Between just Marvel Studios’ and Warner Bros.’ announced film slates, there are enough Marvel and DC superheroes heading to the big screen to keep you thoroughly entertained for the rest of the decade. Some heavy-hitters will make their feature film debut, with characters like Wonder Woman, Aquaman and the Flash all receiving their very first solo movies. Moviegoers will get more of tried and true Marvel franchises “Captain America,” “Thor” and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” in addition to more of the massive “Avengers” films. Even “Green Lantern’s” getting another shot at the big time with another feature film set in Warner Bros. expanding DC movie-verse.
But what about the rest of the characters populating those two slates? Hardcore comic fans most likely don’t have a problem differentiating between the various Ant-Men and Captains Marvel that will soon be storming into cinemas, but that might not be the case for everyone. If you found yourself swept up in the recent super-movie hype and with a few thoughts of “Who?” running through your head, then this rundown is for you. Get ready to meet tomorrow’s big screen super-stars.
Release Date: July 17, 2015
Cast & Crew: Paul Rudd stars as Scott Lang, the man presumably taking over the Ant-Man mantle from the original size-shifter Hank Pym, played by Michael Douglas. Evangeline Lilly, Corey Stoll and Michael Pena also star. Peyton Reed directs from a screenplay by Gabriel Ferrari, Andrew Barrer and Adam McKay.
TL;DR: Ant-Man’s a master thief turned size-changing superhero — and eventual Avenger — that can talk to ants thanks to a funky looking silver helmet.
History: Ant-Man is a character that, in many ways, is exactly what he sounds like. He’s a man with the power to shrink to the size of — and communicate with — ants; this power that later evolved into him being able to change his size at will. This change in power led to original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, taking up the moniker Giant-Man shortly after joining the Avengers. Ant-Man is one of Marvel’s few legacy characters, meaning that a few different heroes have held the title of “Ant-Man.” The film will focus on the first two Ant-Men: Hank Pym (played by Michael Douglas) and Scott Lang (played by Paul Rudd). Hank Pym is actually one of the oldest characters in the Marvel Universe, debuting just a few short months after the Fantastic Four. Pym was originally not intended to be a super hero; he debuted in a one-off story in the “Twilight Zone”-like anthology series “Tales to Astonish” in late 1961. Following the success of the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man and Thor followed suit, and Hank Pym reemerged almost a year later as Ant-Man.
Scott Lang debuted in 1979 as an electronics expert that turned to burglary in order to support his wife and daughter. He first came to possess the Ant-Man technology and uniform after he stole it from Pym’s and used it rescue a doctor that could help his sick child. Pym, then going by the codename Yellowjacket, saw a hero’s heart in Lang and allowed him to keep the uniform and codename.
Where To Start: To get a crash course on all things Scott Lang, the recent “FF” run by writer Matt Fraction and artist Mike Allred shows off the character’s everyman nature and familial leanings.
Release Date: 2016
Cast & Crew: “Fury” director David Ayer is attached to direct.
TL;DR: Some of DC’s most bloodthirsty supervillains get a superhero makeover courtesy of a government program that keeps them on a short leash while they go on black-ops missions.
History: The Suicide Squad is the nickname for Task Force X — a government program that sends super powered criminals on dangerous black-ops missions in exchange for shortened prison sentences. The Suicide Squad has featured many members over the years, including Deadshot, an expert marksman and assassin; Harley Quinn, the one-time girlfriend of the Joker; Penguin, Batman’s umbrella-carrying nemesis and many more. They usually work under the supervision of Dr. Amanda Waller, a former congressional aide and government agent nicknamed “The Wall” because of her tenacity and willpower. Despite being a normal human, she’s stood her ground against many A-List heroes, including Batman. Following an attack from the Joker that left her paralyzed, the original Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, made her debut in “Suicide Squad” as Oracle, and became the team’s information broker. Initial “Suicide Squad” stories were influenced by real world events from the late ’80s, including the hostility from Middle East terrorist organizations and the end of the Cold War. While Superman archenemy Lex Luthor, played by Jesse Eisenberg in “Batman v Superman” and rumored to be in the feature film, has never been an official member of the Squad, he did supply the team with missions during the early ’00s.
Fans of “Arrow” and “The Flash” on The CW will recognize many of the Squad’s roster, as they’ve appeared on those shows; Count Vertigo, Multiplex, Plastique, Captain Cold, Clock King and others have been bad-guys-of-the-week on the two series. The Squad themselves showed up on “Arrow” in Season Two, with Waller, Deadshot, Shrapnel, Bronze Tiger and Lyla Michaels forming the team.
Where To Start: While the roster is ever-changing and there’s no guarantee who will show up in Ayer’s feature film, the general concept, purpose and tone of the team is best displayed in their debut ongoing series — 1987’s “Suicide Squad” by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. The series is available digitally on comiXology.
Release Date: Nov. 4, 2016
Cast & Crew: Scott Derrickson will direct a screenplay from Thomas Dean Donnelly, Joshua Oppenheimer and Jon Spaihts. Benedict Cumberbatch is rumored for the lead role.
TL;DR: Arrogant surgeon Stephen Strange undergoes a mystical makeover and becomes Earth’s Sorcerer Supreme after a car accident curses him with permanent nerve damage in his hands.
History: Doctor Stephen Strange actually was a medical doctor — a brilliant but selfish neurosurgeon. He suffered permanent nerve damage in his hands during a car accident and travelled to the Himalayas in search of a cure. After demonstrating that he had given up his selfish nature, he learned the ways of the mystic arts from The Ancient One — a 500 year-old sorcerer that became Strange’s mentor. The doctor returned to New York City as the Sorcerer Supreme, guardian of all things mystic. He draws his power from different mystical entities and artifacts that allow him to perform different magical feats. His right hand man is his manservant Wong, a character that has been retroactively given much more agency and nuance since his initial, regrettable appearances in the 1960s.
Over the years Strange has been a member of a number of teams, the most prominent being the Defenders. That team consisted of Strange, the cosmic being the Silver Surfer, the brutish Hulk, and the arrogant Atlantean ruler Namor. Despite being a mainstay of the Marvel Universe, Strange did not join the Avengers until after the events of Marvel’s “Civil War” event in the mid-’00s. In the “New Avengers” comic series, the good guys took refuge from government’s pro-superhero registration team in Strange’s Greenwich Village mansion.
Strange was mentioned in passing by S.H.I.E.L.D. turncoat Jasper Sitwell during “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” Considering the similarities his story arc shares with Tony Stark and Thor — arrogant man learns humility and uses his abilities for the greater good — it’s likely that Marvel is grooming Strange to be their next A-List leading man.
Where To Start: Marvel recently performed a soft reboot on the Sorcerer Supreme’s origin in the form of a hardcover graphic novel titled “Doctor Strange: Year One.” The story, written by Greg Pak with art by Emma Rios, runs through Strange’s origin story and reinterprets it for the modern comic book reader.
Release Date: Nov. 3, 2017
Cast & Crew: Chadwick Boseman will star as Black Panther.
TL;DR: The leader of an independent and technologically advanced African nation uses the title and physical powers he inherits to protect his country from outside forces and save the world alongside the Avengers.
History: Black Panther has a place in history as the very first mainstream Black super hero. He was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and debuted in the pages of “Fantastic Four” in 1966. The character bucked stereotypes by hailing from a fictional African nation, Wakanda, that had resisted colonization and outside influence and therefore was allowed to grow to be incredibly technologically advanced. “Black Panther” is both the name of a hero and a title. Black Panther is the mantle taken on by anyone who rules Wakanda. Whoever holds the Black Panther title also receives a physical boost from a special herb that grants the recipient with increased strength, speed and agility.
The most famous Black Panther is the modern day one — T’Challa. He is also a long-serving member of The Avengers, having joined the team in the mid-’60s. His first ongoing series, titled “Jungle Action,” ran from 1973 to 1976; since then, Black Panther has enjoyed a number of ongoing series. Wakanda itself will most likely be of interest to the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe starting with “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” It’s been speculated that part of the globe-hopping film will take place in the fictional nation, and Captain America will need to get more vibranium — a fictional metal that absorbs vibration that is also Wakanda’s natural resource — to fix his shattered shield. As the ruler of the most technologically advanced society in the Marvel Comics Universe, T’Challa has a very high profile and is one of the most prominent heroes on the planet.
Where To Start: Reginald Hudlin and John Romita Jr.’s “Who Is The Black Panther?” storyline explored the character’s origin, the Black Panther tradition and the politics of Wakanda in a modern day setting.
Release Date: July 6, 2018
Cast & Crew: None announced.
TL;DR: Air force pilot Carol Danvers gets bombarded with radiation and alien DNA, thus giving her super-powers — most notably flight and super strength — to match her already considerable confidence and swagger.
History: Captain Marvel is the current superhero identity for Carol Danvers, an ex-Air Force pilot imbued with powers from the Kree, an alien race in the Marvel Universe who count among their number “Guardians of the Galaxy” villain Ronan the Accuser. She first appeared back in the late ’60s as the chief of security for a military base that employed the civilian identity of the original Captain Marvel, the male Kree alien named Mar-Vell. Carol gained her powers after being caught in an explosion with Mar-Vell; part of his powers transferred to her, giving her superhuman strength, physical durability and flight.
After getting these powers, she took on the code name Ms. Marvel and starred in her own series in 1977. At the time, the term “Ms.” was used to establish the character’s ties to the feminist movement; Carol Danvers was even made editor of a forward-thinking magazine called “Woman.” She served on the Avengers until her super powers were robbed permanently during a battle with not-yet-an-X-Man Rogue. If you remember Rogue from the ’90s cartoon or Fox’s “X-Men” films, her super strength and flight come from Ms. Marvel.
Carol Danvers has enjoyed a massive resurgence in popularity over the past few years thanks to three things: an all-new, boldly colored and military-minded uniform; her promotion from Ms. Marvel to Captain Marvel; and an ongoing series by writer Kelly Sue DeConnick that incorporates both of those changes. Captain Marvel quickly found a very vocal, passionate and positive fanbase — the Carol Corps — that have rallied around the hero’s makeover and become a noticeable presence at every comic convention. The overwhelming response has led to Captain Marvel’s increased presence in the Avengers comics as well as a spin-off series of her own, a new “Ms. Marvel” series starring a teenage Muslim Pakistani girl from Jersey City named Kamala Khan who idolizes Carol Danvers.
Where To Start: The character’s modern day resurgence in the 2012 “Captain Marvel” series by Kelly Sue DeConnick and artist Dexter Soy quickly establishes why fans fell in love with the character and, given that the film and series share a title, might align tonally with how Marvel Studios wants to introduce Carol Danvers.
Release Date: Nov. 2, 2018
Cast & Crew: None announced.
TL;DR: A secret race of super-powered beings descended from the survivors of genetic testing conducted by aliens on Earth millions of years ago make their presence known to the world at large.
History: The Inhumans are a race of super powered beings — humans exposed to a special substance called the Terrigen Mists that give them a special power. The Inhumans are treated as a different race in the comics and have their own kingdom and caste system with a king, queen and royal family. The Inhumans are the result of experiments conducted by Kree aliens — again, the ones from “Guardians of the Galaxy” — that were stationed near Earth on homo sapiens millions of years ago. These experiments resulted in humans with extraordinary powers and the surviving test subjects formed their own Inhuman society. This society has survived to the present day and their home city, Attilan, has remained relatively secluded.
The primary players are Black Bolt, the Inhuman king whose voice is so powerful, a whisper can level cities; Medusa, the Inhuman queen with hair she can manipulate telepathically; the fishlike Triton; Karnak, who has the ability to see weakness; the super-strong and hooved Gorgon; the ginormous bulldog-like Lockjaw, who teleports and has a tuning fork stuck on his head and many, many more. Similar to the Black Panther, the Inhumans are also Stan Lee and Jack Kirby creations that first ran afoul of the Fantastic Four back in the ’60s before spinning off into their own steady stream of solo adventures.
Think of them as the X-Men — born with powers, that are brought out by a particular event in their lives. You should also think of them as the X-Men because since Marvel Studios sold the X-Men movie rights to Fox, it’s been speculated that innately super-powered individuals in the Marvel movies — like “Avengers: Age of Ultron’s” Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch — will be explained as being Inhumans. This has precedence in the comics; just last year, the comics launched the Inhumans’ transformative Terrigen Mists into the atmosphere, transforming every human descendant of those initial human test subjects from millions of years ago into super-powered people. If you’re watching “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on ABC, this might be what they’re working toward with Coulson’s resurrection plot.
Where To Start: The Royal Family received a modern day makeover in 1998 courtesy of writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee; their 12-issue Marvel Knights series, titled “Inhumans,” still serves as the jumping off point for many of the race’s current adventures.
Release Date: 2019
Cast & Crew: Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will star as villain Black Adam; Shazam remains uncast.
TL;DR: Youngster Billy Batson receives the ultimate wish fulfillment when he’s granted a Superman-level alter-ego, Shazam, who possesses the powers of mythical figures.
History: The character Shazam is a young boy, Billy Batson, empowered by six mythical figures when he says the magic word, “Shazam!” The word stands for the wisdom of Solomon, the strength of Hercules, the stamina of Atlas, the power of Zeus, the courage of Achilles and the speed of Mercury. His powers are magical in nature, which allows him to go toe-to-toe with heroes like Superman — who is naturally averse to magic — with a chance of coming out on top. In the comics, he’s currently a member of the Justice League, and has been a DC Comics mainstay since his revival in the 1970s.
Shazam originally started out as a character named Captain Marvel for a publisher called Fawcett Comics in 1939. As another square-jawed, super strong, dark-haired super man with a cape, his similarity to Superman did not go unnoticed by Fawcett rival DC Comics. The character became wildly popular in the ’40s, even outselling Superman, but DC struck back against the character and won a lawsuit in 1953 that prevented Fawcett Comics from publishing Captain Marvel stories. Marvel Comics got involved in the late ’60s and snatched up the trademark to the name Captain Marvel — which leads to the aforementioned Carol Danvers’ feature film. While Marvel had their Captain Marvel, DC licensed the Fawcett characters in the early ’70s and brought the original Captain Marvel back in a big way — except they had to call him Shazam now.
The character’s confusing copyright history belies the fact that he’s one of the most fun-loving and bright superheroes in the DC Comics pantheon. After all, one of his best buds is an anthropomorphic talking tiger named Tawky Tawny. Considering how dark “Man of Steel” went, this film could be a big tonal outlier from the rest of the DC films.
Where To Start: Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank reintroduced the ex-Captain Marvel into DC continuity with a series of back-up story originally published in issues of “Justice League.” Now all of those stories have been collected into one “Shazam!” trade, which makes for a quick introduction to the character.
Cast & Crew: Ray Fisher will star as Cyborg.
TL;DR: High school footplayer Victor Stone survives an attack from alien invaders — but only because his scientist father uses his know-how to transform him into equal parts man and machine.
History: Before becoming Cyborg, Victor Stone was a high school football player with a distant relationship with his father. However, after an attack from an otherworldly entity leaves him badly disfigured and near death, his scientist father outfits him with experimental technology that allows him to become half-technology, half-man. His cybernetics grant him a large range of gadgets, as well as superhuman strength, speed, endurance and flight. In DC Comics’ New 52 continuity, Cyborg is a founding member of the Justice League alongside Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman and Aquaman — all characters who will receive solo films by the end of 2020.
Cyborg has become much more popular in recent years thanks to his starring role in two Cartoon Network series: “Teen Titans” and “Teen Titans Go!” These series are loosely based on the beloved 1980s “Teen Titans” comic book series and share much of the same principal cast of characters, and feature much more kid-friendly designs of the heroes. The casting of a Broadway-trained actor like Ray Fisher in the role (he previously played Muhammad Ali) hints that this take on the character will be much more dramatic and grounded than the comedic hijinks “Cy” gets into on the cartoons. This also fits with the character’s recent New 52 makeover, as the teenager has had to grow up fast in order to face threats like Darkseid and the Crime Syndicate.
Where To Start: While the film may take inspiration from the character’s role in the first “Justice League” storyline published during the New 52, the original “New Teen Titans” series by Marv Wolfman and George Perez from the early ’80s holds up as a crash course on what makes Cyborg so special.
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