Over the last decade or so, comic book adaptations have become some of the most successful endeavors in television and film. When people hear there is going to be a new “Avengers” movie or another season of “Daredevil” on Netflix, they tune in because they are fans of the source material. People know that Batman, Iron Man, Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy are based on comic books and they love them for it.
That doesn’t mean that every comic book adaptation is remembered for the source material. Sometimes lesser known properties are adapted, and most people don’t even realize. Sometimes the adaptations are all people remember. On that note, here are 15 comic book adaptations that are more famous than the comics they're based on.
15 WEIRD SCIENCE
Yes, the 1985 science fiction teen comedy, where two high school nerds use a computer to create the perfect woman, is technically a comic book movie. The name “Weird Science” actually comes from a comic book of the same name created by EC Comics. The company is remembered for titles like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Mad” before ultimately closing its doors in the wake of the establishment of the Comics Code Authority in the 1950s.
Joel Silver, the producer of the film, acquired the film rights for the source material. He adapted “Weird Science” from the story “Made of the Future” by Al Feldstein, which appeared in “Weird Science” #5. In the original comic, a man named Alvin Blank travels to the future in order to attain an artificial wife that will make him happy. You can obviously see how that plot transformed into the famous film we all know and love.
14 WYNONNA EARP
Before she was the subject of a successful television show on Syfy, "Wynonna Earp" saw humble beginnings as an independent comic book series. Created by Beau Smith, Wynonna is the modern day descendant of the famous lawman Wyatt Earp. She starred in a five-issue series from Image Comics between 1996-1997 before moving to IDW. She starred in a three-part follow-up series called “Wynonna Earp: Home On The Strange” from 2003-2004 and the four-part “Wynonna Earp: The Yeti Wars.”
While in the show she goes up against demons trapped in the town of Purgatory, the comic depicts her battling werewolves, vampires, zombies and mummies as an agent of the Monster Squad. One storyline has her trying to stop the spread of a new supernatural drug created by Bobo Del Rey and his band of redneck vampires. With the popularity of the show, “Wynonna Earp” and “Wynonna Earp Legends” have been published as tie-ins.
13 KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE
In 2012, Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons teamed up for a six-issue series called “The Secret Service,” and two years later it was a major motion picture making $414 million at the box office with a sequel on the way. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, the man who helped adapt “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass,” and “X-Men: First Class,” “Kingsman: The Secret Service” proved to be a very loose, but effective, adaptation of the source material.
The comic is about an MI6 agent named Jack London who recruits his nephew Gary and trains him to become a secret agent. In the adaptation, Jack London and Gary London are replaced with Harry Hart and Gary “Eggsy” Unwin, who are unrelated. MI6 is now the Kingsman agency, and the movie adds Samuel L. Jackson’s character and positions him as the big bad at the end. In subsequent reprints of the comic, it is now titled “Kingsman: The Secret Service.”
Published from 2003 to 2004 under WildStorm’s Homage Comics imprint, “Red” proved to be a light read. The three-issue series by Warren Ellis and Cully Hamner was a fast-paced story about a retired C.I.A. agent named Frank Moses, who retaliates against his attackers when the agency tries to have him killed. It was fun, entertaining, and simple. It was also surprising when it became a full length film in 2010.
While the story worked as a comic book, the moviemakers had to add a few elements to fill out the film. In the end, we were given a surprisingly successful movie with a star-studded cast that included Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, Mary-Louise Parker, Helen Mirren and Karl Urban. “Red 2” was released in 2013 and a third film is currently in development. Hamner returned to the comic with “Red: Eyes Only,” a 40-page prequel to the comic. DC Comics also published several movie tie-ins as well.
In 2011, Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s “iZOMBIE” comic book series was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best New Series. Despite the critical acclaim, the series ultimately ended in 2012. When the adaptation came to the CW, the usage of Allred’s art in the title sequence made it obvious the show was based on a comic book. Still, many people don’t know just how different the two versions are.
About the only thing that is preserved from the original series is that the main characters is a zombie who eats brains and gets visions. The comic is far more trippy and bizarre than the show’s more grounded atmosphere, and the main character is named Gwen Dylan instead of Liv Moore (get it?). She is also friends with a ghost from the 1960’s and a were-terrier (that’s a man who turns into a dog). It just goes to show how you can create two great things from the same idea.
10 THE MASK
Everyone remembers the Jim Carrey film “The Mask” for the character’s bright yellow suit, animated facial expressions and wacky spin on the superhero genre. The 1994 film led to an animated series and a 2005 sequel, which has altered the way many view the franchise. What most people don’t know is that the comic that formed the basis for the movie was far more sinister than the movie ever was.
Created by Mike Richardson, the founder of Dark Horse Comics, and popularized by the team of John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke, the character known as Big Head in the comics has been around since 1989. In the time before the movie, the character was depicted as an unhinged maniac who lacked any inhibitions to keep him from murdering those around him. It wasn’t until the popularity of the film that the character was even referred to as the Mask, and he stopped violently slaughtering his enemies.
9 STATIC SHOCK
The original comic book version of Static is so overshadowed by his animated self that most people assume the character’s name is actually Static Shock. First published in 1993 under DC Comics’ Milestone Media imprint, Static proved to be successful until publication ceased in 1997. Instead of falling into obscurity, the character was preserved in the “Static Shock” animated series that took place in the DC Animated Universe.
In order to adapt the concept for kids, some of the more mature concepts of the series were removed and his costume was radically altered. Thanks to the popularity of the TV show, Static was brought back to publication in the “Static Shock: The Rebirth of the Cool” miniseries, where he resembled his animated incarnation. When he was finally introduced into the DC Universe proper alongside the Teen Titans, he wore his “Static Shock” costume, which had become his more familiar incarnation at that point.
Mark Richardson was also responsible for the movie “Timecop,” which was a comic book before Jean Claude Van Damme ever got involved. The original story was a three-parter called “Time Cop: A Man Out of Time” that was included in the launch of the “Dark Horse Comics” anthology series in 1992. Richardson developed the story, but the comic was written by Mark Verheiden and drawn by Ron Randall. Richardson and Verheiden then teamed up to write the movie adaptation.
The original story involved a criminal and his robot bodyguard traveling to the 1930s so they can rob a diamond mine. After catching the criminal, Walker must also stop the robot from changing the past. The adaptation spawned a sequel, a video game, a TV series, and several comic book tie-ins, making the movie far more memorable to the public than the comic book version could have ever hoped to be.
7 DARK MATTER
Another Syfy show makes this list in the form of “Dark Matter,” a series about six people who wake up on a spaceship with no memories of who they are or how they got there. The team of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, who previously worked together on “Stargate SG-1” and “Stargate: Atlantis,” came up with the story with the intention of turning it into a television show.
Mallozzi claims the idea for “Dark Matter” came from a variety of sources, including “The Shield,” “The Dirty Dozen,” and the “Thunderbolts.” When those plans fell through, it came to life in the form of a four-issue comic book in 2012 with art by Garry Brown. Published by Dark Horse Comics, the series received positive reviews and sold well. A few years later, the two writers came together again with Syfy and Space to re-adapt “Dark Matter” into the television series that is currently on TV today.
6 MYSTERY MEN
The weird box office flop that was 1999’s “Mystery Men” found its way into theaters as a loose adaptation of a few side characters from the “Flaming Carrot” comic book series. Published between Aardvark-Vanaheim, Renegade Press, Dark Horse Comics and Image Comics, the titular character of "Flaming Carrot" was seen joining a group of blue collar superheroes known as the Mystery Men in 1987’s “Flaming Carrot Comics” #16. The Mystery Men only made a handful of appearances before making the jump to the big screen.
Comic book creator Bob Burden later helped write the adaptation. While the Flaming Carrot wasn’t in the film version, characters like the Shoveler, Mr. Furious and Dr. Heller were included. New superheroes were developed to create a star-studded cast that included Hank Azaria, Janeane Garofalo, Eddie Izzard, Greg Kinnear, William H. Macy, Kel Mitchell, Paul Reubens, Geoffrey Rush, Ben Stiller and Tom Waits. It’s too bad that it failed spectacularly.
5 COWBOYS & ALIENS
The “Cowboys & Aliens” graphic novel was one of those comics published just to turn it into a movie. Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, who founded Malibu Comics and is the chairman of Platinum Studios, sold the rights to “Cowboys & Aliens” to DreamWorks Pictures and Universal Studios back in 1997 in hopes of turning it into a film. In 2006, after several years of development hell, Rosenberg hired Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley to write a comic book adaptation of the concept with art by Dennis Calero and Luciano Lima.
Things get weird from here. Through various tricks and backroom deals, Platinum Studios was able to make it look like “Cowboys & Aliens” was a better seller than it actually was. Citing inaccurate sales numbers boosted by low prices and bulk discounts, the film company decided to go ahead with production of the movie. The original idea was transformed into a big-budget film starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford and Olivia Wilde.
4 BIG HERO 6
Believe it or not, the Disney animated movie “Big Hero 6” began life as a comic book within the Marvel Universe. The Big Hero 6 team was originally developed as Japan’s state-sanctioned superhero team that included Silver Samurai, Sunfire, GoGo Tomago, Honey Lemon, Hiro Takachiho and Baymax. The team was created by Steven T. Seagle and Duncan Rouleau for an appearance in “Alpha Flight” #17. However, the group first appeared in a three-issue series in 1998 by Scott Lobdell and Gus Vasquez called “Sunfire and Big Hero 6.”
Hiro created Baymax in the book to be his robotic synthformer bodyguard, butler and chauffeur. When his father dies, Hiro uploads his brainwaves into Baymax. Instead of an inflatable robot, Baymax is a being who can change his appearance between human, "Battle-Dragon" and "Action-Mecha." Now a film that garnered $657.8 million, “Big Hero 6” has a spin-off animated series on the way. The original team, meanwhile, continues to sit in the background of the Marvel Universe.
3 TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
The multimillion-dollar media franchise that has become the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” saw humble beginnings in the form of a self-published comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. In the 1994 comic, Shredder dies in the first issue, the Turtles all wear red bandanas and everyone is super violent and gritty. The series was actually created as a parody of Marvel’s “Daredevil” and “New Mutants,” Dave Sim’s “Cerebus” and Frank Miller’s “Ronin.”
The Ninja Turtles that everyone now remembers was an amalgamation of ideas from the Mirage Studios comic series, the writing team put together by Playmates Toys, and the Murakami-Wolf-Swenson animation studio. The show added many new characters and ideas into the series, as well as introduced phrases like “Heroes in a Half Shell” and “Turtle Power,” which all came from the merchandizing and marketing teams. Now after six feature films, a hugely successful toy line and multiple television series, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have long outgrown what Eastman and Laird created more than 30 years ago.
2 THE CROW
James O’Barr created “The Crow” as a means to come to terms with the death of his fiance, who was killed by a drunk driver in 1979. After completing the story, it took seven years before the comic found a home with Caliber Press and became an underground sensation in 1989. Following the success of the first series, Kitchen Sink Press then released five additional series from 1996-1998. Other books have also been released over the years.
Still, “The Crow” is best remembered for the 1994 film adaptation that starred Brandon Lee as the titular character. Lee was killed on set during the production of the movie, causing the future of the film to fall into doubt. However, “The Crow” found both financial and critical success at the box office and now the the original film holds status as a cult classic. In the years since, four sequels have been released with another film still in development.
1 MEN IN BLACK
One of the most successful media franchises in the world, the “Men In Black” movies were adapted from an independent comic book series. The first series “The Men in Black” was released by Aircel Comics in 1990, written by Lowell Cunningham and drawn by Sandy Carruthers. The idea for the comic came about when Cunningham learned of the Men in Black figures who are popular among conspiracy theorists. When Aircel was bought by Malibu Comics, the creative team released “The Men in Black Book II” in 1991.
The 1997 adaptation proved to be a titanic financial success, leading to two film sequels, an animated television series and several video games. After Malibu was acquired by Marvel Comics in 1994, several tie-ins to the movie franchise were published. Many of the comics’ main characters remain in the film, however the revelation that the organization is plotting to control the world was eliminated.
Are there any other comic book adaptations that you feel are better than the source material? Be sure to let us know in the comments!