Even if you’ve never picked up a comic book in your life, chances are you’re still excited for Marvel’s Avengers! You’ve chomped popcorn through all of the films that build up to this point, including both Iron Man movies, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America: The First Avenger, but even then you might be wondering, “Is this anything like the comics?” Some of it’s the same, but some of the differences might surprise you...
We’re pretty used to Robert Downey Jr.’s version of Tony Stark by now, and for many, this is the only Iron Man they’ve ever known. While his on-screen characterization as an arrogant know-it-all is tempered with a great deal of wit and humor, the comic book version has always been much more no-nonsense; think Bruce Wayne without the sadness. Downey’s Stark is always prepared with a good one-liner, while Marvel’s Stark is always ready with firepower.
While the Marvel Universe version of Nick Fury, created in 1963, was a cigar-chomping WWII-veteran-turned-secret-agent who’d done it and seen it all; the “Ultimate” Fury is slightly less experienced and definitely keeps more secrets. The casting of Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury is a direct result of The Ultimates, an alternate reality version of the Avengers created by Mark Millar (Kick-Ass) and artist Bryan Hitch. They specifically modeled Fury after Jackson, hoping the actor would be considered for the role. It worked!
Physicist Bruce Banner is saddled with a dark secret due to a failed experiment. To date, no filmmaker has had quite the handle on the character that Joss Whedon has. It’s easy to get the Hulk right -- big, green, destructive -- but harder to nail Banner. Actor Mark Ruffalo definitely personifies the character as seen in the comics. He’s brilliant, guarded, and resigned to his “curse” with dignity and heroism.
In the comics, S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate, and was born from the same Cold War espionage fad that birthed 007 and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. In The Avengers, they’ve gotten Tony Stark onboard, given Thor the thumbs-up, and made sure Captain America didn’t wake up in the present with too much shell-shock--and we get to see S.H.I.E.L.D.’s iconic Helicarrier headquarters for the very first time on film.
Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson), code named Black Widow, was first introduced as a Stark Enterprises employee in Iron Man 2, later revealed to be a S.H.I.E.L.D. double-agent sent undercover to assist Tony Stark while he was dealing with the double-threat of Whiplash and Justin Hammer. However, when the character was created in 1964, she was a Russian spy and a thorn in the side of the Avengers, until she defected to the U.S.
Perhaps the greatest thing that the Avengers film brings from the comics to the screen is the complicated emotional bond between Thor and his brother Loki. Nah, who's kidding whom? The greatest thing that they bring from the comics is the traditional knock-down, drag-out slobberknocker between Thor and Hulk. All right, both are equally important to the film, and both are things comic fans have come to expect from Thor.
In the comic books, Hawkeye is introduced as a bit of a thug, willing to do whatever it takes to win the heart of Black Widow, including assisting her on early missions against Iron Man. That history between Hawkeye and Widow is touched upon in The Avengers, and Hawkeye’s early start as a villain is paid homage by Joss Whedon in a clever way that we won’t spoil here.
It’s thrilling how much of Captain America they get right in the film. He may be a man out of time, but he’s also a natural born leader, and that is shown to great effect. As much as the character is associated with the team though, he wasn’t actually a founding member, The Avengers found Cap in the ice, not S.H.I.E.L.D, as is the case in the films, and he didn’t become a member of the team until the comic’s fourth issue.
One of the most enjoyable presences in the lead-in films to The Avengers has been Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, the dutiful S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who kept a watchful eye on Stark and kept Thor’s hammer Mjolnir from falling into the wrong hands. But did you know, the character had never appeared in a Marvel comic at all until this year. Battle Scars #6 introduces Agent Phil Coulson into the Marvel Universe and is on stands now, so grab it while you still can!