What the MCU and the Marx Brothers have in common

It might be odd to think that the creators of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has been phenomenally successful and either has or will spawned many would-be imitators, might have something in common with the likes of the Marx Brothers, Abbott and Costello, and their like. But they do, and it’s something that is (and was) vital to their common success.

The Marx Brothers did not simply spring fully formed and start making movies. They had been around in vaudeville for years, on grueling schedules that often featured multiple performances a day, and often back-to-back days for weeks on end. They were, of course, responsible for writing their own material, so in those years they had to keep coming up with new jokes, new bits, and new songs.

Too, they honed the material they already did have, discarding what didn’t work, tweaking what did work, and constantly trying new material out. By the time they got to the movie-making stage of their career, the system was in place, and while they were working on the script for one of their films, they were still touring, trying out the dialogue, the jokes, and bringing them to a point of perfection.

Abbott and Costello, coming out of the burlesque circuit and endless shows for the USO during World War II, were in a similar situation. Constantly make up new material, keep what gets the laughs, drop what doesn’t.

Essentially, they were using a refining process, like removing the impurities from iron ore.

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has exactly the same advantage. Marvel has been making comic books for decades. That’s often dozens of titles a month, month after month, year after year. Over those years they turned out a lot of crap, if one’s brutally honest (see right). But in there was gold as well, and it stood out. They can now go back into those archives and pick out the best of the best, and adapt it to their MCU films.

They have decades of trial and error as to what works, what doesn’t, and often tons of analysis and feedback from fans as to why. That’s why you’d never see a Secret Wars 2 adaptation, even if they could get all the rights needed to do it correctly, but we are going to see a Civil War adaptation, which was received very well by most fans.

Obviously everyone’s opinions are going to vary, and doubtless someone will pop up in the comments that liked SW2 and hated CW; such are the vagaries of taste; I’m sure someone out there is dying for a Dazzler movie to be made, and I’ll be happy for a ROM Space Knight film, as long as it’s part of a larger Dire Wraith invasion storyline*.

They don’t even need to be straight adaptations of story lines. Even in terms of characterization, interactions between characters, themes, appearance/costumes, etc. they can see what worked and what didn’t, and write the movies accordingly.

Now, even Marvel doesn’t use this strategic advantage consistently, and there have been some shaky films to prove it (Hulk, for instance). But on the whole, I think their almost-universal success can be tied to that enormous reservoir of experience.

Fox has the same advantage with X-Men, and finally figured it out after four movies. It’s no mistake that Days of Future Past and Apocalypse are being used, but House of M is not. Why Sony hasn’t quite gotten the message is puzzling, but maybe if the rumors are true and some sort of Sony-Marvel alliance is still possible, that may change and we can get the Kraven’s Last Hunt or The Night Gwen Stacy Died stories that we should have.

* I will also be content if Squirrel Girl is the one who finally takes out Thanos in Infinity War Part 2.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

1 thought on “What the MCU and the Marx Brothers have in common

  1. Your post seems to indicate you are a latecomer to comics as most of what you cite is of recent vintage. Marvel should dig deeper than crap like Civil War and other cruddy crossover events of the readership-shrinkage era. There are lots of good stories they could use from back when Marvel knew how to tell a story without turning it into a hype exercise with meaningless character deaths and "changes."

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