(CNN) – Marvel’s powerful track record in movies is no secret, but until now, the studio has largely avoided producing traditional superhero shows for television. “Agents of SHIELD” was only peripherally connected to the Avengers franchise, while the studio’s “street level” dramas for Netflix — including the upcoming “The Defenders” — feature a gritty, almost film-noir style.
That changes with “Marvel’s Inhumans,” a new ABC series that the company will launch with a theatrical Imax release prior to its Sept. 29 premiere. And if DC Entertainment and Warner Bros. have suffered from a sort-of Marvel envy theatrically, given the popularity of DC shows like the CW’s “The Flash” and “Arrow,” “Inhumans” appears to represent an attempt to flip that script — or at least gain greater parity — in television.
The implications for Marvel and ABC look significant. With the former bringing titles like “Captain Marvel” and “Black Panther” to the movies, how “Inhumans” does will likely impact whether more second-tier costumed characters might be steered to TV, and ABC in particular.
Until now, ABC has been surprisingly slow to cash in on Marvel properties, despite their shared parentage as units of the Walt Disney Co. Attempts to expand on “SHIELD” have fizzled, as “Agent Carter” was canceled and a pilot featuring spun-off characters wasn’t picked up as a series.
The main distinction in defining the new show, compared with other Marvel TV properties, is between superheroes and conjuring a drama around people who happen to have powers.
“Inhumans” centers on a group with tremendous abilities. Although the producers stressed that the focus would be on the relationship between two brothers — Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Maximus (“Game of Thrones’” Iwan Rheon) — when the cast includes a giant computer-generated dog named Lockjaw who can teleport his masters around, you’re operating on a different level of immersion in fantasy than, say, the Netflix series, where Luke Cage goes into action wearing a hoodie.
The Imax premiere notwithstanding, “Inhumans” obviously can’t rival the theatrical budgets that have brought Iron Man, Thor and Captain America to the screen. But in concept, if not necessarily execution, its adherence to the source material seems to come closer to the fanciful spirit of those films than most Marvel forays into television, other than animated series that play on Disney’s kids channel Disney XD.
Jeph Loeb, who heads Marvel Television, dismissed the suggestion that the response to “Inhumans” would echo beyond the eight-episode project. As for whether the show represents a departure from Marvel’s other TV efforts, he told CNN, “What’s important to us is that every show has a very different feel to it.”
Marvel’s Netflix bet has paid off, with four premium dramas — “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones,” “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist” — culminating in “Defenders,” which brings them together beginning Aug. 18. Notably, the whole exercise is cast as the anti-Avengers, scoffing at colorful costumes and shot in dark and brooding tones.
FX’s “Legion” and Fox’s upcoming “The Gifted” also apply a character-driven approach to the genre.
Based on response to an unfinished first hour, several critics at the TV Critics Association tour sounded skeptical about “Inhumans” during a question-and-answer session Sunday. If the public winds up sharing that view, it’s hard not to think that won’t serve as a setback for a Marvel relationship with ABC that, despite its theatrical might, has looked conspicuously mortal.
“Marvel’s Inhumans” will premiere in Imax theaters on Sept. 1 and Sept. 29 on ABC.
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