How Marvel Planned for the MCU in the 90s
While it was not the size and scale of the cinematic universe, the idea of an interconnected world with overlapping characters was demonstrated in the animated series Marvel created in the 90s.
I mentioned in my last article (yes it was a long time ago! I am slacking!) about how Marvel had a number of great animated series in the 90s and how they were all connected in their own shared universe. Basically I wanted to expand on that idea here.
In 2008 Marvel Studios took a huge risk with the release of Iron Man, not because the film itself was particularly controversial but because of the fact that it would be the first in a series of films about Marvel superheroes that all exist within the same universe. All of the Marvel films would link together, actions in one film would have consequences in another. Since then Marvel have expanded their universe to include TV shows like Agents of SHIELD and Daredevil. An example of this is that the Hydra infiltration of SHIELD that is unearthed in Captain America The Winter Solider has direct consequences in Agents of SHIELD. Because of so many SHIELD agents being revealed as Hydra operatives, Coulson's team are forced to fall back into the shadows and the whole organisation becomes much smaller. This was a twist that arguably revived Agents of SHIELD and allowed the show to develop. The success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been unprecedented with the series now becoming the highest grossing film series of all time and also many other properties attempting to copy their blueprint.
But had Marvel already tried something similar in the 90s? Of course this was not the size and scale of the cinematic universe, but the idea of an interconnected world with overlapping characters was demonstrated in the animated series Marvel created in the 90s. These included the series based on the X-Men, Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk and the Fantastic Four. Each series had its own story with ongoing plots, these included the basic adaptations of the comic stories as well as some new takes on existing characters (sound familiar?) but they also allowed for crossovers.
For example, during the second series of Spider-Man, Spidey discovered that his powers were evolving - he was mutating - and who did he turn to? Why of course Spider-Man turned to the world's leading expert on mutants, Professor Charles Xavier. Professor X of course featured in X-Men in his role of leader of the team and when he appeared in Spider-Man he not only had the same character design, he also had the same voice actor, as did the rest of the X-Men who featured in the episode. There was a consistency between the series, Wolverine had his voice actor, Beast had his voice actor etc, much in the same way that Marvel's characters appear throughout the MCU today.
Throughout the 90s TV shows many characters crossed over into other shows, due to the fact the shows were animated it allowed for characters to appear in the background with no lines just to add a bit of depth to the universe. This meant that many superheroes who did not have their own series could appear, Deadpool and Thor appeared in X-Men briefly, the Scarlet Spider appeared hanging off a building in Fantastic Four and there were a number of appearances from superheroes in Spider-Man. It was as if Marvel had decided that as the majority of these shows took place in New York there would be a possibility for the heroes to cross paths with one another. Building on Spider-Man featuring many heroes the show featured Iron Man, War Machine, Doctor Strange, Baron Mordo, the X-Men and Daredevil.
Daredevil did not have his own series which allowed him to appear across the Marvel Animated Universe. He appeared in Spider-Man ultimately because Peter Parker required a lawyer, he had been framed for treason by the Chameleon. Matt Murdock took on Peter's case and teamed up with Spider-Man to find the culprit in a 2 part story entitled Framed and, fittingly, The Man Without Fear. This, coupled with Daredevil's appearance in the Fantastic Four episode And a Blind Man Shall Lead Them were meant to be a back door pilot for his own series but ultimately this did not happen. However using this method has already occurred within the MCU, Hawkeye for example had a minor cameo in Thor which was a means to introduce him into the universe for the Avengers films. There are also rumours (which I very much hope are true) that Captain America Civil War will feature a cameo from Spider-Man to finally introduce him to the MCU. The sharing of a universe continued with the Hulk appearing in X-Men, Iron Man and Fantastic Four.
Marvel used all of their experience from years of comic book storytelling to create their animated universe. There have been countless crossovers in the comics between heroes and this is the basis behind the MCU today and while the plans were not as cohesive as they are now, I believe it can definitely be said that Marvel put the groundwork in during the 90s, even down to the Stan Lee cameos...