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The news that Marvel is making a television series out of The Incredible Hulk yet again is one of those strange things that, on the face of it, seems to be one thing, and then unfolds into something quite different altogether. Follow me down the overanalysis rabbit hole, why don’t you?
I can’t help but feel that announcing Hulk as the first of Marvel TV’s projects – although the news was accompanied by the announcement of a Cloak & Dagger series for ABC Family – is a misstep for the company disguised as a great idea. Sure, it’s the Hulk, everyone knows the character and he’s had a successful television series before, in the 1970s, but… the Hulk? Really? That guy who’s been in two movies that have been relative flops? That guy who can’t seem to hold onto a lead actor from movie to movie? That Hulk?
There’s a chance that launching with the Hulk will send an unspoken message to audiences, that the character can’t carry a movie but can handle television – Implying that both the character and the medium is, somehow, second-rate compared the movie side of things (A feeling that, it has to be said, Marvel and Disney may share. After all, movies are likely to make more money), instantly devaluing both the Hulk series and Marvel TV in general. It’s not necessarily true; there are characters that work better in the longform television model than the short, “large” story model of movies, and I’d argue that the Hulk is probably one of those, considering his lack of identifiable “core” story or, for that matter, core villains (I think the Hulk actually has a great line-up of villains, but none well-known to the mainstream public). But nonetheless, there’s a sense of the Hulk being demoted with this television series, coupled with a sense of Marvel trying, desperately, to make the character fit with the general public. He’s like the Fetch of the Marvel Universe.
(Yes, Mean Girls references. Always a good idea.)
There’s also something else surprising about the Hulk news: It means that the TV shows probably won’t be part of the movie continuity. True, there’s a small chance that somehow the TV series will spin out of The Avengers movie, but it seems unlikely (Even if it was the plan, what would the odds be that Mark Ruffalo would sign on for an ABC television series as Bruce Banner?). It makes some sense, I guess; what are the odds that Disney would be fine with cross-continuity between movies and television, considering the discrepancy in international distribution for both? The more interesting question is, will there be a separate television continuity for all the various series, on all the different channels? It’s possible – especially if the television division keeps things as small and tight as has been discussed in the past, and also keeps everything in the larger ABC/ABC Family/Disney corporate family to make crossovers easier – but not definite, and there’s something about the Hulk and Cloak & Dagger announcements that make me feel it’s somehow less likely, for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
So, Marvel’s TV plan seems to be… Actually, I’m not sure. I’m tempted to say “misguided and backwards looking,” if only because of the use of the somewhat-tainted Hulk, but who’s to say that smarter heads than mine won’t make it work? But I admit it: I’m underwhelmed by the choice of the first two series, even if I couldn’t say what I would’ve preferred. Here’s hoping that the secret really does end up being all about the execution.