This Friday, after what seems like an endless wait, Thor: Love and Thunder coming to the cinemas. As it does, fans will also indulge in the penultimate episode of Ms. Marvel, which ends its six-episode season at Disney + next week. This is not the first time Marvel has doubled the content. Last year, Spider-Man: No Way Home fell in the middle of Hawkeye‘s streaming is running, and Black widow opened just like Loki was nearing the end of his first season. Just a few years ago, fans had to wait months between new episodes in the Marvel Cinematic Universe; now there are often several things to see at once – and it only gets worse.
Or rather better. To be clear, this is not a tirade against oversaturation. We have already done that. Instead, this is about a quest to balance one’s Marvel media diet. Despite all the twists and turns that the superhero market is a bubble bursting, people are shouting for this content. Three big screen movies and somewhere between four and five Disney + projects a year do not even seem to meet the demand for the Marvel brand these days. Now, over the course of a decade, Marvel has successfully recreated the comic book experience in mainstream media.
This does not mean that Marvel invented good cartoons – they have been around ever since Superman: The Movie came out in the 1970s and Tim Burton took a crack at Batman in 1989. And the studio also did not invent serialized storytelling on multiple platforms. Star Trek did it when it had two shows and occasional movies in theaters in the early 90s. Instead, this is about Marvel publishing so much content that fans are forced to pick a character, a faction, or a story and stick to it.
To understand how it can go, think back to Marvel in the 80s and 90s. As the company’s popularity exploded due to the work of creators like Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson and others, new series and new heroes were constantly being added to the Marvel series. Some were spin-offs with existing characters – Punisher was a villain in Spider-Man comics for more than a decade before becoming his own publishing success – while others were cut entirely from new material in hopes of finding an unexpected next big thing, though they would quickly melt back into creative limbo. (Alas, bad Slapstick, bad NFL SuperPro, bad US1…)
During this time, however, Marvel’s output began to exceed what a person could reasonably read. As the company’s line grew over 30, 40, 50 issues a month, only megafans – self-proclaimed “Marvel Zombies” – could survive. The average fan started picking and choosing what they wanted to follow; “Marvel fans” became “X-Men fans” or “Spider-Man fans.”
The company knew this, and for a while even leaned into it. In the mid-90s, it replaced its editor-in-chief with five group editors, each overseeing an element of a line divided into popular brands or “families” of comics. That attitude did not hold, however – in the end, the X-Men group editor was promoted above the others.
We’re not yet at the point where Marvel produces as many shows and movies as it once did comics, but in terms of the hours of attention required to keep up with everything, fans are undoubtedly achieving a similar breaking point. Despite a (perhaps now abandoned) motto that claimed “it all comes together”, the more Marvel Studios produces, the more important it becomes for the audience to choose the stories and characters they want to follow and leave the rest … unless they want to only see Marvel Studio’s productions from now on.
It’s a change of attitude that is likely to have the same impact on Marvel Studios as it did on Marvel Comics, allowing creators to become alienated and move away from a unique tone for the entire company, freed from an expectation of appealing to the widest possible audience at all times. Something like Ms. Marvel shows how good Marvel can be when it becomes specific – and who would not want to see more of it? So vote with your dollars and streaming hours, Marvel fans: You just want to make MCU a better and more interesting place to be.