When adapting comic book characters from page to screen, the various creative teams working at Marvel Studios can’t always be 100% faithful to the source material. While some characters, like Iron Man’s Tony Stark, are nearly indistinguishable from their print counterpart, others – like Yondu, for example – haven’t been so meticulously recreated.
Why isn’t Captain America: Civil War’s Helmut Zemo a fascistic German baron like in the comics? Why is Guardians of the Galaxy’s Drax not a reincarnated saxophone player? Why can Anthony Mackie’s Falcon not telepathically communicate with birds? Why was Bucky Barnes not a teenager in Captain America: The First Avenger? All of these characters and more have been tweaked from the Marvel Comics characters they were based on. And before you start scrolling, there are plenty of spoilers for many Marvel Cinematic Universe films waiting for you down there, so be careful!
Would you be surprised to learn that Ulysses Klaue (better known as Klaw), storied antagonist of the Black Panther and Fantastic Four, is a being of pure sound? Detailed in the pages of 1966’s Fantastic Four #56, Klaw jumped into a sound converter of his own design and became a form of extra-physical sound. It is some wild stuff. Due to this, he is essentially both immortal and indestructible, though he is pretty easily trapped in vibranium, which is a huge disadvantage going up against the likes of the Black Panther.
For those who know the character only from the MCU films Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther, this will come as a big surprise, because the Klaw portrayed by Andy Serkis definitely is a being of flesh and blood. So much so, he is gunned down by Killmonger in Black Panther. While the MCU’s version of the character has a version of the iconic sound converter arm prosthetic – because his arm was cut off by Ultron in the second Avengers movie – he is a far cry from the all-sound villain of the comic books.
Classic Iron Man villain the Mandarin has been around almost as long as the armored Avenger himself. Introduced in 1964’s Tales of Suspense #50, this villainous mastermind uses his astounding intellect and the might of the Makluan Power Rings to go up against Tony Stark in the pages of Marvel Comics. He has proven to be one of Iron Man’s most capable and long-lasting foes.
The Mandarin of Iron Man 3, whether it be Ben Kingsley’s Trevor Slattery – who portrayed a fake version of the character in propaganda – or Guy Pierce’s Aldrich Killian, who proclaimed himself the real Mandarin during the film’s climax, was clearly not a faithful adaptation of the comic book character. Some fans were not happy about this, and Marvel Studios got the hint and a proper adaptation of the character is on the way as the main villain of the upcoming film Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
If we’re talking about characters who are similar in name only, Helmut Zemo needs to be put front and center. Outside of the name and hating Captain America (among other superheroes), the Helmut Zemo of the MCU and the Helmut Zemo of Marvel Comics are two entirely different characters. The purple-ski-mask-wearing Zemo of Marvel Comics is the 13th in a line of fascist German barons who fashions himself a would-be savior of the world, if only he could conquer it first. Goofy sock puppet design aside, Zemo has become an iconic Marvel villain after making hundreds of appearances since debuting in the 1970s.
The Zemo of the MCU, who was introduced in Captain America: Civil War, is a former Sokovian colonel whose family perished in the Battle of Sokovia at the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron. Zemo blames the Avengers for the demise of his family and seeks the destruction of the superteam by putting together a highly elaborate plan of sabotage through Civil War’s runtime. This Zemo seems to have little to do with his comic book inspiration, though it appears Zemo will actually be wearing the iconic purple mask when he returns to the MCU in the upcoming Disney+ series The Falcon and The Winter Soldier.
First appearing in 1966’s Avengers #32, Bill Foster became a mainstay of Marvel Comics for the next 40 years until his demise at the hands of a clone of Thor in 2006’s Civil War #4. Foster fought evil under superhero monikers like Giant-Man and Goliath, becoming involved with superhero teams like the Avengers, Defenders, and Champions. In addition to his superhero exploits, Foster was an accomplished academic and biochemist as well.
Marvel Studios took the intellectual aspects of the comic book character and brought him to the screen in 2018’s Ant-Man and the Wasp, where he was played by Lawrence Fishburne. This version of the character is matured up to be closer in age to Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym, is former member of S.H.I.E.L.D., and is shown to be a professor at Berkeley. Though Fishburne’s Foster did work with Hank Pym on a project involving Pym Particles, he was never able to become a superhero and fight crime. Given his age, it’s unlikely he will do so in future MCU films either.
The original Guardians of the Galaxy team of Marvel Comics was not from the main Earth-616 universe and did not have adventures in modern times. No, the first Guardians of the Galaxy team, introduced in 1969’s Marvel Super-Heroes #18, had their adventures in the Earth-691 continuity during the 31st century. One of the members of this team was Yondu, a member of the primitive, mystic Zatoan tribe of the planet Centauri-IV. This Yondu is imbued with a sixth sense of sorts that allows his people to form empathic relationships with various lifeforms. He also sports a pretty revealing outfit.
The Yondu of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brought to life by Michael Rooker, is a space pirate who happens to have the same name, as well as blue skin and a red mohawk like his comic book counterpart. That’s about all they have in common. These two characters are so different, Marvel Comics actually added a new version of Yondu based on the big screen version in 2016’s Star-Lord #1 that adhered more faithfully to what fans of the movies would expect.
Drax The Destroyer
Drax has become a fan-favorite in recent years thanks to Dave Bautista’s portrayal of the character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But this version of the character strays a little bit from his comic book origins. First introduced way back in 1973’s Iron Man #55, Drax actually is the reincarnated soul of Arthur Douglas, an American saxophone player who was offed by Thanos when he first came to Earth. Long story short, Thanos’ father, Mentor, created a superhuman body from the soil of the Earth (blessed with enhanced strength and stamina) and put the soul of Arthur Douglas inside of it to accomplish one goal: eliminate the evil purple alien.
In addition to primarily functioning as comic relief in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, this Drax is an actual alien whose family was slain by Ronan the Accuser, which sets Drax on a personal vendetta against the Guardians of the Galaxy villain. While the MCU’s Drax eventually sets his sights on Thanos, he is a far cry from the Drax of the comics, whose entire reason for living is to pursue the Mad Titan. Here’s hoping we get to see Drax play a saxophone in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.
First shown to readers way back in 1963 as the antagonist of Amazing Spider-Man #2, Adrian Toomes’ Vulture has been a pain in Peter Parker’s side for nearly 60 years now. Appearing in hundreds of comics over the decades, the Toomes of Earth-616 is a former electrical engineer who broke bad and has no qualms over his dastardly deeds. He’s even been a member of the Sinister Six, further solidifying him as an essential Spider-Man villain.
The creative team behind Spider-Man: Homecoming decided to take a more realistic approach to the Vulture’s suit,but also changed the character up as well. Michael Keaton’s Toomes runs a salvage company and turns to the underworld after Damage Control takes over the post-Avengers clean-up of New York City. Unlike his unscrupulous comic counterpart, the MCU Toomes is a family man who, at one point, even gives Peter a chance to let the two of them go their separate ways.
To be fair, the Hank Pym of the MCU is similar to the Hank Pym in plenty of ways: they are both genius inventors with varying degrees of anger issues, they both are the original Ant-Man in their respective universes, and they both discovered Pym Particles. But they differ in some pretty crucial ways. The Hank Pym of Earth-616 was a founding Avenger, was responsible for creating Ultron, and has become a somewhat controversial figure in Marvel Comics due to his troubling relationship with ex-wife Janet van Dyne (AKA the Wasp).
Michael Douglas’s Hank Pym worked for S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – something his comic book counterpart never did – and due to the MCU having a realistic timeline, he is much older than the Hank Pym of the comics. If not for the timeline fudgery of comic books, Hank and the founding Avengers would be much, much older than they currently are. Marvel Comics’ Hank doesn’t seem to have even hit middle age yet, let alone get close to the post-retirement age of the MCU’s Hank.
Brunnhilde, the Valkyrie of Marvel Comics until her demise in 2019’s War of the Realms #2, provided the inspiration for the character of the same name in Thor: Ragnarok. While the characters are similar in many respects, like their expert fighting skills and Asgardian heritage, they differ in some key ways as well. The Brunnhilde of Earth-616 can perceive the “death-glow” of someone who is in danger of losing their life. She can also teleport herself and one other being to the realm of the deceased to help them pass on. Additionally, she wields the indestructible, magic-absorbing sword known as Dragonfang.
The Valkyrie of the MCU has yet to show any of these powers, though she was seen flying on what was evidently a big-screen version of her horse, Aragorn, at the end of Avengers: Endgame. This version of the character has proven to be so popular that an MCU-inspired version of her, clearly modeled on Tessa Thompson, was introduced in 2018’s Exiles #2.
While the Mantis of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the Mantis of Marvel Comics are somewhat similar in look and powerset, the two versions of this character are vastly different from a background standpoint. Debuting in 1973’s Avengers #112, the Mantis of Earth-616 is a human of German and Vietnamese origin who was enhanced by the Kree at a young age. Upon her 18th birthday, her memory was erased and replaced with memories of a life she didn’t live, as having an average human life would help prepare her to become the Celestial Madonna (don’t ask). She ended up becoming a sex worker in Vietnam before joining the Avengers and becoming a capable, confident fighter.
The Mantis of the MCU, introduced in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, was somewhat understandably changed by Marvel Studios to fit more easily into the narrative, even if the resulting character bears little resemblance to her comic book counterpart. The MCU Mantis, played by Pom Klementieff, is raised into servitude by the film’s antagonist, Ego the Living Planet. As such, she is subservient to Ego and, having never interacted with anyone but him, unfamiliar with social interaction – causing all kinds of comedic hijinks during conversations with the Guardians. The film version is so different, original character co-creator Steve Englehart felt the need to voice his dissatisfaction in an interview with Polygon.
“Well, I was not happy with Mantis’s portrayal,” Englehart said. “That character has nothing to do with Mantis… I really don’t know why you would take a character who is as distinctive as Mantis is and do a completely different character and still call her Mantis. That I do not know.”