This essay is part of Consequence‘s Marvel Pop Culture Week, examining all the ways in which the MCU invokes our world’s pop culture and creates its own. Today, we look at two of the MCU’s most infamous name drops.
So the entire concept for Marvel Pop Culture Week began with a question: Why would a MCU superhero make a Batman reference? The specific scene in question occurs during 2021’s Eternals, when Karun (Harish Patel), loyal assistant to Kumail Nanjiani’s Kingo, introduces himself as a valet, and the centuries-old Gilgamesh (Don Lee) says, “Oh, valet. Like Alfred in Batman.”
Gilgamesh’s Batman reference above isn’t the only moment of DC Comics crossover in Eternals — later in the film, a young boy compares Ikaris (Richard Madden) to Superman, having seen Ikaris on TV using his Superman-esque laser eyes powers. Says the kid, “Dad, that’s Superman! With the cape and shooting laser beams out of your eyes!” and Ikaris corrects him: “I don’t wear a cape.”
These are just two of the nearly 250 pop culture references made in MCU films which Consequence cataloged as part of our ongoing quest to understand the depth of the universe created by Marvel films and TV shows. And yes, those DC Comics jokes might feel a little strange for a Marvel film to make — as Polygon entertainment editor Susana Polo wrote last fall:
If Eternals is serious about this, we are to assume that in a world where Captain America has been a bonafide superhero for decades, and folks like Iron Man, Thor, and Spider-Man have been zipping around since roughly 2008 …
That world is also a world where DC Comics characters Batman and Superman — No, Alfred Pennyworth and Superman — hold cultural cachet?
Polo’s ultimate response to the implications of this choice: “I don’t need this stress in my life, man.” Which is very understandable. But while these references are a bit head-scratching, one thing that came out of our analysis is discovering that they’re actually pretty plausible.
This isn’t like a character in an Avengers movie talking about having seen the film The Incredible Hulk, to be clear. Both of these DC Comics references treat the characters as fictional characters — and if you look at the timeline, this decision actually holds up pretty well.
Let’s say that in the primary timeline of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the first canonical instance of a famous superhero was the official reveal of Captain America during World War II — after Steve Rogers was given the super-soldier serum in June 1943, he proceeded to tour with the USO for several months to fundraise for the war, becoming a national hero as a result.