The women of DC and Marvel Comics are among the most powerful, well-developed, and iconic characters ever. Both companies have created women characters of great depth, nuance, and badassery. Fans of theirs can only be excited when they get adapted into other media. Who wouldn’t want to see the ladies they loved reading in comics grace their screens in all their glory?
Except… what is this? Why can’t she fly when she can fly in the comics? How come she barely fights? Why is she so easily defeated when she ought to be damn near unstoppable?
Let’s explore some egregious examples of badass women characters from comics who were comparatively less powerful when making the leap to film, live-action tv, or animation.
For the bulk of her DCEU appearances, Wonder Woman couldn’t fly. Instead, she could super leap. This always was a questionable choice, since DC almost never takes away Superman’s ability to fly (outside of the near entirety of Smallville, for executive reasons). Why is this a problem when Diana still has her strength, speed, weapons, and other powers and equipment? Because it limits what she can do and how she can save people. If there’s a falling plane and she’s the only one there, what can she do? Nothing.
Of course, the DCEU gave her her ability to fly by the time of her largely panned standalone sequel Wonder Woman: 1984, but it should have been one of her powers from the start. It also shouldn’t have been basically due to Steve Trevor helping her realize she could do it.
It’s important to note that the DCEU was not the only adaptation to have Diana be flightless. Her 2009 animated solo film Wonder Woman also saw her earthbound, as did the more recent animated film Justice Society: World War II. Let’s hope that in her upcoming solo game, her first ever, she will be able to defy gravity and wreak havoc in combat.
Doctor Strange: Multiverse of Madness did to America Chavez exactly what they did to Diana! Girl is running when she should be flying! They also downplayed her skin tone, her curlier hair, her queerness, her firecracker personality, and her confidence, and made her a virtual shell of her comics counterpart. How is this a good thing? I’ll wait.
This one is more of a nitpick, but technically the pre-52 version of Harley had low-level superhuman strength and agility as well as an immunity to toxins thanks to Poison Ivy. While the DCEU is very capable, especially highlighted in Birds of Prey and The Suicide Squad, having her powers would make her even better. Who doesn’t want to be better, especially in a world of superheroes and villains?
Like Harley Quinn, the comics version of Black Widow has a little bit of juice missing from her live-action counterpart. 616 Widow has a Red Room variant of the Super-Solider Serum aka the serum that gave Captain America his powers. This variant serum, like Cap, gives Natasha peak human strength and physical capabilities. It also greatly enhances her longevity and immune system.
The MCU version is just a very skilled base human with no apparent enhancements. In fact, Joss Whedon decided to establish that she and other Widows were forced to get hysterectomies in order to complete their training. In Natasha’s words during Avengers: Age of Ultron, not being able to have children made her a “monster” like the Hulk. Not because she was an assassin. Because she couldn’t have kids… This line of reasoning led to Widow’s death in Endgame when she decided that, having no family of her own, her life meant less than racist archer aka Hawkeye’s.
I’m sure this development had nothing to do with Scarlett Johanssen getting unexpectedly pregnant while the filming was being done, limiting her involvement. Just like Charisma Carpenter’s real-life pregnancy surely wasn’t the gateway to her character’s possession and eventual death in Angel.
We can make fun of Dwayne Johnson for his hubris in assuming he, and he alone, would run DC films and that Black Adam would be the face of it. Additionally, he purposefully alienated the Black Adam character from Shazam, which was a big mistake.
Another was having Black Adam’s iconic love interest, Adrianna Tomaz, be nothing but a Badass Normal. Did Johnson assume more films would come and planned for Adrianna to get her powers from the comics? Did they skirt around her getting them from the beginning due to the Isis name forever being tainted by the real-life terrorist group? She didn’t have to be called anything, she could have just used her real name and had powers. Did Johnson not want to share the screen with more superpowered characters? This Justice Society was shockingly limited. Not even five members.
Adrianna is a very fascinating character, and her having divine and magical powers would have been a delight in an otherwise forgettable viewing experience.
Joss Whedon, an admitted X-Men fanboy, turned the Scarlet Witch from a probability altering, reality-warper to a Jean Grey knockoff. Admittedly, Wanda’s red energy signature was much more visually engaging than Jean’s invisible powers in the FOX X-Men films and X-Men: Evolution, but a knockoff is still a knockoff.
By WandaVision we got more comics-accurate powers, but Doctor Strange 2 would also largely walk this back. Yes, Wanda uses magic in that film, but her reality-warping is all but absent, arguably, aside from her taking away Black Bolt’s mouth and turning Mister Fantastic into silly string.
Should she return, let’s hope Wanda gets the redemption arc she deserves as well as the powerset she deserves.
As divisive as the Birds of Prey film was, most fans agree that Jurnee Smollet’s performance was excellent. Unfortunately, Black Canary in this film is the least skilled of all the fighters present, when she is based on one of the best fighters of the entire DC Universe. Additionally, she passed out from using her superpower, the famed Canary Cry. People have reasoned with me that it was because she had not used it in years, and that’s why. Well, the movie never explained that to me, and I don’t like it either way.
It’s sad we won’t get our solo Black Canary film. Yet, given the many missteps of the quickly dying DCEU, even Jurnee’s excellent acting chops likely wouldn’t have saved what very likely would have been a disappointing project outside of she herself.
From deadly warrior in the comics to Tagalong Kid in the film, Cassandra Cain was completely and utterly unrecognizable. Some Birds of Prey film apologists have argued that this version of the character was fine because the film avoided the silent Asian trope. But Cassandra could have still been the badass she always was and still be able to speak, just like she could as the comics went on. There was nothing about this character that signified she was Cassandra Cain aside from her name and being Asian. She might as well have been Sin.
When you include Cassandra Cain there is an expectation of skills and badassery. Aside from film!Cain’s attitude, there was nothing that even made her memorable. Her storyline of swallowing a diamond was also contrived as hell.
Wild as it was, some fans rejoiced when Misty Knight got her arm cut off in The Defenders because it meant the arm was coming. And then it came… and it sucked. Rather than the tricked-out Stark arm, Netflix MCU Misty got what looked like a plastic-ish arm. No real acruchiments. Rand Industries must’ve been strapped for cash or resources. Too bad Misty never met Tony before his ass died.
Probably because her actress, great as she was at acting, Simone Missick clearly wasn’t a fighter, this sadly meant that Misty wasn’t the renounced martial artist she is in the comics. However, Misty did start getting training from her new friend Coleen Wing. This only highlights the incredible missed opportunity of a Daughters of the Dragon spin-off.
From “the deadliest woman in the universe” in the comics to a designated love interest to a man-child/the very worst Hollywood Chris. Comics Gamora, historically anyway (I don’t know how much the MCU has influenced her character now), had zero fucks and was always upgrading to take out powerful men. She was upgraded to take out Adam Warlock, and later her adoptive father Thanos himself.
Perhaps most egregiously, Gamora in the comics successfully wielded an Infinity Gem by herself and used it well. Meanwhile, in the climax of the very first Guardians film, it took all of the Guardians to join hands in order to use/control one. So she could do it without trouble in the comics, but it took all of them to control/utilize/contain one???
Great work James Gunn and MCU.
While Nebula is one of the better Guardians characters in the MCU, she too gets downplayed and underutilized. Comics Nebula wielded the entire Infinity Gauntlet, with all gems. She was a much bigger deal and threat. Instead here she is a minor antagonist and annoyance, to a reluctant ally, to a fully-fledged member of the Guardians and the Avengers.
Why couldn’t the girl just be bad, a big bad, and a powerful threat? Guess we can’t have too many powerful women, especially as threats to mostly male characters.
Mantis went from fucking up Thor with pressure points to becoming the living personification of NyQuil and a horniness detector (to move along romantic subplots). It doesn’t matter if she subdued Thanos with most gems (and a lot of help, mind you), why couldn’t she be more of the badass she’d been in the comics?
I didn’t see Guardians 3, so if anything changed with her or the other ladies of the Guardians… I don’t care. Sorry, y’all. I’m not watching Chris Pratt anymore.
People who don’t read comics or experience the right adaptations might not know just how incredibly powerful Storm truly is. You’d never know watching her struggle with Toad in her live-action film debut. Storm also should have put up a much better fight against Cyclops in Apocalypse since a powerless Storm once epically defeated him in the comics, and he still had his powers too!
Wolverine and the X-Men also saw Storm often being the first taken out, when traditionally she is one of the last to fall, if at all. X-Men: Anime also downplayed her power and combat capabilities. X-Men: The Animated Series and X-Men: Evolution were more accurate with Storm’s skill and power levels.
X-Men: The Animated Series was iconic and did wonderful things. It brought an entire generation of new fans into the X-Men mythos, even comics.
It also turned Jean Grey, a certified badass even in that very same outfit at the time, into a total joke. She could barely move without tripping and falling. Her powers were always weak as hell and she either needed to be saved or have her teammates finish whatever she was trying to do. Only when she became the Phoenix and then Dark Phoenix did she have power levels that befit her comic counterpart.
Perhaps due to this jarring, yet notable and famous portrayal, the Fox X-Men movies began with Jean being weak as hell outside of using Cerebro (an act that almost killed her). She fared far better in her subsequent film appearances, as well as her subsequent animated appearances, such as Evolution, Wolverine and the X-Men, X-Men: Anime, and even a guest appearance in Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
Let me say again from many times I’ve said before: Anna Paquin is not to blame for movie Rogue being weak. Bryan Singer and him being proud to not know the comics were. Fact: Anna wanted Rogue to fly and was vocal about it. Another fact: we saw that Anna in fact can play sassier and feistier when she played Sookie Stackhouse in True Blood. Ultimately, the decision to turn Rogue from a reformed femme fatale and smiling flying brick badass to a powered-down scared teen sidekick with an unrequited crush (ew), was the big mistake. Blame Singer and the creatives, not Paquin.
Furthermore: X-Men: Evolution and Wolverine and the X-Men also gave us Rogue with only absorption powers, and she was badass and effective in both. Evolution saw Rogue actively training to be more athletic and agile in the field. Wolverine and the X-Men saw her use her absorption in some very liberal ways, absorbing powers from more than one mutant at a time.
Olivia Munn looked the part and looked great. Her powers looked cool. The psi-whip was unexpected and really cool. But where was her backstory? Was she Betsy? She didn’t have an accent. Was she Kwannon? Kwannon would also likely have an accent, Japanese in her case.
Perhaps because Munn isn’t a fighter or because the film heads didn’t care to train her better, Psylocke’s famed martial arts were… not the best. As much as I love Beast, I feel comics Psylocke (either of them) would absolutely wreck him. His giving her trouble despite what should have been her master martial arts skills and her psionic powers, was baffling.
Side note, Psylocke in Apocalypse used Psi-blades and weapons that could affect physical matter. That energy comes specifically from telekinetic energy. Telepathy-based psi-blades (that she originally had) only affected organic minds, it didn’t affect physical matter whatsoever. Thus, as her blades in the film clearly affect matter, she should have telekinesis. Thus when she almost fell to her death, her needing to use her psi-katana to slow her fall (the impact of which would have ripped her arm off as well) was foolish. Telekinetic Psylocke could at the very least create a slide or carpet out of telekinetic energy can safely lower herself, assuming she couldn’t simply levitate or fly down via telekinesis. But clearly, Singer and company had no idea how her powers should work or why they work the way they do.
Almost everything about Emma Frost in X-Men: First Class was wrong. Her actress, and likely her director, had no idea who Emma Frost is or what her personality should be. Emma is dry-witted, snarky, sarcastic, haughty, and pragmatic as hell. She is also incredibly proud and would have mentally tormented Sebastian Shaw if he ever fixed his mouth to command her to fetch him ice, let alone thought it.
Her telepathy was fine, especially when she was shown giving Charles trouble. The main issue with her powers was her diamond form. It was weak as fuck. Magneto using a bedpost to hold her down and nearly shatter her was downright insulting. Emma should be nearly invulnerable in her diamond form, save for one single flaw (implied to be somewhere on her face, but Erik wouldn’t know that). We know we needed her defeated and to move along the plot, but they should have found another way. Maybe an intense Charles vs. Emma telepathic battle which he barely wins or where Erik takes the opportunity to strike while she’s busy.
Either way, it matters not because she dead. Also that universe, hopefully, is on its way out aside from a possible last hurrah in Deadpool 3.
Don’t be one of those weirdos who complain about too many women in superhero content, or them being too powerful. Also, think critically about the things you consume, even the things you enjoy. Question why some characters get to be strong or dynamic, while others are less effective or fall by the wayside.
Women characters being powerful and skilled should be celebrated. You should see a woman in a movie, show, anime, game, or whatever kicking ass and think: hell yeah! And while many of the women I mentioned on my list were not necessarily ineffective or wastes of time, they all came from versions where they were better. Why must they be diminished when moving into other art forms? Does it make the men around them shine brighter? Are some abilities or skills “less grounded in reality?” Well, a super leap is just as impossible and unlikely as full-on flight, flight is just much cooler and more useful.
If we almost always have Superman fly as one of his core superpowers, why can’t Wonder Woman have the same treatment?
“She couldn’t always fly,” one might argue. Well, neither could he.