No longer content just to take characters and backstories from Marvel’s back catalog, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has taken to adapting entire comic book arcs. Captain America: Winter Soldier and Civil War started as comic storylines. Thor: Ragnarok borrows liberally from World War Hulk. Avengers: Infinity War, the culmination of everything the MCU’s accomplished so far, started life as Jim Starlin, George Pérez, and Ron Lim’s cosmic epic Infinity Gauntlet.
But not every comic book storyline is well-suited to the silver screen, and some won’t ever see a live-action translation. Some are too violent. Some deal with controversial content, or carry unsettling sexual undertones. A few are just too dang weird for a mainstream movie studio. Whatever the cause, don’t expect to see these tales unfold in the theater until Marvel, Fox, and Sony run entirely out of ideas—and even then, don’t hold your breath.
Structurally, The Avengers borrows a lot from Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s first Ultimates run. At the beginning, the superheroes bicker among themselves, fighting each other more than the bad guys. About halfway through, the Hulk goes on a rampage, and the other heroes must work together to bring him down. At the end, the aliens known as the Chitauri attack, forcing the team to put their differences aside and come together as a team to save the Earth.
So far, so good. But that’s about as adaptable as the Ultimates saga gets. Unlike the cinematic Avengers, The Ultimates present a very different (and incredibly cynical) view of superheroes. It’s too dark and disturbing to ever imagine seeing onscreen. Ultimate Captain America is a xenophobe. Ultimate Hank Pym brutally beats his wife, Janet, putting her in the hospital. Ultimate Hulk straight-up eats people.
As the Ultimate line goes on, things get even worse. While readers had some hints before, The Ultimates 3 outs Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver—brother and sister—as lovers. In Ultimatum, the X-Men villain the Blob eats the Wasp. Hank Pym responds in kind, using his size-changing abilities to get revenge by biting Blob’s head off. Most of the X-Men die, the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards turns evil, and Manhattan is more or less annihilated. Even without the spousal abuse, incest, and graphic violence, the whole story is too dour for Marvel to put on the screen. People like to root for their heroes. The Ultimates makes that more or less impossible.
Punisher: Fade to White
These days, Frank Castle’s very busy over on Netflix, but it’s not inconceivable that he’ll return to the silver screen some day. Just don’t expect him to look quite like he did in The Punisher #60 through #62. Previously, the Kingpin concocted a plan that sent the Punisher to prison, where he was mutilated by his longtime foe, Jigsaw. Castle escapes, of course, but his face is in tatters. In short, he needs a new one. Bloody and beaten, the Punisher tracks down a plastic surgeon and requests a new look. “Change me so my best friend wouldn’t know me,” Frank demands.
The doctor complies. When the Punisher takes off the bandages, he’s a black man.
Yes, you read that right: in the early ’90s, Marvel editorial decided that turning Frank Castle, a Caucasian, black was a good idea. It’s as weird as it sounds. The police immediately pull Frank over for no good reason, and taunt him with racial epithets. He moves to Chicago, teams up with Luke Cage, and starts fighting drug dealers. Later, after the chemicals that changed the color of his skin wear off, Frank looks in a bathroom mirror and reflects on what he’s learned. “My changes have made some things clearer,” he says. “Seeing the individual past the color, to the crime. Crime doesn’t have a color. Neither does punishment.”
The story is supposed to be a comment on the prejudice and racism that black people in America face every day. It’s a noble goal, and everyone’s heart seems to be in the right place, but that doesn’t make it good. Putting a character in sci-fi blackface would never fly with movie audiences or critics, making this one story that’s best left in the back-issue bins—if not forgotten entirely.
There is one big reason we’ll never see Spider-Man: Reign on the big screen. It’s not that the comic, which borrows heavily from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, is too dark for audiences (although watching Doctor Octopus’ mechanical tentacles tromp around New York with the good doctor’s rotting corpse still attached might be too much for a kid-friendly franchise). It’s not that Reign stars a decrepit, 70-year-old Peter Parker (although Marvel and Sony did just finish making Spider-Man a baby-faced high-schooler again in Spider-Man: Homecoming).
No, you’ll never see Spider-Man: Reign brought to life in cinemas because the whole story revolves around Peter Parker’s sperm. See, according to Reign, the radioactive spider that bit Peter and gave him his powers didn’t just change his blood. It infected all of his bodily fluids. Naturally, Peter is immune to the radiation’s side effects—but his spouse, Mary Jane Watson, isn’t so lucky, and over the course of their relationship, she inadvertently exposes herself to his poisonous seed. As a result, she develops cancer and dies. Peter (rightly) blames himself.
That’s why Peter Parker hangs up the webshooters. That’s why Spider-Man isn’t around when an authoritarian regime takes over New York and transforms it into a dystopian hellscape. That’s why ol’ webhead needs to come out of retirement and become the hero that the city needs—again. And that’s why Spider-Man: Reign won’t be hitting a cineplex near you anytime soon—or, realistically, ever.
Radioactive spider-sperm, people. It ain’t gonna happen.
If you’re up on recent comic book stories, you’re familiar with Secret Empire, Marvel’s big event for summer 2017. Even if you’re not, you might’ve heard about the controversial premise in the press. Yeah, that’s right: this is the comic that makes Captain America a Nazi.
Okay, okay, technically Cap’s a sleeper agent for Hydra, but despite Marvel’s claims, that doesn’t really make anything better. Hydra debuted as its own evil organization, but became a Nazi-affiliated group two years later. Meanwhile, the average fan probably knows Hydra best from Captain America: The First Avenger, which depicts Hydra as part of the Nazi regime. The comic itself doesn’t do much to dispel fans’ concerns, either. After Steve Rogers infiltrates S.H.I.E.L.D., reveals his true nature, and conquers America in Hydra’s name, he rounds up the super-powered Inhumans and ships them off to concentration camps. Even if Hydra-Cap isn’t a Nazi by name, the parallels are too strong to ignore.
Hydra-fueled takeovers of America appeared in the MCU twice already (once in Captain America: The Soldier, and again in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. season four), making a third occurrence incredibly unlikely, but that’s not really the point. These days, real-life Nazis—some of whom proudly wear Captain America’s gear—are an actual problem. Secret Empire received plenty of criticism from the comic book community. Marvel’s not going to court that kind of controversy by repeating the plot in theaters, and won’t risk tainting one of its most popular characters for a cheap and tacky stunt. Count on it.
Marvel’s movie division gets many things right, but onscreen diversity isn’t one of them. Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008, but it won’t get a film with a solo female lead until 2019’s Captain Marvel, the 21st movie in the series. Fans looking for LGBTQ representation will (probably) have to wait even longer. While Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn hinted that current Marvel characters could be gay and we just don’t know about it, the studio doesn’t have any plans to introduce a visibly gay, lesbian, bi, or transgender superhero any time soon—at least, not any that we know about.
Even if an existing Marvel character ends up being queer, it probably won’t be one of the main ones. Don’t look to Fox to step up, either. X-Treme X-Men, for example, could be a fun spinoff in Fox’s ever-growing X-Men line. A team of inter-dimensional X-Men on a mission to rid the multiverse of Professor X’s evil doppelgängers is a fine premise for a movie. It’ll never be adapted—at least not faithfully. See, in X-Treme X-Men, General Howlett—i.e. Wolverine—is gay.
With Hugh Jackman stepping down from the role that made him famous, now’s the perfect time for an alternate take on Wolverine. Still, that’s going to be a hard sell for audiences, and an even harder sell for Fox. A gay Wolverine would present an excellent opportunity for a talented filmmaker to dissect and explore one of the most popular superheroes ever created. It’s also going to make the movie a hard sell for audiences, and an even harder one for Fox. In short, we’re not holding our breaths.
You know Thanos, the wrinkly-chinned, purple bad guy who’s been pulling the strings from behind the scenes since at least The Avengers? Yeah, well, he has a brother, but you’re not likely to see him onscreen any time soon. Ignoring a potential trademark dispute with Nintendo, here’s why: Starfox is an utter, unrepentant creep.
See, while Thanos has super strength and endurance, hyper-intelligence, unparalleled hand-to-hand combat skills, and a whole bevy of psychic powers, Starfox really only does one thing: he makes people like him. Really, really like him. Technically, he stimulates the pleasure centers of people’s brains, which in turn makes them attracted to him. In practice, Starfox is a walking, talking aphrodisiac who uses his powers to score as much nookie as possible. Heck, his real name isn’t even Starfox. It’s Eros. That says pretty much everything you need to know.
Starfox is so bad that She-Hulk even took him to court, where he was tried for sexual assault (His father whisked him away to his home planet, Titan, before the jury reached a verdict). Maybe Starfox’s power seemed innocuous when he debuted in 1973, but in today’s world, a superpowered roofie does not a good hero make. When Thanos reveals his grand scheme in Avengers: Infinity War, don’t expect to see Starfox by his side—at least, not if Marvel has any sense at all.
Sins Past (and Sins Remembered)
The Green Goblin might be Spider-Man’s arch-nemesis, but don’t expect Norman Osborn to grace theater screens any time soon. According to Spider-Man: Homecoming producer Amy Pascal, Norman and the rest of the Osborn family will be confined to the comic book pages for the foreseeable future. He’s already played out. As she put it, “I don’t know how many more times we can do the Green Goblin.”
For the Goblin’s diehard fans, that’s bad news, but there’s one silver lining. Norman’s absence means there’s no way that “Sins Past,” J. Michael Straczynski and Mike Deodato Jr.’s controversial Amazing Spider-Man arc, will ever get a big-screen remake. That’s very, very good, especially considering “Sins Past” is undoubtedly the ickiest storyline ever introduced in Spider-Man’s main continuity.
See, according to Straczynski and Deodato, Spider-Man’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy had a brief fling with Norman—i.e. the guy who killed her—while vacationing in France. As a result of the encounter, Gwen gave birth to twins. It’s not only the age difference between Gwen and Norman that makes the story so bad, although that’s pretty gross. It’s not only that Mary Jane knew about the affair and didn’t tell Peter until the twins come knocking at his door, or that Gwen lost her virginity to the Green Goblin and not her long-term boyfriend. It isn’t even the way “Sins Past” re-contextualizes Gwen’s death, more or less removing Spider-Man from the equation.
No, it’s that in the follow-up storyline, “Sins Remembered,” Peter makes out with one of the twins because she kind of looks like Gwen. Kissing the daughter of your long-lost love and number one villain while you’re married to someone else? That’s bad. Comic book readers didn’t tolerate it (eventually, the whole affair was retconned out of existence). Chances are, movie audiences wouldn’t, either.
Chris Hemsworth is a good looking and funny guy, and the first two Thor movies coast on his charisma alone. But even Hemsworth’s dreamy smile and strong sense of humor couldn’t make Thor: Vikings work onscreen. As writer Garth Ennis (the man behind resolutely not-safe-for-work yarns like Preacher, The Boys, and Crossed) and Glenn Fabry’s superhero adventure reminds us, the ancient Norsemen weren’t wisecracking swashbucklers like Thor and his comrades. They were hardened warriors with a mean streak a mile long, and Thor: Vikings revels in it.
Remember, this is the comic that opens with a Viking horde razing a Norwegian village, and then sends the invaders to modern day New York, where they rape, pillage, and murder their way through Manhattan as undead conquerors. They drive a spear through the mayor on live television. They block the streets in SoHo with piles of severed heads. Even Thor has trouble stopping them, especially after they snap both of the thunder god’s arms, chain his hammer to his neck, and chuck him into the Hudson river.
While the differences between Thor’s fairy tale world and the violent, unforgiving nature of real-life Vikings makes an interesting contrast, Marvel seems to be moving in the opposite direction with the colorful and otherworldly Thor: Ragnarok. Even if it weren’t, Thor: Vikings is just too violent for mainstream moviegoers—even dedicated gore-hounds might find some of the gruesome antics stomach-turning. With Ennis at the helm, we wouldn’t expect anything less.
Deadpool isn’t a bad guy—well, not entirely—but he’s also got no problem with violence, especially when someone else is on the receiving end. He’s a mercenary in a world full of supervillains. Sometimes, gore is going to happen. It’s just part of the job.
Deadpool’s zany sense of humor and complete disregard for heroic norms make him a breath of fresh air in the world of stuffy, uptight superhero morality. That’s why he’s so popular. But there’s still a line, and Deadpool’s been known to cross it. Not only has he killed the Marvel Universe—twice—but in Deadpool: Killustrated, the Merc with a Mouth hunts down and murders characters from pieces of classic literature.
And yeah, it’s funny (kind of) to watch Wade Wilson scoop out Don Quixote’s eyeballs, spread Tom Sawyer’s blood all over the boy’s newly painted fence, feed Mowgli to Shere Khan, gut the Little Mermaid, and blow up the Little Women (yes, all of ’em). It’s also very, very dark, even for Deadpool. On the page, Deadpool: Killustrated’s violence doesn’t seem any worse than a particularly depraved Itchy and Scratchy cartoon, and while the gag runs thin—four issues is a lot for a single joke—it’s bearable. Translate that story into live action, however, and it’d be positively traumatic.
Many people grew up on these stories, and watching Deadpool murder beloved children’s characters—most of whom did nothing wrong—would almost certainly turn the audience against him. If Fox wants to keep the Deadpool cash trail chugging along, they’ll keep Deadpool: Killustrated as far from the silver screen as possible.
The Avengers proved that superhero crossovers could work just as well in theaters as they do in comic shops, paving the way for three more (and counting) Avengers flicks, Captain America: Civil War, and Spider-Man: Homecoming, as well as DC-flavored team-ups like Batman v. Superman, Suicide Squad, and, most importantly, Justice League. But, these days, interconnected superhero universes are old hat. We’ve seen it all before. In fact, there’s only one big superhero crossover left on our wish list: put Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League in the same movie, let them fight it out, and see who comes out on top.
It’ll never happen. Letting DC and Marvel characters share the same screen would be like McDonald’s selling a Whopper, or Coke deciding to line grocery store aisles with Diet Pepsi, or the USS Enterprise dogfighting with the Millennium Falcon. The corporate overlords at Disney and Warner Bros. won’t ever give their competition such a big boost—at least, not on purpose—even if fans would literally kill to see it happen.
That’s a shame, too, because the source material’s already given both studios the perfect template for a box office-shattering blockbuster. JLA/Avengers (also known as Avengers/JLA) tells the story of an epic clash between Earth’s mightiest heroes and the League, who, as per tradition, duke it out before teaming up to stop a timeless evil. Written by accomplished superhero scribe Kurt Busiek and illustrated by the legendary George Perez, JLA/Avengers could be the superhero movie to end all superhero movies. But it won’t be. Not only would the rights be a nightmare to untangle, but after a team-up like that, there’s nowhere to go but down.