Item 47

The Marvel One-Shots keep doubling down.

Last week, EW debuted the first look at Agent Carter, a new short starring Hayley Atwell that focuses on Captain America’s Peggy Carter as she makes the post-WWII transition into a chief operative for S.H.I.E.L.D.

When it debuts at Comic-Con this Friday night, fans will see a big leap forward in scale and style for the short-film series, just like last year’s Item 47, about a down-on-their-luck couple (Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Bradford) who go on a robbery spree after activating one of the alien guns from The Avengers.

So where does the One-Shot series go from here?

Marvel co-president Louis D’Esposito, who directed both Item 47 and Agent Carter, offered some insight by way of what almost was: a stand-alone Loki short, a young Nick Fury story, a visit to Black Panther’s Wakanda, and maybe (someday) a Ms. Marvel or Black Widow film.

The big question every fan asks is: When will the One-Shots start featuring superheroes?

As the series builds, Marvel has done its best to keep expectations in check, trying to avoid leaping in too soon with its established characters.

“We would love to, but it’s difficult because there’s a cost to that,” explains D’Esposito. “If Iron Man is flying around doing something, that very costly. And first of all, what’s the story? Is it important that that superhero is in the story?”

The point of the One-Shots, which accompany Marvel’s feature films as extra features on their Blu-ray releases, is to give fans something different. If they already have a full-length Iron Man film, why make a short one?

“I’ve been asked many times too, would you introduce new characters?” D’Esposito says. “That even proves to be very difficult, just from a cost perspective. What does the costume look like? Who is the actor playing it? A lot of R&D goes into it. We have a great concept department here, a visual development department, and it takes time.”

One reason Marvel has been hesitant to reach too far into its character shelf is because committing to those casting and a costume decisions in a short-film could tie the hands of any director who ends up using those heroes in a feature.

But he acknowledges: they’re getting closer.

“We are,” D’Esposito says. “And I keep saying it: set the bar higher, let’s try it.”

Ms. Marvel and Loki — two One-Shot possibilities

When it comes to using a superhero in a One-Shot, D’Esposito offers this as a for-instance, a personal favorite: Ms. Marvel, a.k.a. Captain Marvel, a human hybrid who gets her powers when an explosion infuses her with extra-terrestrial DNA from the comic-book universe’s Kree aliens.

“Let’s just say I knew I was going to direct Captain Marvel [as a feature], right? And we knew who was going to play her,” D’Esposito says. That would make it easy to introduce her first in a One-Shot. “But that’s a plan that requires a lot of coordination. And I don’t know if really we … if I’ve been thinking that far ahead. It’s difficult enough to find something that’s enjoyable, that we can tell with the budget limitations and in the time we have. Introducing a lot of complicated variables might weaken that.”

Better not to do it, he reasons, than reach too far, too soon, and do it badly.

Budget and time are the primary restrictions. But Marvel is still dreaming big.

“I’m not gonna lie, when we were developing these [One-Shot] stories I was trying to develop a Loki story,” D’Esposito says. “And is he on Asgard?”

The trouble with that is Thor’s celestial realm is a major visual effects challenge. “Being on Asgard is very difficult for us to do in a short. It’s just impossible for us cost wise,” D’Esposito says. “The short would be 30 seconds, and it’s over. One shot of Loki on Asgard.”

That’s not what “one-shot” is supposed to mean.

Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos, or Black Panther?

“We also thought about potentially … let’s say a young Nick Fury with Dum Dum Dugan,” D’Esposito says. “Or a Black Panther short, maybe, in that [One-Shot format.]”

Both of those projects would make comic fans squee: Dum Dum Dugan (the bowler-hat-wearing mustachioed strong man played by Neal McDonough in 2011’s Captain America) has long fought alongside Fury in the Howling Commandos, featured in books dating from the early ‘60s up to the present day.

And Black Panther, the first black superhero, is another character many fans are dying to see on the big screen (and remains a real possibility for Marvel’s Phase 3.) But introducing him in a short becomes a question of resources: how do you show his fictional African nation of Wakanda on the budget for a DVD extra? That aside, just casting an actor with the necessary badassery for the part would be tough for a short.

“It’s very complicated to do: who plays those characters? And designing the costume, getting it going … We tried,” D’Esposito says. “We were there in development, and we tried, but they were very difficult for all the reasons I gave. And we don’t want to do something that’s half baked because it’s not good for us and it’s not good for our fans.”

But fans can take heart: Agent Carter was also once an idea that was deemed too big for the One-Shot series, as well.

Now it’s a reality.

Agent Carter vs. the glass ceiling

Marvel considered making Agent Carter earlier in the One-Shot series, but when Captain America came out in 2011 the shorts weren’t expansive enough, and last year, Item 47 simply fit better as an addendum to The Avengers.

Agent Carter finally got the go-ahead because it was a good way to bridge Iron Man 3 and the upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Atwell was available to do it, it incorporated an established character from the comic books who had already been depicted in a film.

It helped the small budget that some of the effects shots depicting New York in the 1940s were already made for Captain America. That allowed D’Esposito and crew to focus their resources on the fight sequences and hiring actors such as Dominic Cooper (reprising his role as Tony Stark’s industrialist father Howard Stark) and The West Wing’s Bradley Whitford (playing Carter’s chauvinist boss.)

Agent Carter also gives the Marvel universe a dose of much needed girl-power. If fans who see it in Comic-Con on Friday react favorably, it’s likely to lead to more female heroes on the screen.

“In Item 47, I would say the protagonist is Lizzy Caplan, and obviously in Agent Carter it’s Hayley. They’re good stories, and they do show female characters and maybe we can do a feature film one day,” D’Esposito says. “Ms. Marvel, I’ve already mentioned, is one of my favorites. I would love to do it. It’s difficult because we have a limited the bandwidth and produce two films a year. We have a few successful franchises, so how do we introduce more? This is a way.”

Best case scenario …?

“You know, maybe people see this and they say, ‘I love Hayley Atwell as Peggy Carter,’ and maybe we have to do Ms. Marvel, or give Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow her own film,” D’Esposito says. “So, of course we think about that. And when we see the success of it and how people react, it really reinforces that.”

For those in Comic-Con hoping to catch a 7 p.m. screening of Agent Carter, stop by the Marvel booth for tickets.

If you want to brave the stand-by line: Arrive early to Reading Cinemas Gaslamp 15, 701 5th Ave San Diego, CA 92101

The short will go wide Sept. 24 on the Iron Man 3 Blu-ray set.

Item 47
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