Why Netflix's Non-X-Men Mutant Story Beats Anything on Marvel TV – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Marvel hasn’t had the freedom to develop and integrate their X titles with their other brands, but Netflix’s Firebase provides a potent template.
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Oats Studios Volume 1, Episode 2, “Firebase,” streaming now on Netflix. 
Marvel has had some exemplary small screen successes with their Avengers and Defenders offshoots, but their mutant properties have typically been a bit more tortured. In part this has been due to a fractured creative universe, which has led to legal disputes between studio partnerships and shallow characters that were meant to superficially resemble fan favorites, but required narrative surgery due to budget constraints or licensing limitations.
Within Marvel canon, a mutant is an evolutionary step beyond merely human, designated as homo superior. Unlike their more socially accepted superhuman brethren they are born with their powers, which coalesce in adolescence. They are feared, shunned, segregated, slurred and hunted with the full sanction of the American government. A newly released Netflix science fiction short film anthology from Oats Studios features an entry, “Firebase,” which pits two men against one another and without ever mentioning the “m” word or the letter “x,” tells a very compelling mutant tale.
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During the last half decade of the Vietnam War, a Vietnamese farmer unaffiliated with any warring factions loses his wife to the ongoing conflict. In that moment he becomes an entity of pure rage whose grief can alter the fabric of reality, displace time, and subconsciously perform feats of vicious necromancy. Leaving a trail of bloody paranormal events along the Mekong like an amalgam of a Satanic Dr. Manhattan and a sub tropical Night King, he is called the River God.
The short shows him being hunted by an American soldier, Sergeant Hines, who has seen his handiwork firsthand. The men of his company describe Hines as touched by the divine, a man who can dodge the raindrops, blessed with an uncanny ability to instinctively anticipate deathly chaos. Hines doesn’t seem to have any idea what he is, or what the River God is, but he is drawn to him like a moth to a mushroom cloud. Jacob Palmer, a CIA agent who has been in touch with Hines, tracking his movements and interviewing his men, has some answers.
Palmer invites Hines to an interrogation of the only person alive who can speak to what the River God is capable of, a badly burned young soldier, Corporal Richard Bracken. The corporal describes a trip to the future half a world away where he was caught in a shower of blue napalm and deposited back to the present, still burning, in the jungles of Vietnam, surrounded by his walking dead platoon. Palmer dutifully outfits Hines with hyper advanced weaponry and armor designed to enhance his own luck fueled abilities and make him immune to reality warping, so he can confront the River God.
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Agent Palmer serves as the sagacious guide to this new world of gods and meta men. As those around him are too frightened to answer the questions that plague them and make sense of the things they cannot explain, Palmer is bemused, but focused. He has clearly been planning and preparing to recruit a special individual for an unimaginable threat, in a Professor X type of role, offering guidance and resources. The film clocks in at just under 25 minutes but the pacing is so precise it feels dense without any bulky exposition.
The degradation of the human form in every manner of destruction and monstrous rebirth is heavy handed and just a shade shy of gratuitous, but paired with a very subtle technique of storytelling. Watching Hines learn the nature of what he’s facing and coming to grips with the truth of his own identity is handled with all of the real world shock and acceptance of something unbelievable, but tangible. While X titles like Legion did a remarkable job with this same type of narrative stylization initially, most collide abruptly with unearned character expectations and boilerplate awakenings that lead to costume montages.
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Daredevil felt grounded and even, in part because his abilities were at their core hyper awareness that led to martial mastery, and there weren’t hurdles to leap over in getting the audience, or more importantly the shared world, to come to terms with what they were experiencing when they were around him. Mutants, who are capable of optic blasts, mind control, psychokinesis or weather manipulation require more negotiation when bartering screen time with a world of normals who have no concept of how or why any of these truths can be possible, but somehow react to them as if its a small adjustment to their understanding of how the world works.
Shows like Mutant X, a truly beleaguered litigious and narrative enterprise, or Generation X didn’t even make an attempt at assimilating the world of before to the world of the super powered now. Marvel’s Runaways and The Gifted, much like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D assume an established world and foray into the development of character immediately, requesting grace and a suspension of disbelief from the audience. Firebase, on the other hand, takes its time and offers tight nuanced storytelling and perhaps a template Marvel’s future mutant programming can benefit from.
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Creator/writer of The Hidden Scribes and COVID39 podcasts. Film screener for the Austin Film Festival and holder of passionate opinions e.g. M>DC+(Wars-Sequels~GOAT)/( Game(Breaking(The Wire)Bad)of Thrones-2 last seasons)=FACTS. Raised by Dungeons and Dragons, judges people who liked “Signs”, and solidly chicken on the which came first ideological spectrum.


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