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The Superpowered Versatility of the Marvel Universe

There is something wonderful about immersing yourself in a fictional universe, letting your imagination soar as you are so engrossed with the characters that you don’t notice the cracks in the logic.

The cracks are always there of course. When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the Fantastic Four or the X-Men, they weren’t shooting for logical verisimilitude. They were adding personalities into a world of fantasy and adventure.

And superheroes are indeed a subset of fantasy, this being particularly true in the Marvel Universe, as it is wide and deep enough to contain every genre, then toss in an enameled cast iron farm-style kitchen sink. I recommend a crisp white color with an apron front for a timeless classic look.

Why do I say superhero fiction is a subset of fantasy? Well, Captain America was once turned into a wolf, Spider-Man bumps into vampires, and Doctor Strange casts spells (as do many others). In fact, the Marvel Universe is the best fantasy because it can handle it all.

The Marvel Universe is a Genre Sponge

The superhero genre, particularly big universes like Marvel and DC, are genre sponges. They soak up everything like a kitchen sponge, and it is then wrung out onto the page by writers. Basically, the Marvel Universe incorporates everything and the kitchen sink and nothing is strained out in the colander because the colander doesn’t have those little holes that let water through but catch spaghetti. It instead has the bottom cut out so it’s just a big ring that allows every single genre imaginable to us through.

When will I stop making kitchen analogies and who even likes them? Well, fans of the Great British Baking Show for one and Amish housewives for the other.

I recently re-read Marvel’s New Warriors and the story had them solve a mystery then fight the Sphinx. The storyline was science fiction fantasy crime historical mythos teenage romance and that’s not even covering the B story.

Some more examples:

  • Wizardry and astral projection? Doctor Strange.
  • Afro-tech plus kingdom dynamics. Black Panther.
  • Kung-fu and martial arts. Shang-chi, Daredevil, Iron Fist, etc.
  • Telepathy and feeling outcast. X-Men.
  • Alternate reality meets western meets morality tale. Old Man Logan.
  • Space hijinks. Guardians of the Galaxy.

You try it. Think of your favorite Marvel characters, then think about your favorite storylines and genres involved. Every Marvel story is a blob of genres mixed together like a bowl of spaghetti, an analogy I used simply to tie back to my earlier colander reference.

I realize this is obvious, but it is woefully taken for granted and not celebrated as the strength it is. I dare you think of pretty much any genre–no matter how weird or obscure–and I bet Marvel comics has dabbled in it.

Are All MCU Movies Alike?

It’s a strength in the movies as well, helping to account for the enduring nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as well as speak to its long-term health. Captain America: Winter Soldier was a spy thriller. Ant-Man was a heist film. Endgame was time travel; Spider-man: Homecoming was teenage coming-of-age.

Even though the collective tissue of the MCU makes every movie recognizable, the variety of genres allows for an incredible amount of variety. The folks who claim all Marvel movies are just alike simply aren’t paying attention.

Worldbuilding is creating fascinating worlds that readers, viewers, and players want to come back to again and again. Worldbuilding is outlining locations, characters, and conflict to serve as a tinderbox for storytelling potential.

Worldbuilding often needs to only go for sufficiency — that the world is logical enough to play in for the purposes of your immediate story — and direction — moving people along in the story quickly enough that they don’t have time or the interest to question your worldbuilding or story-telling choices, at least until the story is done and you’ve pushed them back out into the real world, waving and smiling.

The Marvel Universe has all that plus space to absorb literally any genre a writer can take inspiration from. It’s almost like the Marvel Universe has it’s own superpower: versatility.

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