Legacy Lunacy: Exploring Marvel Studios Past, Present and Future Choices when Passing the Torch

As the grand experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe shifted from the Infinity Saga to the Multiverse Saga, familiar faces that audiences had grown to love stepped away and heroes, both old and new, stepped up to take their places. Sam Wilson picked up the shield and became Captain America; Kate Bishop met her hero and now shares the mantle of Hawkeye with Clint Barton; Jen Walters became a better Hulk; and Yelena Belova picked up the torch in memory of her fallen sister.

These new characters seek to continue the legacy of the characters with whom they share a moniker though they don’t always look to keep the course that was set by their predecessors. Most of these heroes look to do better–be better–than the imperfect heroes they followed into the role. Their relationships with the original heroes gave them perspective, allowing them to learn and grow from their successes and failures and ultimately choose their own direction. That’s the beauty of a well-done legacy arc, but what happens when the studio chooses to circumvent the process? Marvel Studios has made two such decisions and had decidedly mixed results. With another project on the horizon in which they may face a similar choice, reflecting on what worked well and what could (maybe should) have gone better might help the Parliament choose a bit more wisely when the time comes to choose the lead for their upcoming Nova project.


After nearly a decade in development, Marvel Studios released Ant-Man in 2015 as the capstone to Phase 2 of the Infinity Saga. Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish began developing the script in 2006 and Wright was scheduled to direct. When Wright left the project due to creative differences just ahead of filming in 2014, Peyton Reed came on board and along with Adam McKay rewrote bits of the script. According to Reed, the “spine” of Ant-Man was still based on Wright’s work which was an adaptation of Marvel Premiere #47’s “To Steal an Ant-Man” story. Published in 1979, “To Steal an Ant-Man” saw Scott Lang steal the Ant-Man suit from original Ant-Man and founding Avenger Hank Pym just like what happened in the movie, sort of.

Though Hank Pym was introduced in Wright’s script and Reed’s film, its protagonist is Scott Lang. Pym certainly has a history as the Ant-Man in the MCU, but it’s one only glimpsed in a few brief flashbacks and outside of inventing Pym Particles the character arguably only exists in name only. The same can be said for his wife, Janet, who was not only a founding member of the comic book Avengers like Hank but also a team leader at one point. Though her role grew in importance in Ant-Man and The Wasp and her time in the Quantum Realm will play a major role in Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania, Janet, like Hank, is Janet in name only.

Wright’s development on the film began in 2006, a full year before Marvel Studios hired Zak Penn to write the script for The Avengers. In 2010, Joss Whedon signed on to direct and rewrote many iterations of the script, including one that included The Wasp as a key member of the team before removing her in favor of Black Widow. It’s unclear exactly how the slow development of Wright’s film may or may not have impacted the script of The Avengers, but what is clear is that Ant-Man didn’t release until 2015, and by that time a second Avengers film, Age of Ultron, had been released as well. So what did the decision to focus on comic book legacy character Scott Lang as the MCU’s Ant-Man ultimately cost Hank Pym?

Skipping over Hank and Janet in favor of Scott and Hope cost the MCU’s adaptation of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes two of its founding members. Additionally, the fact that the long-gestating Ant-Man wasn’t released before Avengers: Age of Ultron meant that Whedon had to replace Pym as the creator of Ultron, the villainous AI created by Hank Pym in the comics. Hank and Janet still got to exist, albeit not in their prime, but the opportunity exists for the adventures of their younger days to be told should Marvel Studios choose.

Despite all that, Marvel Studios seemingly struck gold with the decision to focus on a legacy character rather than the original. The casting of Paul Rudd as Lang certainly played a large role in that and the large role Lang was able to play because of Rudd’s overwhelming likability has made the character an MCU fixture. Though Marvel skipped over telling the stories of Hank and Pym, the character of Ant-Man has become so integral that the third film in the franchise features the main villain of the Multiverse Saga.

Captain Marvel

In 2013, Marvel Studios began developing a Captain Marvel project and a year later, revealed it would become the studio’s first female-led film. The script, which initially took inspiration from Roy Thomas‘ classic Kree-Skrull War comics, passed through multiple writers before Geneva Robertson-Dworet, along with co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck finalized it. By that time, the Kree-Skrull War had gone from inspiration to the “backdrop and mythological underpinning” of the film, according to producer Jonathan Schwartz, and Kelly Sue DeConnick‘s 2012 Captain Marvel run became a major source of inspiration for the film.

In 2019, Marvel Studios skipped over five (sorry Skrull imposter, you don’t count) Captains Marvel to introduce Carol Danvers as the hero in Captain Marvel. The first of those Captains was Marvel’s first true Cosmic hero, the Kree warrior Mar-Vell who, over the years, developed a relationship with Carol. In 2012, DeConnick explained that her series would find Carol contemplating the legend of Captain Marvel and what it meant to her before choosing to take the name Captain Marvel in honor of the hero. Between Mar-Vell and Carol, Monica Rambeau, Mar-Vell’s children, Genis and Phyla and Noh-Varr all went by the name Captain Marvel. A character named Mar-Vell, who shared no similarities with the comic book hero, played by Annette Bening, appeared in Captain Marvel and briefly interacted with Carol Danvers.

Captain Marvel majorly overhauled the origin story of Carol Danvers but ultimately the character came outof the oven as a pretty good copy of her comic book counterpart. However, in the rush to establish Carol Danvers as a major player in the MCU, Marvel Studios completely ignored the vaunted history of Mar-Vell and in doing so may have set themselves up for a cascade of alterations to other characters and stories in the future. While there are plenty of strange concepts that are part of Mar-Vell’s comic book history that would be better served being left in the books, the character was inarguably one of Marvel’s greatest Cosmic heroes. At one time, Mar-Vell served Eon as the Protector of the Universe and his ongoing participation in the Kree-Skrull War, which was greatly diminished for the MCU, had consequences that extended beyond his death. So what did the decision to focus on comic book legacy character Carol Danvers as the MCU’s Captain Marvel ultimately cost Mar-Vell and the other Captains Marvel?

At the moment, it would seem the greatest cost to Mar-Vell would ironically be legacy. Mar-Vell died years ago in the comics, but his legend has lived on and his legacy carried by his children. Without greatly retconning Bening’s Mar-Vell, it’s hard to imagine that Dorek-Vell/Hulking/Teddy Altman, Phyla-Vell/Quasar and Genis-Vell will be her children. While they’re all incredibly important characters, Teddy’s hidden heritage as the son of the great Kree hero Mar-Vell and Princess Anelle of the Skrull Empire is one of the great twists in Marvel Comics’ history and a major part of the character’s ongoing arc. Teddy, under the name Dorrek-Vell, now rules over the combined Kree-Skrull Empires after having put an end to eons of war. With the Young Avengers just around the corner in the MCU, it would seem this entire fascinating arc couldn’t be done without undoing quite a bit first.

Carol Danvers is a major player in the pages of Marvel Comics and absolutely deserves to be one in the MCU. Marvel Studios landed a huge star in Brie Larson for the role and it’s expected that she’ll be at the forefront of the action as the Multiverse Saga continues to unfold beginning in The Marvels. That film features Monica Rambeau, who was the second Captain Marvel in the comics, and Kamala Khan who was a legacy character to a legacy character in the comics, taking the name Ms. Marvel to honor her idol Carol. The rush to get Carol in the MCU spotlight also greatly changed the Kamala and Carol dynamic (Carol has never been Ms. Marvel in the MCU) and Kamala’s status as Carol’s biggest fan feels forced given there’s really no reason anyone on Earth would know much about Carol much less everything. To date, other than flying through a ship, Carol’s Captain Marvel has not taken her rightful place as a top tier MCU character, calling into question if the overall ongoing narrative may have been better served by introducing Mar-Vell, focusing more on the Kree-Skrull War and allowing Carol to come into her own over the course of a few years, much in the way they have finally worked Peter Parker into a place where he can be a more comic accurate Spider-Man.

A Man Called Nova…But Which Man?

Though every industry insider has different insight into how the character will enter the MCU, Nova is entering the MCU sometime in the near-ish future. Sabir Pirzada, who worked on Moon Knight, began work on a Nova project early in 2022 and at one point insider KC Walsh shared that production on that project was set for 2023. Whether production on the movie/series/special presentation starts in 2023 or 2024 or not, Marvel Studios has already made a decision that will greatly alter how the project is perceived…we just don’t know what they chose.

With Mar-Vell out of the spotlight, Richard Rider became Marvel Comics greatest Cosmic hero over an amazing multi-year run beginning in 2007. Rider grew from a teen who randomly found himself the recipient of a Nova Corps helmet that gave him incredible powers and bopped around with the New Warriors into a man whose body contained the entirety of the Nova Force, rebuilt the Nova Corps following the destruction of Xandar, led the defeats of Annihilus and Ultron and ultimately sacrificed himself to save the entire galaxy. Rider is a fascinatingly complex character who has developed tremendously over the years and could easily be the face of MCU’s Cosmic corner for a decade.

Introduced in 2011, Sam Alexander is a legacy character in more ways than one. The son of a secret black ops arm of the Nova Corps, Sam became the second Marvel Comics character to go by the title of Nova. Sam grew up with no notion that his missing father was a Nova but with the help of Rocket and Gamora discovered his father’s helmet and begin learning how to master its incredible powers. Sam quickly found himself in some incredible situations, saved the entire Nova Corps and joined the group of young heroes called the Champions. Alexander is still portrayed as arrogant and immature, is essentially about where Rider was as a character during his days as a New Warrior and at this point would seem to fit the MCU better as part of a team of young heroes.

Though it hasn’t been revealed to the public, Marvel Studios has already determined which of these heroes will be introduced to the audience as Nova. Whether Rider or Alexandar is the star of Pirzada’s script, the writer would have some cleaning up to do thanks to James Gunn. Gunn introduced the Nova Corps in Guardians of the Galaxy, though they were reduced to mall cops with shiny helmets who held onto the Power Stone until Marvel Studios figure out what they wanted to do with it. There was no mention of the Worldmind of the Nova Force in the movie, two integral components of the Corps in the comics, and they have never been seen nor referenced again. It’s possible Pirzada‘s job was made somewhat easier when the writers of Avengers: Infinity War allowed Thanos to retrieve the Power Stone from them off screen. In a rare case of Marvel writers lobbing a softball to their successor, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely have given Pirzada the chance to start from scratch to some extent. Xandar has been decimated more than once in the comics, including by the Annihilation Wave, and been rebuilt from the ashes into something new, an idea that may be central to Pirzada’s Nova project.

If part of the Nova project’s plot focuses on rebuilding Xandar, that’s certainly a job for a more mature, veteran Nova, much like Richard Rider was when he took on the task in the comics. However, Richard Rider hasn’t existed in the MCU just yet, much less become a hardened Nova vet. Then, of course, there’s the issue of addressing the powers given to members of the Nova Corps by the Nova Force, which also doesn’t exist in the MCU. Rider first got his powers when a dying Rhomann Dey (played in the MCU by John C. Reilly) handed off his helmet following the destruction of Xandar. As stated previously, Alexander first got his powers after finding his father’s helmet. While the Dey-Rider handoff could happen, there would have to be some retconning done to explain any powers that come with the helmet. Fortunately, the Nova Corps had possession of the Power Stone for quite some time and any number of experiments could have been done to power up the Corps. Of course, if that had been the case, one would think they’d have done a little better job of stopping Thanos, but Pirzada can only work with what he’s handed. Alexander’s story is a little more difficult to retcon. Even if the Nova project were set in 2026 and his father, Jesse, was a victim of the Snap, Alexander would have to have been born between 2008-2011 or so to be old enough to be a high schooler. As far as MCU lore is concerned, there were no powered Nova’s then, much less a super-powered black ops team. Gunn has left quite a mess to be sorted out.

Major mess aside, the choice Marvel has already made but not shared in terms of which character MCU audiences will come to know as Nova most likely came down to how they plan to use the character. If they want a great Cosmic hero, the choice should be Rider; if they want a teen to team up with other teens, the choice should still be Rider, who was introduced as a teen in 1976, but would probably be Alexander. In skipping over Rider and going straight to Alexander, Marvel Studios runs the risk of not only angering comic book fans (even though it’s only 2% of MCU audiences, including me) but also finding the character written into more corners in the future as they have with Hank, Janet and Mar-Vell. Alternatively, they could follow what’s been a much more successful approach to legacy characters by establishing Rider, allowing him to become a great Cosmic hero, shift to him mentoring Alexander and then having Alexander assume the mantle later.

Truthfully, there’s no logical reason for Marvel to have chosen Alexander over Rider, though the lack of logic won’t have prevented them from doing so. Alexander’s Nova hasn’t sold more comics or been more popular and most MCU fans probably don’t have any idea who either of these characters are, much less favor one over the other. Rider’s story as the champion of Xandar and then the galaxy has already been written and would be incredibly easy to adapt to the MCU. Establishing him as a core hero for a few years and then pairing him with Alexander would ultimately make for two strong characters rather than one as their bond would deepen and enrich both of their MCU narratives. Should Marvel Studios chose to follow the example from the comics and have Rider sacrifice himself to save the galaxy, audiences would be heartbroken and Alexander would find himself in an emotional space ripe for telling compelling stories. Such a choice would allow the legacy character to become a legacy character and allow the legacy character to earn the legacy right in front of the audiences’ eyes. If it’s good enough for Hawkeye, it’s good enough for Nova!

As we all wait to find out together which route Marvel Studios has chosen for Nova, which route would you prefer? We would love to hear your thoughts!

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