If you talk to many fans of the superhero genre, they will tell you that the Marvel Cinematic Universe -- a shared space that includes nearly twenty movies at this point, plus several TV shows on ABC and Netflix -- is the best live-action adaptation of superhero comics that has ever happened.
How close of an adaptation is it, though?
Well, like basically any comic book adaptation, the filmmakers make their changes. Some of those are more minor, like the constant evolution of Iron Man's armor, while some are more significant -- take transforming The Mandarin into Trevor the Actor for example.
Few things tend to get comic fans' ire up faster, though, than the visual differences between the comics characters and their big-screen counterparts.
It's not hard to understand why; in many cases, comic book readers ahve been waiting their whole lives to see some of their favorite characters brought to live action. That's the same reason generic, inoffensively not-good movies can sometimes earn a reputation as utter garbage: the collision of expectations and reality...and a character's costume (or, more generally, their look) can often set the tone for how fans react to the property going forward. Looking at Man of Steel, for instance, the movie was already being attacked as being "too dark" and "too Batman-like" when that first image of the costume, featuring a grimacing Henry Cavll in front of a destroyed bank safe, was released online.
Here's a quick rundown of a batch of the images collected by Redditors recently, with the caveat that these are, of course, not all of the MCU heroes and villains, and some particularly faithful or unfaithful ones may have been left off the list.
Well break down what we think works and what doesn't, as well as where the comics inspired the live-action and vice versa. If you don't agree, hit us up on Twitter @comicbook!
We're going to start at the beginning of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, with Iron Man -- not just because it's where the movies began, but because there's an element of many of these costumes that we will mention with Iron Man...
...the movies are influencing, or certainly seem to be influencing, many of the designs.
Some more overtly than others, for sure, and Iron Man had drifted away from his "classic" look in the '90s and had been changing relatively often since then, but by the time the first Iron Man movie was made, it seemed largely influenced by the then-recent "Extremis" storyline (2005), and subsequent costumes that were almost certainly being designed concurrently with the movie suit.
In the case of Iron Man, it isn't that the movies directly impacted the comics (although that would come after the first Iron Man was a huge hit), but the proximity of a redesign that closely resembled the movies to the actual movies itself would become a repeating theme.prevnext
MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD
The Agents of SHIELD -- represented in the image below by Quake, who has a bit of a different look but who is in substance very similar to the rest of the tactical agents on the team -- are pretty accurately represented...
...in part becuase their look is easy to translate to live action. Like Black Widow, it's black leather, kevlar, mesh, and some accents and accessories designed to be both practical and to visually break up the field of black.
There's less white and more black and silver in the movie costumes, but the suits are, more or less, the same. There are also more pouches in the comics version -- something that's largely true because a bandolier of patches around each leg looks good on a comic book character but impedes mobility on real humans.
The biggest differences between Quake's onscreen look and her comics look are the material -- it looks more like patent leather, with the shiny aspect, in the image on the right, although that's not generally how we remember SHIELD uniforms being depicted -- and her hair, which Chloe Bennett likely kept in part so that she wasn't so easily confused with SHIELD's Maria Hill by casual fans.
The biggest difference between Quake and other (leather-suited) SHIELD agents is her gauntlets, which look more or less the same on screen as on the page.prevnext
A standout from this season of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD, Ghost Rider isn't the only superhero to appear on the veteran ABC series, but he's the only one who had a pair of solo movies to his name before he did.
(Not the only one to have two movies before coming to TV -- we'll get to that in a minute.)
The Robbie Reyes take on Ghost Rider is less iconic, with his muscle car replacing the motorcycle, but his general wardrobe draws heavily on the classic version of the biker-antihero.
Ignoring the more "metal" version introduced when Danny Ketch was the Rider, Reyes basically has Danny Ketch's get-up but with a different skull (it almost looks mechanical, something that came across on TV not so much as metallic but almost porcelain, as though the hellfire had glazed the bone into something shinier and harder.
On a show where even the really good costumes (like Quake's) looked basically like they could have been in the first X-Men movie, Ghost Rider was a welcome addition to superhero fans if only because the series not only used a superhero but was clearly unafraid to embrace his admittedly bizarre and comic booky look -- right down to that jacket which, let's face it, doesn't really look like anything you would see somebody wearing just out there every day in the world.prevnext
Here, Accurate MCU took a look at Black Bolt, the Inhuman with the most iconic look, the most dynamic design, and the apparent point of view character for the forthcoming TV series, since in the only official publicity images we have he is front and center.
Similar to the SHIELD agents, here they lost the tights look in favor of leather -- but given how much more superhero-y the designs on the Inhumans are, it feels a bit more like one of the Fox X-Men movies.
There's some irony there, of course, in that fans have generally assumed that the Inhumans are being promoted so heavily at Marvel largely because Fox owns the film rights to the X-Men and the two properties are so similar, but that's another conversation for another day.
The tuxedo-like tails on Black Bolt's jacket certainly give the TV version a more regal look -- something that's frankly missing in the comics. No matter what you do to a suit that's made up principally of tights and a three-quarters-face mask, you can't really make that character look like he's the king of much of anything while wearing it.
Some of the Kirby lines -- particularly those that circle the tops of Black Bolt's legs and his wrists -- are unnecessary to the TV verison because they are there primarily to break up the character design and in a live-action adaptation, the viewers' eyes do that for you -- so while it's not 100% true to the character, there's an argument to be made that the suit may look better for it.
That all sounds like we're pretty high on this Black Bolt costume, right? Like -- they made some obvious and kind of boring creative choices, but they are choices that made sense. So -- yay?
Not so much: the absence of a mask is a bit of a drag, especially when the mask on Black Bolt is such a unique one and becuase of the nature of his stories, many readers have never seen him without it on. It wouldn't be a huge deal, but it's a continuation of a trend that exists in the movies -- nobody ever seems to wear their masks for very long.
Of course, in the movies, that's in part because you have huge, bankable stars and it seems self-defeating to cover their faces with masks. Here, you've got...well, not that.
As good as the costume looks in the abstract, it doesn't really look like Black Bolt, and it feels the opposite of the Ghost Rider thing -- like somebody designing it was scared of how "comic booky" it looked and veered into caution at every opportunity.prevnext
Captain America is kind of a difficult one to look at, in part because he changes his costume a lot.
Mostly it's minor tweaks, refining the costume seen below, although in Captain America: The Winter Soldier they introduced Cap's "Super-Soldier" costume from the comics, which by design had no mask on it, kind of avoiding the issue mentioned in our look at Black Bolt.
The costume pictured below -- we're pretty sure it's the one from Marvel's The Avengers -- is as comics-accurate as Cap's costumes come...besides the one he wore briefly on stage and not in combat, which was extremely comics accurate but not as durable or versatile as the ones we see him wearing in combat.
A more accurate comparison for the overall franchise might have been to pick a version of this costume with a slightly darker blue and a less chunky belt, both of which have been present in Cap's costumes in most of the movies.
So even while the blue of this costume is brighter and lighter than the costume has been in the comics in recent years, it's also kind of the most accurate version of the costume, in the sense that all the other takes tend to mess with the red and white stripes and make it something a little more movie-friendly. That's likely the reason it was chosen to be the representative out of the various Cap suits seen in the movies so far.prevnext
Out of the "big three" Avengers -- Cap, Iron Man, and Thor -- it's the Odinson who looks the least like his comic book counterpart.
There's a lot of reasons for that, nost least of which is that Thor's visual aesthetic in the comics is a mix of Kirby goodness, traditional superhero tropes, and the actual Asgardian mythological figure on which he's based.
In the movies, most traditional superhero tropes are thrown out the window and Hollywood has so far proven to be very bad at adapting Jack Kirby craziness to the page. There's still quite a bit of Asgardian influence, obviously, but it's also stylized in a way that makes it mesh with the established look of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Instead of real feathers on the helmet, they're metal. Instead of a cloth costume that would evoke ancient, mythical characters, you get that same kind of leathery-metal thing that happens in so many sci-fi movies. That all meshes, of course, with the notion that the Asgardian pantheon is really just a bunch of higher-dimensional beings who are "thought of" as gods, rather than gods themselves.
But -- yeah. Allowing for the fabrics to be changed to suit the look and feel of the MCU, this is actually a more 1:1 translation, probably, than Captain America's costume.prevnext
First off, no live action interpretation of The Punisher has yet just gone ahead and made the skull on his chest part of the design of his outfit.
In Dolph Lundgren's initial Punisher movie, it was entirely absent, save for being used as a "calling card" on the end of a knife he left in a bad guy he killed. In later movies, and the Daredevil TV series, you get a kind of washed-out version that looks like it was slapped on with paint in a moment of frenzy.
See that below.
That's a take that's been popular in recent comics as well, and as a whole, The Punisher is a character whose costume design has changed almost from the day he was created.
One of the later creations on this list, The Punisher's backstory -- especially once he went from being a villain to an antihero -- didn't really lend itself to wearing a giant, white, sewed-on skull on his chest.
They've done a bunch of stuff with his look, from turning ammo pouches and cartridges into the "teeth" ont he skull to approaching the skull very much like the image below to just tweaking it here and there over the years. Ultimately the version that's showing up in the MCU (the first MCU version, of course, as the previous three films were all when the property was being licensed to other studios) will be the closest to the source material yet.prevnext
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
The Guardians of the Galaxy characters -- represented here by Yondu, but also represented by Star-Lord and Drax in the Reddit thread -- are pretty wildly different in the movies than in their comics iterations.
The Yondu image was picked because he's the most dramatically different, and because Yondu is a character whose visual has been relatively consistent over the years, whereas Star-Lord started out looking basically nothing like his movie iteration, but slowly evolved in the direction of what ended up onscreen so that the movie didn't take a huge departure from its source material, generally understood to be the Dan Abnett/Andy Lanning/Paul Pelletier run on the series.
Yondu, not a huge part of that series, didn't get the wild reinvention that Star-Lord and others did. What's also worth mentioning is that in the comics they were not, until the DnA run, a quasi-militarized unit with uniforms but instead a loose collection of superheroes and antiheroes. That star on Yondu is basically a badge, and about all the first generation of Guardians (many of whom we saw in the recent sequel) had in common, design-wise.
Drax is an interesting one because before a 200s reinvention, he used to be a green dude in a purple cape. The tattooed, seemingly Lobo-inspired version who ultimately informed the movies came out of a later revamp.prevnext
We haven't had a chance to see a ton of the suit in action yet, but it's a pretty perfect translation from the comics, while allowing for the fact that, yes, they're going to change the fabrics and such to more closely mirror the other Marvel movies.
Not pictured on the "classic" Black Panther below is the teeth and other details, which were introduced later in an attempt to make him feel more authentically African as opposed to just being another superhero in a black body sock who was African when you took the mask off.
You gotta love, though, the whited-out eyes even being in the movie version. That's something that comic book fans have always hoped for and never really gotten in film adaptations of comic book costumes. Mostly it's a trick used by artists to avoid characters looking crosseyed or like they're looking at something arbitrary -- just take masked characters and remove their eyes!
It also removes the humanity and gives the sense of a demon or force of nature, something that Black Panther used effectively in Captain America: Civil War when he spoke little, struck hard and fast.
A lot of the texturing and detailing in the movie version just feels like "extra lines," but it's understandable considering an all-black, smooth costume wouldn't be all that visually interesting.prevnext
There are a ton of other Avengers and Avengers-adjacent characters who pop up in the movies and on the Reddit thread that inspired this article, but the big one to look it is probably Quicksilver becuase he's the one that feels the most like he was changed for change's sake.
Ant-Man, Hawkeye, and many other characters in the movies may have had recent costume redesigns that feel like they were likely done with the movies (or at least with adaptation) in mind, especailly Hawkeye, who lost one of the more uniquely "comic booky" masks of all time...but they were very true adaptations of costumes we've seen in the comics. Scarlet Witch was a far looser adaptation -- and before she got her "Avengers" costume she looked more like the' 90s DC teen heroine Anima than she did Scarlet Witch -- but it's Quicksilver where the design is kind of baffling.
Appearing in both the X-Men franchise and the Avengers franchise at the same time was apparently not in the cards for this character, who died abruptly in his first MCU appearance, Avengers: Age of Ultron. He had just appeared shortly before that in X-Men: Days of Future Past (the rights to Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are shared between Fox and Marvel), and as the breakout character of that film. Neither look really looked anything like his comic book version, but in the X-Men movies, that's less surprising than in the MCU.
What they seemed to do, maybe to avoid the connections between speedsters and lightning that brings to mind The Flash, who had just started on TV around this time, was to make Quicksilver's lightning motif into a more generic geometric white pattern, and basically turn his "tights" into an outfit that looks like a heavy duty version of a runner's gear.
Sure, why not? Although it feels a little odd that his top looks so much like the Stark Tech material that the other Avengers costumes are made out of and his pants look like...pants.prevnext
The MCU's villain aethetic is kind of all over the place.
First of all, the fact that so many of the villains look like they're wearing the same basic materials as the heroes is a little odd. It's like everyone with super powers collectively agreed to dress one way, even if they're on opposite sides of every conflict. But ah, well, that helps build visual continuity and a franchise identity, so we can let it slide.
Similarly, some of the less comics-accurate villain designs in the MCU share commonalities that make it clear they're trying to "do" something here: the baddies from Thor: The Dark World share visual DNA with Guardians of the Galaxy's Drax, while The Collector and his brother Grandmaster (who will appear in Thor: Ragnarok) look a lot alike, even though they don't really in the comics.
Probably the truest villain adaptations come in the form of Loki and Thanos, the most important and beloved villains to appear so far, while the biggest departures often come in the form of minor villains who only appear briefly.
Batroc (pictured below) and Crossbones in the Captain America movies look a lot more like their comics selves in promotional shots and Photoshop-manipulated images than they do in the movies. The image below, for instance, gives us a Batroc who is clearly wearing the colors of his comics counterpart, whereas his brief appearance in the movies saw a more washed-out look at the costume. The color scheme was still there, but it wasn't screaming at you, and also he didn't last all that long anyway.
See also, Iron Man 3, where numerous Iron Man villains were basically just name-dropped as random Extremis soldiers who looked nothing like their comic book counterparts but were just kind of...enhanced dudes.
Iron Man 3 and Avengers: Age of Ultron also had kind of odd ones: Both Ultron and The Mandarin looked a lot like a MCU-ized version of the classic comics character...but something felt vaguely off that fans couldn't quite put their fingers on, almost like the translation from comics to screen was faithful enough but lost something in translation. With The Mandarin, they made enough changes that the feeling could have been just his generally dirty vibe, his sunglasses, or what-have-you...but with Ultron, it was...the fact that he smiled? We don't know. He looked great, but just didn't quite match up to the Thanoses and Lokis of the world.prev