"The Marvel Cinematic Universe is an experiment that’s played out in public and in real time," says Keith Phipps. "It wasn’t obvious before Iron Man hit theaters in 2008 that moviegoers would turn out for a hero who didn’t have the name recognition of Spider-Man. Nor was it a sure thing that audiences would put in the homework of watching films starring individual Avengers before the release of a movie that brought them together. Establishing the MCU as we now know it took a lot of risk-taking. But in some respects, Marvel also hedged its bets in the early days with largely earthbound stories and relatively simple concepts. Until Guardians of the Galaxy expanded the universe to the far reaches of the cosmos and Doctor Strange explored its mystic underworld, the MCU largely held back from hitting viewers with the full-on weirdness at the heart of Marvel Comics. With the MCU’s expansion to Disney+, however, Marvel seems happy to let weirdness run wild — at least up to a point—a trend their latest series Loki, which begins this week, delightfully continues." Although WandaVision had a conventional Marvel ending, it was allowed to stay strange for most of its run. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, the second Marvel Disney+ series, was more of a conventional superhero show. "But those bizarre extremes and hairpin reversals are part of the pleasures of superhero stories, and — The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aside — it’s been heartening to see Marvel start to lean into the potential for television madness," says Phipps. He adds: "The MCU might be a well-oiled assembly line at this point, but it’s not one that’s content to turn out the same product over and over again. Marvel is using its accumulated goodwill and the possibilities of episodic TV to get more daring, at least part of the time. Loki also looks like a bellwether for projects to come. While Black Widow appears anchored to the cloak-and-dagger corner of the Marvel universe, Eternals, Shang Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Taika Waititi’s second Thor film and future Disney+ series like She-Hulk and Moon Knight all seem likely to draw from Marvel's odd fringes. That kind of unpredictability is considerably more exciting than an attempt to make a bigger, slightly different version of what Marvel has already done. And once you’ve had a movie that teams up virtually every possible character to fight a bad guy able to reshape the universe with a snap of his fingers, how much bigger can you get? Better to get strange and trust everyone else to go along for the ride."