10 comic book characters who would NOT translate well to film

(Marvel Comics)

Comics are the most flexible storytelling medium. Instead of being limited by the physical restraints of actors, sophisticated special effects and whatever computer graphics can be created to fool a viewing audience into suspending their disbelief, a comic simply relies upon paper and an artist’s ability to illustrate what a writer can conceive. A comic is a flexible medium that simultaneously creates shared contextual understanding as well as stimulating the imaginations of millions of readers.

There are very few creative restrictions that a comic is bound to. Sometimes this freedom is completely apparent when great characters that were originally created in comics attempt to cross mediums into film and fail. There are a number of reasons why: too dated, too epic in scope, lack of versatility or just simply not politically correct.

Listed below are a few suggested awesome comic characters that movie-makers would be wise to avoid including in their next comic-to-film adaptations.

10. Fin Fang Foom

‘Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom’ #1 (Marvel Comics)

First appearing in Strange Tales #89, Fin Fang Foom was a 15 story tall dragon that was originally summoned by history student Chan Liuchow, from underneath the Great Wall of China to dissuade the Chinese Communists from invading Taiwan. This iconic character was created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee in 1961 and was representative of not only the international political climate of the time but also Marvel Comics’ stage of experimenting with monster stories. He can be perceived as an allegory that demonstrated the historical futility of communism in the face of democracy.

Foom appeared several times throughout the decades in various Marvel stories. Later ret-conned to be an alien from the Lesser Magellenic Cloud, Foom has appeared in other monster comics, in Iron Man (as the source of the villainous Mandarin’s powers), Thor stories (impersonated by the Midgard Serpent) and has fought the Hulk (as in Hulk vs. Fin Fang Foom). As testament to his iconic nature, Foom was even featured in The Invincible Iron Man, an animated direct-to-video presentation as the personal bodyguard of the Mandarin.

Foom could never be presented in a full cinematic release today. First of all, his origin story is too historically extensive to be adequately depicted. He would be under-rated as a mere over-sized alien, as an ancient Chinese dragon, or worse: a mindless monstrosity comparable to Godzilla. There are too many aspects of him to present his character fully. Foom is a Marvel villain on a giant scale who has over fifty years of comic heritage and nostalgic value in the Marvel universe; that’s a tall order to live up to and can’t simply be presented in a two hour film, to share the stage with a Marvel hero.

9. The Watcher

What If… #53 (Marvel Comics)

Uatu the Watcher first appeared in Fantastic Four #13 in 1961 and was another of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s creations. He was an extraterrestrial observer assigned to watch over the Earth and record its progress. His was a passive role and he was pledged to never interfere with Earth’s development. However, in the last fifty years, the Watcher had broken his pledge and it has been shown that he has interfered with Earth’s activities over three hundred times.

The Watcher is a background character and best serves as a narrator – as he had been commonly presented in Marvel’s What If …? series which ran in several volumes. The first one that Uatu appears in ran from about 1977 to 1984 and presents an event in the regular stream of events of the Marvel Universe and describes an alternative direction of that event. An example might be “What if Spider-Man joined Fantastic Four?”

The Watcher’s purpose is too specific and passive to be presented as a viable character in a full-length film. While he is an enigmatic character and a true treasure within the Marvel pantheon, he is limited in terms of how he could contribute to a film. Perhaps if the film was a variant on Marvel’s What If …? But who would want to watch that other than the die-hard comic readers from the 1970’s and 1980’s? Of course, using him as a character in a Marvel Cinematic Universe would be problematic as recently Marvel decided to kill off the character of the Watcher in the latest story event Original Sin.

8. Ka-Zar the Great

Ka-Zar, Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics)
Ka-Zar, Vol. 1 (Marvel Comics)

While a first version of Ka-Zar appeared in 1936, another appeared in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939. This Ka-Zar was David Rand and was clearly a knock-off of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan and was based in Africa. He was raised by a lion he believed to be his brother.  Another version was brought back in X-Men #10 in 1965. His name was Lord Kevin Plunder and was the dispossessed son of an English nobleman. Though the second Ka-Zar lived in an area known as “The Savage Land” that was inhabited by mutated humanoids, dinosaurs and even demonic creatures, both characters were close enough to Tarzan to be stereotyped adventurers that people would easily recognize and were unique enough for a modern comic audience to appreciate.

Throughout the following decades, Ka-Zar evolved significant character changes. Originally possessed of a caveman-like vocabulary, Ka-Zar became more articulate and aware of the outside world and technology. His constant companion, a sabre-toothed tiger known as Zabu, had near-human intelligence and eventually, Ka-Zar was to find a life-partner in Shanna the She-Devil.

Ka-Zar’s adventures ranged from simple protection of the Savage Land from poachers to preventing alien incursions and working with S.H.I.E.L.D. The variety of encounters and storylines he was involved in made for excellent comic stories and truly wondrous fantasies. However, Ka-Zar doesn’t have enough character depth to be considered as a full movie draw. The story-arcs, though exciting and fully entertaining, would be best suited for a television series, not for an extended full-length feature film. Also, he doesn’t have the required pop-culture status to succeed at the box office. His audience would be limited to the comic readers who remember him, and that’s a small audience, indeed.

7.   Eternity

Silver Surfer #10 (Marvel Comics)

Eternity is the self-designated leader of the Cosmic Powers of the Marvel Universe. He … she … it – whatever, is the attempted embodiment of a collective of abstract notions that somehow manage to fundamentally bind the universe together and define the … indefinable.

This is a hallmark trait of Marvel Comics in the 1960’s and represented a truly visionary attempt at creating new types of characters for heroes to defeat , instead of just stopping bank robbers or stopping master-villains like Doctor Doom from taking over the world. This was a truly revolutionary type of fantasy that only Marvel could create in the 1960’s.

Still, could you imagine the morning hangover of the Hollywood hack who tried to qualify this character into a film script?

First appearing in Doctor Strange in 1965, the character of Eternity is a cosmic entity of immeasurable proportions that still requires the assistance of human super heroes from time to time. Eternity exists everywhere, can warp space and time to his every whim and yet is still vulnerable to villains who still reside in our concept of reality like Thanos or the Magus.

To a teenager in the 1960s – a period when mind expansion and concepts of enhancing consciousness and awareness were popular literary subjects – the concept of the entirety of the cosmos embodied in humanoid form might be acceptable. However, to a modern-day audience, the scope is all wrong for Eternity to be adequately represented on screen. Also, as he is a being of immense and cosmic ability, it just wouldn’t make sense to any rational audience that he could be manipulated by a foe limited to conventional, physical dimensions. It’s simply a silly notion that couldn’t be sustained by even the most gifted screenwriter. Abstract doesn’t work on film when it comes to super heroes.

6. The In-Betweener

‘Doctor Strange’ #27 (Marvel Comics)

First appearing in Warlock #10 in 1975 and created by Jim Starlin, the In-Betweener is another cosmic conceptual entity who acts as an agent for the forces of chaos and order. He is opposed by Warlok – to preserve his own fate and even Galactus. To further complicate his status, he has admitted to representing duality in all things, such as good and evil, reason and emotion or even life and death.

The In-Betweener is an amazingly cool concept: a being who can guide the destiny of individuals by determining their power to either increase chaos or preserve order. Order and entropy are recognized as co-dependent and essential forces of the universe and the In-Betweener serves them both, in the way that preserves the balance of existence but also as a physical servant to their wishes. He humanizes Creation in a way that not only entertaining but immensely tantalizing to imagine.

However, the In-Betweener’s motivations are extremely difficult for an audience to identify with. While possessing enormous power to alter reality and manipulate the very ambient energy of his surroundings, the In-Betweener is still a lackey who reports to two diametrically-opposed higher beings: Lord Chaos and Master Order. Essentially, one storyline sees him trying to break free of his thraldom and establish his own concept of the universe. While this can be sympathized with, on a human basis, there still isn’t enough of the character’s background for an audience to fully identify with. If you have near limitless power – enjoy it. Nobody likes an ambivalent character.

Seeing as the two occasions when we see the In-Betweener as a significant figure, this character is not only too obscure and ambivalent for use in a film, but would be impossible to include as a villain that an audience could understand. While his subservience is certainly a motivational factor that could be theoretically sympathized with, the question needs to be asked: who would oppose him? No-one wants to watch a film for the villain; an audience goes to see a hero thwart the villain’s clear and definitive evil scheme. All the In-Betweener wants to do is serve himself.

5. Mephisto

‘Mephisto vs. The Fantastic Four’ #1 (Marvel Comics)

First introduced in 1968 in Silver Surfer, Mephisto is as his name suggests a demonic character who deals in the currency of souls. An obvious diminutive of Mephistopheles, this character is the ruler of a dimension that is obviously Hellish in nature. Mephisto has delighted comic readers with his traps, snares and fiendish plots designed to bring down the noblest of heroes and torment them with all sorts of nefarious choices. He is clearly evil incarnate and delights in the suffering of others.

He’s basically Satan.

Marvel Comics in the 1960’s would obviously be concerned about corrupting its young readers by clearly presenting a direct representation of the Prince of Darkness in comics, which is why a Faustian version of the name was employed to provide a veneer of literary legitimacy. The Comics Code Authority obviously approved his appearance in Silver Surfer so he was acceptable. Still, however the connection was toned down, there is no escaping the fact that the devil is present in a story and this is something that flies directly in the face of religious extremism today.

Mephisto is a character clearly rooted in Christian ideology, regardless of his somewhat comic appearance and watered down representation. To be sure, there have been representations of the Devil in other films and even Marvel films like Ghost Rider; yet, given that film’s limited success, it’s fairly clear that the Devil is a problematic or partially effective character to include in a film, not to mention one that was thinned down for comic consumption in the 1960’s.

4. The Celestials

‘Eternals’ 2008 (Marvel Comics)

First appearing in The Eternals #1 in 1976, the Celestials, or “Space Gods” as they were dubbed, were beings of immense power and size. There are over twenty of them and they stand over 610 metres tall (2000 feet). These giants were present at the beginnings of the universe and require the energy output of a galaxy to reproduce. Massive, immensely powerful and secretive beings, these gigantic creators kept their purposes to themselves, forcing lesser races to decipher their intentions. They were a cosmic-sized puzzle and were extremely compelling.

The Celestials were responsible for gifting early human development with super-powers. In the early days of life on Earth, they performed genetic experiments on early lifeforms on this planet. These space giants formed two groups: the Eternals and the Deviants – both of whom were mistaken for gods or demons by primitive human understanding. However, they were an extremely popular storyline and featured prominently in several Marvel publishing events. Some Eternals even became members of the Avengers.

The problem with trying to transfer the Celestials to film is their size and their lack of communication. Celestials don’t speak – even to each other. They have a form of communication that is extremely sophisticated. In a movie they would be extremely difficult to relate to. Also, as they are so large, the difficulty in keeping them on camera would be great, to say the least. Essentially, you would have 2000 feet of an enormous prop.

And don’t even think of getting them all together for a family reunion.


Super-Villain Team-Up Modok’s 11 (Marvel Comics)

Mobile/Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing (MODOK) used to be an organic computing device developed by AIM and made its first appearance in Tales of Suspense #93 in 1967. Essentially, MODOK was a hovering head of extreme proportions that was contained by an armoured hover-chair. His limbs were shrunken and withered and unable to sustain the weight of his oversized cranium.  In addition to the lasers, micro-missiles and all sorts of other weaponry, MODOK’s intelligence had been hyper-enhanced to the point of instantaneous complex mathematical calculation, precognition, and extremely powerful mind control and telekinesis. In time, MODOK became leader of AIM.

He’s a big, giant head.

It’s really hard to look at this character without stifling a giggle, even by comic standards, this character is just weird. In fact, a disembodied Scottish voice of Mike Meyers shouting “Heid! Pants! Now!” comes to mind when seeing this character.

Despite his insidiousness and his status as a master-villain, he’s just too silly for a movie audience to take seriously.

2. Death

‘The Death of Captain Marvel’ (Marvel Comics)

Yeah … this is a tough sell to any film-going audience. Death is not normally perceived as a person, but when it is, it’s usually in the form of an interactive character who talks, responds to the protagonists and performs a role that’s essentially integral to a plot. Death’s function in Marvel Comics is extremely specific and features more prominently at the end of a story.

Marvel Comics embodied the concept of Death as an actual entity in 1973 in Captain Marvel #27. However, Death is not an active character in any of the stories it appears in. Usually drawn as an attractive and pale female, Death is often written as the love interest of Thanos, the Mad Titan. In other instances, Death is pictured more traditionally as a cadaverous skeleton in a robe and is placed in the arena of cosmic powered beings, often matched against Eternity.

Death’s interactions in stories are extremely limited. It speaks rarely, involves itself with characters in an extremely restricted manner (i.e.: to either embrace or escort a character into its realm or simply stand in the background as a foreboding character that serves to frighten others.)

While Death serves as an excellent concept and its place in the Marvel pantheon is nothing short of being really cool, it isn’t one to transfer to the big screen. The best a film could do with this character is to have it serve as a background character that others would talk about, and that just doesn’t fully do justice in presenting the Marvel Death’s true nature and value as a character.

1. Galactus

‘Fantastic Four: In Search of Galactus’ (Marvel Comics)

Probably one of the most recognized Marvel villains, Galactus is another giant character whose role in the universe is a force of destructive nature as he consumes planets for sustenance. Galactus first appeared in Fantastic Four #48 in 1963. In a 1987 interview, Jack Kirby related that Galactus was more than just a comic villain; his god-like status was inspired by biblical stories and how he was simply beyond good and evil. Galactus destroyed planets, but not out of any sense of criminality or evil motivation, he needed the energy of the planet to survive and was able to relate that to the inhabitants of the planet he was about to consume.

In the Ultimates Universe, a variant of Galactus, known as Gah Lak Tus is created. However, this entity is a collective of mindless robotic drones that simply devour a world and move on. It is an extra-terrestrial threat, but nowhere near the same scope or scale as the regular 616 Universe’s world-eater. This is the variant that was included in the 2007 film, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer. This was a critically unfavourable film but probably would have done worse had the original Galactus been included.

Galactus is a more creditable threat than his other cosmic counterparts. Despite his stature, his power and his advanced technology, Galactus is a corporeal and solid threat who tries to reason with his foes. He is a force of the universe that balances it by reducing the population of planets. However, he is not unstoppable and has been stopped several times. He is a universe-scaled form of natural selection: if the planet he is about to consume survives him, then it deserves to be spared.

Despite this incredibly entertaining complexity, Galactus is still too problematic for the giant screen. Aside from the problem of size he shares with other cosmic beings, Galactus also employs a wide range of technology that are either also too large to fit on the movie screen or are simply just too fantastic to replicate. Galactus also keeps a host of associates to do his bidding, like his heralds, his robots or cyborg bodyguards. The world-eater does not come alone.

As he is a non-metaphysical threat, Galactus also possesses a wide range of abilities that can be perceived on the material level. He can levitate himself, telekinetically move objects, project energy blasts of enormous destructive potential, eats planets, lives in space and employs a primal force of the universe known as the “Power Cosmic” which is reputed to have no equal. Galactus’s base-ship, the Taa II, is solar-system sized. Even the best CGI would be unable to fully do justice in attempting to replicate all of these powers and abilities. Galactus is supreme … and best left to the comic pages instead of the silver screen.

All of these amazing creations are best left to comics to continue their stories. While there are some characters that have made a successful transition to the film medium, these are characters who are too dated, wouldn’t be taken seriously by a contemporary audience, impolitic or aren’t versatile to make the switch. Movie-going audiences also want more interactivity in their comic characters – dialogue is a major aspect of comics that brings characters to life. Audiences want to see that same quality in a film, but because of limited functionality of some of these characters (lack of communication, simplicity of purpose, etc.) obviously, that character sometimes doesn’t translate well.

There is a frankness about films that doesn’t allow for interpretation. That’s the joy of reading comics. Film characters rely upon the interpretation of the director which limits their presentation and reduces their inferred qualities. Some comic characters rely upon context and inferred meaning to make them more of a threat, but that’s a responsibility best left to the reader. After all, according to Stan Lee, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”


About Captain John K. Kirk

Captain John K. Kirk
John Kirk is an English and History teacher and librarian in Toronto, Canada. In addition to the traditional curriculum, John tries to teach his students to make sense of geek culture. And with the name "J. Kirk," it's hard for him to not inject "Star Trek" into his lessons. Comics, RPGs and the usual fanboy gear make up his classroom resources.

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