5 Comic Book C-Listers That Deserved More From Movie Adaptations
The sprawling, mercurial, and often contradictory nature of comic book continuity means that adapting characters into another medium is, necessarily, going to involve shortcuts and reimaginings. By this point, we've all become accustomed to seeing the general idea of our favorite superwhoever translated to the screen, even if the specifics -- and tight leather outfits -- are a little wonky.
Sometimes, though, new versions of old characters miss the mark so completely that you've got to wonder who drunkenly "fixed" Wikipedia five minutes before the producers did their homework -- especially when it comes to comicdom's lesser-known heroes and villains. Because while turning Spider-Man into a middle-aged slacker is a heralded change-of-pace, and turning Batman into a bat-branding murderer is internet furor for weeks, C-list characters get screwed with all the time, and no one notices. Entire personalities and comic-book histories are erased because someone only cared that the name sounded cool.
And we're not just talking about out-of-control, FANT4STIC-level shitfires here. Some of the most egregious of these reinventions are hidden in otherwise beloved movies and TV shows. Just look at ...
Jimmy Olsen (Supergirl)
In the comics, Jimmy Olsen is Superman's pal and the literal definition of a sidekick. For almost a century now, he's existed almost exclusively to be put in danger and then get rescued. A cub reporter and photojournalist for the Daily Planet, Olsen's almost always been portrayed as an aw-shucks goon who looks up to Clark Kent and Lois Lane professionally, and Superman aspirationally.
Even when he headlined his own comic, he was still kind of a hapless goof, regularly getting turned into animals or hurled through time. For a while, he tried to solve crimes on his own, making a point of not calling Superman for help -- only for Supes to show up and bail him out anyway. More recent comics have given him a little more agency, but he's still just "a guy with a camera and a strong moral compass."
Because -- and this is arguably Jimmy Olsen's one defining trait across the decades –– he isn't a superhero. Even when he occasionally is.
So what did the CW's Supergirl do? They turned Jimmy Olsen into an armored vigilante. Specifically, they gave him the mantle of the Guardian, an entirely different character with his own entirely different comic history that was also being ignored. Presumably, this was because the show had already accidentally created their own Jimmy Olsen in Winn Schott but still felt the need to do something with the real Jimmy Olsen, even if it was the least Jimmy Olsen thing possible.
That's still better than Olsen's DCEU incarnation, by the way. Superman's best buddy was turned into a stoic CIA agent that exploded. He wasn't even named in the movie; Zack Snyder had to be goaded into revealing it during an interview -- with a, shall we say, decidedly supervillainous glee.
Hela And Valkyrie (Thor: Ragnarok)
Look, let's get this out of the way first: Cate Blanchett's Hela and Tessa Thompson's Valkyrie were some of the best parts of a movie crowded with them. But both of those characters have almost nothing in common with their comic book counterparts besides the names and costumes, and that's a bummer.
Hela, the comic character, has been around for almost as long as Thor. Based on actual Norse mythology, she's the ruler of two different underworlds and constantly trying to make it three. She's the daughter of Loki and a frost giant, and she's also sister to Fenris, the giant wolf. Among her many exploits, she's killed Odin, killed Thor, worked with Thor, hooked up with Thanos, and palled around with the likes of Dormammu and Mephisto. She's resurrected almost as many souls as she's taken, including Odin's, because she's not a monster and is, in fact, a multifaceted goddess of antiquity who does what she wants. Nobody -- except for that one time she was briefly mind-controlled by Nazis -- puts Hela in a corner.
Thor: Ragnarok, meanwhile, starts with Hela in a corner, locked away for most of creation. Instead being a vaguely reasonable being just trying to do her best for Hel, she's a revenge-fueled murder-lady who's good with knives. Her entire comics' -- and Old Norse -- backstory is erased, replaced with one "borrowed" from another character entirely: Angela, a character originally created for Spawn, who Neil Gaiman sold to Marvel cause he was pissed over Todd McFarlane's shadiness. Marvel then turned Angela into Thor's long-lost sister, who escapes from her imprisonment in another realm. Sound familiar?
While we're here, let's talk about Valkyrie too. Again, Tessa Thompson was great, but her Valkyrie is a wholly original creation. The original comics' Valkyrie -- a.k.a. Brunnhilde -- was, like Hela, lifted from Norse myth and, unlike Hela, also from Wagner's opera Der Ring des Nibelungen. As a result, she's got a long and tangled history with Thor. She was also an avowed feminist, a mainstay of the Defenders through the '70s and '80s, and, thanks to Amora the Enchantress and some spirit-swapping, had at least five human alter-egos -- one of whom she was also in a relationship with. Nowhere along the way was she a depressed lone-survivor of a Valkyrie massacre.
Also? A Valkyrie that looks exactly like the comics' Brunnhilde was shown in flashback and then immediately murdered. Seems like a weird choice if Thompson was already playing Brunnhilde. And, also also? Why didn't they give Thompson's Valkyrie a real name? That'd be like calling an army guy Army Guy all the time.
Come to think of it, the entire concept of Ragnarok -- the long-prophesied, literal end of the Asgardian world -- kinda got short shrift in the movie, too. Ragnarok is what all of Norse mythology builds to, and it was treated with equal gravity in the comics. We're talking multi-part arcs with Thor repeatedly trying to stop it and very much a doom-and-gloom vibe all over the place. It should have had the starkness and heaviness of Thanos snapping away half the universe. But Thor: Ragnarok spent most of the movie on a garbage planet, then just screamed "wolf fight!" as an entire alien race gets on a space bus.
I mean, it was a pretty good wolf fight, though ...
Scarecrow And Clayface (Harley Quinn)
HBO Max's animated Harley Quinn is amazing. It's a goofy, raunchy good time that gets a lot more right than it does wrong, taking the proverbial piss out of DC's live-action self-seriousness while also sort of being a sequel to the old Batman: The Animated Series. And maybe Batman: The Brave and the Bold, too. Just with a lot more f-bombs and skin melting. The cartoon necessarily reinvents a lot along the way, and mostly with success. Ron Funches voicing a slacker/hacker King Shark? Brilliant. Poison Ivy channeling her inner Daria? Perfect. But the show's not without its stumbles.
Scarecrow -- the primary villain of Batman Begins and one of Batman's long-standing rogues, and, arguably, maybe more a B-lister -- is essentially reduced to Joker's lackey. He's got a few moments as a creepy genius here and there, but mostly his time is spent sucking up to another villain. On the unofficial wiki, the Joker is listed as his boss. And then he's killed for the crime of trying to be more like Harley. That is a waste of both Scarecrow and his voice actor Rahul Kohli.
Clayface, meanwhile, is a nigh-unstoppable threat turned into a breathtakingly incapable idiot. Look, Clayface is an invulnerable master of disguise that, in a kids' cartoon, nearly suffocated Batman. In the comics, he absorbed Wonder Woman. Batman's repeatedly had to develop new tech to fight him. He's goddamn terrifying. But in Harley Quinn, he can barely shapeshift without breaking into song.
In a world where frigging Kite Man -- hell yeah! -- can have growth and pathos, we expected more.
Banshee (X-Men: First Class)
Though he occasionally bordered on a Lucky Charms-esque caricature, Banshee has nonetheless been a stalwart part of the X-Men comic books for decades. A former Interpol agent and NYPD officer, he's also perpetually middle-aged, from his first appearance in the sixties until his recent rebirth on Krakoa. Being older is kind of his whole deal; he's always there in the background, crossing his arms and shaking his head and chuckling gently. He's someone for Professor X to talk to and, presumably, gripe about "the youth" and their "baggy pants" and their "ePhones" with.
Banshee was also more of an ally than an X-Man, only officially joining the team for a couple of years. Mostly he spent his time hanging out with Moira MacTaggert and acting as a mentor and leader to various other short-lived X-groups. Because, again, his defining traits are his sonic scream and having Big Dad Energy. That's still a thing we're saying, right?
X-Men: First Class turned Banshee into a cowardly teenager, struggling with his powers. Which, no, that's not who he is, or ever was, but also? Banshee has a twentysomething daughter they could have used instead. (See: forever in his 40s, above.) Why screw with Banshee when Siryn already exists? When there's a mathematically impossible number of teenage mutants out there, just waiting for their moment to shine?
Obviously, I get the desire to put Banshee in a movie, to try and elevate him into the top tier of merry Marvel mutants. But if you're going to reimagine him, it's as a tired, PTSD-stricken former superhero, ala Matt Fraction's Hawkeye run. (Which, by the way, dibs. Marvel, my inbox is open.)
Anyway, to make matters even worse, X-Men: Days of Future Past revealed that their Banshee was killed offscreen in between movies because even the best X-Men movies kind of suck a little. Sean Cassidy deserves better.
Hellcat (Jessica Jones)
Hellcat is Marvel's best character, hands-down, full-stop. Eat shit, Spider-Man. Choke on an elephant's asshole, Wolverine. Hellcat's literally older than Marvel Comics, but she's been done dirty by them too many times, most egregiously when her live-action counterpart was finally superheroized during Jessica Jones' final season.
It was more egregious than when they did this to her.
Introduced as Patsy Walker, she was the star of a teen-oriented romance comic when Marvel was still Timely, before being brought into Earth-616 proper during an issue of the Fantastic Four in 1965. This cute little cameo turned into a recurring role, and by 1976, Patsy was divorcing her idiot husband, blackmailing Beast into joining an Avengers mission, and then stealing a costume and telling Captain America and Iron Man to piss off. Hellcat was born.
That was a certifiably badass introduction, and Hellcat soon made her way over to the Defenders, becoming a mainstay of the team. She had her own Hellcatmobile! She trained in martial arts on Saturn's moon! But then she fell into an abusive relationship with the literal Son of Satan and was driven to suicide because Marvel does not have the best track record when it comes to female superheroes. While in Hell, she pulled a Hulk and got involved in gladiatorial combat, developed psychic abilities, and then tricked Hawkeye into returning her to Earth, giving the finger to Dormammu, the same extradimensional entity that killed Doctor Strange, like, a thousand times.
During Marvel's weird "50 States Initiative," Hellcat was sent to Alaska and had an adventure that bordered on a drug trip with yeti and talking rabbits, and it was amazing. Still, no one ever talks about it, and that's a shame. She came back and started a job placement agency for superheroes and reformed supervillains because her true superpower is optimism and a positive attitude. And, also, y'know, catlike agility, space martial arts, psychic powers, and having grappling-hook claws. Also, briefly, the ability to sneeze and rewrite reality.
Anyway, Jessica Jones decided to turn her into a bloodthirsty vigilante in at least the fourth rehash of the "heroes don't kill!" storyline in as many years. She was also just kind of insufferable. And Netflix also decided not to put her in the Defenders miniseries because they're all idiots, and no wonder that entire corner of the MCU got canceled. You did this to yourselves, Daredevilverse.
Eirik Gumeny is the author of the Exponential Apocalypse series, a five-book saga of slacker superheroes, fart jokes, and assorted B-movie monsters, and he recently added werewolves and assassins to The Great Gatsby. And he wasn't joking about that Banshee thing, Marvel. You can find him on Twitter.
Top Image: Marvel