Comic books are inherently a visual medium, as while the images in the panels on the pages are important to the story that is being told, even the dialogue needs to be seen to be written. However, for whatever reason, for such a powerful visual medium, when comic books are adapted into superhero films, the film directors rarely use actual comic book panels for their inspiration in laying out scenes in the films. Partially, this is because so many films drastically change the basic design of the comics (think “X-Men”) that there really isn’t anything to compare with the original comic book, but mostly it is a much simpler explanation, which is that the film directors often don’t see any reason to do so.
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However, that isn’t always the case. Ahead, you will see 15 instances from superhero films (in chronological order) of iconic comic book images being faithfully recreated within the context of the film. Enjoy!
15. THE DEATH OF ELEKTRA!
The early 2000s were a bit of a crap shoot when it came to superhero films, and one of the movies that fell a bit short of its intended goals (although the Director’s Edition of the film has gotten a good deal more acclaim, so perhaps we should be blaming the studio for the released product) was 2003’s “Daredevil,” written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring future Batman Ben Affleck as Daredevil.
Johnson was a huge fan of Frank Miller’s run on “Daredevil,” and the film not only is generally based on Miller’s stint as the writer and penciler on “Daredevil,” but Miller even gets a significant cameo in the film (Bullseye kills him with a pencil). Since it was based on Miller’s run, you know that they had to work the death of Elektra into the film, and the movie translated Miller and Klaus Janson’s dramatic depiction of Elektra’s demise in “Daredevil” #181 into the film with the care and attention of a true fan.
14. SPIDER-MAN…NO MORE!
When it comes to faithfully transferring comic book characters to the silver screen, part of the problem was that special effects had not reached the point where certain characters could really be translated to the screen without looking ridiculous. In retrospect, it was almost a blessing that the rights to Spider-Man were held up in disputes between various film companies for so long that the first “Spider-Man” film did not come out until 2002, when special effects had hit a point where they could do a reasonable approximation of what Spider-Man “should” look like in action.
Director Sam Raimi was a big-time comic book fan, so much of “Spider-Man” films treated the early Steve Ditko, Stan Lee and John Romita stories with a great deal of reverence. In 2004’s “Spider-Man 2,” when Peter Parker tries to give up being Spider-Man, Raimi framed the shot exactly like the famous splash page from “Amazing Spider-Man” #50 (by Lee and Romita) where Peter does just that (don’t worry, just like in the film, he gets his costume back soon afterwards).
13. ACTION COMICS #1…IN ACTION!
2006’s “Superman Returns” by writer/director Bryan Singer, is famous for how devoted that Singer was to the original Richard Donner-directed “Superman” film. Singer lovingly homages Donner’s film throughout the movie, even choosing to pick up the story as if he was carrying on directly from the last Donner film (“Superman 2”), choosing to gloss over the other two Christopher Reeve films not directed by Richard Donner.
However, Singer managed to make room to homage another major part of Superman’s history. When he has Superman lift up a car (soon after he returns to Metropolis) in just the same way that Superman lifted a car up on the cover of Superman’s first appearance in “Action Comics” #1 by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel. What’s interesting is that that cover was made up by a National Comics staffer who simply enlarged a panel from inside the issue to make it work as a cover.
12. IRON MAN MAKES A GRAND ENTRANCE
Adi Granov is one of the most popular comic book cover artists in the business. In a moment of serendipity, after the independent comic book company that he had been working for had fallen apart, someone from Marvel Comics e-mailed him to say that they liked his work and wanted to know if he was interested in doing some work for them. His first job for Marvel was drawing the cover to “Iron Man” #75. The very next month, he drew the cover for “Iron Man” #76, which became an iconic image. Granov was hired to do interior work on a re-launched “Iron Man” series with Warren Ellis introducing the “Extremis virus,” which ultimately turned Tony Stark into an Iron Man himself.
After the success of “Extremis,” Granov was then contacted by director Jon Favreau, who wanted him to do design work for “Iron Man.” The Iron Man armor in 2008’s “Iron Man” was greatly inspired by Granov’s work, so in 2010’s “Iron Man 2,” Favreau paid tribute to Granov’s famous cover with a scene in the film homaging “Iron Man” #76.
11. NEARLY ALL OF WATCHMEN
In 2005, director Robert Rodriguez worked closely with Frank Miller (Rodriguez wanted Miller to be credited as his co-director on the project) to film an adaptation of Miller’s classic crime noir comic book series, “Sin City.” The film was designed so that it would basically be like taking scenes from the comic book and putting them directly on to the screen. The success of that film made way for Zack Snyder to do the surprise blockbuster hit, “300,” in 2006, where Snyder similarly used Miller’s original graphic novel about Spartan warriors and meticulously followed Miller’s drawings for the storyboards for the film.
When that film was a gigantic success, Snyder was given the opportunity to do what few directors were even willing to try, which was to adapt Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ classic miniseries, “Watchmen,” into a film. Snyder had to condense a good deal of the story to make it fit into a film, but he made sure to use the original work as storyboards for much of the finished product, including the famous death of the Comedian which kicks off the film’s story.
10. CAPTAIN AMERICA PUNCHES OUT HITLER
One of the biggest problems when it comes to adapting comic book superheroes into film is that sometimes costumes that look good in comic books don’t always look good when translated into film. As a notable example, Mister Miracle’s face mask works great in the comics, but it would be next to impossible for a mask tight enough to see the entire expression of the person’s face to look good in real life. That was the reason why Captain America’s classic costume was re-designed for his film appearances, including his debut in 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger.”
However, director Joe Johnston managed to work in the original costume into sequences where Captain America is solely a publicity tool for the government, and thus he can wear a more theatrical-looking outfit while he is drumming up support for people to buy War Bonds. We see that in one of his routines, he acts out punching Adolf Hitler in just the same way that Cap did on the cover of his first appearance in 1940’s “Captain America Comics” #1 by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.
9. THE DEATH OF GWEN STACY
One of the things that attracted Marc Webb the most to directing 2012’s “Amazing Spider-Man” and its 2014 sequel, “Amazing Spider-Man 2,” was the tragic love story between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. In the first film, Webb built up the romance between Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy and Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, and in the second film, he would tear everything down with Gwen’s tragic death.
While Webb changed the precise nature of Gwen’s death in the film (rather than having her neck snapped by Spider-Man’s webbing pulling her back up abruptly after the Green Goblin has thrown her off of a bridge, this time the webbing saves her at first but then it breaks during battle and she falls to her death), he otherwise meticulously re-created the scene, right down to Stone wearing the precise outfit Stacy sported in “Amazing Spider-Man” #121 (he also included an homage to the issue number, as Gwen dies at 1:21 A.M.).
8. THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS!
After “Watchmen,” Zack Snyder turned his attentions to Superman in 2013’s “Man of Steel.” That was followed by 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” where Batman and Superman end up fighting against each other. Snyder, as shown by his hit film, “300,” is a big fan of Frank Miller’s comic book work, and as a result, Miller’s classic Batman miniseries, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” was a significant influence upon “Batman v Superman,” to the point where Batman is played by a much older actor than Superman so that it could evoke the feel of “Dark Knight Returns” (where Batman has returned to fighting crime after being away for 10 years).
The big fight scene between Batman and Superman is straight out of “Dark Knight Returns,” but at one point during their fight, there’s an even more explicit visual reference to the comic, which is when Batman is framed in the sky by the lightning, re-creating the most iconic Batman comic book cover of all-time, “Dark Knight Returns.”
7. “I BELIEVE YOU”
One of the ways that Snyder was greatly influenced by Frank Miller was also the way that Miller handled Batman’s use of violence. Snyder believed that Miller had Batman kill a bad guy with a gun in “Dark Knight Returns” (although there is a strong csse that the text does not actually support that position) and used that as his reasoning for having Batman kill a number of people in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.”
The specific scene in “Dark Knight Returns” was directly homaged late in “Batman v Superman” when Batman burst into the house where Lex Luthor’s thugs were holding Superman’s mother, Martha Kent, hostage. After disarming one of the crooks, the other one told Batman that he will kill Martha. Batman tells him, “I believe you” and then uses the gun to shoot a hole in the crook’s flame thrower, exploding it and killing the thug.
6. CAPTAIN AMERICA VS. IRON MAN
One of the most successful Marvel Comics crossovers of all-time was 2006-07’s “Civil War,” which pitted Captain America (and his allies) versus Iron Man (and his allies) in a battle over the Superhuman Registration Act, which declared that all superheroes must reveal their secret identity to the government and also get training before going out to fight crime. This fight soon became a violent battle between the two old friends and teammates.
In the 2016 film, “Captain America: Civil War,” Iron Man and Captain America were once again on the opposite side of a fight over registration, but more specifically, about Captain America believing that his old friend, Bucky Barnes, is worth breaking out of custody after Bucky had been framed for an assassination. The battle between the two heroes later in the story (after Iron Man also found out that Bucky, back when he was a brainwashed agent of Hydra, had murdered Tony’s parents) beautifully captured Steve McNiven and Dexter Vines’ cover to the final issue of “Civil War.”
5. SOMEBODY’S GONNA GET IT!
Just like the famous miniseries that it was based upon, “Captain America: Civil War” saw different superheroes choose sides in the fight between Captain America and Iron Man. Two of the heroes who decided to throw in with Cap were Hawkeye (who came out of retirement for the fight) and Ant-Man (as an ex-con, he was not a fan of the whole “Register with the government” idea).
During the battle, Hawkeye shot Ant-Man on the head of an arrow to send Ant-Man after their foes. This scene was meant to evoke a classic “Avengers” cover by Ed Hannigan featuring the two characters doing the same thing as the film (in their pose, they actively tell people that when they get together, “Someboy’s gonna get it!”). During the early 1980s, Ed Hannigan drew some of the great Marvel covers of the era, and designed covers for other artists at the same time, as well.
4. IT’S RAINING BULLETS!
Deadshot began life as an obscure Batman villain who made one appearance and then disappeared for over 20 years until Steve Englehart, Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin brought him back to fight Batman, now with an amazing costume designed by Rogers (Deadshot originally just wore a tuxedo and domino mask). When John Ostrander was casting characters for his “Suicide Squad” series in the mid-1980s, that cool costume led to him adding Deadshot to the team. Deadshot soon became the breakout character of the original “Suicide Squad” series.
After spending some time in character limbo, Gail Simone broke the character back big time by having him join up with Simone and Dale Eaglesham’s “Villains United” team, the Secret Six. Deadshot was one of the few members of the Secret Six who made it all the way through the series (lots of characters came and went over the years). In the 2016 film, “Suicide Sqaud,” when Deadshot is introduced, he is depicted just the same as he looked on Daniel LuVisi’s cover of “Secret Six” #15.
3. DANSE MACABRE
Harley Quinn, the breakout character of the “Suicide Squad” film, is very familiar with the idea of being a breakout character, as she was also a breakout character on the “Batman: The Animated Series” TV program after debuting in an early Joker spotlight episode. However, while she was becoming a hit on the TV series, she was not yet a part of the DC Universe. Her creators, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, even wrote and drew an award-winning one-shot starring Harley, but she was not yet part of the DC Universe (the one-shot was set in “The Animated Series” continuity).
Finally, in 1999, Dini brought her into the DC Universe in a one-shot with cover art by Alex Ross. That cover drawing of Harley and Joker dancing was adapted almost perfectly into a flashback sequence in “Suicide Squad,” capturing the relationship and the history between Harley and the Clown Prince of Crime.
2. ENTER THE DARK DIMENSION!
On both of the popular features that Steve Ditko did with Stan Lee, “Amazing Spider-Man” and “Doctor Strange,” Ditko eventually took on more and more control over the story of both of those titles, to the point where he would just plot out and draw the stories without speaking to Lee, just leaving notes on the pages to show what Ditko was thinking, and then Lee would script the issue based on Ditko’s finished pages. Around this time, he really began to embrace psychedelic imagery in the pages of his “Doctor Strange” feature, as Strange was routinely going to different dimensions, which Ditko would draw with psychedelic-esque drawings.
When it came time to do a “Doctor Strange” film last year, director Scott Derrickson explained that he wanted to keep Ditko’s imagery, stating, “Ditko’s artwork was very psychedelic, very ‘60s, and that was the counter-culture making its way into the Marvel Universe. I felt very strongly that art was still progressive and had not been imitated. I don’t think visual effects were ready to try and imitate him, but VFX finally caught up with Steve Ditko.”
1. HE STOOD ALONE AT GJALLERBRU
While there were a number of awesome-looking moments within the trailer for “Thor:Ragnarok,” one of the moments that pleasantly surprised long-time “Thor” comic book fans was a shot of Karl Urban’s Skurge re-enacting his most famous scene within the “Thor” comics. Skurge, the Executioner, you see, was a longtime member of the Masters of Evil, but only in his role as the sort of sidekick/protector to the Enchantress, whom he loved with all of his heart.
After being spurned by her yet again, the Skurge joined a mission with Thor where the thunder god rescued some humans who were accidentally trapped in the land of Hel. Hela did not like her new guests leaving, so she sent a small army after Thor and his friends. They came to the exit bridge at Gjallerbru. Skurge volunteered to stay behind (using the weapons that the humans had on them) and he held off the attackers all by himself, thereby proving himself the hero he had never been in life. When people ask who even Hela bows her head to, “‘He stood alone at Gjallerbru…’ and that answer is enough.”
What is your favorite comic book homage that you’ve seen in a superhero movie? Let us know in the comments section!