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Top 10 times the MCU improved the comics

Despite the creative cleverness and fresh ingenuity of Marvel figureheads and directors like Kevin Feige, Jon Favreau, James Gunn, and the Russo Brothers, the widespread success and growth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe still began with the kernel of the comics. While the MCU has stayed relatively true to its source material, they’ve also taken their fair share of liberties.

While more hardcore Marvel fans might still be salty about Sony’s recent acquisition of Spider-Man, the glaring lack of mutants in the films, or how the Mandarin was cheekily sidestepped in “Iron Man 3,” there’s a lot of decisions the team has made that vastly improved the comic origins. Here’s our top 10:

10. Thor isn’t Donald Blake

If your first foray into Asgard was through the MCU then you probably don’t even know the name “Donald Blake.” While Thor was still born and raised an Asgardian in both, his powers and relation with the mystical Mjolnir was very different. In the MCU Thor is sent to Midgard (Earth) to learn humility and respect in the original “Thor.” He knows what he has lost and it’s only when he starts acting like a true hero that he re-earns his powers.

Thor Mjolnir Donald Blake comics Marvel
“soft-spoken and lame” is right

In the comics Odin sends Thor to Earth for much the same reason. The difference? In the comics Thor is further punished by being sent to Earth in the mortal guise of a crippled young medical student named Donald Blake, forced to hobble around on an injured leg. Furthermore he’s completely stripped of his memories, leading to a long stint as a (surprisingly successful) physician and surgeon, similar to Doctor Strange. It’s honestly pretty weird – “Donald Blake” even opened up a private practice in New York. We think it’s definitely for the best that the MCU decided to forego this unnecessary complication to the plot, and instead that Thor learned to be a hero the real way. No mind-wiping necessary.

9. Scott Lang, not Hank Pym

Hank Pym is one of the most important members of the Avengers in the comics: He’s a founding member, the creator of Pym Particles, and even the mind behind the creation of Ultron. Many fans of the comics were upset by his exclusion in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” when in the comics his character played such a pivotal role. Even when Ant-Man finally got a solo movie it wasn’t Hank Pym in the starring role, but rather Scott Lang. Hank Pym’s role is minimal, and he certainly had nothing to do with Ultron. Here’s why:

Hank Pym slap Janet comics
You can’t come back from some things

In the comics Scott Lang does become Ant-Man, and he’s the second guy to take on the mantle, just like it was shown in “Ant-Man.” Why put Hank Pym on the sidelines?

Well, to put it bluntly, it’s because in the comics Hank Pym beat his wife. Not something you’d likely see in a 2019 movie where you’re supposed to like the protagonist. Plus, the MCU already had one genius with a cool suit, they didn’t really need two. It was a lot more fun to see Scott Lang as the guy in the suit while Hank Pym exasperatedly tries to coach him.

8. Everything about Black Panther

Black Panther in the comics was a cool dude. He was the king of a hidden nation, a noble warrior, a humble leader in tune with his ancestry, and a frighteningly capable warrior. So how did the MCU take that character and improve him? By keeping everything we mentioned canon and focusing on improving everything and everyone around him. We could talk about the cool costumes and sleek technology of Wakanda all day, so to keep this short we’ll focus on a few key supporting characters from “Black Panther.”

Marvel Black Panther Lupita Nyong'o Nakia Shuri
Making Lupita Nyong’o a one-shot villain would be an egregious waste of her talents

Let’s start with Nakia. In the movies she plays T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend and a spy for the throne of Wakanda. Strong, compassionate, pragmatic, and forward-thinking she’s largely the reason T’Challa’s family survived Killmonger’s coup.

In the comics, Nakia is strong, too; in fact she’s one of the Dora Milaje. She was also a wife-in-training openly obsessed with marrying T’Challa (she even threw herself 50 feet into a shallow pool just so T’Challa would perform mouth-to-mouth on her). Ew. Definitely not something that would cast her in a good light in the movies. M’Baku was also radically overhauled in the movies, for which we are eternally grateful. Why? Dude was called “Man-Ape” in the comics.

Let’s just leave it at that.

7. Peter Parker is Iron Man’s protegee

Iron Man is a brilliant engineer and inventor. Spider-Man is a smart kid. On top of that, both are costumed superheroes trying to leave a positive mark on the world. It makes perfect sense that Peter would idolize Tony Stark, and that Tony would welcome his talents during a heated disagreement with his former friend, Steve Rogers.

Spider-Man Homecoming AI
We love the Tony-Peter relationship

What makes this improvement such a stroke of genius is that it also means MCU Spider-Man gets to play with all Iron Man’s gadgets and toys. As we saw in “Spider-Man: Homecoming” it’s a clever way for Stark to pass on the torch and keep his character’s influence present in the MCU even after the character has sadly departed.

6. Bucky is awesome

Before Steve Rogers became a super soldier in “Captain America: First Avenger” it was Bucky Barnes who pulled him out of the fire again and again, “’till the end of the line.” Even after receiving the serum, Rogers still played the shy hero with a heart of gold, while Bucky was the more outgoing, confident, older brother figure. This dynamic was one of the key aspects that made “The Winter Soldier” such a compelling film, and gave such weight to Cap’s wanting to protect and redeem his best friend in “Civil War.”

Bucky comics Captain America
My eyes! They bleed!

It’s times like this that we implore you to remember that Bucky was Captain America’s teenage sidekick in the comics. Yeesh. Introduced during a time when Batman and Robin was all the hype, Bucky originally played the part of Steve Rogers’ eager, plucky sidekick and mascot. This version of Bucky also led a team of teenage soldiers called – wait for it – the Kid Commandos. We get the feeling that if this character had fallen off a train in the final act the audience would have burst into applause.

5. War stories

Some might say that the MCU really hit its stride with the release and unprecedented success of the first “Avengers” film. The aftermath of the Chitauri invasion set the stage beautifully for Phase 2, with the effects of the disaster playing an important role in the subsequent chapters. While this isn’t really a choice you can compare with the comics, it was a brilliant way to interweave several of the themes and threads from the comics into a more streamlined, logical order.

Spider-Man Homecoming Vulture
It’s so cool that Vulture’s wings are powered with Chitauri tech

Right off the bat, we see this come into play with “Iron Man 3.” In the comics, Tony Stark had a serious drinking problem (which they addressed with moderate success in “Iron Man 2“) that was a huge hurdle for the character to overcome. This was repainted as severe panic attacks and an obsessive need to protect the planet as a result of realizing how under-prepared they were for what the universe had in store. Speaking of neat segues, this leads right into our next point:

4. I am Iron Man

Aside from making the smart choice to headline the MCU with a character that at the time was lesser-known (which meant a smaller chance to screw up the series!), placing Iron Man at the center was smart for another reason: His personal journey aligns perfectly with the course laid out by Marvel’s first 3 phases. Aside from Robert Downey Jr.’s performance elevating the character to a whole new level of awesome, it’s his relation with the other characters in the MCU that made such an important figure on a more macro level.

Age of Ultron Captain America Tony Stark nightmare hallucination
Tony Stark was never the same after New York

We already talked about how “Avengers” put Tony Stark on a course that plagued him with anxiety. While he recovered on a personal level at the end of “Iron Man 3,” he still carried this with him in all the later movies. He sees a vision of death and destruction in “Age of Ultron” that inspires him to build a shield around the planet. Thus Ultron was born.

He wants to prevent global disasters and champion a more legal, institutionalized grip on superheroes. Thus the Sokovia Accords were introduced and the Civil War ignited.

He carries the weight of Marvel’s first three phases on his shoulders and brings that weight into every story in which he plays a part, adding his signature gravitas and credibility to situations well into “Avengers: Endgame.” We love you 3000, RDJ!

3. Everything about the Guardians of the Galaxy

If you knew who the Guardians of the Galaxy were before 2014 you are a cut from a very different cloth than most. Seriously, even the most hardcore Marvel fans probably didn’t know these oddball characters terribly well, and certainly never thought they’d see the day when they hit the big screen. James Gunn changed all of that with the huge breakout success of the first “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Virtually everything about this corner of the Marvel universe needed a serious overhaul and paint job, and this movie managed to do that with flying colors, injecting its trademark humor, heart, multi-faceted characters, and zany, larger-than-life situations.

Guardians of the Galaxy hallway
The Guardians of the Galaxy magically evolved into one of our favorite teams in Marvel

While Rocket and Groot didn’t change overly much from the comics’ formula, the oblivious and hilarious Drax was a delight to watch, and Star-Lord became the anchor the audience could attach to in an unfamiliar world. Playing rock hits from the ’60s and deeply affected by his mother’s passing, we could immediately sympathize and enjoy the new character. Gamora was perhaps the most important of all, with her ties to Thanos and the Infinity War, but we’ll get into that later.

2. To court Death

Humans “are unruly and therefore cannot be ruled,” The Other said to Thanos in the post-credits scene of Avengers. “To challenge them is to court…Death.” This line probably didn’t mean much to fans unfamiliar with the Infinity Gauntlet storyline, but to those who were, it carried on a whole new context.

In the comics, Thanos was obsessed with Mistress Death, one of the Cosmic Entities of the Marvel Universe. The MCU could have gone a very different direction with his character if they’d stayed true to the comics:

Infinity Gauntlet Thanos
Come on, dude, you’re embarrassing yourself.

Thanos in “Infinity War” was portrayed as a dogmatic futurist set out to carve a universe with plentiful resources, a universe that would know neither famine nor overpopulation. This wasn’t the case at all in the comics; everything he did in the Infinity Gauntlet story arc was for the affections of Mistress Death, a love that was never requited. We’re glad the MCU didn’t go this route in the movies; we’re not sure we could have taken him half as seriously.

1. Everything connects

Our favorite thing about the Marvel Cinematic universe is how everything is seamlessly intertwined. Plot threads often return or are revealed to have had a much deeper impact than we previously thought, and it’s one of the coolest parts of setting up a multi-movie franchise. In that way, it’s actually quite similar to the comics!

Of course, there are a lot of differences in the things the studio chose to connect, like turning the Eye of Agamotto into the Time Stone, having Captain Marvel’s plane inspire Nick Fury into launching the “Avenger Initiative,” or making Red Skull the protector of the Soul Stone.

Avengers: Endgame Hulk Ancient One
Did anyone really expect Hulk to run into the Ancient One?

While the comics had their own connections written throughout the series, drawing different connections between different points made these tie-ins special and exciting even to people who thought they knew Marvel comics inside and out.

Agree with our list? What’s your favorite story line or character from Marvel comics that got a shiny, refurbished paint job for the limelight of the MCU? Let us know in the comments below, and stick with Softonic for all things Marvel!

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