Avengers: Journey From Comics to Movies

On Thursday evening in the Hyatt Regency V Ballroom, Tony Barletta, Van Allen Plexico, and Michael R. Bailey discussed the Avengers’ development in media beyond comics. The pickings were slim for Avengers fans prior to the development of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). As examples, the panelists offered a slide showing early live-action and animated television features. One of the more interesting images was one of Reb Brown as Captain America. He wore a cowl that was actually a motorcycle helmet, which was fitting since he was perched on a red, white, and blue motorcycle. The motorcycle windshield was his shield, and it actually had pop-our glider wings.

The illustration of the animated series Avengers: United They Stand didn’t include Iron Man, Captain America, or Thor because the series didn’t have rights to them. The panel showing Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk and Eric Allan Kramer as Thor was starkly lit, and the panelists joked that Thor resembled a movie Viking warrior.

An otherwise-forgettable series from the 1990s, Heroes Reborn, included the Avengers are part of SHIELD, a development that showed up again in the MCU. In the early 2000s, the comics produced the New Avengers, which Brian Michael Bendis wrote, and The Ultimates, which included some of the Avengers and was written by Mark Millar. The Ultimates was set outside main continuity, in a world closely resembling contemporary society of the time. The panelists considered all the characters in The Ultimates jerks, describing Captain America as resembling the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino. Hank Pym sprayed his wife with bug spray.

When the current MCU launched, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Avengers were the bottom of the barrel for Marvel sales, so there was no issue with signing over the rights to them for movie. Many aspects of the MCU draw on Millar’s The Ultimates, but with better personalities. Captain America, for example, more resembles the Ed Brubaker and Mark Gruenwald’s version of the character, a guy who is no-nonsense and will always do the right thing.

Unlike earlier adaptations of the comics, the movies were produced by a Marvel brain trust. For the first time, producers talked to comic book writers. This communication helped get the details right. By the time they made Captain America: The Winter Soldier in 2014, the universe had gelled. The characters were more polished than they had been in earlier entries like Iron Man 2, Thor 2, and Age of Ultron.

The first Thor film used the best of Walt Simonson and J. Michael Straczynski, who was one of the film’s writers, and was directed by Shakespearean actor Kenneth Branagh. Bailey said the first scene of that movie made him feel as though he was five years old again. The third film was more like Guardians of the Galaxy 1.5, but its new direction got people excited.

Barletta said the key is giving the audience a comic book on the screen, embracing the comics conventions and not being embarrassed about them. The panelists particularly enjoyed Professor Hulk in Endgame. That version of the character has his roots in the comic. Bailey liked Hulk’s “I’m always angry” line. He felt it captured the essence of the character.

Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury was straight out of a scene in The Ultimates. The characters were discussing who would play them in a movie, and Nick Fury picked Jackson. SHIELD agent Maria Hill was a Brian M. Bendis creation. Although she started in a minor role, she went on to become an important character.

Plexico said Iron Man had been a favorite since 1977, so he was pleased to have the character kick off the MCU and serve as the center of the Avengers. With Endgame, Marvel showed they weren’t afraid to shake things up. The movie’s ending tells the audience anything is possible.

Author of the article

Nancy Northcott is the Comics Track Director for ConTinual. She's also a lifelong fan of comics, science fiction, fantasy, and history. Her published works include the Boar King's Honor historical fantasy trilogy and the Arachnid Files romantic suspense series. Collaborating with Jeanne Adams, she also writes the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series.