In the decade since Iron Man was released in theaters, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has done what some had said was impossible: bringing the thrilling experience of the Marvel comics universe to movie theaters and television screens! By taking careful account of the unique narrative opportunities and tropes utilized by the Marvel comic books, the MCU has taken significant strides in adapting the distinctive elements of stories set in the Marvel universe from the comic book panel to the big screen. By taking full advantage of the idea of a single world filled with countless individual stories, as well as the many narrative and serialization formulas that have been successfully used by the comics, the MCU has been able to successfully adapt much of the Marvel comic book experience. As a result, the MCU has brought a gloriously comic booky narrative to vibrant life on screen.
But the road from the silver age to the silver screen has not been without its missteps! While the MCU has successfully brought many of the tropes and conventions of the Marvel comic books to the screen, there are some instances where it should have better considered the lessons learned through the pages of decades worth of Marvel comics. The MCU has done an admirable job of giving fans some gloriously comic booky storytelling, but there is still plenty of comic book inspiration to draw upon. Here are 15 times the MCU was gloriously comic booky, and 5 times it should have learned from the comics!
In Avengers: Infinity War, Thanos pursues his goal of assembling all six Infinity Stones with relentless determination, eventually coercing Gamora into revealing the location where she had hidden the Soul Stone so that he can complete his collection. But when the Mad Titan and his daughter arrive at the secret location of the final Infinity Stone, they find that the duty of guarding the powerful Stone has been entrusted to none other than the notorious Red Skull!
Last seen vanishing to an uncertain fate in Captain America: The First Avenger, the reappearance of the Red Skull was an unexpected revelation that could have been torn from the pages of a Marvel comic book.
The influence of the distinctive aesthetic of Jack Kirby's seminal Marvel art on Thor: Ragnarok is apparent, particularly in the scenes set on the Grandmaster's planet, Sakaar. The minions who serve the Grandmaster closely resemble classic Kirby characters, the architecture of his palace recalls the psychedelic space settings Kirby frequently utilized, and at one point in the movie, an enormous hologram of the Grandmaster is superimposed over his palace, creating the distinctive outline of the Celestial's original comic book design!
In addition to the design elements that pay homage to Kirby, the cinematography reflects the movement in the artist's work. One example is the scene where Grandmaster confronts Loki and Valkyrie, which opens with a tracking shot that begins within the reflection on the floor.
Avengers: Infinity War was a crossover of incredible scale, with dozens of superheroes appearing on-screen. Given the sheer amount of characters in the MCU, ensuring every individual gets time in a feature-length movie presents a challenge. But when all of these different stories are meant to be taking place in the same universe, it's surprising that the appearance of a spaceship above Manhattan didn't catch the attention of the other Defenders.
In Secret Empire #1 (2017) by Nick Spencer, Steve McNiven, Jay Leisten, and Mathew Wilson, a Darkforce bubble around New York City accounts for the location of the Defenders. Even if the street-level team couldn't appear on screen, an explanation for the absence of the Defenders when the Black Order arrived would have been nice.
While S.H.I.E.L.D. had made themselves known in Phase One of the MCU, it wasn't until The Avengers that the helicarriers made their first appearance. The helicarriers continued to play a significant role throughout Phase Two, with major appearances in Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Avengers: Age of Ultron.
As majestic as they are absurd, the helicarriers were a gloriously comic booky inclusion for the MCU. Barely explained and completely impossible technology is a hallmark of comic books, and rather than shy away from this trope, the MCU enthusiastically embraced the helicarriers as S.H.I.E.L.D.'s technologically fantastic headquarters in the sky.
In the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "The Real Deal," Phil Coulson faces the culmination of plotlines that had been unspooling since the first episode of the series. One of these narrative threads is the story of Mike Peterson.
Peterson first appeared in the pilot of the series, and continued to appear throughout the first season as a regular guest star, eventually becoming the cyborg known as Deathlok! While Peterson had been largely absent from the show for several seasons, his surprise appearance and heroic intervention at a crucial moment could have come directly from the panels of a comic book.
Many of the DVD releases for the Phase One and Two MCU movies included previously unreleased short films among their bonus features. Only a few minutes apiece, these shorts gave fans a glimpse of missing bits of story and expanded the world of the movies, and often included easter eggs for those True Believers who had pored over their comic collection.
These shorts were called "one-shots," after the tradition of Marvel one-shot comics. Distinct from comics that are a part of an ongoing series, a one-shot story is a single, largely self-contained standalone issue. The one-shot DVD shorts offered this comic book tradition a chance to continue through to the MCU!
While Thor: Ragnarok was the third entry in the Thor series, the Incredible Hulk played an important role in the story. After a showdown where Thor relied heavily on battle strategies he learned from Black Widow, the Lord of Thunder teamed up with the Strongest Avenger for a significant portion of the second and third act of the movie.
Story arcs in the Marvel comic universe frequently feature these types of team-ups, with another superhero joining forces with the title character to battle some common foe - but usually, cooperation comes only after a battle between the two heroes. Ragnarok tore this storytelling trope from the panels of the Marvel comic books and applied it on the big screen, with gloriously smashing success!
At the climax of Avengers: Age of Ultron, the antagonistic artificial intelligence Ultron brings his nefarious plan to fruition when he activates rockets that launch the city of Sokovia into the sky. Ultron reasons that by dropping the city from a great enough height, the global conditions created by the asteroid impact that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs can be replicated, thereby destroying humanity.
Unfortunately, the image of Sokovia floating in the sky doesn't prove effective a symbol for humanity's fate in the balance, and the helicarrier recalls the much more effective climactic scene of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
In Captain America: Civil War, the falling out between the members of the Avengers over the Sokovia Accords reaches a boiling point on the tarmac at an airport in Germany. After a faceoff where both teams of heroes face one another and air their grievances, Spider-Man swings in to make his first big screen appearance before the heroes erupt into a heart-stopping action sequence that showcases each of the many Marvelous powers!
The action sequence is filled with hilarious dialogue, stunning special effects, and Spider-Man's first appearance (featured heavily in marketing for the movie) was used to distract fans from the big-screen premiere of Giant-Man, much like the advertised appearances that are used as misdirection for additional surprising appearances in the pages of Marvel comics!
Part of the charm of Marvel comic books is that the majority of the different titles published are part of a larger, intertwined narrative. The effects of one story might pour over into another, and a character who plays a supporting role in one book might appear to play a supporting role in another.
Phase One of the MCU replicated this overall narrative continuity through Phil Coulson. The stalwart agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. who was introduced in the 2008's Iron Man, the first entry in the MCU, had appearances in Thor, Iron Man 2, and The Avengers, making it clear that although they were not exactly sequels of one another, each movie was taking place in the same cinematic universe.
In The Avengers, Phil Coulson is able to deploy a weapon that was specially designed by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop Loki, but the heroic agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. is fatally wounded in the process. Coulson's sacrifice is not for naught, however, as it inspires the Avengers to join forces and save the Earth from the threat of alien invasion.
But a year after his apparent demise in 2012's The Avengers, Coulson was headling the TV series Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. In many ways, bringing a character back from beyond the grave is an incredibly comic booky move - but the MCU should have learned from the comics that resurrecting a late hero has narrative repercussions that should not be ignored!
Before the first trailer for Guardians of the Galaxy was released in 2013, Rocket Raccoon and Groot were largely unknown to a wider audience, and even the idea of the duo was likely to be met with skepticism. But while a talking, animated tree accompanied by a gun-toting, sarcastic "raccoon" might seem too crazy to work on-screen, it's the sort of far-out character combination that is far from unheard of in the panels of Marvel comics.
By embracing Rocket and Groot for the singular and somewhat bizarre characters they are, without compromising their weirdness, the MCU brought two gloriously comic booky characters to life in a new medium on the big screen.
In the fourth season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. story arc "Agents of HYDRA," the heroes are trapped within the Framework, a virtual reality that takes the form of a world under the complete control of the evil organization HYDRA! Over the course of several episodes, fans got to see what life would be like if HYDRA were successful in their plans for world domination.
The Marvel comics are filled with stories that take place in alternate timelines were the logical (or illogical) conclusions of such "what if" questions are thoroughly explored, and seeing the terrible results of a world under the control of HYDRA on-screen was a gloriously comic booky inclusion.
When Marvel launched its Ultimate line of comics, the publisher hoped that it would circumvent the alienation of new readers by providing an entry point for its most familiar characters that was unburdened by decades of dizzying pre-existing continuity. In keeping with this goal of providing accessibility to new readers, a "recap page" was added, allowing new readers to join in on the merry Marvel madness without forcing necessary exposition to weigh down the story itself.
As the ongoing storylines on the big screen become as complicated as their comic counterparts, opening movies with a brief recap might not be the worst idea - and thanks to Ant-Man's Luis, the MCU already has the perfect character to catch audiences up on any essential details!
In Ant-Man, the first MCU movie after the new Avengers team line-up was revealed at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron, Scott Lang must travel to the Avengers compound in Upstate New York to steal a specific device needed by Hank Pym to thwart the evil plans of antagonist Yellowjacket.
When Scott arrives at the faculty, his break-in is complicated by the arrival of the Falcon, Sam Wilson! In the Marvel comics, it's always a thrill to turn the page and discover that another superhero was making an unexpected cameo in the book. The Falcon's appearance in Ant-Man was kept out of most pre-released marketing, and the appearance of the Avenger in Ant-Man was a gloriously comic booky surprise!
In the Marvel comic universe, the notion of a secret civilization that exists on the Earth without the general public's knowledge is something of a repeated theme: Iron Fist is associated with K'un-L'un, dinosaurs and other extinct animals populate the Savage Lands, and the Inhuman have the artificial island of Attilan (which was located in the Atlantic until the increased detection abilities of humans forced them to relocate to the sky).
Several secret realms appeared in the MCU beforehand, but Black Panther perfected the idea with Wakanda. With a fascinating history, textured culture, and incredibly advanced technology, Wakanda is a realm unto itself, and it clandestine existence within the world of the MCU is a gloriously comic booky addition to the narrative.
During the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Jasper Sitwell, a character first introduced on the big screen in The Avengers, made several guest star appearances on the show. Partway through the season, Captain America: The Winter Solider was released, and it was revealed in the movie that Sitwell was a sleeper agent whose loyalties lay with HYDRA!
As the lights in the theater rose, loyal Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. viewers were left to breathlessly ponder how these revelations might affect Coulson and the other characters. Fans were rewarded with "Turn, Turn, Turn," and the direct serialization of the consequences of the big screen action remains one of the most gloriously comic booky moments yet to occur in the MCU.
In many ways, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 provided a deeper and more insightful glimpse into the relationships between the characters who formed the movie's eponymous team of heroes.
But while the personal arcs for each character were well-developed, the climactic battle between Ego and a superpowered Quill left something to be desired, largely because the battle felt impersonal when compared to the personal conflicts the characters faced. The MCU should have learned from comic book stories like Secret Wars #9 (2016) by Jonathan Hickman, Essad Ribic, and Ive Svorcina, where a story that involved the destruction of entire universes featured a very personal climactic battle between Doctor Doom and Mr. Fantastic.
In retrospect, the idea of bringing together several superheroes to form a big-screen team seems obvious, but at the time, a sequel to several distinct movies was considered something of a gamble. Nevertheless, bringing the headlining stars of several different stories to form a super team has long been a Marvel comic tradition, and The Avengers brought that tradition to the big screen.
Part of the success of assembling the ensemble came from giving (most of) the characters ample opportunity for development: before joining forces, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, and Captain America each had a chance to headline their own movies, while Hawkeye and Black Widow appeared guest starring roles. As such, every character felt fleshed out when they assembled to fight for Earth's survival!
Throughout Iron Man, Agent Coulson attempts to establish a relationship between Tony Stark and S.H.I.E.L.D., but Tony repeatedly ducks Coulson's attempts to make contact. But after Tony uses a company press conference to announce that he is Iron Man, it forces Director Nick Fury to take matters into his own hands, and the eyepatched superspy appears in the first MCU post-credit scene to inform Stark of the "Avenger Initiative."
Fury brought the revelation that Iron Man wasn't the only superhero in the world, cementing the foundations for the MCU's larger interconnected narrative. By launching a series of stories that were interrelated but not necessarily direct sequels to one another, the Marvel experience was brought to theaters, the MCU's most gloriously comic booky accomplishment to date!