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X-Men: The Movies vs The Comics .... Part One

With the seventh film in the X-Men movie franchise leading the 2014 summer blockbuster charge and Guardians of the Galaxy about to throw its hat in the ring, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the comic movie market has always been with us. But back in 1999 comic book franchises couldn’t get near the big screen. CGI technology hadn’t reached the stage where directors could create believable superheroes, and even if they could studios weren’t willing to take the financial gamble. More than that, audiences weren’t interested. In 1978 people believed a man could fly. As the millennium approached people believed lycra was for losers.

The late eighties / early nineties saw a massive boom in the American comics industry, and beating out popular franchises such as Spiderman and Batman for the top selling comic were The Uncanny X-Men. Strong writing and a large cast of relatable characters were the key factors to the Marvel title’s success. Created in 1963 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, their X-Men comic was a unique reflection of the racial tensions that were dividing America. Though the writing was very much of the “Gosh jeepers” style of the time, the central idea of a cast of teens shunned by society because of the make-up of their genes was a revelation. It took a while for fans to catch on and for the writing style to match the maturity of the comics underlying theme of societal racism, but by the late eighties fans and writers had got there. A 1992 animated X-Men television show that wowed children and adults alike was the icing on the cake.

Then in the mid-nineties the comic market crashed. An industry driven by its own self-inflated prices and push to sell as much product as possible imploded. Marvel Comics filed for bankruptcy and warehouses of unsold comics started to gather dust. Despite this, in 1998 director Stephen Norrington convinced New Line Cinema to stump up the cash for a movie adaptation of the minor Marvel character Blade. Blade (1998) was a hit with both fans and critics. Although it sprung from the pages of a comic book Norrington aimed his story at an adult audience and worked hard to base his characters in the real world. Fellow director Bryan Singer took note and a year later set about making the first successful blockbuster comic movie since Batman (1989) and the first comic story to be rooted in our reality since Superman (1978). Singer’s X-Men (2000) was a triumph.

The key to the movie’s success was its grounding. Singer chose actors over A-listers, dispensed with the day-glo outfits from the comics and TV show, and did his best to explain the X-Men’s unique abilities with as much conventional science as possible. This was a story about the evolution of man (albeit, evolution that resulted in cool super-powers). Fans clamoured for sequels, and with the further success of X2 (2003) the way was paved for Spiderman (2002), Batman Begins (2005), The Avengers Assemble (2012) and millions of dollars in box office takings. So in tribute to the comic movie franchise that got us to where we are today, and to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014), we take a look back at all the mutants who’ve graced the silver screen to date and examine just how faithful they’ve been to their on-paper counterparts.

The comic characters are certainly stylised. With the exception of those mutants whose unique look was their power (Blob, Marrow, etc) all the X-Men sport ripped, muscle laden physiques, while all the X-Women have tiny waists and hefty bosoms. Their uniforms are garish and impractical, and all of them seem to share Wolverine’s gift of not aging. Much of this had to be jettisoned to create a more believable onscreen universe. But the characters on the page also had unique personalities that made their mutant adventures such a joy to read. First up we look at the X-heroes to see how they’ve fared in Hollywood:

1. Professor Xavier

If there was one actor that was a shoe-in for a role in the first X-Men movie it was Sir Patrick Stewart. You might put that down to the smooth dome he shared with the X-Men’s leader, but aside from the obvious physical likeness Stewart had the gravitas and believable leadership qualities (thanks to years spent as the Captain of the starship Enterprise) to make him the prime candidate for Charles Xavier. It wasn’t all sweetness and like though. Stewart could break out his Shakespearean bellow for those moments when Xavier chose to be a bit of a bastard, which as comic fans will atest to, he sometimes was. James McAvoy’s take on the young Xavier was just as enthralling and had the benefit of no comic precedent, the pre-X-Men days of Xavier largely unexplored on the page. Injecting some swagger into the role, his Xavier used his powers more for hitting on the ladies than for fighting for peace. His transition to the latter made for a fascinating journey in First Class. Exactly how Xavier looses his hair though remains to be seen. Comic to screen accuracy: 10/10

2. Wolverine

There’s nothing like comic character casting to rile up nerds. Russell Crowe was Singer’s first choice for Wolverine, but he turned the part down. Next up was Dougray Scott, who eventually passed due to scheduling conflicts. Keanu Reeves expressed an interest, but Singer ended up going with a fairly unknown Aussie actor called Hugh Jackman. It seems like the perfect casting now, but at the time it didn’t go down too well. The most obvious disparity was Jackman’s height; at 6ft 2in he was far too tall to play the rather short Canadian mutant. Non comic fans are often surprised to find that the on-page Wolverine is only 5ft 3in. But so good was Jackman at portraying every other facet of the character fans quickly forgot their initial misgivings over the actor’s height. The scruffy facial fuzz, the wild hair, the muscled physique, the angry growl, the permanent PMT, it was all there. The writing was spot on to, the various X-movie scriptwriters always getting James “Logan” Howlett note perfect. Comic to screen accuracy: 10/10

3. Cyclops

Back when Singer was putting together his wish list of X-Men actors,  Jim Caviezel had been slotted in as the X-Men’s in-the-field leader, Scott Summers. When he pulled out the slightly younger James Marsden stepped in. Looks wise, Marsden was a touch too short and a little too young looking for Cyclops when compared to his beau Jean Grey and the suddenly quite tall Wolverine. But performance wise Marsden got everything right. Modelling his Scott Summers on a traditional boy-scout, the slightly stuffy X-leader that fans knew so well was realised on screen. He also got to deliver some of the best lines in the series “What would you prefer, yellow spandex?”, “Stay away from my girl”. It’s just a slight shame Cyclops got offed before he could show any real leadership; in most of the battles he’s involved in he’s either chasing around after Jean or inadvertently blowing roofs off. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

4. Jean Grey / Phoenix

A character of two halves, Jean Grey was either getting headaches and being rescued by her long-term love Cyclops, or she was destroying worlds as the most powerful mutant entity in the universe, the Phoenix. Fortunately, Singer decided to make the movie Jean Grey a bit less of a wet blanket and cast the former Bond villainess Famke Janssen. The Dutch actress had the right blend of good looks and maturity, and the acting chops to fill both the main love triangle with Jackman and Marsden. Singer also wisely chose to introduce Dr. Grey early on in X-Men (2000) as an authority figure addressing a Senate hearing on the mutant issue. Things didn’t progress that well for the character, the Dark Phoenix storyline slightly wasted in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), but at least the Phoenix character looked the part and was impressively played by Janssen right up to the emotional punch of her final embrace with Wolverine. Comic to screen accuracy: 9/10

5. Storm

The on-page Ororo Monroe is a tall, toned Amazonian woman with a motherly air but the ability to kick ass if she felt the need to raise her voice and lower the air pressure. What the part called for was someone with Grace Jones’ look and Oprah Winfrey’s personality. Angela Bassett was originally approached and would have been ideal for the part, but when she turned down the role Singer cast Halle Berry instead. All credit to the director, he at least went with another performer with considerable acting talent. But unfortunately for Berry the script woefully underwrote the Storm character, lumbering her with clangers for lines, naff costumes and nothing much to do other than stand around looking concerned. Less of a storm, more of a wet weekend. Comic to screen accuracy: 2/10

6. Rogue

In the comics Rogue is a southern belle with a strong accent, a body to die for, super strength and the ability to fly. She can also absorb other people’s powers and memories through touch. The latter facet was the only thing Singer kept from the page, along with a white fringe tribute and her Mississippi accent (he also left out the fact that Rogue is Mystique’s step-daughter). The director turned his Rogue into a much younger, girl next door type, and the catalyst for his X-Men (2000) script, her absorption powers the trigger for Magento’s evil plot. The script written the way it was, there was no way Rogue could be anything like she is in the comics, which is a slight shame given how well loved her character is. Singer’s character template was the adolescent Jubilee from the 1992 television show, a girl in her late teens adjusting to life with her new powers and confiding in Wolverine as an odd father figure crush. Despite these departures from the on-page Rogue character, Anna Paquin did wonders with the script and her Rogue was still a memorable character; that was until the sequels when she got sulky and pissed off to get her powers removed. Comic to screen accuracy: 4/10

7. Iceman

Changing his status from one of the original X-Men and to a much younger student at Xavier’s school, Singer aligned Bobby Drake with Rogue and set up a whole new X-Men love story (the pair have never had liaisons in the comics). On the page Iceman is the wisecracking, cocksure mutant of the bunch. Shawn Ashmore’s performance, or rather the script he had to work with, was much more subdued. Ashmore looked the part though, and the Iceman effects when things got chilly worked well. Comic to screen accuracy: 6/10

8. Beast

Look closely and in ­X2 (2003) you’ll see Dr. Hank McCoy on a news broadcast discussing the mutant problem. This was Beast before he went furry, when he was a young X-man. But it’s the cuddly Beast fans really love, so when the acrobatic brainiac appeared in the third X-Men movie Brett Ratner cast perfectly and got Kelsey Grammer on board. When you read Beast in the comics you can almost hear Frasier’s voice in your head. Couple that with a brilliant body suit for Grammer and his Beast was one of the best things in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). When he was recast in X-Men: First Class (2011) Matthew Vaughn brought in Nicholas Hoult. The young act had the chops to do solid work with the script but his build was too slight for a young Hank McCoy and his eventual Beast transformation looked too slender and more cat like than fans were used to seeing. This visual misstep was rectified in Days of Future Past when Hoult's Beast look was beefed up accordingly. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

9. Colossus

The steel clad Russian X-Man Peter Rasputin was always going to be tricky to pull off visually. Singer overcame that hurdle though with some impressive CGI, and one of the coolest on screen X-Men was born. But having done the hard work Singer then tripped over the easy part. Instead of an older more experienced X-Man, Singer made his Colossus a younger student. He also made him American. Still, at least actor Daniel Cudmore had the physique to do the iron mutant proud, standing a towering 6ft 7in and sporting a barn-door build. Ratner also squeezed in the infamous “fastball special”, a fan favourite tag-team move between Colossus and Wolverine that sees the Russian flinging the Canadian at whatever opponent stands in their way. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

10. Angel

The original five X-Men in 1963 were Cyclops, Jean Grey, Iceman, Beast and Angel. Singer chose to play around with character ages and timeframes in order to make his films work, and one of the casualties was the winged mutant Warren Worthington III. When he did finally crop up in the third film actor Ben Foster was stuck with a mutant who would rather have his wings removed than use them to fight alongside the X-Men. However, Foster certainly looked the part, with the CGI Angel wings and slick blonde hair. With the next X-Men movie already announced as X-Men: Apocalypse fans wait to see if Angel’s transformation to the steel winged Archangel as one of Apocalypse’s horsemen is on the cards. Comic to screen accuracy: 6/10

11. Nightcrawler

One of the most faithful adaptations in the X-movies, Alan Cumming’s portrayal of Nightcrawler was a spot on rendition of the German mutant Kurt Wagner. Even without make-up Cumming had a look which invoked Nightcrawler, and with the “Bamph” special-effects the mutant’s teleportation powers looked fantastic as he debuted spinning around the White House. Cumming also did wonders with the script, fully embodying Wagner’s ever optimistic attitude towards life. It’s a real shame that he has only appeared in one outing to date, X2 (2003). Non-comic fans may have noted the yellow eyes and blue skin and put two and two together; in the comic, Nightcrawler is Mystique’s son (effectively making him Rogue’s stepbrother). Comic to screen accuracy: 10/10

12. Gambit

Second behind Wolverine in the popularity stakes is the raging Cajun, Remy Lebeau. A cheeky thief from the Bayou, the smooth talking playing-card thrower was the one mutant fans were clamouring to see on the big screen (he was played by James Bamford in X2 (2003) but the scenes ended up on the cutting room floor). He was eventually introduced in X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) but as this was set in 1979 it raises questions as to how Gambit can appear in future outings and still be of appropriate age. Still, what we do see of Gambit is impressive. Taylor Kitsch certainly looked the part and his back alley throwdown with Wolverine is one of the highlights of the film. Unfortunately we just didn’t see enough of him to get the full Gambit effect. The will-they-won’t-they relationship between Remy and Rogue has been a long and popular story thread in the comics. Again, with Paquin’s Rogue going down a different path, the chances of this plot ever making it to cinemas remains remote. Here’s hoping Kitsch gets to don the brown raincoat again in the future. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

13. Kitty Pryde / Shadowcat

Three actresses have had a stab at Kitty Pryde, though it’s Ellen Page who has made the role her own (Sumela Kay and Katie Stuart appeared only as cameos). Only recently has Kitty moved on from being a teenage character in the comics, finally given status as a teacher at the Xavier Institute. So it’s as a teenager most comic fans remember her, and that’s just how Page presents her on screen, looking the part and playing the part well. The only thing missing was Kitty’s pink alien mini-dragon Lockheed who would often perch on her shoulder; this was probably a good thing. Despite all the good work, Kitty was bumped from the Days of Future Past storyline. In the comics it’s Kitty who goes back in time to warn the older X-Men of the impending mutant holocaust; in the movie its Wolverine who travels back to try and change time, leaving Ellen Page stuck in a disastrous near future. Comic to screen accuracy: 9/10

14. Banshee

In the comics Sean Cassidy, aka Banshee, was a long-ginger-haired Irish man’s man with the ability to fly by screeching to create supersonic sound waves. He was also an Interpol agent before joining the X-Men’s second team and starting a long-term relationship with Xavier’s unrequited love Dr. Moira MacTaggert.  In X-Men: First Class (2011) Caleb Landry Jones’ Banshee is distinctly non-Irish and non-adult. His eventual uniform for the Cuba Missile Crisis battle at the end had some nice nods to the original Banshee costume, but as Landry Jones is not appearing in Days of Future Past fans won’t get to see if the onscreen Banshee will move more towards his comic origins or not. Comic to screen accuracy: 4/10

15. Havok

Here the timeline really starts to come off the rails. In the comics Alex Summers is the younger brother of Scott Summers, aka Cyclops. But noting that Scott Summers is in high school in 1979 during X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009) and that Alex is already in his late teens in X-Men: First Class (2011) which is set in 1962, something has gone wrong somewhere. Whether they are going to flip the brother’s age and make Alex the older brother remains to be seen. Outside of this rather large oversight, Lucas Till does well with the role, looking the part of a young Havok and eventually suiting up into something that kind of resembles the traditional Havok costume. His onscreen powers also looked good, although for better accuracy they need to move from his chest to his hands. Comic to screen accuracy: 6/10

16. Darwin

A more recent addition to the X-Men comic world, Darwin made his first appearance in X-Men: Deadly Genesis (2006). It was a strange choice to bulk out the cast of X-Men: First Class (2011) with other more notable mutants missing out. But the character worked well on screen albeit for the brief spell he was an X-Man. Fans debate whether Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw really killed him off or whether Darwin’s power of reactive evolution was able to get him out of another sticky spot. Given how watchable actor Armando Munoz and how well he suited the part, here’s hoping it’s the latter. Comic to screen accuracy: 7/10

17. Leech

Brought in more as a plot device than a character for development, Leech’s power to neutralise other mutant’s powers when they are within his near vicinity drove the plot of X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). Cameron Bright looked striking in the part, his shaved head a possible tribute to Xavier, an equally powerful mutant. But in the comics Leech is one of the Morlocks, a band of mutants banished underground due to their physically unappealing nature. The Morlock Leech  is short and green in appearance. It would have been more interesting for Ratner to go with this look and maybe even introduce additional Morlocks, but the more audience friendly approach was taken. Comic to screen accuracy: 3/10

18. Siryn

The younger sister of Banshee, Theresa Rourke Cassidy is one of the younger mutants seen around the school in the sequel X2 (2003). Actress Shauna Kain got her big moment when it was time to shake the walls of the Xavier mansion when Stryker’s covert ops team bust through the windows in the middle of the night. Like her brother, in the comics she is an Irish mutant with a shock of red hair and the usual set of comic heroine curves. In the film she’s anything but that. To date there’s no word on whether Siryn will give her vocal chords another workout. Comic to screen accuracy: 3/10

19. Jubilee

Jubilation Lee made her comic debut in 1989 but it wasn’t until the 1992 television series that her popularity really took off. She was very much the eyes and ears for viewers, discovering the world of X-Men anew just like we were. Though she sprang from the nineties “mall rat” teen culture she remained popular even after the animated television show came to an end. Her journey through the show became the template Singer used for Rogue in X-Men (2000), Anna Paquin becoming the viewpoint through which audiences discovered mutants on the big screen. As a result Jubilee’s movie story has gone untold. This is a shame as actresses Katrina Florece and Kea Wong both looked the part, right down to the yellow coat, funky shades and chunky jewellery. Comic to screen accuracy: 7/10

20. Dr. Moira MacTaggert

Our first non-mutant hero and the long-time love interest of Professor Xavier, the Scottish Moira MacTaggert is an expert mutant biologist in the comics. Her first outing on screen kept true to this with Olivia Williams appearing briefly to somehow help Xavier jump into the body of a brain dead mutant in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006). But things got confusing in X-Men: First Class (2011) with Moira somehow defying age to appear in the early 1960s as actress Rose Byrne, no longer practising medicine but fighting international terrorism for the CIA. As good as Byrne looked in the role and as impressively as she handled the script, it did feel like the shoe-horning in of another name familiar to fans just for the sake of it. Comic to screen accuracy: 5/10

21. Artie Maddicks

Another blink and miss it student cameo for one of the lesser known mutants, Artie Maddicks first appeared in X-Factor issue 2 back in 1986. X-Factor was Marvel’s third major ­X-Men comic, reuniting the original five mutants in a whole new team which worked directly for the government to help solve mutant issues. Artie has only been a minor mutant over the years, his ability to telepathically project images lost during a mass depowering of mutants in a recent Marvel storyline. On screen he appears only briefly and forked tongue aside looks nothing like his pink skinned comic forbear. Comic to screen accuracy: 3/10

22. Yukio

Moving on to the more recent The Wolverine (2013) James Mangold attempted to bring the original classic four part Wolverine comic from 1982 to cinemas, with mixed results. Pitched younger in the film than in the comic, to avoid any potential love interest between Wolverine and his Japanese sidekick, actress Rila Fukushima made a strong impression with a role that could have been lost in the background. One further controversial decision was Yukio’s power to foresee people’s deaths. While it’s not stated on screen whether this is a mutant ability, it’s certainly implied. As a story tool to ramp up the tension leading to Wolverine’s “death”, it works. But it also stands as an unnecessary straying from the original source material. Thankfully, Fukushima’s strong work covers over most of these niggles. Comic to screen accuracy: 6/10

23. Mariko Yashida

In the comics, Mariko Yashida is Wolverine’s first wife; in the movie The Wolverine their relationship is left hanging. If only Logan would stop pining after Jean. A fairly standard character in the comics, the on screen adaptation by actress Tao Okamoto made the most of the role. The chemistry between Okamoto and Jackman was strong, and bodes well for future outings, though it’s doubtful whether Logan will return to the Orient. Mangold was able to make Mariko a strong character without resorting to the obviousness of outfitting her with a set of kickass martial arts moves, something which everyone from the Far East has according to Hollywood. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

24. Vindicator

The kindly old lady whose sink Wolverine smashes to pieces? In the credits she’s listed as Heather Hudson, and as any X-comic fan will tell you Hudson herself is a mutant. Known as Vindicator, she has the ability to fly, to create a force-field and to manipulate geo-thermal energy. Together with her husband James Hudson, aka Guardian, they are part of the somewhat bizarrely named group Alpha Flight, Canada’s own team of mighty mutants. In the comics Heather and James did indeed take Wolverine in during his post Weapon X transformation when he was left wandering the wilderness. Whether elderly actress Julia Blake is going to don her own set of superhero togs anytime soon remains doubtful, and the name check in the credits was more than likely just a nod to eagle-eyed fans. Comic to screen accuracy: 0/10

25. Bishop

The first of the new mutants introduced in Days of Future Past, visually director Singer got things spot on. His long dreadlocks, “M” face tattoo, and man-mountain physique make him a unique mutant, and actor Omar Sy filled out his costume to perfection. Bishop's energy absorption powers were also expertly utilised, even extending to a sidearm that the character could recharge with his own mutant ability. The only thing missing was the characters chip-on-the-shoulder, man-out-of-time personality, Bishop's onscreen time limited to high action encounters with the future Sentinels. Comic to screen accuracy: 8/10

26. Blink

Another of the newbies, Blink has a chequered past in the comics, being killed off not long after her first introduction only to be redrawn and recreated with a new look and vibe in a parallel universe a short time later. For Days of Future Past Singer has did away with the pink skin and green outfit look, but retained the distinctive face tattoos for Chinese actress and popstar Fan Bingbing. The use of her teleportation portal powers was also inspired, allowing the X-Men to take fight to the Sentinels in a brilliantly unique way. Comic to screen accuracy: 6/10

27. Sunspot

Another minor mutant given promotion to the big league thanks to Days of Future Past, Sunspot is the X-Men’s equivalent to the evil Pyro, his mutant ability to control solar power and redirect it very similar to Pyro’s flame wielding ability. Adam Canto’s movie look appears to be based on the original Sunspot from the second Marvel X-title New Mutants, before the character turned into a walking jet black humanoid some years later. Again, like most of the Days newly introduced mutants, the script doesn't provide Canto with any lines to flesh out his character. Comic to screen accuracy: 7/10

28. Warpath

One of the first (and only) mutants to be killed off and actually stay dead, the native American-Indian Thunderbird didn’t last long in the X-Men comics before heading to the big Danger Room in the sky. He left behind a little brother though, James Proudstar, aka Warpath, who quickly turned from vengeful villain to X-Force recruit. Warpath has a range of powers including heightened strength, speed, agility and flight. Singer recruited actor Boo Boo Stewart for an impressive looking Warpath, though its not quite clear from the action exactly what that characters powers are in the film. Comic to screen accuracy: 7/10

Next up, we do battle with the X-villains!


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