Pitchmas 2020, Part 4: The Replacement Four

The  Fantastic  Replacement Four

Set during the Blip. This pitch makes some guesses about when/where the Fantastic Four actually enter the story of the MCU- the timing of this series necessitates that they appear in the MCU pre-snap, and then all four of them get snapped, and have to deal with something else instead of Thanos’ return in Endgame. It also, at least at this moment, requires one mutant to have found his way into the MCU by that point.

We have the classic Fantastic Four in their uniforms. Sue is watching the destruction on television anxiously, trying to convince Reed that they should have answered Tony’s call- that the fate of half of all life may have been decided without them. Reed, barely looking up from his work, says that if he fails, the fate of all life might be at stake. He looks up, to see Sue dusted, and gets out a “Damn,” as his outstretched finger dusts, the effect traveling down his elongated arm as he’s dusted. Ben and Johnny enter, eating corn-dogs. Ben talking about how stretch wouldn’t use the emergency beacon if it wasn’t- he’s stopped when he dusts, and Johnny manages to call his name before dusting himself. We slowly zoom in on the beacon.

And zoom out on an identical beacon in a messy laboratory. It’s clear it was a mess even before, but someone has clearly been rampaging through it. We hear a raging growl, as a table is flipped past camera, and Bruce Banner stalks into frame. He’s upset, upset that the Hulk is still in hiding, upset that he failed to save everyone, upset that he was left behind when so many people better than him are gone. He’s angry, angrier than he’s ever been. But he can’t Hulk out, either, so it’s an impotent rage, and eventually he collapses to the floor, utterly defeated.

He finally notices the beacon, and when he touches it, we hear Reed’s voice (maybe see a hologram of him, too, if that’s not asking too much); it can also be a robot voice if we can’t get this much voice work out of Reed. “Bruce, we’ve never formally met, but I’ve admired your work and your mind for quite some time. If you’re hearing this, it means I can’t complete the work, and I need you to take it up. There aren’t many people on the planet who could even understand what I’m going to tell you, let alone be able to continue to adapt my designs for the task at hand. Tony’s never been much of a joiner, and if he got involved, I’d lay even odds he’d find a way to make the problem worse rather than better. And Hank is too old and stubborn. I’m sorry to lay this on you. But right now, you’re the smartest man who can actually make a difference, and the world- no, the universe, needs you. Right now.”

The task at hand is that the Negative Zone, long used as a prison by highly evolved societies across several dimensions, has found a weak spot. It was never guarded, exile being the idea, more than containment. They’ve been testing for weaknesses, probing it; Reed is certain within a matter of months they’ll break through unimpeded into their world. So yeah, the big concern here is preventing Annihilus from leading an army of several universes’ worst into NYC. Reed tells him he’s going to need partners- and not just his large partner, and has some suggestions. He calculates the odds of his first string of suggestions all surviving in the event that Thanos succeeds are slim, but he’s offered a handful of back-ups. His original suggestion is Spider-Man, a gifted technician in his own right, capable of acting as a suitable lab assistant, good for bouncing ideas off of, and less mentally rigid than his mentor, Stark. The image of Peter is blocked by a red “Blipped” across his face. Black Panther & Shuri are the next suggestions, both brilliant in their own fields and formidable combatants, also “Blipped.” Finally, the recording suggests Stephen Strange, a brilliant physician but also a mysticist- and magic is simply science that hasn’t been quantified, making him one of the world’s best resources on protoscience. Bruce, seeing the pattern, here, rubs his eyes under his glasses.

We dissolve to later in the night, as Reed describes the Ghost Rider. We continue the narration, as we cut to an action scene involving him fighting a demon in a biker bar in the guise of a human, handling the one pretty handily, only to turn, and the entire bar is full of possessed/werewolf/vampire/etc. bikers. Ghost Rider drags his quarry out of the bar, moving slower, clearly having been roughed up a bit. One of the bikers stumbles after him, collapsing in exhaustion. Ghost Rider’s quarry is pleading, that he didn’t believe, he thought it was all bullshit. Ghost Rider extinguishes his flame, and it’s Johnny Blaze, looking apologetic. He sighs, and explains that he can’t help him; he’s just the repo man. If he’s got a contractual dispute, he’ll have to take it up with management. A honky tonk cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” plays subtle from the bar jukebox inside, as a man in a crimson suit appears, and tells him he can take it from there, and disappears with the biker.

Back with Banner, the recording tells him Ghost Rider is a lower level magical practitioner, but might still hold the key to being able to lock away the Negative Zone inhabitants- since obviously the infernal realms are kept under lock and key, and as one of its primary guards- and one of a handful persuadable to assist humanity- he should still have some useful information.

Reed’s next suggestion is a man who’s been pulling the levers of various governments for more than a century undetected- he knows the ins and outs of special ops and the inner workings of secret government programs like the back of his hand. “If you tell me it’s Nick Fury I’m defenestrating you,” Bruce says, as, at the mention of the name, Fury’s pictured with the word “Blipped” appears onscreen. A picture of Patch pops up on the screen. That’s right, Wolverine has been on this Earth for a century, fighting in dozens of wars, working clandestinely for virtually every government at some point, all while maintaining his anonymity. Well… near-anonymity. Bruce peers at Wolverine, and flashes back to a fight they had in the Canadian wilderness, Wolverine slicing into him with his big old claws. “Huh,” Bruce says, continuing to stare.

What breaks him out of his reverie is the recording moving on to the next contestant… “And finally…” he sighs, “there is no finally. We’re past the dregs, here. There’s a lot of talented operators remaining, don’t get me wrong. But no one of them can fill the voids left by those who are gone, so if you’re this far down the list… I’d probably suggest that you just rotate people in as you need them. Mission-specific. I have some thoughts… but ultimately, this is going to be your team, and you need to be free to run it as you see fit.”

We cut to a bar in the Canadian frontier. Wolverine is wearing a cowboy hat, and says, “No,” before Banner can even sit down. He’s taken aback. “I remember the smell of you. And I remembered the look of you when you started traipsing around with the Avengers. I don’t want any Hulk Scout cookies, and I’m not much of a joiner.” Hulk explains the whole mess, that they were hand-picked by the greatest mind on the planet to face a life-on-all-worlds threat.

He replies, “From what I remember you’re a cockroach, so you might still manage to survive the onslaught, but the folks in this bar won’t, beer won’t, cigars won’t- what I can only assume is your body weight in mousse won’t.”

Wolverine kicks out his stool, and we think we’re going to have a fight. “You had me at beer. And maybe cigars. So I’ll let the mousse crack slide this one time, on account a not wanting to brawl in the middle of Clay’s place.”

We’re back at the nighttime bar scene with Ghost Rider, moments after Mephisto and the mark disappeared. The rest of the bikers empty out of the bar, and line up for round 2. “He’s gone,” Blaze says, reigniting his skull. “You can’t get him back by making me bloody you all again.”

Wolverine and Hulk arrive, Wolverine getting between Blaze and the crowd, as Banner gets close and explains that he needs him for a team. Blaze initially says no, until Banner asks, “You hunt souls, right? And what happens to that gig when all life as we know it in the universe is gone?”

“Mephisto probably starts making deals with whatever killed all life as we know it. But I take your point. I’m in, at least as far as my contract allows. Could… I get a little help here.”

“I’m not… currently Hulking…” Banner says sheepishly. “More of the brains than brawn, at the moment.”

“Remind me to kick the hell out of you,” Wolverine says, unsheathing his claws.

Banner considers a moment, before saying, “No.” Wolverine and Ghost Rider do most of the ass-kicking, but Banner tries. He even gets pretty mad when someone hits him from behind with a pool cue, and starts to green a little bit, before it putters out, and he yells, “Come on!”

After the fight, they all arrive at Four Freedoms Plaza. They’re snazzy digs, and they’re all suitably impressed. “I know I’m the product of the Canadian education system, so maybe there’s a metric conversion issue, here, but I only count 3. Sign on the door says 4.”

In the classic arc this is based on, Spider-Man is the last of the Replacement 4. Obviously, he’s been blipped… but, since I’ve suggested bringing in at least one Spidey clone before, I’m going to do so again now. If Sony are willing, I’d bring in Ben Reilly. I’d probably make it the one from my Sinister Six pitch last year, with the messed up face, explaining why he always keeps his spider-suit on (which is actually Peter’s first hooded suit, with maybe some minor tweaks). I don’t assume that’s a possibility, and certainly not for more than a handful of episodes at best, but failing that, I’d probably make it a rotating position. It’s hard to replace Spider-Man, frankly, but it might be more fun, anyway, as a special skills guest-spot that lets a different character shine based on what they need.

Probably the ones who best fill the Spider-Man role, if we were trying for a longer-term fill-in would be either:

  1. Deadpool, who wisecracks, has a similar costume, and ties to Wolverine.
  2. She-Hulk, who wisecracks, can heavy-hit when Hulk can’t and has ties to him and can navigate legalities for them.
  3. Daredevil, who has a similar street-level focus and kind of fits in the same milieu, plus can legalese, too.

Either way, I’d suggest roping in all 3 for at least a guest spot (imagine the fun you could have forcing Deadpool to do a Disney + episode while he kept trying to act up, only to find that his copious swearing is bleeped, his violence gets cut away from, and his repeated attempts to expose himself are black-barred). I’d probably then do Daredevil, maybe as a result of legal wrangling related to Deadpool’s behavior- only it’s too nuts around here and he can’t hack it with these lunatics. Then do a Punisher guest, because he fits in with the gritty anti-heroism of the team, only to be fired by Hulk as too bloodthirsty (“And that’s saying something, because I’m keeping the clawed lunatic in the rotation.”), finally settling on She-Hulk as kind of combining the best of all 3. Wolverine, skeptical, asks what she brings to the table the Punisher did. She puts on Ghost Rider’s jacket, that was hanging over a chair, and says she looks good in black. Ghost Rider says he has to give that to her.

Regardless of what you do with the fourth slot on the team, which could come down to contractual wrangling and schedules as much as anything (or Moon Knight might make for an interesting permanent addition, and God knows Oscar Isaacs makes anything better just by sauntering on set), I think it would have four seasons, roughly covering the four(ish) year gap.

Obviously, over the course of the show one of the bigger subplots would be Banner trying to fix his relationship with Hulk. I’d suggest bringing in Leonard Sampson from Incredible Hulk, because Ty Burrell is a lot of fun, and seeing Bruce deal with his anger issues but also all of the loss and anguish related to Thanos… it could actually make for some really compelling television. Over this time we’d get Gray Hulk/Mr. Fixit, because that’s too cool/weird an idea to leave on the table, before eventually ending up with him making peace with himself and getting Professor Hulk as we find him in Endgame.

Aside from that, I’d probably suggest having this team fill in the rest of the gap left by the original four, so doing a lot of the everyday heroics; that would, I think, help explain how we get to Endgame and Hulk is suddenly a beloved and well-liked hero- because he’s been filling in for beloved and well-liked heroes, and keeping his smashing to acceptable outlets. Maybe a part of that is becoming more publicly open about his struggles with mental health and loss- so that Professor Hulk isn’t just a personal triumph, but a symbolic defeat of depression and tragedy that a lot of those who remained could relate to.

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