In 2018, it is easier than ever to see your comic book heroes on the big and small screens. Anyone who ever said that the comic book/superhero movie trend would implode has been proven wrong time and time again. There are now so many movies based on comics released each year that it doesn't even truly matter if one or two are bad films, or flop at the box-office, because chances are there'll be a better one released in a few months time. In 2018 alone, between Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther and Ant-Man And The Wasp, MCU movies have made nearly $4 billion dollars at the worldwide box office. Couple this with the fact that there are now more comic book shows on television than ever before, and it's hard to see anything but continued success for comics on-screen.
With the increased number of adaptations, though, it has led to an increased number of characters hitting the screen in incarnations that sometimes differ wildly from their depictions in the comics. For every Iron Man or Captain America, whose movie and comic book origins are remarkably similar, there are plenty of characters whose origins are barely recognizable from their comic book counterparts. However, given that comics and movies/TV are such different mediums, sometimes adjustments to established lore are needed in order to make the characters work on-screen. Changing or altering an origin story is not inherently a bad thing, and in fact it can lead to some characters stories being improved upon. Here are 10 comic book origins that were changed on-screen for the better, and 10 whose changes arguably made them worse.
Erik Killmonger first appeared in 1973's Jungle Action #6, the first part of the 'Panther's Rage' storyline. Originally a Native Wakandan named N'Jadaka, his family was exiled to Harlem after his father was forced into helping Ulysses Klaue attack Wakanda. He therefore nursed a hatred for Klaue and King T'Challa and eventually returned to his homeland with a new name and a vendetta to settle.
In the Black Panther movie, Michael B. Jordan's Killmonger is given a similar(ish) backstory, but it is enriched by the choice to make his father N'Jobu the brother of T'Chaka, T'Challa's father. This made Killmonger T'Challa's cousin and he had a rightful claim to the throne. The chest scarification for every person he has taken out was also a movie addition.
One complaint that was regularly levelled at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, until recent years, was that their villains were sub-par. When the megalomaniacal Mandarin was announced to appear in Iron Man 3, played by Sir Ben Kingsley (Shutter Island), fans thought a brilliant modernization of a somewhat problematic villain was on the cards.
But in the end, it was revealed that the menace that Kingsley portrayed in the first half of the film was nothing more than a front for the true bad guy. Kingsley's Mandarin was actually an actor named Trevor Slattery who was hired by Guy Pearce's Aldritch Killian, and many fans were not amused by the joke. At all.
Tim Burton's Batman Returns was less a Batman film and more a license for Tim Burton to indulge his penchant for Gothic excess. It angered parents the world over, as the grotesque black bile-spewing Penguin (Danny DeVito) had little kids crying into their Happy Meals.
However, even though the movie is bizarre, there's little doubt that Burton's vision of the Penguin was much more fully-formed and compelling than the comics incarnation. A malformed, sewer-dwelling mutant with flippers and a hooked nose who commanded an army of penguins, this Oswald Cobblepot was a lot more interesting than the tuxedo-clad high-society criminal with a pointy nose fans were used to.
Tim Burton's 1989 Batman movie was a cultural phenomenon that created 'BatMania' all over the world. Interestingly, it did something that comics fans have always maintained should be avoided: it gave the Joker a concrete origin story. He was Jack Napier, a gangster betrayed by his boss Carl Grissom, who wound up falling into a vat of toxic chemicals while fighting Batman.
Against the odds, the origin actually worked for the movie, but then the filmmakers felt the need to add a little more into the mix: they made Joker the person who ended Bruce Wayne's parents on that fateful night in Crime Alley. This strained credibility too much and also took meaning away from the chillingly random nature of the Waynes' demise.
When Jessica Jones made the jump from the comic book Alias to a TV show on Netflix, her origin stayed fairly faithful. She was a former superhero with some sort of darkness in her past, and now she was plying her trade in New York City as a Private Investigator. In both cases, her issues came when she was mind-controlled by the villainous Kilgrave (The Purple Man in the comics), but in the show they delved into the deeply upsetting psychology of their contentious relationship in a much more realistic way.
The show also added a conspiracy angle to the origin of Jessica's powers (she was experimented on by a mysterious genetic research lab named IGH), and the filmmakers were able to delve deeper into this material in season two.
Joel Schumacher's 1997 misfire Batman & Robin did a lot of things wrong. One of the most offensive changes to the source material made by the filmmakers was their altering of Batgirl's origin story. In the comics, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon, daughter of Commissioner Jim Gordon, a highly trained and hugely intelligent woman with an expert knowledge of computers.
In the movie, she was Barbara Wilson, niece of Alfred Pennyworth, who visited Gotham on a break from studying at Oxbridge Academy. She received no training before she discovered the Batcave, where an A.I. version of Alfred revealed he'd already made her a superhero suit and she ran off to fight with the Dynamic Duo. It... was not good.
Drax the Destroyer first appeared in The Invincible Iron Man #55 in 1973. He was originally a human named Arthur Douglas whose family was terminated by Thanos. The being known as Kronos, who needed a champion to battle Thanos, then took Arthur's spirit and placed it in a new body: Drax.
If none of this sounds familiar, it's because this was most definitely not the origin story given to Dave Bautista's Drax in 2014's Guardians Of The Galaxy. In a much more streamlined origin, Drax was depicted as an alien whose wife and daughter were slain by Ronan the Accuser, under the orders of Thanos, and he swore vengeance on both. He was also, crucially, a million times funnier than in the comics and had different colored skin/markings.
Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, aka Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, are well-known to comic book fans as the mutant children of Magneto. They have been team members of The Avengers at different points over the years, and have also appeared in many X-Men stories due to their mutant parentage.
When it came time to put the characters on film, Marvel Studios owned the rights to Avengers and Fox owned the X-Men. Both sides believed they had claim to use the twins, and in the end a deal was struck that in Avengers: Age Of Ultron they could not be referred to as mutants, and Magneto couldn't be mentioned. Sadly, their new movie origin as Sokovian orphans who blamed Tony Stark for their parents' passing wasn't anything to get excited about.
Batman: The Animated Series is, to many fans, the definitive portrayal of the Dark Knight on-screen. It told timeless Batman stories that worked for children and adults alike, and it also reinvented quite a few of the classic rogues gallery for the modern day. One of these reinventions was for the character of Mr Freeze, a fairly one-note villain in the comics.
In the Emmy-winning episode 'Heart Of Ice' writer Paul Dini created a nuanced, emotional origin for Victor Fries. He was a cryogenics scientist desperately searching for a way to cure his terminally ill wife Nora and was caught in a laboratory accident that meant he could only live in sub-zero temperatures. The new origin was so brilliant that it was made canon in the comics.
Dr Victor Von Doom, archenemy of the Fantastic Four and one of the greatest comic book villains ever, has appeared in three big screen films (not including the 1994 Roger Corman movie that was never released). He was played by Julian McMahon in 2005 and 2007, then by Toby Kebbell in a 2015 reboot, and both versions of the character are laughable.
In the comics, Von Doom is the King of Latveria, and is a megalomaniac in a suit of armor bent on revenge against Reed Richards, who he blames for the accident that scarred his face. In the movies he is a generic metal-skinned bad guy with superhuman strength and electricity powers (McMahon) or telekinesis and force field projection powers (Kebbell). Lame.
Ra's Al Ghul and his League Of Shadows were the main threat to the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises. In the comic books, Ra's is an amazing character; an immortal who sustains his life with the Lazarus Pits and commands his League Of Assassins. We love the comic book incarnation of Ra's.
But Nolan and screenwriter David Goyer realized that some alterations were needed to fit Ra's into their world of heightened reality, and changing the name to League Of Shadows smartly played into the idea of a secret society pulling strings behind the scenes. They also made Ra's the person who trained Bruce Wayne, which was a masterstroke for the movie as well. It personalized the villain to Batman in a compelling way.
The Dark Knight is widely seen as one of the best comic book movies of all-time, and for good reason. Nolan's crime epic was incredibly intense and thrilling. It also featured a truly scintillating performance from the late Heath Ledger as The Joker, which unfortunately did overshadow Aaron Eckhart's brilliant work as Harvey Dent/Two-Face.
The movie origin for the character, in which he and his love Rachel Dawes are blown up as part of one of Joker's schemes to make Batman break his 'no taking a life' rule is undoubtedly fitting, but it doesn't quite have the same iconic feel as his original comic book origin. Crusading D.A. and Bruce Wayne's friend Dent having acid thrown in his face in court by Sal Maroni and then falling from grace is classic in its simplicity.
In the original Thor comics from the '60s, Odin banishes his son to Earth with no powers and no memory, and Thor's consciousness inhabits the body of medical student named Donald Blake. When Blake comes across Thor's hammer in Norway, he transforms back into his Asgardian Godlike self. Thor and Blake then work together, with Blake continuing to work as a doctor and transforming into Thor whenever adventure calls.
The MCU Thor movie from 2011 wisely jettisons anything to do with Donald Blake, and instead Thor is banished to Earth in his own body with his memories intact, but is lacking his powers and has to work to become worthy to wield them again. It's simpler than the comics origin, and much better.
In the original trilogy of X-Men movies, the shapeshifting villain Mystique was played by Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and was a menacing supporting character with a cool powerset. However, by the time 2011's prequel X-Men: First Class was being made, Jennifer Lawrence had been cast in the role and had become a big star thanks to her Academy Award-nominated turn in 2010's Winter's Bone.
Mystique's role was therefore beefed up and it included a new origin story which differed from the comics entirely. She was depicted as Charles Xavier's best friend and foster sister, and included an awkward scene in which they met for the first time as children. It made Raven/Mystque a very different character from the previous trilogy, as well as from her comics incarnation.
2015's Kingsman: The Secret Service was based on Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons' 2012 miniseries The Secret Service and was a huge hit, spawning a sequel in 2017 entitled Kingsman: The Golden Circle. The movie made significant changes from the comic and we would argue they were improvements on the source material.
In the comic, streetwise Eggsy is trained by his father Jack London to be an MI6 agent, but in the movie Eggsy is trained by Harry Hart to become a member of the secretive agency Kingsman. Harry's life was saved when Eggsy's father sacrificed himself, and so he feels he owes a debt to show the man's son a heroic path. This gives the film a much more emotional undercurrent, which helps ground the over-the-top action and ultra-violence.
Given the overwhelmingly toxic critical and fan reaction to the Worlds of DC films, it might seem redundant to complain about them again. But we're going to anyway, as their characterization of Superman/Clark Kent was wrong from the very start. In 2013's Man Of Steel, which misguidedly tried to ape the tone of the Dark Knight Trilogy, Superman was depicted as a loner, uncomfortable in his own skin and waiting to be shown a path to heroism.
To be fair to Clark, it's no wonder he was so maladjusted. At one point we see his Earth father Jonathan Kent telling him in a flashback that he should've let a school bus full of classmates drown rather than use his powers to save them, as then his alien nature would be exposed to the world. Yikes.
The comic book origin of Venom is convoluted, taking place over a period of four years. The black symbiote costume first bonded with Peter Parker during Secret Wars in 1984 and the fully-formed Venom character didn't actually appear until 1988. In the 1994 Spider-Man animated series, the writers wisely simplified things during the excellent three-part story 'The Alien Costume'.
In this version, astronauts discovered the symbiote on an asteroid and when they crash landed back on Earth it escaped and bonded with Peter. Meanwhile, reporter Eddie Brock was fired by J. Jonah Jameson for framing Spider-Man for stealing from the space shuttle. He therefore blamed Spidey for his misfortune and this hate created Venom when the symbiote bonded to him.
To say that Halle Berry's 2004 Catwoman film was loosely based on the character fans know and love would be doing DC Comics' fans a disservice. This terrible film bore no relation to any version of Selina Kyle in the comics, and was resoundingly hated by fans and critics alike. In the movie, Berry wasn't even playing Selina; her character was Patience Phillips, a meek designer who discovered a conspiracy within the cosmetics company she worked for.
She was ended by the conspirators but was then brought back to life by Egyptian cats that gave her superhuman cat-like abilities. It was utterly ridiculous and a far-cry from the interesting, morally fluid cat-burglar and anti-hero depicted in the source material. Real bad stuff.
Matthew Vaughn's 2010 Kick-Ass gave Mark Millar the second successful film adaptation of one of his creator-owned comics (the first being 2008's Wanted). Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman made some notable changes to the comic, especially concerning Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy.
Millar himself said the original comic book origin wouldn't have worked on-screen, so the filmmakers were right to change it. In the comic, Big Daddy was a former accountant and comic book superfan whose vigilantism was motivated by a desire to escape his dull life. In the film, he was an ex-cop with a vendetta against crime boss Frank D'Amico, and the love felt for his daughter Hit-Girl was completely genuine, even if the situations he put her in were highly questionable.
X-Men: The Last Stand took two huge storylines from the comics, mashed them together into one 100-minute film, and completely failed to do justice to either. Joss Whedon's 'Gifted' was the inspiration for the mutant cure story, and it was botched, but the treatment given to the classic 'Dark Phoenix Saga' was even more egregious.
The comic book story is one of the most famous X-Men tales ever, a space-faring tragedy that featured the Hellfire Club, the Shi'Ar Empire, the Kree and the Skrulls. The condensed movie version amounted to little more than Jean Grey being possessed by an alternate personality, and the fact Wolverine was depicted as the lover trying desperately to save Jean instead of Cyclops (who passed away off-screen) angered longtime fans.