Decked out in limited-edition Spider-Man Vans, a Spider-Man T-shirt and my Captain America snapback, I left the movie theater in tears. The screen flashed white after Thanos snapped half of life out of existence; I watched my favorite character, Peter Parker, tell Iron Man “I don’t feel so good” as he faded into dust. My fiancé consoled me as we got to her car, but she knew exactly what I was going to do once she started driving: look up fan theories explaining what just happened and speculating what was to come.
Since Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury first told Tony Stark about the Avengers Initiative, fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe have left theaters exhilarated and eager for the next installment. But I don’t think anyone expected the flood of fan theories and dedicated YouTube channels that came from Disney+’s first officially canon MCU show, “WandaVision,” after “Endgame” seemingly wrapped the MCU up.
After the conclusion of the aptly titled Infinity Saga, casual fans thought, “What else could Marvel President Kevin Feige possibly come up with?” Fanatics like me, however, knew the conclusion of “Endgame” was merely the closing chapter for the MCU’s first three phases. Despite seeing Spider-Man in space, Captain America wield Mjolnir and Tony Stark finally become the guy to lay his life on the line, hardcore fans knew Marvel had perfectly planted seeds for potential storylines to come. Then the pandemic started, and productions understandably shut down while release dates were pushed back multiple times.
The “Black Widow” prequel was initially scheduled for May 2020 and would have kicked off Phase Four before the transition to Disney’s new streaming platform. The delay left fans with no new MCU content for an entire year — the longest Marvel drought since the almost two-year gap between 2008’s “The Incredible Hulk” and 2010’s “Iron Man 2.” It’s an understatement to say MCU fans were experiencing withdrawals and consequently spent quarantine re-watching the Infinity Saga, which could have been the catalyst for the increase of theories and expectations for the Disney+ TV shows.
Fan theories are nothing new. Speculation is one way people interact with media, and besides basic canon rules (established within intellectual property), there is a lot of leeway when it comes to speculation. This has led to some wild theories, from Toby being the Scranton killer in “The Office” to the titular “Rugrats” being a figment of Angelica’s imagination.
If you happened to stumble across MCU fan theories after “WandaVision” finally dropped this past January, you may have come across the name Mephisto, who is the Devil in Marvel comics. A rampant slew of theories, including the introduction of the X-Men and possibly even The Fantastic Four, were produced by various YouTube channels within hours of each episode’s release. Many fans were disappointed when “WandaVision” concluded and debunked basically every major theory conceived during the show’s airing. Their reactions made so much noise that the director had to clarify the show’s true themes and the intention of showcasing Wanda’s grief and pain that had built up over the entirety of her existence within the MCU.
YouTube channels New Rockstars and The Cosmic Wonder have grounded themselves as staples for breakdowns, theories and industry leaks with their 3.01 million and 745,000 respective subscribers. Both channels are known for following the MCU and neither wasted time releasing “WandaVision” content. New Rockstars alone produced an incredible 63 videos, and The Cosmic Wonder was right behind with 46 videos dedicated to “WandaVision” from the show’s Jan. 15 debut through its Mar. 5 finale. Keep in mind: This limited series consists of only nine episodes with a complete series run time of roughly six hours.
As Phase Four continues, both channels have seen substantial subscriber growth as well as an increase in overall channel popularity. The host of New Rockstars, Erik Voss, was invited to speak on “Good Morning America,” and The Cosmic Wonder himself, Warren Thompson, hosted cast, writer and director interviews on his channel, with his most recent guest being Michael Waldron, the head writer for Marvel’s “Loki.” Just an FYI — he has already stated that Mephisto is not in the show. I reached out to Thompson to ask why so many “WandaVision” theories exploded, and he responded, “…Because they actually made sense. Given the story of Agatha Harkness and the twins, Mephisto just made sense.” He went into detail about how true to the comics the show was and finished by saying, “To this day I’m shocked he wasn’t [in the show] but I still believe he’s coming.”
Many fans were upset since practically none of the theories came true. When asked about how he deals with potential backlash while working in a speculation-heavy community, Thompson responded: “I reached a point in my YouTube career maybe a year or so ago where I learned how to block out most of the negativity…. Online communities, regardless of what community that is, can be toxic. To the people who don’t like our speculations and theories, I’m sorry I guess. Don’t watch us then?”
Some people may have preconceived notions that these channels are just hobbies when, in reality, this is their job. The Cosmic Wonder started back in 2018 and has an estimated net worth of $526,000. Thompson explained how he became involved with Disney about six months ago and now has a representative with them, which has in turn affected the way he produces his videos. “I try to put more care into my videos now…. If leaks get out that the studio doesn’t want out, I shouldn’t cover it.” He then told me that there was a specific leak during “WandaVision” that the studio didn’t want to spread and he didn’t cover it because he wanted to preserve the relationship; he said, “Ultimately I want to interview cast members because I think my audience would love that.” Thompson was very genuine in the interview. I have personally followed his channel for a little over a year and I love his enthusiasm during his breakdowns, the curiosity displayed in his theories and the authenticity of his leaks.
The second episode of “Loki” just dropped, and my phone has already started buzzing with notifications for 11 videos from seven different YouTube channels. Phase Four is officially in full swing with a new property coming out roughly every two weeks through the rest of the year. None of the bigger channels plan on slowing down, and despite some fans being wary of too much hype, the majority of those who indulge understand that, to quote Thompson, “…theories and speculation make the shows and movies even more fun. If the theories end up being correct it’s a cool fun moment. If they’re wrong, well, that only means we got surprised … which is always great.”
As we enter a new era within the superhero genre, I hope that fans come together to not only enjoy canon content but all the speculations that come with it.