How Custom Marvel Baseball Cards Helped Shape Avengers: Endgame

Danielle Radford
Movies Marvel
Movies Marvel MCU

Crafting Marvel’s Avengers: Endgame seems an impossible task. What began as a promising post-credits scene in 2008’s Iron Man has grown into a saga spanning 21 movies, hundreds of characters and multiple dimensions. Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely are challenged with wrapping up 11 years of storytelling while juggling cast schedules, keeping track of characters and, hopefully, satisfying a passionate fanbase. We spoke with the duo about the process of writing the largest and most complicated season finale of all time.

New Problems Call for Unconventional Solutions

When tackling a story featuring dozens of actors in beloved roles, you’d think the only restriction would be the limits of one’s imagination. Unfortunately, the world of movie making has one foe that even a juggernaut like the MCU can’t overcome — contracts. Each actor has a certain length of time they can be on set. Keeping track of every character’s journey throughout 21 films, as well as each actor’s availability has never been done on this scale before. When searching for a way to streamline the process, Marvel looked to one of the oldest stats tracking systems around.

Stan Lee Baseball Card
The Endgame writers used custom baseball cards, like this one featuring Stan Lee, to help narrow down story permutations.

“Marvel made baseball cards with every character on them and you could flip them over and also see their contractual availability,” said McFeely. He continued, “If we can get them for the whole run… go crazy and tell a big story.”

Taking into consideration each actor’s availability during the run was the first step in outlining the movie. Starting with that restriction may sound like a clinical approach to one of the most anticipated movies of all time, but the pair found it invaluable. “It sounds like a crass monetary thing, but it was very helpful in shaping story and seeing who could intersect,” said Christopher Markus. “Because with this many things you can’t have everybody together, so can you have people travel from one column and bounce off.”

Climbing the Wall

The process of breaking the story for both Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame began with Markus and McFeely together in a room, facing a blank wall. One by one, every character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe that was available and accessible went on that wall. Next is where story comes in. With so many heroes, it’s impossible for all of them to interact at the same time, which necessitates a need for several Marvel team-ups. The pair asked themselves which pairings would be interesting together and what stories could be told with them. Then, much like Doctor Strange, they investigated every viable possibility until they had 60 pages of potential storylines. Cue some narrowing down after outside input — Kevin Feige and the Russos would occasionally pop in — and the story beats began to take shape.

Think You’ve Sussed It? Think Again

After putting the players in place and narrowing down the plot, their next task is making the movie, y’know, good. Fans expect Endgame to not just match the surprises and emotional impact of Infinity War, but to exceed them. In order to accomplish this, an ability to subvert a savvy, modern audience’s expectations is required.

“I think the reason that Infinity War worked well, particularly at the end, is because so many people know movie narratives. They knew that Thor was going to take him out,” said Stephen McFeely. “We gave him an entire arc where he’s going to get (Stormbreaker) and that’s how it’s going to work because that’s how it works. ‘We know this, I’ve seen this movie.’ He fails. ‘Are you kidding me? What?’ The Russos are very big on this, subverting expectation and using your narrative experience against you.”

Aside from a familiarity of movie tropes, audiences now use social media and websites like Reddit to bounce fan theories off each other. Does subverting expectation also mean paying attention to online chatter? To an extent. While Markus and McFeely do follow some fan theories — yes, they know all about Ant-Man and the Thanus — they don’t get lost in them.

When asked about how much they’ve read, Markus responded, “We’re so busy tracking the actual thing that it’s hard to go, ‘Hang on, I have to pause this and find out what someone else thinks I oughta do with Captain America.’ You dip in and then step away.” It helps that neither is on Twitter to read theories about whether Endgame ends with Goose the Flerken putting Thanos in his tummy. But the answer to that is a very solid ‘probably not’.

Endgame hits screens in Australia on April 24, the UK on April 25 and the US on April 26th.

Danielle Radford