In the current age of superhero cinema, it can almost be hard to remember that most of the major characters debuted on comic book pages many decades ago. Particularly for younger generations, it may one day seem as if the past 18 years or so of superhero movies were in fact the origins of the characters. This is the way of things, and makes perfect sense, but sometimes it’s also fun to look at the other places we’ve seen major superheroes – and where they first came from.
To cover every superhero that’s appeared on the big screen in the 21st century would be an exhausting process. But we can at least take a look back at some of the big ones.
It’s only appropriate to start the conversation with Wolverine, because he was really the hero to kick off the
modern superhero era – and he’s also one of the more ubiquitous comic book characters in general. When Hugh Jackman took on the role of Wolverine for the 2000 X-Men movie we had no way of knowing he’d keep it for 17 years, nor that those years at the theaters would be completely dominated by superheroes. Even before then though, Wolverine was a known commodity. He appeared in enough video games for people to rank the best and worst of them, and his classic costume and claws have long made for excellent poster and costume material. As for his first comic book appearance though, Wolverine is surprisingly young. He was first seen in The Incredible Hulk #180 (1974), and had his first major appearance in the following issue later that year. Wolverine’s tie-ins with the X-Men first began to be fleshed out in Giant-Size X-Men #1 the following year.
Arguably more than any other comic book hero, Iron Man has benefited from the modern films. Though the character was known before 2008’s Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr., he wasn’t quite on the same recognition level as the biggest characters in comics. The average person who isn’t interested in comics might have known the name, the costume, and Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” But with 2008’s film Iron Man catapulted to the top of the Marvel Universe, and incidentally launched a decade-long (and counting) cinematic empire. Long before all of this though, Iron Man first appeared in Tales Of Suspense #39 (1963), with Iron Man #1 to follow five years later.
Batman & Superman
We’re including these two together because they’ve been significant cinematic figures since long before the current run of superhero movies. Partly because of this, they’re among the very most popular superheroes in history, and are perhaps the two most important from a cultural standpoint. Debate over the best Batman film is a regular topic in entertainment and pop culture circles on the Internet, and Superman films span from 1978 to 2017. These characters have been in films, on television, in toy stores and costume shops, in video games, and pretty much anywhere else imaginable for half a century, give or take a few years. But in the comics, they debuted even earlier. Batman was first shown in a 1939 comic called Detective Comics #27 (and was said to have been inspired by Superman and influenced by Zorro). Superman had been making the rounds for some time but made his official the prior year, in 1938’s Action Comics #1.
Wonder Woman resurfaced, so to speak, in 2017 when Gal Gadot brought the character to life in splendid fashion on the big screen. Before that she’d been bouncing around in somewhat obscure film and television attempts, as well as some online games. The casino gaming industry makes up a massive portion of the gambling business online and accordingly includes all kinds of fun themes to keep people interested. A Wonder Woman slot has long been among these themes, and was arguably the character’s most prominent role in modern culture before the 2017 film. Many decades before even this online game though, Wonder Woman emerged as part of a very intentional effort to provide young girls with a hero to look up for. She made her debut in 1941 in All-Star Comics #8, and by mid-1942 Wonder Woman #1 had come out.
Spider-Man has about as expansive a modern history as any of these characters. The web-slinging fan favorite has now been attached to three different film franchises since 2002, and is probably only going to become a bigger deal on the big screen now that he’s a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He’s also been in as many video games as most other heroes combined, not to mention being the subject of one doomed Broadway show. Spider-Man, simply put, has been everywhere. Like Wolverine however, he’s a surprisingly young character by elite comic superhero standards, having first been seen in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. He actually didn’t even join the Avengers in the comics until the 2000s.
That covers most of the characters we today would consider to be among the biggest and most influential to have come out of the comic book world. Now, if this has all been news to you, we’d recommend taking things a step further: go back and read the originals!