Sunday, April 11, 2021

Madripoor explained: the MCU just took its first step towards the X-Men

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The Marvel Universe is like ours in many ways, but it’s also home to a number of fictional countries that you won’t find on any real world map. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier have just introduced one of these countries – the seedy and criminal nation of Madripoor. Anyone familiar with his X-Men lore will realize that this is a big deal for the MCU. Why is this dark little country such a big part of bringing Wolverine and the X-Men into the MCU? Here’s what you need to know about Madripoor.

What is Madripoor?

Madripoor is a small island nation located in Southeast Asia (more precisely in the Strait of Malacca). Like Singapore, Madripoor is made up of a single city. The country was originally founded by hackers centuries ago, which is why the local government has such a tolerant attitude towards crime and corruption. Madripoor is a place where just about any vices can be delivered without fear of being arrested or extradited. And if you’ve made your fortune on the black market, there’s no safer place than Madripoor to hide your ill-gotten gains. Plus, the island sits on top of a huge sleeping dragon, so there is that.

Madripoor – you’ll never find a more miserable hive of scum and wickedness (in this galaxy, anyway).

This is not to say that everyone in Madripoor is a criminal, a terrorist, a human trafficker or a drug dealer. Madripoor is also one of the real economic hotspots in the Marvel Universe, with a number of legitimate businesses and even a fully-fledged shopping mall forming part of the city’s skyline. The people of Madripoor usually don’t care about your morals. All that matters is that you have the money.

Unfortunately, this obsession with money also makes Madripoor a place of extreme wealth. As we see in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the city is divided into two regions, Hightown and Lowtown. Even as the people of Hightown bask in luxury, the people of Lowtown live in utter misery. Life isn’t expensive in Lowtown, and it’s not a place a lot of superheroes dare to walk. Unless you have adamantium claws and a healing factor.

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Wolverine’s story in Madripoor

If there’s one Marvel character associated with Madripoor above all the others, it’s Wolverine. Following its original 1985 debut, New Mutants # 32, the island became a major setting in the 1988 Wolverine series. During this time in the X-Men franchise, the world thinks the X-Men are dead, so Wolverine spends a lot of time in Madripoor fighting criminals and villains like Silver Samurai. He even takes on a new secret identity as a thug wearing an eye patch known as (shockingly) Patch. Somehow, covering that part of her face actually works, although it’s entirely possible that everyone on the island is pleasing her out of pity and a desire not to be stabbed.Who is this mysterious masked man?  Art by Steve McNiven.  (Image credit: Marvel)

Who is this mysterious masked man? Art by Steve McNiven. (Image credit: Marvel)

All this time spent drinking, playing, and stabbing in Madripoor has made Wolverine intimately familiar with Lowtown and its people. Additionally, Wolverine comes to love Madripoor enough to fight to save him. He helps his new ally Jessán Hoan, whose family owns one of Madripoor’s biggest banks, to take control of Madripoor’s criminal underworld and attempt to bring some semblance of public order back to a lawless country. . Using the code name Tyger Tiger, Hoan consolidates his power and institutes a ban on slavery and drug trafficking. Wolverine leaves her with a warning: keep leading Madripoor to a better future or he will return to kill her next.

Since then, Tyger Tiger has done about as good a job of keeping the peace as one would expect for such a seedy hell of corruption. She has repeatedly dealt with potential usurpers and attempted to take control of everyone from Hydra to the Chinese government. But ultimately, Tyger Tiger and the mysterious masked man known as Patch are the only two leaders the downtrodden citizens of Lowtown will follow.

The Princess Bar

While Madripoor’s version of the MCU seems to follow the basics of the comics, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier has yet to feature characters like Tyger Tiger or Wolverine himself. Keep in mind that we’re still very early in Phase 4 of the MCU, so it’s probably far too early to expect the X-Men to start making appearances. Even WandaVision’s “Quicksilver” turned out to be nothing more than Ralph Bohner.

However, there is a small but important Wolverine cameo in “Power Broker”. We see a brief photo of a sign for The Princess Bar, one of Wolverine’s favorite local hot spots. Tyger Tiger herself is one of the owners of this bar. This just might be Marvel Studios’ way of acknowledging the growing demand for the X-Men to make their MCU debut. We might be a way of not even hearing about the X-Men casting news, let alone seeing mutant characters, but the Princess Bar cameo at least reminds us that the MCU is moving in that direction.By the way, the mere fact that the Falcon and the Winter Soldier used the Madripoor setting instead of other fictional Marvel locations is an encouraging sign. The Marvel Universe has another very similar hive of scum and villainy called Bagalia. In fact, Bagalia is closely associated with Baron Zemo in the Marvel Comic Book Universe, so it’s almost surprising that the Falcon and the Winter Soldier didn’t choose this setting instead. This only suggests that there are long term plans for Madripoor and his most famous Guardian Angel.

The future of mutants in the MCU

The fact that The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the first MCU project to include tangible X-Men elements may give us clues as to how these characters will eventually fit into this shared universe. On the one hand, the Princess Bar Easter Egg may be a sign that Wolverine will be among the first mutant characters to emerge in the MCU. This makes sense, as the X-Men comics and Fox’s X-Men films have long established that Logan had a long, active career long before he was recruited by Charles Xavier. For all we know, “Patch” has been kicking and drinking beer in Lowtown for years at this point.

Wolverine’s teasing can also play into the series’ larger exploration of the super-soldier arms race in the MCU. Episode 2 already introduced Carl Lumbly’s Isaiah Bradley, one of many examples of decades-long efforts to recreate Captain America. Wolverine himself is a by-product of this arms race. The Weapon X program that gave him his adamantium bones is actually Weapon Ten, one of the many branches of an organization called Weapon Plus. Cap himself is the original weapon I. While it’s still probably too much to expect Wolverine to appear in this series (surely the casting rumor would have surfaced already), the series seems to open the door to Weapon Plus and the many other hapless super-soldiers created as a result of Captain America.The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may even hint at how Marvel plans to tackle one of the MCU’s biggest questions after the game is over. How exactly are mutants introduced? Will they be a new phenomenon in the MCU, or have they ever existed under the radar? Is it possible that Professor X used his power to make the world forget about mutants? Does the persistent gamma radiation of Blip cause a generalized genetic mutation?

Given the focus and thematic content of this series, we have to wonder if the MCU is borrowing a page from the Marvel’s Ultimate Universe comics. In the Ultimate Universe, the mutant gene is an entirely artificial phenomenon created in the laboratory. Wolverine himself is the world’s first mutant, and Magneto’s parents are among the scientists responsible for this genetic alteration. [sidebar – Magneto isn’t depicted as a Holocaust survivor in this universe]. As in the Ultimate Universe, the creation of Captain America is one of the MCU’s biggest defining moments. This begins a new superhuman era, and it makes sense to include mutants in this conflict. And if that’s the case, we might see the X-Men facing an entirely different struggle in the MCU. Far from being the next step in natural evolution, they would look like Isaiah Bradley – the unfortunate misfires of an endless war machine. No wonder humans and mutants don’t get along.

For more on the Falcon and the Winter Soldier, check out the best comics to read in preparation for the MCU series and find out more about the inspiration behind Flag-Smashers.

Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by follow @jschedeen on Twitter.



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