6 Big Marvel Characters No One Cared About Before The Movies
Iron Man, Nick Fury, Hawkeye's presumably resentful secret wife -- these are just some of the characters who live in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, that fictional realm we all pay to get fleeting peeks of from time to time. But while Marvel's heavy hitters are hailed as beloved cultural icons now, that wasn't always the case. In fact, much like Robert Downey Jr. himself, some were in a pretty bad place before 2008. Like how ...
Nobody Wanted To Make Iron Man Movies Or Toys Before RDJ
Even a Kevin James movie about, say, a firefighter with explosive diarrhea would make upwards of a billion dollars if Iron Man somehow appeared in it, but it wasn't always like that. Before forming their own studio, Marvel's cinematic potential seemed unlikely even to Stan Lee, who sold off his movie points in 1998 for $10 million -- which in retrospect is a little like trading your Apple stock for a jar of magic beans and a tattered copy of Hustler.
In Lee's defense, the movie rights to most of Marvel's most popular characters belonged to other studios, and the characters they retained weren't exactly hot commodities. To give you an example, the '90s found Iron Man getting passed from studio to studio, each of which declined to do anything with him. Meanwhile, in the comics he becomes a villain who straight up starts killing Avengers. Turns out he's been brainwashed, so the rest of the Avengers decide the best way to stop him is to ... no, not un-brainwash him. They go back in time and recruit Tony's teenage self to fight his present-day incarnation. It doesn't go well.
Tony Classic ends up dying, paving the way for Teen Tony to stay in the present and take over his adult life. Yup, Iron Man basically died and was resurrected as a teenager, like some cross between the New Testament and a copy of Tiger Beat. Because this was dumb as hell, the writers eventually brought old Tony back through vague retroactive magic. He still felt bad about all those murders, though.
To show you how little of a crap anyone gave about Iron Man at the time, Marvel didn't re-acquire the character's film rights by writing a check; they simply waited until New Line Cinema let them expire after years of not bothering to make an Iron Man movie. So why start their cinematic universe with him? It had less to do with the merits of the character and more to do with the fact that they gathered groups of children, showed them pictures of superheroes, and asked them which one they would most like to play with as a toy.
This strategy backfired when it turned out that no companies wanted to make or even stock Iron Man toys, because who or what the hell is an Iron Man? See, Marvel held focus groups during which they learned that most people thought Iron Man was a robot, not a functioning alcoholic inside a suit. They even produced a series of short films for the sole purpose of raising "awareness" and illustrating that there was definitely a guy in there ...
... or, you know, some type of dead-eyed Polar Express android. And that's how this multi-billion-dollar movie universe got started.
Thor's First Movie "Appearance" Happened Because No Other Superheroes Were Available
Thor, the Asgardian warrior who looks a cheap harlequin paperback model, has become an enduring and lucrative movie character, like Luke Skywalker or those people from Avatar who totally have names. So it's interesting to look back and see how little people once cared about the guy. Take Thor's first big-screen appearance ... sort of. The '80s comedy Adventures In Babysitting features a Thor-obsessed young girl who meets a mechanic she believes is Thor, despite the fact that he looks more like Mike Myers in Wayne's World.
One might take this storyline as evidence of Thor's popularity, but in reality, it was the exact opposite. In the original script, the girl had a "crush" on the decidedly less muscular and godlike Dan Rather, because she was a "news junkie." Thankfully, even in the '80s, someone realized that sounded creepy as hell, and it was changed to He-Man, then eventually Spider-Man. Marvel's response to a request to use Spider-Man in a babysitting farce was a firm "no," and the same went for Captain America, Wolverine, Daredevil, and even Iron Man. Finally, Marvel countered with "We've got this Thor guy. Take him and use him and do whatever you want with it. It doesn't matter to us." It was the intellectual property equivalent of finding a job for your deadbeat cousin.
Then, in the early '90s, Sam Raimi partnered with Stan Lee to pitch a real Thor film to Fox, only for the confused executives to dismiss it as "some Hercules movie." Even after X-Men jump-started the superhero genre, Thor was merely primed for a TV special on UPN (UPN!), which was eventually scrapped. Comic book Thor was going through similar indignities. In 1996, Marvel redesigned his look with longer hair and a bare midriff, making him look like some kind of post-apocalyptic Christina Aguilera. Then they killed him off, presumably out of pity.
Even just before his 2011 movie hit theaters, they were subjecting him to humiliation. In the 2010 New Ultimates series, Thor dies (again) and goes to Valhalla, where the evil Hela tells him he can go back to Earth if he ... knocks her up. Making it extra awkward, Thor's grieving girlfriend is then shown a magical vision of him cheating on her in Viking Heaven.
Thor ends up trying to kill Hela for reneging on their deal, but the next day she's suddenly nine months pregnant, either because time flows differently in the afterlife or Asgardian sperm is incredibly efficient.
In retrospect, this is all extra gross because the movie versions of Thor and Hela are siblings. And speaking of gross sibling funny business ...
Scarlet Witch And Quicksilver Were Totally Doing It
Bizarrely, the biggest dispute for a Marvel character's movie rights was fought over Quicksilver, whose powers are "not-quite-as-fast-as-Flash super speed" and "premature graying." As you might remember, he showed up in both Fox's X-Men series and the MCU. While Marvel's version of Quicksilver was promptly bumped off to satiate Joss Whedon's fervent bloodlust, his sister Scarlet Witch ended up becoming an important part of the franchise, with her impressive power to manipulate reality and randomly stop speaking in an Eastern European accent.
All of which is surprising, because the history of these two characters is ... odd. Sure, the twins were sired by Magneto, but they were raised by an anthropomorphic cow.
Even after the saga of Bova the Midwife, Marvel's handling of these characters was next-level crazy. The Ultimate Universe versions of them were continually implied to be in some kind incestuous relationship, like with the cover in which they're clearly sharing a sensual tango inside an electrical storm.
After the Ultimates series changed hands, this moved beyond suggestion. When Captain America is surprised at how angrily Quicksilver defends his sister, we get the gross revelation that they're "in love" (creepy emphasis in the original).
This is followed by the ickiest use of onomatopoeia in human history:
A later issue went full Lannister and showed the twins getting frisky in the woods, while Wolverine of all people hides in some bushes and watches like an adamantium-infused skeezeball.
And all this wasn't written by a crazed fan who conned their way into the Marvel office one day. It was penned by Jeph Loeb, who wrote movies like Teen Wolf and currently heads Marvel's TV department. Meaning that concocting a story wherein two superpowered twins bone each other was, insanely, the pathway to a promotion.
Ant-Man Was A Wife-Punching Jerk, And Almost Got A Movie In The '80s Solely To Spite Disney
Ant-Man wasn't always all adorably Paul-Rudd-like. Long before his first movie, before even his first live-action appearance on Saturday Night Live, the original Ant-Man, Hank Pym, was a total creep. In one of his most famous storylines, it's Pym (under the new identity Yellowjacket) who creates the murder-bot Ultron. When his wife points out that this is a terrible idea, he hits her.
Despite the fact that the guy was sometimes an abusive jerk, someone did try to make an Ant-Man movie back in the '80s -- not because anyone particularly liked the character, but because a rival studio wanted to stick it to Disney, which was about to make Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (then embarrassingly titled Teenie Weenies). By rushing Ant-Man into production, they hoped to "beat Disney to the punch of a shrinking story," and "no one would ever know who had the idea first."
While the spite-fueled version of the movie fell through, Ant-Man eventually made it to the big-screen -- again, not because Marvel particularly wanted it, but because Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright was pitching the idea to studios as far back as 2004. While other studios passed, the new Marvel Studios agreed, and announced the movie at Comic-Con two years before Iron Man had even come out. The long wait sure was worth it for Wright, who ended up leaving the movie in 2015 after Marvel shot down all his ideas.
Meanwhile, the comic had gotten kinda ... pervy. In a new series written by The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman, the "Irredeemable Ant-Man" is an outright antihero who not only steals, but also spies on fellow superheroes in the shower.
While the movie took certain elements from this series, it obviously didn't import racier moments, such Ant-Man travelling via Black Widow's cleavage.
While Irredeemable Ant-Man was generally well-received, it was canceled after only 12 issues -- perhaps not coincidentally, not long after the movie announcement. It's certainly possible that Marvel may not have wanted one of their new family-friendly movie heroes gawking at naked women like ... well, Wolverine.
Doctor Strange Played Baseball With Demons, And His Head Randomly Exploded
Despite the fact that the idea of a mustachioed loner lounging around a New York apartment in a cape sounds super depressing on paper, Doctor Strange has always been a popular character. In the '80s and '90s, acclaimed filmmakers such as Wes Craven and Alex Cox tried and failed to make Doctor Strange movies. The psychedelia of Strange will always be tied to the '60s, but that hasn't stopped Marvel from trying to find ways to keep the character relevant. Be it a Twisted Sister-like '80s makeover ...
... or, in what thankfully didn't torpedo the entire franchise, a 2010 comic that found Strange attending a baseball game, where he immediately falls victim to some serious nacho cheese spillage.
Finally, he ends up battling against demons. Sorry, we meant batting. In a game of baseball.
Doctor Strange was also in the Ultimate Marvel comics, where he is horribly murdered. While it's not unusual to kill off a beloved character in a comic, here they did it in the most embarrassingly silly yet brutally violent way. Dormammu ties Strange up with his own cape ...
... and squeezes him until his head pops like a balloon full of Ragu.
Maybe it would be less horrifying with more whimsical harpsichord music, who knows?
Groot Was A Monster Who Terrorized Spider-Man's Dreams
Proving that people like Vin Diesel best when you can't see him and he can only mutter the same three words, one of the most beloved characters in the MCU is Groot, the tree-man (and later tree-baby) from Guardians Of The Galaxy. As we've mentioned, though, Groot wasn't originally a fan favorite, and began as a giant turd-looking evil monster.
It wasn't just his origin story. Groot continued as a villain in the Marvel-verse, fighting Hulk ...
... and even showing up in a Spider-Man comic, but only as a nightmare Peter Parker had as a child. That's right, Marvel used to charge children money to read about their favorite superhero's childhood anxieties -- in this case, monsters attacking him and Uncle Ben during a fishing trip.
In 2005, only a few years before the MCU kicked off, Groot was part of a gang of monsters that went full Godzilla on the world. And similarly, he joined Nick Fury's Howling Commandos, fighting alongside literal vampires and werewolves. The point is, Marvel was happy portraying Groot as a horrible monster until 2008. The same year that Marvel kicked off their cinematic universe also found them rebooting Guardians Of The Galaxy, an obscure comic starring a completely different bunch of characters, into the version of the team we see today.
Which, in retrospect, kind of seems like Marvel was trying to reverse-engineer a movie franchise by radically reworking existing characters they retained the rights to in order to fill the void left by iconic superhero teams they didn't, namely the X-Men and the Fantastic Four. So with Groot, they turned an amoral wooden horror into a likable hero -- essentially the exact opposite of DC's strategy.
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