Film and Comic Comparisons – An Exercise in Futility and Frustration

I-Have-An-Issue-Banner‘I Have An Issue’ is a regular opinion column from Kimberley Griffiths, with no fear or favour shown. If you’d like to suggest something for a future column, drop us a line. Also, check out Kimberley’s blog!

Let’s make one thing abundantly clear if it wasn’t already. I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s not exactly a secret – I blather on about the movies all the time, I started MediAvengers, and I participate an awful lot in the fan community on Tumblr. I love the idea of a new, fresh outlook on these incredible stories that have been a part of so many people’s lives. I also – rather stupidly to be honest – follow the MCU fan page on Facebook.

While the page is useful for catching up on things I miss on my Tumblr dash, sometimes it’s really hard to subscribe to the old never read the comments adage. Many are reasonably well thought out and articulate, but there’s also a large quantity of replies like Screw Black Widow n Hawkeye, YO! Black Widow wants the D from Captain A! lol, and How survive that stab from the back by lokie [sic]. Sadly, it’s often difficult to look away from the complete and utter tripe you see posted by the various idiots, misogynists, bigots, and generally misguided individuals.

Comments like the above are easy to pass over without the desire to respond, though. It’s not until you come across thoughts like the below that your brain slowly begins to leak out of your ears…

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Here’s the thing.

It’s called the Marvel Multiverse for a reason. We have two main universe continuities in Marvel comics, and don’t have any trouble distinguishing these from one another, so why do so many insist on directly comparing story arcs and plot points when it comes to the MCU? Why do fans get up on their high horses and complain about differences between 616 and the MCU when they aren’t even remotely in the same universe?

There’s always been resistance to the interpretation of these characters, events, and plot lines. I’m not just talking about the current crop of Marvel Studios produced films, but I am going to focus this post on the debate I see raging on various MCU specific forums, websites, and pages. While the lines are certainly being blurred between these universes – an observation I’ve expressed discomfort with in the past – the fact still remains that the comics are the comics, and the movies are the movies.

The distinction we as fans should perhaps be more aware of, is  that what we’ve seen in print is merely a starting off point for what will eventually be presented on screen. The argument that X won’t happen in the films because of Y is old, invalid, and continuing to use it makes a fan appear to lack a fundamental understanding of the Marvel Multiverse.

Apart from the obvious reality that creating shot for panel recreations of comics is unrealistic and possibly unfilmable in most cases, do we really want these stories interpreted in such a way that offers nothing new?

You know what, that’s a stupid question, because yes, that is what some fans want. The same unenlightened readers whose comments are mentioned above. These fans are the ones who get on their high horses and say I’ve been reading the comics since I was a kid and [insert vitriol here], immediately attempting to invalidate anyone else’s argument because they’re the genuine fan. A real fan. A fan who’s been reading the comics since before they could actually read and my opinion is better than yours goddamnit!

But no, the Real Fan’s, opinion isn’t better than anyone else’s. As people who are asserting their knowledge, isn’t it rather ironic that they fail to understand the concept of different planes of existence? An idea that Marvel has reinforced in its readers over decades of printing these stories they claim to know so much better than everyone else.

What all this boils down to, is that the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not Earth-616 (primary continuity). Nor is it 1610 (Ultimates). The Marvel Cinematic Universe is its own little corner of the Marvel Multiverse – unofficial designation 199999 – and this is an important distinction to be aware of when conversing on pages and sites where the focus is the MCU.

Let’s take a look at comics for a moment. Considering the length of time Marvel has been spinning these tales, you can’t ignore the racism, homophobia, misogyny, generalisations and stereotyping that have been displayed on the pages. This is just the reality of the world we live in, and a part of humanity’s history. These are issues society has learned and still is learning from. It’s important for Marvel to adapt and change to remain contemporary.

Perhaps we need to not think of the movies as an interpretation of the comics, but as a version of events that is relevant to our modern society – the real world. A world where an environment of fear is just as powerful as a physical threat, where characters don’t need prosthetics, as we’re cool with them looking like human beings, not a Rob Liefeld drawing, and social awareness and conscience is at an all time high. Movies are made for the general public, not for a small selection of cranky, territorial fans.

Fans of the films don’t have to be fans of the comics, and vice versa. Just because a person has never read a comic book, doesn’t mean they have less of a right to enjoy and discuss the material that has been presented on screen. I’ve been witness to many interactions where a comics fan has suggested that someone who exclusively enjoys the films has less right to an opinion, but this is like saying you can’t be a real fan of cheese unless you like Stilton as well as cheddar.

Fraction knows what's what.

Fraction knows what’s what.

Marvel is doing a great job of bringing more people into the fan community. The films have been the catalyst for many new people to pick up comics, often for the first time ever. We should be celebrating the newer members of the community, not deriding them. Welcome these people with open arms, shove books at them and tell them to read all the things go forth and experience joy and wonderfulness and oh god this storyline is just the best you need to read it first before anything else oh em gee.

On a more personal note, I really don’t feel the desire to see word for word remakes of material I’ve already read. Nothing is more exciting to me than going along to a movie unspoiled, and thrilled at the idea that what I think is going to happen might not. That I’ll get to see something completely new, or a really clever mash-up of Ultimates and the primary continuity. Hey, we might even see an entirely new character that turns out to be so awesome, that the fans start a campaign that causes Marvel to resurrect him and give him his own TV show called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Criticising films for not adhering to comics canon is an inherently pointless exercise, that wastes the time of everyone involved.  Criticising the films for their own problems, is not. Viewers may disagree with the handling of certain changes because they turn something that was well handled in the comics, into something problematic in the films. They may feel that the interpretation of the basic concept creates needless plotholes, badly handled characters, or marginalise areas that were important to focus on. Comparing in this way is perfectly valid, and it would be silly to say otherwise. but saying The movie sucked because in the comics Y happened, not X is redundant.

Then we have the very extreme end of the spectrum. The fans who take every adaptation’s changes to comics canon as a personal affront. Flying spittle in the face of their years of loyal fan servitude. A rude kick in the balls to someone who thinks their status as a Real Fan gives them some sort of ownership over these characters. Fans who have the gall to presume they speak for everyone. Fans who write comments like this:

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I don’t know about you, but these fans certainly don’t speak for me.

These people have no more of a right to these characters than the next person. These characters belong to Marvel, who may do with them what they choose. Self proclaimed Real Fans can bitch and moan and groan until they’re blue in the face, but that’s not going to change the fact that their self-entitled, idiotic remarks are serving to contribute precisely nothing even remotely worthwhile to the discussion.

So what conclusion is there to draw from this? Is this simply just a post where I go on a rant because my views are different to others, or is there a serious underlying issue that I’m getting at?

There is a very real issue that’s the crux of this whole subject: inclusiveness, tolerance, and the importance of stamping out elitism. While a majority of the comments you see that fail to recognise the significance of the difference between Marvel universes are reasonably trivial, the fact remains that many use discussions on the MCU as a place to demonstrate their supposed encyclopaedic knowledge of the comics. If anyone wants to talk about these, and – the vastly varying and continually retconned, I might say – comics canon then might I suggest they go discuss it somewhere relevant.

Fans who wade in to a discussion about the MCU with a purist, elitist attitude are doing nothing but drive new fans away, frustrating people who recognise the difference between universes, and making themselves look like rude, judgemental imbeciles, who just happen to know how to use the Marvel Wiki. Let new fans discover the multiverse in their own way, and let old fans experience a new version of their favourite characters and story arcs.

Being a fan is about enjoying something, criticising it for its flaws, lauding it for its successes, not comparing it to something it’s not trying to be.

 

Comments

  1. Well written and articulated. I am a fan of both the comics and the MCU. Yes there are differences between the two, however, I am not about to call someone names or become make derogatory comments about their opinions because they differ from mine. Our perception of what is “right” and “just” in all the Marvel universes is based upon our perceptions. There is no need to call someone out because “that’s not how it happened in Issue # X”

  2. Excellent article! While I’m not very familiar with the various Marvel comics, I greatly enjoy all the MCU movies… I do know people who are fans of both the comics and the movies who, after seeing one of the MCU films for the first time, said something to the effect of “It was an enjoyable movie, but I can’t believe they did X instead of Y! That’s not how it happened in the comics!” While I do understand that there are differences, I don’t go to see a movie because it will be a perfect repeat of the source material… I go to (hopefully) see an enjoyable film that is a fresh take on familiar characters and stories. And it’s always so disappointing when, instead of interesting discussions on the similarities and differences between a movie and its source material, people spend all their time and energy arguing about “what they got wrong from the original comic”.

    • Yep. Yep yep yep. All of that.
      Even though I HAVE been a fan of comics for a while, I have no trouble separating universes. Sure, I think it can be fun to dream up ways to bring certain stories or characters into the films, but in a way that’s relevant, not a direct copy. I’m actually working on a fancomic that brings Carol and Jess D into the MCU, but instead of directly following their origins, I’m changing it up, making it more accessable to a modern moviegoing audience. It’s so much fun to think up original origins!

  3. Maquis Leader says:

    Great article! I am so tired of people who say they’re “real fans” and throw around all the facts that they “know” about the characters. If they’re really been reading the comics for years, then they should know by now that stuff changes. Constantly. I can’t think of a single character that hasn’t been retconned.

    It amazes me that fans who love the Marvel Zombie universe and the Marvel Noir universe — and have no trouble with alternate/parallel universes and a bazillion timelines — have absolutely freaked out about the Marvel Movieverse. It’s just another universe!

    I do understand, don’t get me wrong. I was an avid DC fan from the late 60’s to the mid 90’s and I despised the idea that Ra’s al Ghul trained Bruce Wayne in the last round of Batman movies. I didn’t watch any of them — except for the one with Heath Ledger’s Joker and how could I *not* watch that? — but I didn’t trash fans who liked the movies and who discovered Batman. I just hoped they’d read some of the older comics. And maybe like them better. ;)

  4. See but you miss the point here. I’ll be talking directly about the Stark-Ultron thing because that’s an issue that I feel quite strongly about. Pym is one of my favourite characters. His creation of Ultron defined his characters. Someone so insecure and powerless that they felt they had to engineer a threat to the Avengers to prove to them (and himself) that he was a real hero. It determined decades of his current characterization.

    Now if Pym was unlikely to appear in the MCU this wouldn’t be an issue but because he will likely be in the Ant-Man film this entirely takes away a fundamental aspect of who he is. Imagine if Stark didn’t actually invent the Ironman suit. Or if Cap wasn’t actually a WW2 vet. This isn’t about ‘the comics did it better they should stick to canon I’m a real fan!!!11′ this about completely trashing a character and the risk that (like other MCU changes) it will filter into the comic books to try to pander to the movie crowd (like black Nick Fury, various costume changes etc). Nevermind the fact that if any fan was to, after enjoying Avengers 2, to try to get into comics it would be completely confusing to no end.

    It’s not ‘the movie sucked because in the comics Y happened, not X’ it’s ‘the movie sucked because the comics did x concept/y character far better and without unnecessary changes or poor characterization’.

    • Saying I miss the point, and then talking about something I never once mention in the article, is kind of pointless, don’t you think? And if we’re going to talk about the idea of Tony creating Ultron (I’m guessing you came from the reddit thread, where I do mention that), there is actually an existing canonical precedence for this (granted, it’s in that super crappy ‘Avengers Heroes of Tomorrow’ animated movie), so it’s not exactly a new idea.

      I think Marvel is trying very hard to make Hank a more likeable character, look at what they’ve done to him in Avengers A.I. (which I hated, BTW) which essentially strips him of much of his mental health issues, essentially making the claim that without Ultron weighing on his mind, Hank’s a reasonably likeable guy. Personally, I’m not a fan of this – mental health problems usually aren’t exclusively triggered by events or trauma – but I can see how Marvel would want to make him more accessible to a cinema going audience. Tony? MCU Tony’s already screwed up a bunch of times, somehow I think they’re happy to put him through the ringer once more.

      But anyway, this post wasn’t about talking about Tony/Hank/Ultron blah blah. It’s about general discussion surrounding comics vs films, and how so many comic fans CANNOT fathom the idea that the films aren’t an adaptation of the comics, but a new universe that takes cues from them.

      Paragraph from the post:

      “Criticising films for not adhering to comics canon is an inherently pointless exercise, that wastes the time of everyone involved. Criticising the films for their own problems, is not. Viewers may disagree with the handling of certain changes because they turn something that was well handled in the comics, into something problematic in the films. They may feel that the interpretation of the basic concept creates needless plotholes, badly handled characters, or marginalise areas that were important to focus on. Comparing in this way is perfectly valid, and it would be silly to say otherwise. but saying The movie sucked because in the comics Y happened, not X is redundant.”

      So a) you’ve basically reiterated what I already said (did you even read the article?), and b) implied that your opinion is the only valid one out there, which is exactly the problematic behaviour this article is calling out.

      So I’m sorry, you’re the one who missed the point.

      • HEY DON’T YOU DISS MY SUPER CRAPPY ANIMATED MOVIE I LOVE THAT MOVIE MORE THAN I SHOULD. AZARI/PYM JR OTP (when they’re older)

        That said yeah above guy, you totally missed the point.

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