that drive adults up the wall or just isn’t very good. I’m not immune to this. I watched an internet critic review a movie I had liked very much as a child. I agreed with his criticisms, but that didn’t change the fact my eight-year old self had completely missed all the flaws, plot holes, and chomper logic.
I know there are a lot of people who like “Agents” and that’s fine. What bothers me doesn’t bother everyone. But the forced marketing of other (and more profitable) Disney/Marvel properties through “Agents” bothers me a great deal. I really want to like this show. I like Phil and Melinda May (but who doesn’t like Mulan?). The original concept (as I understood it) to show the adventures of non-superpowered spies tasked with taking on complicated problems in a superpowered world was an interesting one. I would have liked to see that explored. The shaky first season tried and it was improving into the second season. But then it became so clear to me with the introduction of the Inhumans that this was Disney/Marvel’s way of telling Fox, “we don’t need no X-men” and that kind of put a damper on my enjoyment of the actual show. I feel there are too many plot points that don’t make any sense within the established context of the show, such as the introduction of Ghost Rider.
Maybe I just have a hypercritical writer’s brain. Maybe I’m just still mad I can see the fingerprints of some greedy executive’s master plan to make sure the comics, television, and MCU all concern only the properties Marvel Studios actually has the movie rights to. Maybe I should repeat to myself “it’s just a show” and really should relax. It’s only meant to be disposable media anyway, and I can always watch something else. The show is holding together despite the evil cackling from the boardroom level, but I know it could be so much better if it was allowed to be its own show (like Marvel’s Agent Carter). And given the success of the MCU and Disney’s gluttonous consumption of other cross-media marketable properties, I’m afraid “Agents” is a harbinger of things to come.