There was a time when Hollywood looked down on comic books. Now, comics — and superhero comics in particular — are behind the biggest blockbusters. Characters who were once dismissed as jokes are now franchise stars. It’s hard to believe studio executives once mocked the very idea of films starring the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, Aquaman and Wonder Woman.
Take the X-Men: Their movies haven’t always replicated the look of the comics. But DARK PHOENIX, opening on June 7, changes that by directly bringing some of the original costumes and images to the big screen. Let’s look at how comic book-accurate some big screen superheroes have been, by laying out some of our favorites side by side.
What did you expect, yellow spandex? The X-MEN film franchise was launched at a time when nobody was particularly confident that superhero films would work. As a result, Fox played fast and loose with the original comic book designs. Director Bryan Singer ditched superhero costumes altogether for 2000’s X-MEN, outfitting the mutants in black leather. That design decision still echoes in the films, which almost 20 years later are only just starting to adopt some of the early comic book concepts. The only hint we’ve ever seen of Wolverine’s original comic book mask was a brief shot in an alternate ending for THE WOLVERINE.
What’s more, Singer and crew cast against type. After nearly going with Dougray Scott, who had to back out of X-MEN due to delays on MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 2, the filmmakers chose the rugged and handsome Hugh Jackman to play the X-Men’s “runt,” Wolverine. Jackman was such a success in the role that, for a time, Marvel Comics attempted to modify Wolverine, always a short, stocky guy on the page, to make him more like his big-screen iteration.
When Jean Grey debuted in the pages of “The X-Men” #1, she wore yellow and blue spandex — the sort of costume gently mocked in the team’s first movie. Over a decade later, the character evolved into Phoenix-clad Jean, in a glam rock-ready green and gold suit with shiny gloves, high boots and even a gold sash at her waist. (David Bowie would have looked great in the Phoenix outfit.) Soon after, Jean’s bleak evolution into Dark Phoenix saw the green change to red, while the gold accessories were too good to give up.
All of which means the Phoenix costumes are not exactly movie-ready. In DARK PHOENIX, Sophie Turner does get to wear a version of the early blue and yellow suit — it’s one of the most comics-accurate costumes in the film series so far. Her transformation into her far more powerful alter-ego is mostly accompanied by street clothes, the better to emphasize that her new persona isn’t exactly heroic. And while her final Dark Phoenix incarnation is garbed in a somewhat practical red coat with no shiny gold boots and gloves, we will see the phoenix-shaped burst of energy that was so vividly depicted in the original comics by artist John Byrne.
Captain America has been a stalwart comic book character since even before Marvel Comics existed. (The character debuted in 1941 in “Captain America Comics” #1, published by Marvel’s precursor, Timely Comics.) The star-spangled hero has remained remarkably consistent over the years. Sure, there have been some variations and evolution, but Cap always looks like Cap.
The MCU’s Steve Rogers was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, and Marvel really wasn’t confident his costume would translate well to the big screen. His costume was deliberately designed to be something of a joke, since the super-soldier was originally used for war propaganda. It wasn’t until CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER that Marvel seemed to become confident about Cap, lifting a design straight from his “Heroic Age” costume, hailing from comics of the last decade. In that era, Steve Rogers had taken over as director of S.H.I.E.L.D., handing over the mantle of Captain America to Bucky. He ditched the classic look — even the shield — and took up a darker costume more suited to spy craft. It was the perfect look for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, which is rich with espionage-themed subplots. The film just muted the tones a little bit more than the comics did.
There’s always been a provocative aspect to Harley Quinn. Even in “Batman: The Animated Series,” she’d say things like, “Wanna rev up your Harley?” Over time, that’s increased, with the comic book incarnation of the costume becoming ever-more skimpy and her relationship with the Joker taking on charged overtones. The classic “Arkham Asylum” video game emphasized that side of Harley in 2009, a pattern followed by her “New 52” redesign in comic books starting in 2011.
SUICIDE SQUAD director David Ayer clearly liked that approach. His version of Harley wore the traditional red-and-white color scheme, but that was about all she had in common with any comic book incarnations. It was a hit, in part because Ayer cast Margot Robbie for the part and played heavily upon her sex appeal. Robbie, however, might have other ideas. The upcoming film BIRDS OF PREY, which will be Harley’s next big-screen outing, will feature a very different costume design — and with it probably a significantly altered character.
Iron Man has become the flagship superhero of the MCU; it’s heartbreaking to imagine the MCU without him. For Marvel Studios, Iron Man’s prominence has been an absolute gift. Every film has featured at least one new version of Tony Stark’s iconic armor, meaning the studio could make big bucks through merchandising. For AVENGERS: ENDGAME, Marvel did something special. Stark’s main suit in the film is the Mark 85, which was designed as a nod to the character’s past.
We don’t actually see many of the Mark 85’s capabilities — it can turn invisible, project photonic shields, and has a cool weapon for Thor to power — but in truth, it’s the look that matters. The design is deliberately evocative of Iron Man’s classic “Shellhead” appearance in the comics, albeit more sleek. The most interesting difference is the central shape; that’s because in the comics, Stark’s armor is powered by an Arc Reactor, whereas after AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR, the MCU version has been powered by experimental tech called an RT node. (That said, the triangular chest shape calls back to the mid ’80s Iron Man, when he wore a suit originally designed for Rhodey.)
We had seen several on-screen versions of the Caped Crusader long before Zack Snyder got to put his own version into action in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE. Snyder’s bulky Batman has some visual ties to designs seen in the “Arkham Asylum” games and many other incarnations of the character.
One of the most significant parts of the film, however — when Batman dons custom armor to battle Superman — took direct inspiration from Frank Miller’s classic “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book miniseries. That was set in a dystopian future and featured one of the most famous instances of Batman and Superman going head-to-head. Fittingly, BATMAN V SUPERMAN faithfully adapts the classic Batman armor, right down to the ominous glowing white eyes. It’s the perfect tribute.
Not every character is easy to adapt, and Marvel had to switch things up for Falcon more than most. In the comics, he’s essentially Captain America’s sidekick, known for both his wings and his ability to speak to birds. Falcon has enjoyed (and/or suffered) a wide array of costume choices over the years, from bright and colorful concepts to the more military-inspired duds of the “Ultimate” line.
In the MCU, Sam Wilson is an elite paratrooper who worked with experimental tech and had proved himself on the frontlines in combat zones long before he crossed paths with Captain America. As such, the MCU’s Falcon wears a clearly military uniform — inspired by that “Ultimate” look — and his wings have been drastically redesigned to make them far more realistic.
Finally, let’s take a look at one of Marvel’s most interesting adaptations: Spider-Man — and specifically the Iron Spider outfit. In the comics, Peter Parker was given this costume when he sided with Tony Stark during the superhero Civil War. It was deliberately designed to emphasize the fact he was on Team Tony, with a unique red-and-gold color scheme. Curiously, although it had cool waldoes (those are the long spider-like arms), it originally only had three of them.
Marvel knew the Iron Spider costume had to fit in sometime before AVENGERS: ENDGAME. It’s far too popular not to put on screen, and the concept fits perfectly with the MCU. There was a problem, however. The MCU version of Spider-Man is essentially a new character; making him look too much like Iron Man wouldn’t do. As a result, the MCU Iron Spider is a traditional Spider-Man outfit, albeit with a modernized, metallic edge. And there are four waldoes, which makes a lot more sense than the comic book design, given that it means Spider-Man has eight appendages, not seven. And the Iron Spider plays right into the big emotional arc created for Spider-Man and Tony Stark, making the adaptation a uniquely effective one.