Comics Versus Movies: Who’s Influencing Who?

Mitch Nissen Mitch Nissen
June 4th, 2017

Grew up reading comic books in the 90's. Marvel fan at heart. Hulk, the Midnight Sons, and Marvel's cosmic universe are my favorites.

Comics Versus Movies: Who’s Influencing Who?

The influence of comic books on film, in today’s world, is undeniable. But these movies carry a bit of influence of their own. Marvel and DC for years have been changing their comics and characters to reflect the movies in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways. ComiConverse contributor Mitch Nissen takes a look at the influence of super hero movies on super hero comic books.

Comics Versus Movies: Who's Influencing Who?

Super heroes and comic book based properties currently, and for some time now, dominate film and television.

Some of these films and shows have stayed pretty close to the source material and others have not. Obviously some things have to change. Comic books and film are two very different mediums. Comic books can tell a story in ways that films never could. Certain aspects of comic books seem to work in film better than others. To be a filmmaker adapting a project like the psychedelic world of Doctor Strange or the wild and weird sci-fi adventures of the Guardians of the Galaxy must be daunting.

Whatever changes made during the adaptation process whether arbitrary or deliberate, big or small, can have effects elsewhere too.

When the first Blade movie debuted the film’s depiction of the character was somewhat different than the comic book counterpart. In the comics Blade’s abilities ranged from an extended life span, immunity to vampirism, and a sensitivity to light. After the film’s success the comic books changed Blade’s character to be more similar to the Daywalker persona from the film.

After the first X-Men film the characters in the comics began wearing black leather instead of the classic blue and yellow spandex. After Samuel L. Jackson played Nick Fury Marvel Comics’ eventually did away with the classic Nick Fury in favor of a new Fury more in line with the films. Loki’s hair changed from blonde to black and he’s now more of an anti-hero than a villain. And Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver's origins as mutants have been retconned.

Nick Fury

Credit: Marvel Comics

The changes go on ranging from drastic to insignificant, depending on one’s personal feelings towards the characters in question. Some changes are merely cosmetic like Hawkeye’s current costume. Then others are extreme, top to bottom overhauls, like Star-Lord.

These examples above are only a few of the adaptations Marvel Comics have implemented in an effort to portray their comic books and characters more in line with the films.

Let’s try and get inside the heads of the comic companies and guess their motivations.

Money. The cold reality of it all. Marvel and all the other comic book companies have to make money to survive. Expanding readership is how they make more money. If someone had just watched Captain America: The Winter Soldier and wanted to follow those same characters into comic books then Marvel would naturally want the characters on the page to reflect those of the film. A white Nick Fury and feathered wing Falcon may not go so far as to ensure a new reader.

Having the comic books reflect the films allows for a smooth transition between the two, and new audiences can follow the characters they loved in the films straight into the comic books.

Let’s expand this idea and say Marvel or DC rebooted their entire comic universes to be more in synch with the films. Such a transition would completely alter the dynamic between the two mediums. Where comic books were the source material, now the movies would dictate the comics. Instead of forging ahead with new stories and new characters, comic books would be forced to following the paths of the films.

Comic books would cease to be the inspiration and become merely imitation.

Granted that’s a worst case scenario. But comic books are moving in this direction, only right now it is on a smaller scale, growing a little bit more with each new film’s adaptation of the source material.

Depending on who your favorite characters are, you the reader, may have experienced this imitation game Marvel and DC are playing.

I’m not saying comic books shouldn’t change. These are stories about characters who are constantly pushed to the breaking point. Of course they’re going to grow and evolve over the course of their journey. Richard Rider’s transformation from the young reckless Nova Centurion to the battle hardened mature Nova Prime is one of the best examples of character growth in comics. Another great example of character growth is Dick Grayson's evolution from Robin to Nightwing and eventually to Batman.

However, changing a particular character or characters beyond the point of recognition, merely to mirror what audiences are seeing in movie theatres, isn’t character growth.

Let’s take James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films. Regardless whether you enjoy the characters or not, starring characters or supporting characters, many changes were made in adapting the comic books to the screen. The character of Yondu for instance, played by Michael Rooker, appeared as a supporting character in the first film and stepped up to a major role in the second film.

Whether you like Yondu or not, the film’s portrayal of the character was scarcely a shade of who Yondu is or was in the comics. Believe it or not, Yondu is someone’s favourite comic book character and someone's favourite Guardian. Beyond the blue skin and the Yaka arrow, cinematic Yondu, has nothing in common with comic book Yondu. If one were to describe Michael Rooker’s portrayal of Yondu compared to the Yondu of the comic books as “Yondu in name only,” it wouldn’t be far from the truth.


Credit: Marvel Studios and Marvel Comics

Within the last couple years Marvel Comics has introduced the cinematic version of Yondu into their comic book universe, appearing in the Star-Lord solo title and fulfilling the same role from the film. In last year’s Marvel book, Guardians of Infinity, featuring the original Guardians of the Galaxy from the 31st century, classic Yondu is suspiciously missing.

The keener eyes among you will have no doubt picked up on Starhawk, Aleta, Martinex, Charlie 27, and others of the 31st century Guardians of the Galaxy appearing in the film Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. And, just like Yondu, almost all are barely recognizable as the characters from the comics. If you are among those who love the Guardians of the Galaxy from the 31st century, the original Guardians from the comic books, you really can’t point to the screen and say, “Those are my favourite characters.”

I realize that things change from comic book to film, such is the nature of adaptation. But I would be curious to learn why characters such as Rocket, Groot, and Ego the Living Planet, incredibly far out characters even in comics, receive a relatively faithful transition from comic book to screen while nearly all of the original Guardians of the Galaxy are realized so drastically dissimilar from the source material.

And if Marvel comics replaced the comic book Yondu with the cinematic Yondu, how much longer until the rest of the 31st century Guardians of the Galaxy are erased from the Marvel universe in favor of their “in name only” cinematic counterparts?

If the 31st century Guardians are too obscure for you and you could care less what happens to them then how about the current Guardians of the Galaxy?

After the film the Guardians all underwent changes. Star-Lord went from a cynical war-torn space cop to space Indiana Jones. Drax became an ineffectual punchline. And now Groot is "Baby Groot" for no other reason than to reflect the second Guardians film. Marvel Comics even brought in the Guardians spaceship the Milano.

And how much longer until other more iconic, well known, and beloved characters are tweaked and altered in the films only to be subsequently tweaked and altered accordingly in the comic books?

What happens when the films completely re-envision a classic major character and the change is embraced by film audiences? This may be good for new readers familiar with the films to begin collecting comic books, but what about those readers who were supporting Marvel and DC well before the films took the world by storm?

This is great if you're a fan of the films coming into the comic books. By Marvel and DC makes such changes they're catering to a whole new generation of potential readers and a potential source of revenue for their companies. But such changes also run the risk of alienating current readers.

Maybe, if you're a mainstream comic fan, you feel (hope) that only the obscure characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy, characters with an admittedly lower following than more popular heroes, will be subjected to such changes. If that indeed becomes the case then what does that say about Marvel and DC?

Do Marvel and DC only care about the opinions of Spider-Man, Batman, and Superman fans?

Do they not care about the other fans who love and support the second and third string characters?

Are there even any of those fans left who're still buying comics?

Then there's the "why read when you can watch" mentality?

If the comic books are just an adaptation of the movies why would anyone want to read the comics?

It truly is an amazing era to be a comic fan, what with all the films and television shows being produced. But there is a downside to all these adaptations.

The movies have to do what they feel they need to do to make a cohesive cinematic universe.

Should the comic books mirror those changes and alterations presented in the films?

This also begs the question of who's actually in charge of the comic books, Marvel Comics or Marvel Studios?

What do you think?

Is the influence of the films on the comic books a good thing or a bad thing?

Let us know where you stand.

Mitch Nissen is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @NinjaMitche

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