10 Marvel Movie Adaptations Where You Really Should Read The Comic First

As great as Marvel Cinematic Universe and X-Men movies are, they’ll always benefit from a thorough read of their original comic source material first.

The Infinity Gauntlet and Old Man Logan comic scans custom image

Plenty of Marvel movies, from the Marvel Cinematic Universe and beyond, pale in comparison to their source material. While the superheroes and villains of Marvel Comics have become well-known on the silver screen over the years, it’s less obvious when certain movies under the Marvel banner have taken direct inspiration from specific stories. In many cases, even the best Marvel movies are enhanced or outclassed by pre-existing knowledge of the comic runs they’re adapting.

There are a multitude of reasons as to why it’s worth reading the source material Marvel movies get their inspiration from before viewing. Often, the original comic runs simply do things better than the movies, having the time to expand on characters without needing to conform to the narrow pre-existing scope of film series like the MCU or Fox’s X-Men universe. Beyond this simple truth, a deeper appreciation for Marvel Comics themselves often lends an increased appreciation of what the films are able to accomplish.

10. Civil War

Inspired Captain America: Civil War (2016)

Civil War Captain America vs Iron Man comic comparison

Civil War was by far one of the most groundbreaking crossover events in Marvel Comics history. Pitting the heroes firmly against one another in the wake of a proposed piece of legislation that would force all hero activity to become federalized, Civil War was a thoughtful series that mined the ideology of each pre-existing Marvel hero. It’s easy to sympathize with both sides, and the bitter hero-on-hero action is gripping enough to be worth a read on its own.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

The MCU did its best to incorporate the ideas of the comic into the third Captain America film, Captain America: Civil War. The circumstances of the Sokovia Accords are different from those of the Superhero Registration Act, with the MCU unable to use the mutant characters that incited the powder keg of turmoil in the comics. The limited scope of Captain America: Civil War‘s airport fight pales in comparison to the full-page spreads of hectic battles in the comic, and the MCU’s general portrayal of Captain America being “in the right” somewhat misses the point of the story.

9. The Dark Phoenix Saga

Inspired X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Dark Phoenix (2019)

A shot of the X-Men: Dark Phoenix cast led by Sophie Turner

One of the most iconic X-Men storylines ever, The Dark Phoenix Saga bears the unfortunate distinction of having not one, but two failed Marvel movie adaptations. Way back in 2006, the idea of the Dark Phoenix was a mere afterthought in the third Fox X-Men film, regulated to a sub-plot in which the Dark Phoenix itself was downgraded from an unfathomable cosmic entity to a repressed second personality of Jean Grey. 2019’s Dark Phoenix tried to take advantage of the new timeline to present a more faithful adaptation, only to be marred by phoned-in performances and a clumsy plot.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

The Dark Phoenix Saga details the transformation of telepathic X-Man Jean Grey into the fearsome Dark Phoenix, an alien entity that enhances her mutant powers to a staggering degree. Manifesting using Jean Grey’s powerful mind as a catalyst, the comic does a better job describing the X-Men’s navigation of facing one of their most deadly foes yet while not harming the vessel of their dear friend. As it stands, the best adaptation of the story still lies in X-Men: The Animated Series.

8. Age of Ultron

Inspired Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Ultron's first damaged body at Avengers HQ in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Beyond sharing a title, the second Avengers film, Avengers: Age of Ultron, has little in common with its supposed source material. While both stories may feature Ultron as a main villain, the 2015 movie utterly fumbles the megalomaniac robot’s first movie incarnation, making Ultron one of the most wasted villains in the MCU. Introduced and killed off within the span of a single movie, Marvel Studios’ Age of Ultron was more like a brief fling.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

In contrast, the crossover comic event Age of Ultron is not an origin story for the eponymous A.I. Instead, Ultron essentially takes over the world early on in the run, leaving the heroes scrambling to mount an underground resistance against the tyranny of the machine, complete with time travel shenanigans. This angle would’ve been far more interesting for Avengers: Age of Ultron to explore, even if it would’ve ruined the novelty of the time heist in Avengers: Endgame.

7. Days of Future Past

Inspired X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)

Wolverine being sent back in time in X-Men Days of Future Past

The Dark Phoenix Saga wouldn’t be the only important X-Men story to see drastic changes in the Fox film franchise. The original Days of Future Past comic was the result of an explosion of popularity for the X-Men, with Marvel’s creators daring to take the team in a drastic new direction within the context of a horrific dystopia. As great as the film adaptation was, it doens’t hold a candle to the significance of the original story.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

In the comic, it’s Kitty Pryde who goes back in time to prevent the outcome of the grim future the mutants live in, rather than Wolverine. This is indicative of the Fox films’ unhealthy obsession with the character, warping a perfectly good narrative just to put Logan at the center for no real reason other than name recognition. The original story also puts greater context into the dark alternate timeline of the X-Men’s future, describing nuclear tensions and mutant internment camps that are only ever hinted at in the film.

6. The Infinity Gauntlet

Inspired Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

Thanos battling the Avengers in Infinity Gauntlet.

The duology of Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame have been massive successes for the MCU, and for good reason. Thanos’ development and strange status as the first film’s main character has made him one of the most iconic villains in cinema history, let alone within the scope of Marvel movies. Yet the franchise still had a few missteps in translating the original comic, The Infinity Gauntlet, for screen.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

Avengers: Infinity War deviates from its source comic to a surprising degree. Perhaps the single most famous difference is in Thanos’ motivation to wipe out half of all life in the first place, being the result of a romantic interest in the female personification of death in the Marvel universe rather than a bizarre hardline economic policy. Adam Warlock was also tragically absent as a uniting force behind the heroes in the film, only introduced far later in the MCU as a bumbling comedic side character in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

5. Old Man Logan

Inspired Logan (2017)

Old Man Logan showing off his claws in Marvel Comics

Not only considered one of the greatest X-Men movies ever made, Logan can be argued to be one of the greatest superhero movies in general to come out of the last 30 years. Clearly inspired by the all-time classic alternate Marvel universe story, Old Man Logan, the film ultimately only provides a loose adaptation of the legendary comic run. Other than vague elements like the X-Men’s death and the introduction of a “daughter” for Wolverine to navigate raising, the film could’ve gone so much further.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

Usually, it’s MCU movie adaptations that are hurt by the lack of the X-Men’s presence, but Logan is a rare instance of things being the other way around. With Fox’s rights solely limited to mutant characters, the original comics’ blind Hawkeye, Hulk Gang, Spider-Buggy, or Venomized Tyrannosaurus Rex are all tragically absent from the more grounded story. As great as Logan turned out, the potential of a more faithful portrayal of the elseworlds comic run blows it out of the water.

4. Iron Man: Extremis

Inspired Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man: Extremis.

Iron Man 3 has something of a bad reputation among Iron Man’s MCU timeline. The film received criticism for the rug-pull reveal of the long-awaited villain, The Mandarin, being nothing more than a paid actor, whereas the real threat, Aldrich Killian, doesn’t get as much fanfare. True though this might be, Killian’s presence and the introduction of the Extremis virus firmly places Iron Man 3 as a relatively straightforward adaptation of the comic run, Iron Man: Extremis.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

Whereas Iron Man 3 ends up nerfing Tony by destroying the majority of his suits, leaving him to fend for himself in large parts of the film with only MacGuyver-style improvised weaponry, the original comic to introduce Extremis actually increases his capabilities as a hero. The addition of the fake Mandarin to the story may make things somewhat clunky, but at least it provides a decent mystery for Tony to uncover. The comic also ties in Iron Man’s origin via flashback, meaning the story might’ve been a better fit for the first Iron Man movie rather than the third.

3. Planet Hulk

Inspired Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

mcu hulk bears his teeth, while in the background hulk is in space in some planet hulk art

Forever a bridesmaid and never a bride, Hulk as has long been regulated to nothing more than a supporting character in the MCU, never able to be the subject of his own films. While this isn’t necessarily Marvel Studios’ fault, the halfhearted attempts to evoke the Planet Hulk storyline in Thor: Ragnarok pale in comparison to the world-shattering story of the original comics. Wedged in between Avengers: Age of Ultron and Thor: Ragnarok, Hulk finds himself as a gladiator on the planet Sakaar after voluntarily leaving Earth on the Quinjet, not wanting to return to his old life.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

The comic takes a far different turn of events. After being banished from the Earth by the Illuminati due to his sheer power, Hulk does indeed end up on the planet Sakaar, only to come back as a brutal warlord ready to get his revenge on the heroes who exiled him. The resulting war that nearly destroys the planet is one of the most compelling crossover events in Marvel history, regulated to little more than a side-story in the MCU.

2. The Winter Soldier

Inspired Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Bucky Barnes under HYDRA control in Captain America The Winter Soldier

Despite being only a loose adaptation, Captain America: The Winter Soldier managed to get to the meat of Bucky Barnes’ story shockingly well. That isn’t to say there’s nothing to be gained in appreciating the comic first, however, which tied in events more familiar to Captain America: The First Avenger. Both stories revolve around the shocking return of Steve Rogers’ former sidekick and best friend from the 40s, Bucky Barnes, as the menacing Winter Soldier, an elite assassin under the control of the Soviet military.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

Steve’s clashes with the Winter Soldier in the comic are no less impressive, and provide some valuable context to the battles in the film adaptation. The original arc also incorporates the Cosmic Cube and the return of the Red Skull as crucial plot points, suggesting that a more faithful Captain America film series might’ve combined the first two films of the trilogy. Still, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is undoubtedly a triumph for Marvel, its Cold War-era spy influences clearly coming from the original comic.

1. Black Panther Vol. 3

Inspired Black Panther (2018)

Shuri in her costume in Black Panther Wakanda Forever

It’s rare that an MCU origin story follows a distinct comic run, usually being more of an amalgamation of various beginnings for a given hero across multiple incarnations. Black Panther stands out as shockingly faithful to Black Panther Vol. 3, one of the most significant series featuring the character in the modern age. Among other things, this particular volume is famous for introducing Erik Killmonger, the primary villain of the Black Panther film and one of the greatest antagonists in MCU history.

Why You Should Read The Comic First

One crucial detail in the comic not present in the film is Wakanda’s presence on the global stage, with the country being known for outreach projects and taking in refugees, compared to the movie Wakanda’s staunch isolationism. Removing these from the story makes Killmonger’s goals much more sympathetic, which can be argued as having a positive or negative impact on the overall narrative. The movie also misses out on letting T’Challa interact with components of the MCU still not introduced by the time of the film, such as demons like Mephisto or The Fantastic Four.

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