Hasbro recently announced its plans for a films set in a “shared universe” featuring G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., Micronauts, Visionaries, and Rom the Space Knight. What should the fans expect from this?
Late last year, Rhode Island-based toymaker Hasbro announced that it was putting together some of its “boys toys” brands in a “cross-property interconnected shared universe” that will serve as the setting for future feature films to be produced in collaboration by Paramount Pictures and Allspark Pictures (Hasbro’s film label). The toy brands in question are G.I. Joe, M.A.S.K., Micronauts, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, and Rom the Space Knight. Further details have been sparse since the December 2015 press release revealing Hasbro and Paramount’s plans—Hasbro was noticeably mum on the subject during the recently concluded Toy Fair—so we don’t know how these brands are going to be combined, but it does have me asking: Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
On one hand, it can be said that combining the brands allows the more recognizable ones to support the ones that have been dormant all these years. Conversely, it can be argued that the combination can lead to the stronger brands getting lost among the weaker ones. Combining the brands does reveal the thinking on Hasbro and Paramount’s part that none of the brands concerned are viable on their own, insofar as being able to prop up a media franchise. It sounds like Hasbro and Paramount have their work cut out for them, no matter how you look at it. But that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be attempted.
“Shared universes” are nothing new. Marvel, DC, Valiant and a host of other comic companies are built off shared universes, where all their different characters can and do interact. Each character, or group of characters, has his or her own little corner of the world but they all exist in the same setting. You can have the street crime-fighting Batman exist in the same world alongside strange visitors from other planets and a galactic police organization comprising hundreds of different aliens all wearing green power rings.
We know that both Rom the Space Knight and Micronauts will have new comic books coming from IDW Publishing, a frequent Hasbro collaborator (IDW publishes comics featuring the Hasbro properties G.I. Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, My Little Pony, and The Transformers). There was also a mention of a new M.A.S.K. comic book supposedly in the works a couple weeks back as well. I suspect that a new G.I. Joe comic will be coming (IDW currently publishes the continuation of the Real American Hero series that started at Marvel) and that it will reflect what changes are made to the property in order to bring it in line with the shared universe concept.
How “shared” will this shared universe be? If you look at the shared comic universes, the connections range from “directly tied together” (like the Valiant Comics universe) to “properties only crossover when the publisher feels like it and the rest of the time they exist in their own bubble” (like Marvel and DC most of the time).
There are worries about how this shared universe will affect current versions of the properties involved, especially where G.I. Joe is concerned, and those worries are justified. It’s hard to imagine a world where the somewhat-grounded military fiction of the current G.I. Joe comics can exist alongside the full-on science fiction of Micronauts. G.I. Joe coexisting with M.A.S.K. is easier to see, but my concern with those two is making the stories work. If you have the technology of M.A.S.K., then why don’t you give that tech to the entire G.I. Joe team? Why would they be separate entities?
Are there ways to make it work so the properties retain their distinct character and appeal? Of course. But how much will each property have to change in order to fit into the shared universe?
Overall, I am looking forward to the shared universe with cautious optimism. I think the advantages of combining the properties will outweigh whatever negatives result from the process, but there’s no guarantee that it won’t turn out really bad in the end. We’ll just have to wait and see. I do have some concerns about how the backstory will hold together, and the backstory to a property is always my primary concern when any media project is announced. The actual toys and/or cartoons are secondary to the story, although if the success of the shared universe movies leads to Visionaries and M.A.S.K. returning to toy and comic shelves, I’m definitely on board.