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A lot of characters disappeared during the end of Avengers: Infinity War, and while many of them are likely return after next year’s Avengers 4 — it’d be pretty hard to have a second Black Panther movie without the Black Panther, after all — it’s not necessarily the case that the Marvel Cinematic Universe will be entirely repopulated as it was before Thanos snapped his fingers when all is said and done.
That the MCU is heading for a significant change post-Avengers 4 has been known for some time, with actors for the core characters being open about the upcoming movie being their final outing as such mainstays as Captain America, Thor et al. Not all of the original Avengers will depart entirely — Scarlett Johansson looks set to finally get the solo Black Widow movie that’s been discussed for years, and who can tell if Robert Downey Jr. will extend his contract again to keep popping up in Spider-Man movies — but there’s no getting around the fact that a new generation of heroes will be taking charge in Marvel’s movies from 2019 going forward.
But beyond the big names, there’s an entirely separate level of fallen heroes littering the backstage of Marvel’s onscreen reality — the minor heroes, the background characters and the leads of now-cancelled TV projects who, in theory, are still around in the continuity but are more likely to remain permanent casualties of the Infinity War or accidents surrounding it.
In theory, the absence of the original heroes of the MCU would allow Luke Cage and Iron Fist a chance to graduate into the big leagues — or, at least, onto the big screen — after building a fanbase in their Netflix shows, both of which have come to an end after their second seasons. Daredevil season three just bowed, and it’s unclear if there will be a fourth. If not, he could theoretically appear in future movies, in that he — like Cage and Iron Fist — have been Avengers in comic book continuity, but given the lack of even movie cameos by television casts by this point, it would be somewhat unlikely. Instead, it’s more probable they’ll either be relegated to cameos in future episodes of ABC’s Agents of SHIELD or entirely ignored.
That’s still a better outcome than what likely awaits the Inhumans, a concept that bombed so hard on television that it’s likely to never been mentioned again anywhere else in the MCU, despite the fact that it left an entire superpowered alien race on Earth — the kind of thing that would feel unavoidable to address in almost every other Marvel project, given the shared universe concept. Considering that Inhumans was initially announced as a big-screen project before being downgraded to television, it’s a sad fate for Black Bolt, Medusa et al.
There are other characters who have a reasonable following in terms of comic books, and have debuted in the MCU before seemingly disappearing for good: Ghost Rider and Deathlok both showed up in seasons of Agents of SHIELD before being abandoned to, essentially, limbo with the occasional chance of a cameo or two. The little-remembered Incredible Hulk movie teased the introduction of the Leader but that was never followed up on (and also introduced Betty Ross, Bruce Banner’s longtime comic book love interest and occasional Red She-Hulk, but she’s never reappeared, either).
(While we’re at it, it feels like an oversight that Item 47, the short that appeared on the Avengers home release, never led to anything, either. And whatever happened to all the Agents of SHIELD we’d already seen onscreen after Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did they all retire to pleasant log cabins, a la Hawkeye in Captain America: Civil War?)
That there are so many characters left abandoned in various corners of the MCU shouldn’t come as a surprise given that Marvel Studios has been churning out movies and television for a decade now. But with everything in the Universe being, as the old Marvel tagline used to put it, connected, their continued absence may get more and more noticeable as stories and threats continue to grow in scope — really, some danger can come to New York, and Spider-Man is the only one to stand against it? Luke Cage couldn’t get a cab in time?
For now, let’s just assume that Thanos’ housecleaning was more thorough than anyone knew at the time — until someone at Marvel declares that they were all kidnapped by aliens and forced to fight against each other for entertainment.
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