When thinking of classic '90s Blockbusters, Men in Black is often regarded as one of the best. It is integrated into the pop culture landscape as a fantastic film due to its terrific leads, amazing soundtrack, and stunning alien creature effects. Yet, ironically, several people who watch the film often forget how in the opening credits, it states that MIB is, in fact, an adaptation of a comic book of the same name.
Men in Black the comic (written by Lowell Cunningham and illustrated by Sandy Carruthers) is not nearly as well-known as the film. This is to the point where many comic book aficionados—when hearing about MIB—will think about the film series or even the animated series long before remembering "Oh yeah, there's a Men in Black comic, isn't there?" This is, of course, a disservice to a comic that helped pave the way for one of the best Will Smith films ever made.
But when looking at the hierarchy of both MIB the comic and the film, what are the differences that come to mind?
10. MIB The Comic Wasn't Successful
Let's get this out of the way right now: MIB the comic was never a huge success. Not in the same way that the films were, in any case. The Men in Black comics were published by Aircel Comics between January and March of 1990. It was a mini-series: three issues with a three-issue sequel series later on, as well as a few one-shots tangibly connected following the release of the original film. Even when Marvel bought the rights years later, they never saw a huge market for the comic and did not continue it. When the film did successfully, they published a comic spin-off of the films and animated series, but not a straight-up sequel to this comic. There are reasons for this as we'll see below.
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9. MIB The Comic ISN'T An Action-Comedy
Look at the covers of a Men in Black comic. Notice something missing? Warmth, perhaps? Humor? The original covers remind you more of an edgy clone of the X-Files? Or maybe they're even more like the film Fire in the Sky than of the blockbuster film starring Will Smith. The original comic isn't an action-comedy.
The MIB comics are dark, dour affairs. They are horror stories. These are neo-noir stories. The only thing they may have in common with the Men in Black films is that they are clearly inspired by 1920s pulp stories, but I'm pretty sure they're drastically different pulps.
8. MIB In The Comics Don't Care That Much About Aliens
If you know one thing about the film Men in Black, it's that it's about Will Smith fighting aliens with Tommy Lee Jones popping up sometimes. Aliens are front and center from the start of the film series. The first five minutes of the film features an alien sneaking among a group of illegal aliens, setting up the whole premise of the series.
In the comics, however, a UFO appears in issue two and an alien appears at the very end. The Men in Black in this series are less concerned with aliens as they are dealing with any and all activity that the public shouldn't know about, be it extraterrestrial or supernatural. Or even just preternatural stuff that lies within the realm of possibility, but is just super extreme.
7. MIB Isn't Alien Border Patrol; They're An Extermination Force
A very important plot point in the original Men in Black film is that MIB exists to maintain peace between worlds. They regulate a population of aliens living among mankind to make sure nothing bad happens because of or to them. They protect everyone. Not just humanity, not just aliens — everyone.
This isn't the case in the comics. They're just there to kill anyone who is deemed a hazard. If there are any supernatural or alien threats, they'll shoot first and ask questions later. They control information about the dangers and eradicate them before anyone else finds out about it.
6. Agent Jay Doesn't Join MIB; He's Forced In
In the film Men in Black, Agent J (Will Smith) signs up to the Men in Black after taking a test, being carefully screened, and is given the option to join or quit. He is informed of what it means to become an agent, and given any and all chance to turn back before he signs up.
In the comics, however, Agent J is kidnapped. He is forced to join by threat of total memory neuralization (neuralyzer work the same way in the films). The Agency then fakes J's death without his consent and he is never at any point even told that this happens. He finds out on his own when he tries to leave the Men in Black.
Zed in the Men in Black films is played by Rip Torn, and, while the concept of Rip Torn being your boss may sound terrifying, he is not nearly as unsettling as Zed in the comics.
Zed is never actually seen in any of the six issues. We don't really know anything about Zed. He has access to untapped quantities of information and directs agents to locations based on what he's heard. We don't even get confirmation that Zed is human. He could be a computer, a supernatural entity, or something even stranger.
4. Agent K's Morality And History; Or Lack Thereof
The MIB films go a long way to humanize Tommy Lee Jones's Agent K. You learn his backstory, his moral code, his priorities, etc. You get to understand him as a person with wants, goals, and ideals.
Agent K in the MIB comics is a soulless monster, tasked with doing his job by any means necessary. He is no hero. He's pretty much a villain. He blackmails and murders his way through problems. He has no wife he left behind like his film counterpart and no qualms about ruining a person's entire reputation. You don't even get a sense he feels all that much compassion for Agent J. He's just an evil suit with a gun.
3. Collateral Damage
In the films, the Men in Black are here to protect humanity. As such, they spent a great amount of time watching out for the human race's survival.
This couldn't be farther from the truth in the comics. Here, the Men in Black regularly kill and maim people, destroy property, and never question the morality of their actions (other than Agent J on occasion). Intimidation tactics are just par the course for them. If they can erase a person's memory, who cares how violent they need to be to make things work out for them?
2. The Gadgets
Even on a purely superficial level, the Men in Black films and comics couldn't be any more different. Let's just say you don't mind that the characters and world are nothing alike. That the genres are different. At least both have those awesome sci-fi guns, right?
Beyond the neuralyzer, the MIB in the comics do not have any of their iconic film counterpart's weaponry. There's no big guns, no little cricket — none of that. They use real-life weaponry. They even use guns to fight demons. Supernatural, non-corporeal demons.
1. The Comics Are Truer To Life
This may shock you, but the comics are actually inspired by real events... Sort of.
For decades, there have been reported sightings of the Men in Black. Men in black suits who appear wherever supernatural stuff happens. They show up, scare people into silence, and then leave. If you can believe it, the real-life stories are far more unsettling and profoundly disturbing than anything that appears in the comic. Then again, the comics are far more unsettling and disturbing than the films of the same name.
Whether or not the Men in Black really exist is not a topic for now. But the original MIB comics drew from that iconography to tell a story. A profoundly dark story, but one that is not nearly as bone-chilling as the original tales. So take that as you will. If you thought the comic was dark compared to the movie, just remember: it could have been even more terrifying.