The MCU took its first step towards an integrated television universe when Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. launched on ABC in 2013. Agent Carter and Inhumans were soon to follow. Now, AoS is approaching its 6th and final season, and Marvel’s reach has extended to Netflix (Daredevil, Jessica Jones, etc), Freeform (Cloak & Dagger), and Hulu (Runaways). The shows may not tie into the movies as much as fans would like, but they do attempt to connect to one another, however subtly. Fox has even entered the game with The Gifted and Legion, although they are not technically a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Comic books aren’t always an easy medium to adapt, especially on a TV budget. Aside from the money issue, there is also the question of what works on the page, versus what works onscreen. Plus, if we’re being honest, certain costumes were in dire need of a modern update. Comic book characters have been drawn by many different artists over the years, all of whom have had varying interpretations of them. Steve Ditko’s Spider-Man is worlds away from Todd McFarlane’s, but both were integral to the development of the character.
Marvel’s television shows have given us fresh takes on characters both old and new. Some were successful and others, not so much. Regardless of what worked and what didn’t, let’s talk about the way that our favorite heroes and villains appeared on the small screen. Not everything translates well from one medium to another.
Here are 7 Marvel Characters That Look Worse On TV (And 13 That Look WayBetter).
20 Better - Kingpin
Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. introduced readers to Wilson Grant Fisk in 1967 in Amazing Spider-Man #50. It would’ve been incredibly difficult to portray the TV Kingpin in a way that was truly accurate to the comics. Although he appears to be a large, overweight man, in actuality, the guy is all muscle - not an easy body type to replicate onscreen.
Thankfully, Netflix had a stroke of genius when casting Vincent D’Onofrio.
The actor may not look exactly like Fisk in terms of physical appearance, but it makes no difference. His demeanor is absolutely perfect. D’Onofrio’s Kingpin is cool and classy. He’s also frightening when he needs to be, with a storm always brewing just beneath his calm veneer. All in all, Daredevil delivers a Kingpin who looks even more believable than the comics villain.
19 Better - Elektra
Can you imagine a live-action Elektra attempting to fight in her comic costume? Sure, her red outfit is iconic, but it’s also impractical to say the least. Elektra Natchios was created by Frank Miller in 1981 and played a pivotal role during the best run in Daredevil history. That doesn’t mean that her outfit wasn’t in desperate need of an update.
There is no denying that Elodie Yung's appearance in Daredevil season 3 is a marked improvement. It kept Elektra looking stealthy and allowed for freedom of movement. Although Elektra’s look was fairly simplistic in Daredevil, her return in The Defenders gave her costume an upgrade that certainly paid homage to the character’s comic look without resorting to clothing her in lingerie.
18 Worse - Black Bolt
There were many disappointing aspects of Inhumans: casting, dialogue, and most definitely the way that the characters were portrayed onscreen. The Royal Family is already kind of a tough sell, so perhaps making them look cool on a TV budget simply wasn’t possible.
One of the worst offenders was their king, Black Bolt. Created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in 1965, Blackagar Boltagon is an imposing force. He cannot speak, but the best artists on the book have found ways for him to be incredibly expressive nonetheless.
Anson Mount wasn’t really a great fit to begin with, but it doesn’t help that his costume was so lame.
Yes, Black Bolt’s comic look wouldn’t have been easy to pull off on TV, but the right actor could’ve made it work. Mount always looked more pained than regal.
17 Better - Cottonmouth
Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes was created by Len Wein and George Tuska in 1974. Luke Cage's Cottonmouth is unrecognizable from his comic counterpart. However, there is one important distinction to be made here: Mahershala Ali. The actor brought so much to the role, making Cornell such believable Big Bad that the series suffered after his untimely exit.
This is also another example of what does and does not work onscreen. Cottonmouth’s cartoonish comic appearance simply wouldn’t have made sense in the world of Luke Cage - more on Diamondback later. The MCU has oft been criticized for its lack of compelling villains, but Cornell was one of the best. This likely wouldn’t have been the case if the show had chosen to take inspiration from the comics on this one.
16 Better - Typhoid Mary
Ann Nocenti and John Romita Jr. created Mary Walker, aka Typhoid Mary, in 1988. The character has since gone through many costume changes. This is comics we’re talking about, though, so none of them have been particularly practical. Mary is often seen wearing torn fishnets and little else, whether it’s a bustier, a shirt with some serious shoulder pads or a leather jacket with nothing under it. Her face is usually half painted as a nod to the dichotomy within.
Mary made her MCU debut in Iron Fist’s much improved 2nd season and her look is far more realistic, to say the least.
Played by Alice Eve, the character fit in with the world created for Netflix’s corner of the MCU far more than the Typhoid Mary of the comics would have.
15 Worse - Nuke
Created by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, Nuke, aka Frank Simpson, debuted in 1986. One of his most defining characteristics is the American flag tattooed on his face, which was noticeably absent from Will Simpson’s visage. It wasn’t even revealed until late in Jessica Jones season 1 that Will Travel’s character was the MCU’s version of Nuke and most fans were surprised by the revelation.
If we’re going on looks alone, Simpson is unrecognizable from his comic counterpart. Perhaps if Travel had brought more to the role, this wouldn’t be so glaring. As it stands though, there is nothing particularly striking about the character. While it is true that the tattoo would’ve revealed his connection to Nuke immediately, there’s no reason that it couldn’t have become part of the show at some point.
14 Better - Kilgrave
Zebediah Killgrave first appeared in Daredevil #4 in 1964. Stan Lee and Joe Orlando’s villain was rather goofy, but all of that changed when Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos brought the character into Alias many years later. Although that comic series made him truly frightening, David Tennant did an amazing job of playing a particularly nuanced version of Kilgrave.
He was less of a mustache-twirling villain and more of a monster who mistakenly believed himself to be a man.
Some feel that a character known as the Purple Man really ought to appear on TV with the same purple hue that he does in the comics. However, this would’ve detracted from the villain overall. Part of what made him so memorable was his humanity, much more difficult to convey when you’re sporting purple skin.
13 Better - Mockingbird
Created by Len Wein and Neal Adams, Dr. Barbara Morse debuted in 1971, but didn’t make her full appearance as Mockingbird until 1980. This is a tough one, because Adrianne Palicki isn’t rocking the blue and white uniform that Bobbi is known for. Even still, we’re giving this one to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. based on the fact that the uniform she dons makes a lot more sense in the context of the show than her signature look would’ve.
It helps that Palicki did such an excellent job portraying the character and that she was written as more than an ersatz Black Widow. While classic Mockingbird would’ve made a fine addition were she fighting by Hawkeye’s side in the movies, that look wasn’t quite stealthy enough for an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.
12 Worse - Medusa
Another Lee/Kirby creation, Medusalith Amaquelin-Boltagon made her first appearance in a Fantastic Four #36 in 1965, debuting several issues before her husband, Black Bolt. In the comics, Medusa’s prehensile hair is as beautiful as it is dangerous. Unfortunately, in Inhumans it came across as neither.
It was laughably bad.
True, hair as a superpower was going to be as difficult to get across as a guy who can’t speak. However, Serinda Swan’s lackluster performance was made all the worse by Medusa’s painfully awful wig. Once again, a different performer coupled with better special effects could’ve worked wonders for the queen. The only character that Inhumans kind of got right was Lockjaw and let’s be real, it’s difficult to mess up an adorable giant teleporting dog.
11 Better - Bushmaster
There are actually two Bushmasters in Marvel Comics, but Netflix chose to focus on the first one, John McIver. Created by Chris Claremont and John Byrne, the character debuted in Iron Fist #15 in 1977. The Bushmaster we meet in season 2 of Luke Cage certainly looks cooler than the one from the comics. In fact, we’d go so far as to say that his early costume rivals that of Luke's, in terms of sheer awfulness.
Mustafa Shakir's iteration of the character is simply better than the original villain. He’s far more nuanced and far less one-note. Netflix’s Bushmaster also undeniably has a better sense of style. Seriously, can you imagine Luke throwing down with a Bushmaster whose costume was more comics-accurate?
10 Worse - Diamondback
Willis Stryker was created by Archie Goodwin and George Tuska in 1972. It made sense to bring him into Luke Cage, considering he was the first major Big Bad the character ever faced. Although the writers chose not to take much inspiration from the source material regarding Cottonmouth, for Diamondback, the series decided to really lean into the character’s comic book roots. This is fine in theory, considering the MCU is full of costumed heroes and villains.
Where Cornell was a fully-formed character, Willis was much more of a simple caricature.
Cottonmouth was such a compelling villain, but sadly, Erik LaRay Harvey came off as silly and cartoonish. The ridiculous outfit that he wore to face off against Luke certainly didn’t do anything to change that. With a more realistic approach, Diamondback could've been a better character.
9 Better - Cloak & Dagger
Tyrone Johnson and Tandy Bowen debuted in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #64 in 1982. They were created by Bill Mantlo and Ed Hannigan. Although the creators of the duo likely had good intentions at the time, their costumes needed to change in the transition from page to screen. Often, all that was visible of Tyrone in the comics was his head, with the rest of him obscured by the darkness of his cloak. Tandy was no better, sporting a skintight unitard with a dagger-shaped cutout over her chest.
Cloak and Dagger is one of the MCU’s best shows and it found a way to honor the source material, all the while giving it some much needed updates. Tyrone (Aubrey Joseph) and Tandy’s (Olivia Holt) appearance was one of many ways that the series improved upon the comics.
8 Worse - Iron Fist
Although Iron Fist’s 2nd season greatly improved on the 1st, the titular hero still hasn’t managed to look quite as cool as the Danny Rand from the comics. Honestly, Danny’s costume was always going to be tough to pull off in a live-action adaptation.
Perhaps there was just no way for his look to translate well.
To be fair, the series did its best to incorporate elements of Danny’s classic costume during season 2. Even still, we have to give this one to the character Roy Thomas and Gil Kane created in 1974 - although perhaps not in the costume that he debuted in. Danny’s outfit has gone through several variations over the years, with some much better than others. Either way, Finn Jones’s character may have grown this season, but he still can’t quite compare to his comic counterpart.
7 Better - Legion
The incredibly powerful son of Charles Xavier, David Haller was created by Chris Claremont and Bill Sienkiewicz in 1985. Legion, as he came to be known, was an Omega-level mutant who suffered from dissociative identity disorder. Unlike most comic characters who are living with a mental illness, David’s has always been more than a mere plot device.
Sure, Legion’s David Haller appears more average Joe than superhero, but we’d argue that’s a better look for him than his comic book appearance. Even still, it very was cool that the series gave a nice nod to David’s classic look in season 2. Dan Stevens was not only rocking a comics-accurate costume, but also had Legion’s trademark crazy hair.
6 Worse - Mr. Hyde
Created by Stan Lee and Don Heck, Calvin Zabo dates back to 1963. Kyle MacLachlan is an excellent actor, but that doesn’t really make a difference in terms of Mr. Hyde’s appearance.
His entire character simply felt like a missed opportunity.
Of course, much of this was likely due to the budgetary constraints of television. It would’ve been difficult for AoS to make Hyde’s appearance as intimating as his comic counterpart without more money than the effects department had to work with. AoS has done an awesome job of repurposing characters that either stopped being relevant years ago or were never that popular to begin with. Although his daughter Daisy is emblematic of the show’s success in this area, Mr. Hyde couldn’t live up to even a minimal amount of hype.
5 Better - Daredevil
Matthew Michael Murdock was created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett in 1964. Although Daredevil's Netflix costume is incredibly comics accurate, his TV appearance is slightly more impressive for bringing it into the live-action world in such a believable way. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins somehow managed to take a suit that had previously looked rather silly onscreen and present as something that could actually be worn in real life. Daredevil accomplished the same feat with Charlie Cox’s superhero getup.
The series also gets extra points for incorporating Matt’s early outfit from Frank Miller’s classic origin story, Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. No one’s complaining that we didn’t get to see DD’s original yellow costume, though. It seems like most fans are fine with that deviation from the source material.
4 Better - Deathlok
There have been several Deathloks over the years, with the character originally dating back to 1974. However, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has a penchant for using older characters in unexpected ways. Most fans were surprised when J. August Richards’s Mike Peterson evolved into the MCU’s Deathlok. Based on looks, there is no arguing that the Deathlok of AoS is a much more believable fit in the Marvel Cinematic Universe than a version more inspired by his comic appearance would’ve been.
For one thing, he’s not rocking a bodysuit.
Aside from that, although the whole part man/part machine aspect of the character is kept intact, Mike is still incredibly human in appearance. Plus, his costume is an undeniable improvement.
3 Worse - The Owl
One of Daredevil’s earliest foes, the Owl was created by Stan Lee and Joe Orlando in 1964. If this Big Bad wasn’t going by the name Leland Owlsey in the Netflix series, would anyone have even recognized him? In fact, there is no point before his demise that Leland even remotely resembled his namesake in either appearance or behavior. We're not suggesting that he had to be an exact replica or anything, but some indication he’s the Owl would’ve been nice.
Still, even with Bob Gunton’s iteration of the character kicking the bucket back in season 1, we still may get a proper Owl. Leland mentioned having a son named Lee. Perhaps he will one day take up the mantle in Hell’s Kitchen on behalf of avenging his father. We’ll have to wait and see.
2 Better - Thunderbird
John Proudstar, aka Thunderbird, was one of several characters to debut in Giant Size X-Men #1. Created by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum in 1975, the Apache mutant lost his life on the team’s second mission. He has since been resurrected, but still played a fairly minor role in the Marvel universe.
Interestingly, The Gifted chose to showcase John, rather than his brother James, although the latter lasted quite a bit longer in the comics. Aside from his short lifespan, John was also pretty much entirely defined by his Native heritage.
The Thunderbird of X-Men’s TV universe (Blair Redford) is a much more well rounded character in both personality and appearance.
Thunderbird’s creators were well-intentioned, but his comic costume would be considered offensive today. Thankfully, The Gifted has kept him out of it.
1 Better - Karolina Dean
Like the rest of the Runaways, Karolina Dean was created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona, and debuted in 2003. Although the Hulu adaptation took some time to get where it was going in the show’s freshman season, it definitely kept the essence of these characters intact. Many changes were made to the story, but the showrunners’ reverence for the source material is apparent.
The greatest challenge in terms of the characters’ looks was always going to be showing Karolina’s powers - and creating a believable Old Lace. Karolina is pretty much made of rainbows. Although Alphona and other artists have pulled this off with dazzling effect in the comics, making it look good on a TV budget is a whole different issue. It was a difficult effect to pull off, but the show met the challenge, with excellent results.
What Marvel characters do you think look better or worse on TV? Let us know in the comments!