For just over a decade Marvel Comics has managed to successfully bring a variety of their properties to the big-screen, such as Spider-Man, the X-Men, and now the Avengers, opening this week in North America. And although these movies have enjoyed a fair amount of success, there is a dark side to their popularity, and that is the impact of these films upon the comics from which their characters originally came from.
Comic books are unique in terms of how they react to the popularity of movies based upon them, or more specifically, Marvel Comics. In 2000, X-Men was released, expanding upon the franchise’s popularity, but featured certain changes that were made in order to ensure that audiences took the characters seriously. The most visible change was the X-Men’s costumes, as they lost the colourful spandex and instead gained black leather costumes. The change makes sense for a movie context, but within the year the black leather costumes had migrated into the comics. Mystique and Toad both had makeovers in the comics so that their appearance and powers would match up with the characters as presented in the X-Men movie.
This was just the first instance of Marvel editorial deciding that it made sense to migrate an alteration made to make the movies work back into the comics. From that point onwards, comic fans became wary of changes that would be made in movies based upon their favourite characters, because they now felt like it was only a matter of time before those changes found their way into the comics, changing those favourite characters. This fear was borne out when Spider-Man was released in 2002, as Spider-Man had organic web-shooters instead of mechanical web-shooters. Within two years, Spider-Man mutated in the comics, and now had organic web-shooters instead of needing his mechanical web-shooters. After Spider-Man 2, Doctor Octopus’ depiction went through changes as well, as he no longer looked his traditional bowl-cut self, but instead started to look similar to Alfred Molina, who played the character in the movie. Eventually, some of these changes were reversed, as the movies became less current and relevant, and the comics reasserted themselves, with Mystique taking back her original appearance, same as Toad, and the X-Men went back to wearing their spandex costumes when Joss Whedon took over writing the team in Astonishing X-Men.
So why do I even bring up all these things? Because it’s the sad fact that although I love the movies based upon Marvel Comics characters and properties, I am always wary about big changes that are made for the movies, not because of the changes themselves, but because I fear those changes worming their way back into the comics themselves, where they don’t really belong. A couple years ago my favourite Avengers character, Clint Barton, Hawkeye, took back his costumed identity after years spent as the character Ronin, and wore his traditional purple costume. In the alternate Ultimate Comics reality, Hawkeye is an agent of SHIELD, who wears a costume more in line with what an agent of SHIELD would wear. When the movie started production, I liked the way that Hawkeye looked in the trailers, etc, because they adapted the Ultimate Comics depiction of the character, which made more sense in a movie than a bright purple costume. But just a few months ago, for no reason whatsoever, the decision was made to change Hawkeye’s costume into something resembling that of his movie counterpart, despite Ultimate Hawkeye already having a visual that was quite similar. After years of hoping that Hawkeye would get his purple costume back, it proved far too short-lived, because it was time to cash in on the character’s look in the movies, despite there already being a version of the character that looked that way.
But the most egregious affront to my comic reader sensibilities is what has happened as a result of Battle Scars #6, released April 25
. The Battle Scars mini-series, when it first started, promised to introduce a new character to the Marvel Universe who would play a big part in the universe going forwards, but didn’t give much sense of what that really meant or entailed. But as the series continued, it became blatantly obvious just what Marvel was up to, as it was revealed that Marcus Johnson, Army Ranger, was actually the son of Nick Fury. Once this revelation was made, it became clear that the character was being shoe-horned into the Marvel Universe to give it a black Nick Fury character, since that character was about to play a leading role in the Avengers movie. Knowing that was one thing, but when the character got his eye gouged, so that he was missing the same eye that his father and the movie Nick Fury are missing, I groaned pretty loudly. But after the last issue, I just couldn’t hold in my disgust, as it was revealed that Marcus Johnson’s true name was Nick Fury Jr., and suddenly he shaved his head and grew Sam Jackson’s goatee. And to top it all off, his partner throughout the series, heretofore known as “Cheese”, was revealed to actually be Agent Coulson, marking the character’s debut in the Marvel Universe proper. Considering that the Ultimate Nick Fury was patterned off of Sam Jackson in the first place, both in personality and visual, giving rise to Sam Jackson’s portrayal of the character in the movies, it really bothers me to see the character shoehorned so awkwardly into the Marvel Universe, displacing a character who has decades of appearances under his belt. The Nick Fury I enjoy reading about, and who headlined my favourite Marvel series of the past decade, Secret Warriors, has now been written out of the Marvel Universe, more or less, stripped of his Infinity Formula, to make way for this new Nick Fury. Part of what makes Nick Fury so enjoyable as a character is his long history with the Marvel Universe, his being the ultimate superspy, whereas his son has none of that history or importance, and isn’t even Director of SHIELD like his Ultimate Universe counterpart. The inclusion of Agent Coulson doesn’t necessarily bother me, as I expected him to be introduced at some point anyways, I just wish it wouldn’t have been done in such a ridiculous manner as it was here, as he was just a Ranger, instead of a pre-existing agent of SHIELD, and he could have been any other new character. There’s nothing about this version of Coulson that makes him feel like or seem like the movie version of the character, so what is the point of even introducing the character, if just to have two characters looking like their movie versions palling together?
For all the success that Marvel movies have had thus far, I just wish that Marvel’s editors would stop trying to change the characters in the comics to better fit with their movie counterparts. It’s the only medium I can think of where changes made in the film are then retrofitted back onto the original source material. It’s an insult to long-time fans of the characters and properties, especially given some of the changes and alterations, and this most recent change is the most egregious. The existence of the Ultimate Universe made replacing Nick Fury in the mainstream universe unnecessary, and yet they did it anyway, pushing aside a long-standing character with tons of fans, and great potential as a continuing character in the Marvel Universe. The new version of the character brings none of the same class and history to the Marvel Universe, and is yet another example of a greater epidemic that is caused by successful movies based on Marvel Comics properties. Welcome to the Marvel Universe, Phil Coulson & Nick Fury Jr. Hope we survive the experience.