The women you didn't know were behind the MCU

The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been a game-changer in a number of ways. It helped to redefine comics-based films, creating the model of a shared universe that a growing number of studios have tried to copy. And it helped to redefine Marvel Comics, a company which had teetered on bankruptcy and previously had to sell the film rights to iconic characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men.

Now, Marvel and Disney have become a juggernaut, dominating movies, television, and comics. When most people think of the architects of the MCU's success, however, they primarily think of men. Directors such as John Favreau and Joss Whedon and James Gunn dominate discussions of how the MCU was created and why it's so successful. What many people don't understand is how many women, working directly on MCU creative teams and Marvel's books, have helped make it what it is—and are continuing to shape its future.

Kelly Sue DeConnick

While everyone's excited to see the Avengers and Thanos slugging it out in Infinity War, Marvel is already preparing for its next wave of hit movies—movies like Captain Marvel, currently slated to premiere on March 8, 2019. Featuring Oscar winner Brie Larson as the title character, it'll likely follow her adventures in space, as the character's more recent comics exploits have found her exploring the universe alongside the Guardians of the Galaxy and other colorful characters. Interestingly, the character of Captain Marvel, formerly Ms. Marvel, has been around for decades, but the demand for a Captain Marvel movie is relatively recent…and it's all thanks to Kelly Sue DeConnick.

DeConnick was serving as a freelance writer for Marvel when she started writing Captain Marvel's adventures in 2012. During her three-year run on the comic, the character's popularity exploded with new readers all over the world, many of them members of the ever-growing "Carol Corps" of superfans. DeConnick specialized in presenting a complex Captain Marvel who was headstrong, bighearted, and a bit goofy at times, all traits that helped make her outer space adventures highly memorable. While DeConnick has gone on to write other successful books such as Bitch Planet, the legacy of her Captain Marvel issues will almost certainly inform the onscreen adventures of the MCU's first female solo movie, and she's thrown her support behind Larson's casting.

G. Willow Wilson

Like Kelly Sue DeConnick, G. Willow Wilson is a female Marvel writer who's made a huge impact in a relatively short period of time—specifically by creating the young superhero Ms. Marvel. Despite sharing a superhero name with Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel is very different; she's an American Muslim teenager given Inhuman powers thanks to the Terrigen mists. Afterward, she must navigate a complex world involving her family, her neighborhood, her social life, and her school life as well as her new powers. The stories echo the best early adventures of Peter Parker while adding entirely new cultural dimensions. Above all, the comics are thoughtful meditations on the state of the modern world while still being hilariously entertaining.

How does this tie into the MCU? The short answer is that "it's complicated." There were strong rumors in 2015 that ABC was holding onto a writer named John Ridley because they wanted him to write scripts for a superhero TV show. Allegedly, Ridley was given several choices of comics to adapt, and Ms. Marvel fascinated him the most. Now that the Inhumans is going to be a TV show instead of a movie, another comics writer has confirmed that this show won't just focus on the Inhuman Royal Family, but also feature humans that have been transformed by the Terrigen mists. Considering that Ms. Marvel is currently the most popular comics character who fits that bill, chances seem high she'll be headed to the MCU—and given that G. Willow Wilson has been her main writer so far, her comics should greatly influence that onscreen portrayal.

Melissa Rosenberg

So far, all of the MCU's big-screen movies have been directed by men, and three of the four MCU shows—four of the five, if you count the upcoming Defenders—have had male showrunners. The exception to this rule is Melissa Rosenberg, the woman who serves as the showrunner for Jessica Jones—Marvel's first series to win an Emmy, and only the second to focus on a female lead.

Rosenberg's Jessica Jones instantly left fans clamoring for another season. It was amazingly cast (Krysten Ritter blew everyone away with her portrayal of the title character, and David Tennant was an amazing choice for the mind-controlling villain Killgrave) and delightfully complex, showing the life of someone who tried to be a hero and experienced extreme trauma. And Rosenberg made sure to prominently feature female writers and directors in order to bring this unique character to life. That experiment will continue into the show's second season, which will be entirely directed by women, making this corner of the MCU stand in very stark contrast to almost every other movie and show…with the possible exception of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Maurissa Tancharoen

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. often garners mixed reactions from Marvel fans. On one hand, it holds the notable distinction of being the first MCU attempt at an ongoing television show. At the same time, it's often stuck between the big-budget world of the movies (which never seem to acknowledge Marvel's TV universe) and the world of the MCU on Netflix (which is allowed to be darker, bloodier, and more complex than an ABC television show like S.H.I.E.L.D. ever could be). Still, this is the show that introduced major comics characters like Quake and Ghost Rider to the MCU, as well as major concepts like the Inhumans. In Phillip Coulson and his S.H.I.E.L.D. team, this show represents the best venue to stretch and explore the MCU as presented in movies like the Avengers.

Without Maurissa Tancharoen, there would be no Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. She and her husband, Jed Whedon, serve as showrunners, and they help maintain the balance between integrating into the larger world of the MCU and remaining dynamic and new. For instance, she ensured that the character of Coulson is constantly challenged; he's no longer simply there as a reminder to viewers who remember him from Iron Man or Avengers. And she helped bring in the aforementioned Ghost Rider, effectively salvaging a character that was previously (and cartoonishly) portrayed by Nicolas Cage in two non-MCU Ghost Rider movies. As Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. finishes its fourth season, Tancharoen is notable for just how much of the MCU she's shaped—and how much her show will shape future projects like The Inhumans.

Ann Nocenti

Ann Nocenti is a writer who, quite frankly, doesn't get enough credit. For instance, when it comes to Daredevil, everyone remembers Frank Miller taking over the title and essentially re-defining the character into the version we know today. Nocenti, however, is the writer who took over Daredevil when Miller left, and unlike many of her successors, she didn't try to be Frank Miller lite. Her Daredevil eventually leaves New York, encountering a variety of allies, heroes, and villains that he wouldn't normally encounter. Along the way, she laid the seeds for some major MCU characters and themes.

For instance, Nocenti's own Catholic background helped her to further define Daredevil's complex relationship with religion and God, something we see well in the very first episode of Daredevil's show. Nocenti's run on the comic is also famous for turning Matt Murdock into a social worker and something of a champion of the common man. This is explored extensively in the Netflix series, as the character often helps the poor and most downtrodden residents of Hell's Kitchen, often for free or in exchange for food or other goods.

Nocenti's influence may continue to ripple out, too: she penned the first Inhumans graphic novel, which was the first introduction many had to these unconventional characters. With an Inhumans TV show around the corner, it's very likely Nocenti's take on these characters will shape some of their portrayals and stories.

Nicole Perlman

Nicole Perlman is arguably the main reason that the first Guardians of the Galaxy film was ever made. Obviously, much of the credit for that film deservedly goes to James Gunn, who both directed it and revised the script. However, the initial script was written by Nicole Perlman. Not only that, Perlman was the one who first figured out that the Guardians would work well onscreen. As part of the Marvel Writing Program (whose writers try to find material that would work well in the MCU), she had many other properties she could have chosen, but she decided Guardians of the Galaxy had great potential.

Marvel agreed, and they greenlit the film based on her script. However, after the film became a huge success, she found herself at the center of a rather weird controversy. Specifically, she and Gunn offer differing accounts of how much of the final movie was based on her story, with Perlman implying that Gunn fine-tuned what was already there and Gunn outright stating that he changed huge aspects of the original characters, stories, and dialogue. While we're unlikely to get a definitive answer to that debate, Marvel still bills Perlman as the first female writer of an MCU film, which is an achievement all on its own. And, despite the magic Gunn added, most of the world would never have heard of Star-Lord and Drax if Perlman hadn't noticed their potential.

Sue Chung

One of the most overlooked aspects of the MCU is, unfortunately, the Agent Carter television series. The show brought back some of the impressive cast from Captain America: The First Avenger, including Hayley Atwell as Agent Peggy Carter and Dominic Cooper as Howard Stark, all while introducing new heroes and villains. In addition to being well-acted, funny, and genuinely charming, Agent Carter did something on the small screen that Marvel won't be doing until 2019: it featured a woman in a leading role.

Sue Chung served as one of the main writers for Agent Carter's second season, and she was also the executive story editor. She helped shepherd Carter out of New York and into Los Angeles, breathing fresh life into the character and series while also letting Carter escape (quite literally) from the previous characters and settings that defined her. The season and show were a hit with critics but not with viewers, and it was canceled after season two. Nonetheless, Chung helped shape a character that has served as a feminist inspiration in an MCU that, while trying to be more progressive, nonetheless features very few female heroes.

Roxane Gay

Captain America: Civil War helped introduce us to the cinematic version of Black Panther in a major way. The character was at once engaging, noble, and able to hold his own in a fight against veteran superheroes. The very end of the movie gave us our first real glimpse of the world of Wakanda, the mysterious nation that Black Panther hails from. He reluctantly agrees to secure Bucky in Wakanda so no one else can turn this Winter Soldier into a mind-controlled villain. It's not clear whether we'll see Bucky in Black Panther, but no matter what happens in it, the movie will be influenced by Roxane Gay.

In addition to the current Black Panther series written by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Marvel hired Gay to write sibling series The World of Wakanda. As the name of the comic indicates, it helps flesh out the characters and the world of Black Panther, and Gay's stories focus on the all-female royal guard of Wakanda. We see one of these guards make a memorable appearance in Civil War, sternly telling Black Widow "move, or be moved," and the guard is clearly spoiling for a fight. Given that Marvel hired its first black female writer to pen stories about these women right after one of them appeared in Civil War, it's highly likely that Gay's stories will influence how these women and the rest of Wakanda are portrayed in Black Panther's solo movie.

Kathryn Immonen

Kathryn Immonen's influence on the MCU is more accidental than intentional. She served as the writer of a miniseries that focused on Patsy Walker, also known as the superhero Hellcat. Walker, a relatively obscure character whose origins pre-date Marvel Comics, hadn't been prominently featured in years, but Immonen helped establish her as plucky, resourceful, independent, and relentlessly upbeat. The miniseries was popular enough that Hellcat became a bigger part of Marvel Comics, sidekicking it up in a She-Hulk title before starring in her own series in 2015. That ongoing series was well-timed, as many people were introduced to the character of a non-superpowered Patsy Walker via the Jessica Jones TV show.

In Alias (the comics Jessica Jones was inspired by), Jones' best friend is Carol Danvers, also known as Captain Marvel. When the Jessica Jones TV show was being developed, the creators knew they couldn't use Captain Marvel because her own movie was in the works, so the creators substituted Patsy Walker instead, and they took many character cues from how she was portrayed in Immonen's miniseries. For instance, Patsy is the encouraging and upbeat friend who insists Jessica use her powers to help people. And as strong and independent as she is, Patsy is greatly dependent on Jessica, which is in line with Immonen's characterization: she once described Patsy as being "obligated to depend on the kindness" of others. Immonen also thinks of Patsy as being a mash of contradictory elements, as she's a "detective but she's also a cheerleader and an ex-model." These elements form the exact core of the MCU's Patsy Walker.

Becky Cloonan

Marvel recently tapped artist/writer Becky Cloonan to be the writer for their new ongoing Punisher series. The timing seemed intentional, as the MCU Punisher had been introduced earlier that year in the second season of Daredevil. Now, Cloonan is penning the story, and it seems like she's laying some of the seeds for what the Punisher's own show will be about.

One clue is Will Simpson. Many comics fans were surprised to see Simpson (who goes by Frank Simpson in the comics instead of Will) pop up as a minor antagonist in Jessica Jones because the villain, a man who becomes superhuman by popping special pills, is mostly known for fighting Daredevil and Wolverine in the comics. By the end of Jones' first season, Simpson is still alive, and he is hauled away by the same mysterious group that provides him with the pills.

This is where Cloonan is most likely to influence the MCU: in her first story arc, Punisher deals with gangsters who are selling special drugs that (wait for it) make those who ingest them superhuman. The Luke Cage series introduced the idea of a new kinds of arms race, with the black market receiving special ammunition that can hurt superheroes. It's possible that the MCU Punisher will be fighting gangsters offering everyday people a chance to become strong enough to fight superhumans (a la Cloonan's coomics), and he'll eventually tangle with Simpson. Still not convinced? Think about Simpson's name change. It's a weirdly specific thing to change…unless, of course, he'll eventually be onscreen alongside Frank Castle, which would make it confusing for anyone to address the two by name when they're together.