From DVD to ABC: Why Marvel's 'One-Shots' Matter

Marvel's Agents of SHIELD Pilot Episodic Clark Gregg - P 2013

Last week's news that Marvel is considering a television series based around Peggy Carter, a supporting character from the first Captain America movie, might have seemed slightly unexpected coming ahead of Tuesday's premiere of Agents of SHIELD, the studio's first live-action television project, but it really should be considered a sign that everything is going exactly according to plan.

Carter, after all, will receive her first official spotlight Tuesday in the Agent Carter short included on the Blu-ray release of Iron Man 3, part of Marvel's "One-Shot" series of shorts that launched in 2011 with The Consultant -- a four-minute movie featuring Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson that, along with subsequent "One-Shot" shorts A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer and Item 47, ultimately acted as proof of concept pieces for Agent of SHIELD.

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That the "One-Shot" movies are testing grounds for new projects is hardly a secret; in fact, when the initiative was first announced in 2011, co-producer Brad Winderbaum admitted that the shorts were "a way for us to expand the Marvel Cinematic Universe and tell stories that live outside the plot of our features." A year later and Marvel Studios co-president Louis D'Esposito went further, saying that Marvel has "8,000 [characters] and they can't all be at the same level. So maybe there are some that are not so popular, and we introduce them [with a short] -- and they take off. I could see that happening."

It's certainly what happened with Coulson. The Consultant, the character's first solo outing, follows the character's appearances in the first two Iron Man movies and the first of the "One-Shot" movies (available on the Thor Blu-ray) It's less than four minutes in length and relies on footage from 2008's The Incredible Hulk for full effect, but it introduces the concept of "Level 7" clearance at SHIELD that plays into the Agents of SHIELD series mythology, as well as Coulson's fellow SHIELD agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernandez), building out the world behind the superheroics unfolding in the main features themselves.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor's Hammer (from the Captain America: The First Avenger Blu-ray) is more expansive, allowing Coulson a chance to be a hero as he foils a gas station robbery in suitably understated style. After showing up as little more than a tight-lipped nuisance and comic foil in earlier appearances, this was where the character (and Gregg) demonstrated that he could, if necessary, shoulder the weight of a lead role in a future project -- should he survive 2012's The Avengers.

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With Coulson's apparent death in that latter movie, Item 47 (on the Avengers Blu-ray) focuses instead on Agent Sitwell, who is dispatched to take care of a couple using Chitauri weaponry to rob banks (The couple's names? Bennie and Claire -- because, presumably, just calling them Bonnie and Clyde outright would've been too on the nose). Like The Consultant, there's some important world-building taking place for the eventual Agents of SHIELD series, with fans getting their first glimpse at the post-Chitauri invasion world while also gaining some more insight into the unexpected ways in which SHIELD can neutralize a potential threat (if you can't beat them, after all …).

Joss Whedon has spoken before about those shorts being part of the material presented to him as proof that Agents of SHIELD was a viable project, and chatter about a potential full-length Agent Carter series based on the Iron Man 3 short only underscores the potential of the One-Shot program to the studio's greater plan. Until now, the One-Shots were pretty much considered fun little throwaways filled with Easter Eggs to accompany the main features themselves. Should Agent Carter make it through the development process, it's clear that that they're much more to Marvel as a whole -- in many ways, they're a sneak peek at the shape of things to come.