Comic book superhero movies are only gaining in popularity. Both DC and Marvel are building their own cohesive comic book universes on film with the X-Men and Amazing Spider-man franchises following suit. Now comics—the medium that inspired the films—are in turn being influenced by the Movies.
The Avengers! Now More like The Avengers!
Some direct influences from the movie versions of The Avengers can be now seen in the tone, characterization and team dynamics prevalent in the comics. For example, Bruce Banner is now an Avenger. What’s that you say? He was a founding member? No, that was the Hulk and the Hulk was never a team player. As such, he was out by issue two and Captain America was in by issue four. But now Bruce Banner is a contributing member of the team —in addition to the Hulk. The popularity of both Banner and the Hulk in the Avengers movie made including both halves of Banner’s fractured psyche in an active team role a no-brainer. A pariah for decades, Banner is now consulted and valued by the top tier of Avengers —Cap and Tony especially. The Black Widow and her “red ledger” have increased interest in her character and scored her an ongoing series starting this month. The line-up from the movie has received their own in-continuity book in Avengers Assembled. Loki, the villain in The Avengers, stole the show in Thor: Dark World. As a result, his new Marvel book Loki: Agent of Asgard features a very Tom Hiddleston-looking Loki who seems a more lovable than evil god.[divider]
Nick Fury, Nick Fury and Nick Fury Jr.
When the Ultimate line of comics launched, it provided a fresh modern take on some of Marvel’s most popular characters. One of the biggest changes was in the ethnicity of the Ultimate Universe Nick Fury. In early appearances, like Ultimate X-Men, this Fury resembled Will Smith as James Bond; using hi-tech gadgets and offsite powers whose duration was determined by budget oversight. In subsequent appearances Ultimate Nick Fury was drawn to look just like actor Samuel L. Jackson. One issue of The Ultimates had the fledgling team, bored from not having any danger to face, all announce who would play them in a movie, to which he says “Why Mr. Samuel L. Jackson of course. That’s not even up for debate Dr. Pym.” So popular was this version of the character that subsequent appearances of Nick Fury in cartoon movies, series and games were of ether an amalgamation of a black and white Fury with hair or a straight up Samuel L. Jackson representation. When the time came to cast the Nick Fury of the Marvel film universe it was indeed Mr. Samuel L. Jackson— and there was no debate.
Back in the regular Marvel Universe, Nick Fury was still a white man and new readers were perplexed when they opened an issue of Secret Warriors to find a decidedly NOT Samuel L. Jackson-looking Fury. As a remedy, the Nick Fury of the regular Marvel Universe was revealed, in the mini series Battle Scars, to have a son he had kept secret. Marcus Johnson was an African-American U.S. Army Ranger with a full head of hair and two good eyes. By the end of the mini series—thanks to a fire and some torture at the hands of the book’s villain—Johnson had a shaven head, one eye and had taken his birth name, Nicholas Fury, Jr., or Nick Fury for short. Battle Scars also introduced Fury Jr.’s best friend and army buddy “Cheese,” real name: Phil Coulson. Both were recruited into S.H.I.E.L.D. and, say what you want about nepotism, they are now the two most visible S.H.I.E.L.D. Agents in the Marvel Universe.[divider]
The Coulson Effect!
Though certainly not the first comic book character to originate outside a comic book, Phil Coulson has become the poster boy for cross media exposure. Originating in the first Iron Man film, the character—our first “name” S.H.I.E.L.D. agent—became the face of the shared Marvel movie universe. Coulson then appeared in Iron Man 2, Thor and Avengers. Though he was absent from the film Captain America: The First Avenger, he quickly appeared at Cap’s side during his first moments in the 21st Century and conveyed his admiration for the man in the Avengers. Agent Coulson’s apparent death became the rallying point for the Avengers to finally work together as a team in the film’s third act. The character’s popularity, due in no small part to actor Clark Gregg’s portrayal of the Agent as a dedicated everyman with a dry sense of humor, lead to the character being given a spin-off TV series, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., a part on the animated series, Ultimate Spider-Man, as well as a full introduction to the Marvel Comics universe in the comics min-series Battle Scars and is now a mainstay of any S.H.I.E.L.D. interaction in the comics as well as a main character in the book Secret Avengers.[divider]
An Uncanny, Amazing Business Plan!
Marvel properties that lie outside of the Marvel-held film franchises are taking notice of the success The Avengers had on film. X-Men: Days of Future Past picks up right after The Wolverine and is set to open on May 23, 2014. Meanwhile, a third film in the “First Class” group of X-films has already been announced. X-Men: Apocalypse is set for a 2016 release. Amazing Spider-Man 2 opens May 2, 2014 with at least one more sequel to follow and there are already talks of a spin-off of Venom or the Sinister Six. In the comics this means a return from the dead (as already announced) for Peter Parker, just in time for Amazing Spider-Man 2. On the X-Men front, we have already seen a return of the mutant-hunting Sentinels, who, coincidentally, are making their film debut. I am taking bets on a Future Past story line in at least one of the 27 X-books available.[divider]
No Boxers, No Briefs!
On the DC Comics front, the Dark Knight Trilogy pretty much left the Batman line of comics untouched. This was more a factor of the New 52 re-launch and the cold, hard fact that it’s, well …Batman. Batman came into the New 52 with the least number of changes and the most continuity. In the wake of The Dark Knight Rises, Bane did not change his mask in the comics and there is no John Blake in the New 52.
The same cannot be said for Superman. Already the New 52 General Zod and his lackeys look much like the Man of Steel version. But the New 52 Superman is not the movie version; DC still has things to prove with the New 52. Adding what works on film to the current comic book universe has certainly been done before —and something DC is sure to do again— but the burgeoning DC film universe has as much to gain from the new 52 as it does to contribute to the mythos. DC’s re-launch and new movie venture affords them an opportunity to create a powerful synergy between their comics and their films and TV shows. The Man of Steel’s costume is more like the New 52 Superman’s then any other previous design.
The Arrow TV series has generated positive change in the New 52 Green Arrow. A Flash series, as well as a show set in a pre-Batman Gotham, is in the works for television. Adding the existing TV Arrow and Flash characters to the film universe in, say, a Justice League movie, would be a great move. (DC seems to be moving in that direction, already: Man of Steel 2 will feature the teaming of Batman and Superman for the first time on the big screen —with Wonder Woman making an appearance as well.)
This would allow for less character intro/origin story and more action and interaction between characters. DC also seems more willing than Marvel to use characters and organizations from the comics in its TV ventures. Smallville used these to great effect in its ten-year run, Arrow has picked up that ball and run with it. This …pan-media sharing from comics-to-TV-to-film could deepen a viewer’s experience in all DC’s franchises. One chief complaint about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is the lack of fun comic-related things Marvel does with the show.
With more comic-inspired film and TV properties to look forward to in the coming years, the trend toward cross-media influence will only grow. For comics, comics properties and the fans this can only be a good thing. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing some of my favorite characters on the big screen, the small screen and all stops in-between.