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Forget Nick Fury – Roxxon Is the Real Glue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

by  in CBR Exclusives Comment
Forget Nick Fury – Roxxon Is the Real Glue of the Marvel Cinematic Universe

With the debut last week of the first teaser trailer for “Cloak & Dagger,” fans got their first glimpse of Freeform’s young-adult drama about two teens from different worlds linked by frightening new abilities, shared secrets, and maybe even destiny. While those elements hit many of the same notes as the comic book source material — albeit with the setting transplanted from 1980s New York City to 21st century New Orleans — viewers who blinked and missed the logos bookending the footage could be forgiven for not realizing this is a Marvel series.

That is, except for the enormous red Roxxon Corp sign that towers above an appropriately cloaked Tyrone Johnson in the trailer’s final moments.

RELATED: “Cloak & Dagger” Offers a Glimpse of a Wider Marvel Cinematic Universe

Long Marvel Comics’ unflattering analog to Exxon, the presence of Roxxon shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, the cutthroat corporation (Roxxon, that is, not Exxon) has been at odds with heroes ranging from Captain America and Iron Man to Deadpool and Daredevil for more than four decades. An all-purpose symbol of corporate corruption, Roxxon had demonstrated time and again that its greed and immorality knows no bounds, earthly or otherwise; it’s become entangled with Hydra, allied with Frost Giants and influenced by the Serpent Crown. In Marvel’s Ultimate Universe, the conglomerate was directly responsible for transforming Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen into Cloak & Dagger, a role it seems likely to reprise on the Freeform drama.

But Roxxon has become more than Marvel’s Exxon. Just as Walmart has come to represent Middle America and the decline of mom-and-pop stories, and Starbucks the big city and the rapid, inescapable spread of national retailers, a Roxxon sign is now emblematic of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It announces You Are Here (or, rather, there) … and that something bad is probably about to happen.

roxxon in iron man

From “Iron Man” (2008)

A connective element of the MCU, Roxxon preceded Claire Temple, Phil Coulson or even Nick Fury on screen. The corporation was there from the very beginning, in 2008’s “Iron Man,” its sign glowing in the background during the hero’s battle against Iron Monger, before Samuel L. Jackson’s Fury shows up in Tony Stark’s apartment to discuss the Avengers Initiative. Roxxon is in 2010’s “Iron Man 2” as well, as a sponsor of one of the cars in the Monaco Grand Prix, before returning in a more prominent role in 2013’s “Iron Man 3,” with one of its tankers spilling a million gallons of oil off the coast of Florida, and one of its accountants held hostage (and “executed”) by Mandarin.

But Roxxon also infiltrated the Marvel One-Shots, with a Roxxon gas station in New Mexico providing the setting for “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer,” the Agent Coulson short film released in 2011 with the “Captain America: The First Avenger” Blu-ray. It’s beneath the station’s florescent lights that Clark Gregg’s S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, introduced in “Iron Man,” first really shined, expertly dispatching two armed robbers as he filled up on Roxxon Premium and tried to decide between powdered and chocolate-frosted doughnuts (he ended up getting both; darn you, Little Debbie). You could argue that Coulson owes his popularity, at least in part, to Roxxon, and the lax security of its service stations.

a funny thing happened on the way to thor's hammer

Clark Gregg as Phil Coulson in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Thor’s Hammer” (2011)

Nearly two years before Rosario Dawson’s began her winding journey through the Hell’s Kitchen of Marvel’s Netflix dramas, from “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones” to “Luke Cage” and “Iron Fist,” Roxxon made its move to television in the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” There, a gas station in Batesville, Utah, required a little more than a cleanup in aisle one; it was destroyed in an explosion caused by an employee of the local particle accelerator (although — spoiler! — not the one everyone believes).

As a global conglomerate, Roxxon is a many-tentacled beast with varied holdings, including Cybertek, a technology company specializing in cybernetic research. That sounds harmless enough — maybe even helpful — until you realize that research includes Project Deathlok, a collaboration with Hydra intended to create Super Soldiers. The rotting fruits of those labors were featured prominently in the first season of “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which also referenced Roxxon subsidiaries Brand Corporation and Metrobank, whose New York City headquarters in the comics served as a front for Nth Command.

Roxxon gas station on “Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD” (2013)

Roxxon and its divisions faded from the ABC drama with the end of the first season, and didn’t reemerge until early in the current (fourth) one, where one of its power plants is a backdrop in the episode “The Good Samaritan.” But while the company has largely parted ways with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” it was hardly finished with that corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It simply moved with Peggy Carter into the past.

Inspired by “Captain America: The First Avenger” and the 2013 Marvel One-Shot starring Hayley Atwell, the regrettably short-lived “Agent Carter” was set in the aftermath of World War II, in the early days of the MCU. And of course Roxxon was there, playing a central role in the first three episodes, where its then-president is revealed as a member of the Council of Nine, a shadowy cabal dedicated to accumulating wealth and power by manipulating U.S. politics and the economy. In the second season, Peggy must infiltrate Roxxon’s Los Angeles office to find an access key to a warehouse where atomic bombs were stored; she, Edwin Jarvis and some Strategic Scientific Reserve operatives then break into the facility and (naturally) disarm the bombs, saving Los Angeles in the process.

Roxxon oil refinery on “Marvel’s Agent Carter” (2015)

Roxxon’s role within the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t end with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Agent Carter,” though, as its web of influence extends into the Netflix dramas, where the company has shaped the fate and future of Hell’s Kitchen in subtle yet surprising ways. After all, it’s a distasteful case involving Roxxon in a “Daredevil” flashback that convinces idealistic interns Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson to leave the prestigious law firm Landman &Zack, and hang out a shingle in their old neighborhood. If not for the corporation’s mistreatment of an ailing former employee, Murdock and Nelson might have eased into comfortable corner offices, and might never have become Nelson & Murdock. What that might’ve meant for the people of Hell’s Kitchen, or their costumed guardian, is difficult to imagine.

Lest we begin to think that Roxxon isn’t all bad, even if unintentionally so, we learn on both “Daredevil” and “Iron Fist” that the company is intertwined with The Hand, the ancient clan that’s seemingly infiltrated every aspect of Marvel’s New York City, from Rand Enterprises to Hell’s Kitchen real estate to the drug trade (which is where Roxxon comes in). Given that Midland Circle, the site of the enormous hole excavated by The Hand in “Daredevil’s” second season, is where Matt Murdock, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Danny Rand come together in “The Defenders,” it seems likely the clan plans a key role in the upcoming Netflix miniseries. But will Roxxon?

Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson represent Roxxon on “Daredevil” (2015)

It’s doubtful, as the company has largely lurked at the edges of the Netflix dramas, where its most prominent role as arguably been in a Season Two episode of “Daredevil” in which Elektra Natchios hacks its computer system. But “Cloak & Dagger” may be another matter entirely.

We can take away from the teaser trailer that Roxxon won’t simply lurk in the background of the Freeform series; in those closing moments, the company is front and center, in enormous red letters. It’s probably not a leap to imagine the company’s logo on those shipping containers, cargo vessel or warehouse glimpsed in the footage, or its (ahem) hand in the transformations of Ty and Tandy. With “Cloak & Dagger,” Roxxon may be ready for corporate expansion, moving beyond its nearly decade-long roles as Easter egg and connective tissue to become an essential, and undoubtedly evil, player in the narrative.

“Marvel’s The Defenders,” which brings together Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter and Finn Jones, arrives Aug. 18 on Netflix. Starring Olivia Holt and Aubrey Joseph, “Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger” debuts in 2018 on Freeform.

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