The Quicksilver of Two Worlds: How A B-List Speedster Became Hot Hollywood Property
The Marvel superhero Quicksilver is not a big deal. I say that as someone who counts the guy among his favorite characters. What can I say? His snotty superiority has always spoken to me on a profound level. Yet I concede that the mutant speedster is not a marquee name. He's not even as popular as his nearest DC equivalent, the Flash. Calling him "B-list" may be a little generous.
Despite this he's going to appear in two separate movie blockbuster franchises played by two different actors in a single year -- a feat that Superman, Spider-Man, Batman and the Hulk can't match. None of this is because of public demand. So what is it about the character that landed him in this unique position?
Quicksilver's first live action appearance will be in X-Men: Days of Future Past, which arrives in theatres this week. Moon-faced American Horror Story actor Evan Peters assays the role of "Peter Maximoff", adorned with a shockingly synthetic silver disco wig from a cheapo Halloween store. Neither the actor nor the character bares resemblance to any comic version of the character.
Actually, technically, Days of Future Past will be Quicksilver's second appearance -- and I'm not talking about the burger commercial, nor the cameo of a mutant speedster bouncing around inside a cell in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (though that may yet prove to be the first in-continuity appearance).
The other version of the character appeared bouncing around inside a different cell in a brief cameo at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. That version will reappear in Avengers: Age of Ultron early next year looking like an '80s New Romantic with a bad blond dye job.
The version of Quicksilver appearing in the Avengers movie is played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, recently seen making out with Elizabeth Olsen in the new Godzilla movie. His Godzilla wife plays his Avengers sister, Scarlet Witch, and that may sound like weird casting given that the Ultimate Universe versions of the characters were involved in an incestuous relationship, but remember, the movies only take about 80% of their inspiration from the Ultimate Universe. It'll be fine.
The reason there's both an X-Men movie Quicksilver and an Avengers movie Quicksilver owes everything to the character's complicated place in the Marvel comics universe and nothing to the character's innate awesomeness. [Editor's note: Hmmm.]
Quicksilver was one of the first mutants to appear in the X-Men books, debuting as a villain in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's X-Men #4, cover-dated March 1964. That makes him an X-Men character. He was also one of the first Avengers, switching sides to the heroes in Avengers #16, cover-dated May 1965, so he's also an Avengers character. He's had a fleet foot in each camp ever since, without ever firmly staking a place either side of the line.
Complicating matters; Quicksilver's father in the comics is Magneto, the premier X-Men villain and a sometime X-Men member. Quicksilver's sister, Scarlet Witch, is pretty solidly entrenched in the Avengers comics as a long-standing member on several incarnations of the team. Quicksilver is related to a core X-Man and a core Avenger. (Fun fact: Magneto was not originally meant to be Quicksilver's father, but both characters had white hair, and, hey, comics, that's good enough. Quicksilver actually had the fleecy white locks first.)
Quicksilver gets around. Over the years he's dallied in just about every corner of the Marvel universe. He's been a hero and a villain; a government agent, a terrorist, a mutant messiah, a Communist provocateur, an FF ally, an Evil Mutant, a Knight of Wundagore, a Hero for Hire, and an Inhuman (by marriage). He even spent an issue as a Spider-Man foe, perhaps because he already wore the traditional Spidey villain green. Quicksilver can not only claim Magneto as his dad and Scarlet Witch and Polaris as his sisters, but also Vision as his brother-in-law, Medusa as his sister-in-law, and Wiccan and Speed as his nephews. If Polaris marries Havok and Wiccan marries Hulkling, Quicksilver will be related to everyone.
And yet, despite all the family connections, and despite being an X-Men character first, one of the only things Quicksilver has never been is an X-Man. He was a member of X-Factor when the group worked for the US government, and he's a member again now that it's part of Serval Industries, but he's never served on a core X-Men team.
The specifics of Fox's mutant movie deal are not public knowledge, but the studio clearly has broad rights to all mutant characters appearing in and connected to the X-Men, from Dazzler to Don. (Dazzler is surely the most important X-Man never to have appeared on film. Don is a mutant blue lobster.) Fox's claim to Quicksilver may simply be that he's a mutant who debuted in an X-Men title. From what we know of Days of Future Past, the studio doesn't appear to be making use of his familial connection to Magneto.
Quicksilver's Avengers connection is also inarguable. He was the seventh Avenger (alongside Hawkeye and Scarlet Witch), and he's been a West Coast Avenger, a Mighty Avenger, and a teacher at Avengers Academy. The tricky part for Marvel Studios, which does not have the film rights to X-Men characters, is that it can't call him a mutant or associate him with Magneto, which may be why he was referred to as a "miracle" in Captain America: The Winter Soldier (with the implication that his powers come from Loki's staff) and why he's been linked to a different Germanic supervillain with superpowered twin children; Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. (It should perhaps be noted that Magneto and Strucker are not typically interchangeable. They have emphatically different relationships to the Nazis.)
Both movie franchises have a legitimate claim to the character -- but it's still bizarre that Fox and Marvel Studios both exercised that claim. The fact that they did it so close together raised a lot of eyebrows.
On 17 May 2013, Avengers director Joss Whedon confirmed that Quicksilver would be in Avengers: Age of Ultron. Six days later, X-Men: Days of Future Past director Bryan Singer announced the casting of Evan Peters as Quicksilver in his movie. Aaron Johnson was not formally cast until October 4th 2013.
X-Men film writer Simon Kinberg claims his studio made the decision to include Quicksilver before Marvel Studios made its announcement, and that may be true given how quickly they announced Peters in the role -- but the rumor that the character would be in the second Avengers movie was already old news before that. Whatever the facts, the studios created the appearance of a showdown over Quickilver in which neither studio blinked, turning a second-stringer into one of the most unique and notable movie superheroes, and effectively adapting the comics universe's tradition of confusing-as-hell continuity.
A turf war over a lesser character seems inexplicable, but it's possible both studios share the view that one never knows which characters might land with audiences. Neither Loki nor Peggy Carter were fan favorites until the movies raised their profiles.
It's also possible that each studio wants Quicksilver as a way to shore up their claim to the bigger name Scarlet Witch. Singer actually filmed a Scarlet Witch scene for Days of Future Past, but it didn't make the final cut. (In the Fox movie she's Quicksilver's younger sister rather than his twin.) Fox presumably still believes it shares rights to the character.
Whatever the reason for the Quicksilver showdown, it's hard to avoid the impression that each studio was at least a little motivated by a desire not to see the other studio walk off with something they thought was theirs.
So the world gets two movie Quicksilvers. Yet weirdly, neither one of them feels especially true to the comics character, at least based on what we've seen so far. As any fan of the character can tell you (and there are a few of us out there), Quicksilver is a product of both the X-Men and the Avengers. Not only do his relationships with Magneto and the Scarlet Witch provide him with many of his insecurities, ambitions and concerns; his cranky individualism is defined in contrast to both the cultish familism of the X-Men and the pious authoritarianism of the Avengers.
A true movie Quicksilver would need to exist in a cinematic universe that has both X-Men and Avengers; both a villainous Magneto and a heroic Scarlet Witch. By both claiming the character, Fox and Marvel Studios may each have ended up with less than half. But the way the rights are split, we might never see a whole Quicksilver on the screen.
For what it's worth, a true movie Quicksilver would also have better hair. Quicksilver in the comics has great hair.