Uncle Jesse broke the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Or at least a loving pastiche of the Full House heartthrob did what many fans expected Professor X and Magneto to accomplish.
A few days before WandaVision’s fifth episode aired, the Disney marketing apparatus went into overdrive. Series lead Elizabeth Olsen promised fans a twist on the level of Luke Skywalker appearing in Season 2 of The Mandalorian. From there, publications began to circulate a clip of Olsen discussing the 2005 comic book House of M—an eight-issue miniseries that heavily features the X-Men. It all felt like a calculated blitzkrieg meant to prime viewers for the type of big splash that had eluded WandaVision in its first four episodes.
For weeks, WandaVision lovingly (and accurately) spoofed sitcoms from the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s, but when it came time to excavate a 1980s-’90s sitcom like Full House, no character on the Marvel show played an Uncle Jesse type. That’s until a knock arrives on Wanda’s door 30-plus minutes into this week’s episode. “Wanda, who is this?” Vision asks as a dazed Wanda stares at a white-haired Evan Peters, donning an era-appropriate leather jacket. “She recast Pietro?” the show’s audience surrogate, Darcy, asks in astonishment.
Depending upon your level of fandom and patience, you were either left confused by this twist or foaming at the mouth. Wanda’s brother, Pietro Maximoff, also known as Quicksilver, last seen dying in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, had returned from the dead. But instead of Aaron Taylor-Johnson reprising the role, he’d been replaced by Peters. And to even register why that mattered, you’d have to be aware that Peters was cast as Pietro in three X-Men movies released by 20th Century Fox before Disney acquired it. The X-Men moment for the MCU came far ahead of schedule if WandaVison’s last-minute twist holds true.
“It’ll be a while,” Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige told io9 in 2019 about any of the mutants appearing in the MCU. “It’s all just beginning, and the five-year plan that we’ve been working on, we were working on before any of that was set. So really it’s much more, for us, less about specifics of when and where right now and more just the comfort factor” of the X-Men being “back home” under Marvel again. “But it will be a very long time.”
According to Jac Schaeffer, WandaVision head writer, Feige needed convincing to implement the surprise. “We loved the idea of [bringing Pietro back]. And then we were like, how in the world are we going to make this make logical sense? Like, how do we justify this?” Schaeffer said in an interview with Marvel. “I think Kevin [Feige] wanted to make sure that there was a reason for it, that it made sense.”
The debut of Peters’s Quicksilver at the end of WandaVision potentially ramps up that timeline. Earlier this year, Feige shared that Ryan Reynolds’s Deadpool franchise would also enter the MCU with its R-rating intact. So far, the X-Men’s future seems to look like its past. If you were a popular enough mutant in Fox’s universe, chances are you could appear at any time in the MCU.
To fully appreciate mutants inhabiting the same world as Thor and Spider-Man, not only would you have to know 23 movies’ worth of Marvel history, but you would also need to have some knowledge of the 13 X-Men movies that began in 2000. If rumors are true that the third Tom Holland Spider-Man will feature previous Peter Parkers Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield, one might also have to binge five additional movies.
Over a decade of fandom, world-building, and consolidation has created a content maze it’d take a new fan months—maybe even years—to navigate. The MCU machine has spent the bulk of its existence turning big-budget movies into television, and now with the release of its first Disney+ show, the house that Feige built is trying to reverse-engineer movie spectacle into the confines of TV. With the potential arrival of the X-Men to the MCU, it’s hard to tell whether the interconnected nature of the 20-plus-movie behemoth is its biggest strength or a levee about to break.
As much as WandaVision is a loving ode to the sitcoms of yore, it’s also a show about other shows, a collection of fandom-fueled possibilities disguised as plot progression. In many ways, this has been the promise of the MCU ever since Nick Fury wanted to speak with Tony Stark about “the Avenger initiative” after the credits rolled on 2008’s Iron Man. With each successive Marvel movie, the codas and Easter eggs created a cottage industry of content and fandom. Predicting what was coming next was more important than what you just watched. It was a novel approach for an underdog film studio selling a vision of a future franchise no one had seen before. But within the confines of a weekly TV show, the constant nods and winks to some plot thread that will be developed in another MCU movie or show begin to feel like commercials.
Every week on WandaVision a new character reveal or plot twist now has franchise-building implications. Does Peters’s Pietro appearance signal an X-Men franchise? Are Wanda and Vision’s twins destined to be Young Avengers? Can fan outcry for a “fun X-Files”—whatever that means—featuring Jimmy Woo become a thing? It didn’t matter that Episode 5 of WandaVision was among the season’s best, because it finally tested how far Wanda would go to protect her simulated life. The emotional climax between a confused Olsen and furious Paul Bettany was beside the point the moment the meta-reveal opened the door.
Comic book movies are now fully entrenched in the era of the multiverse—a framework created out of necessity to manage the various stories being told by an array of disparate writers and artists. It’s a concept that ensures that everything matters (e.g., a beloved Pietro Maximoff in Evan Peters existing in two disparate franchises) and makes sense if you just squint hard enough.
The multiverse was popularized in 1961’s The Flash no. 123, which revealed that the modern Barry Allen Flash and the World War II original, Jay Garrick Flash, lived on two separate worlds. By the 1980s, Marvel shared that its comic book world was one Earth among many, specifically Earth-616, in a series of Captain Britain comics by David Thorpe.
“The wonderful and awesome thing about Marvel Comics is the fact that, over the generations, it’s essentially like one great, big novel written by loads of different people—probably hundreds and hundreds of different writers and many more artists. And they all have to be internally consistent. And if they’re not, you tend to get somebody somewhere writing in and pointing that out to you,” Thorpe explained last year. “This idea of consistency can be a bit limiting. As Marvel has grown, and this has been sort of billions and billions of pages of ink spilled, then it’s bound to be the case that things happen that were not originally intended.”
It’s only natural that comic book movies would take this idea and use it to juggle the various actors, characters, and franchises being built for the screen and streaming services. 2018’s Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse introduced audiences to a Black and Puerto Rican Spider-Man, a talking pig Spider-Man, and a noir Spider-Man, who all existed in different universes. Last year, DC revealed it’s debuting a multiverse to square the reality that multiple Batmen and Jokers will soon be running around simultaneously. The next Doctor Strange movie is unsubtly titled Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness after the concept was teased by the Ancient One in the 2016 entry. The Multiverse of Madness also happens to feature Elizabeth Olsen reprising her role as Wanda Maximoff.
But one of the main reasons the physical comic book market continues to falter, while comic book movies flourish is because of what the multiverse inevitably wrought. If you go into any comic book store in the United States and ask to pick up a Vision and Scarlet Witch comic, you’ll inevitably get a hundred different answers. Do you want a story from the 616-universe, the Ultimate universe, a miniseries from the 1980s, or something more recent? Depending on who’s retconning what, Wanda might be a mutant, the daughter of Magneto, or none of the above. Vision could be alive, dead, a teenaged Iron Man, or father to a bunch of robot kids he built.
For better or worse, the MCU looks more like its source material than ever. Whether the movies can succeed where the comics continue to fail will be the biggest challenge of all. Managing the Marvel Cinematic Universe is one thing. Shepherding the Marvel Cinematic Multiverse will be something entirely different.