25 Comic Characters Who Owe Everything to an Actor's Portrayal

Feature Gavin Jasper 8/22/2013 at 1:55PM

Sometimes a great performance is just a great performance. Sometimes it can really cause ripples in the existence of a comic book character. Here are 25 comic characters who, for better or worse, owe their popularity to an actor's portrayal.

There are a lot of superheroes and villains from the comic book world who owe everything to a way they were portrayed on TV or on the big screen, whether because of the actor's performance, the writing or both. I'm not talking about Heath Ledger Joker. Ledger played a fantastic Joker, as did Nicholson and Romero and Hamill. At the end of the day, they didn't really change much with the character. The Joker was always the #1 villain of one of the world's most popular superheroes. He was always going to be a big deal.

I'm talking about those who were really affected. Characters whose public perception, appearances, characterization and even altered backstories reflect it. Most of the times for better; sometimes for worse.

25. Colin Farrell as Bullseye
Daredevil (2003)

As many problems as the Daredevil movie had, they got one thing right: a street-level killer for the mob looks pretty out of place in spandex. Bullseye's sadistic state of mind was far better showcased by having a tattoo of a bullseye etched in his head. Bullseye did ask for a bloody costume, perhaps waiting for the non-existent sequel, but that would have only hindered any sense of badass he had.

Bullseye showed up in Bendis' Daredevil run shortly after, sporting the tattoo. Daredevil proceeded to make it even more permanent by pinning him down, grabbing a sharp rock and carving the rings into Bullseye's skull.

24. Richard Moll as Two-Face
Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1999)

Two-Face has always been in the upper echelon of Batman villains. It's just that he never got to really show himself off in the mainstream due to the nasty half of his appearance. They did want to have Clint Eastwood play him on the Adam West show back in the day, but having a dude's face blown off wasn't going to fly on a family show.

Yet that's exactly what we got! Even though Billy Dee Williams got to show up in the Tim Burton Batman movie as Harvey Dent pre-grossness, the first on-screen depiction of Two-Face was Richard Moll's brilliant turn at the character. Much like Billy Dee was inserted as Dent to bring in a slow burn, we got the same with Dent appearing for a handful of episodes as Bruce Wayne's best friend before the episode that gave us his tragic origin. Two-Face finally broke through and accepted his place as one of the most widely-recognized Batman villains.

23. Cathal J. Dodd as Wolverine
X-Men: The Animated Series (1992-1997)

Back in the 80's, Wolverine made two cartoon appearances and both of them depicted him as overly Australian. I don't get it either. At the height of the franchise's popularity, they needed to make sure they got him totally right on the cartoon and they found the perfect voice actor in Cathal J. Dodd. His gravel surliness helped solidify him as being the coolest guy to the impressionable youth watching the show. While he went on to reprise the role in various video games, even the other guys who have taken his spot in other X-Men cartoons have tried to ape him.

I can't imagine anyone reading Wolverine dialogue in the comics without hearing that voice.

22. Randy Hayes as the Juggernaut
The Juggernaut, Bitch!! (2003)

Rick Bennett played an okay Juggernaut on the X-Men cartoon. He had the voice down, but his delivery was really bad. Randy Hayes, alongside his buddy Xavier Nazario, improved his work a decade later by dubbing over it. Juggernaut remained as boastful about his invincibility as ever, but he also grew a potty mouth and kept talking about being a pimp. I thought it was pretty funny for the first few minutes, but then it lost gas and had to rely on rape jokes.

A few years later, once YouTube kicked in, the video became a huge hit and ultimately changed the face of the character. "Bitch!" is synonymous with Juggernaut. The meme was so huge that they had to do a reshoot in X3: X-Men United where Vinnie Jones recited the infamous line.

Coincidentally, Vinnie Jones will literally punch you in the face if you bring up that movie in his presence.

21. Chris Latta as Cobra Commander
GI Joe: A Real American Hero (1983-1992)

Latta's Cobra Commander is one of the most iconic voices of 80's cartoons. His desperate rasp will always be THE perfect representation of the used car salesman who became a terrorist leader who became an actual snake at one point. No matter how threatening they try to make him in the movies, we'll always know that Cobra Commander was once a man. Yesssss... a mannnn...

20. Jim Carrey as Stanley Ipkiss
The Mask (1994)

If you haven't ever read the Mask comics originated by John Arcudi and Doug Mahnke, here are two things you should know: First, the comics were extremely violent. Blood and bodies all over the place. When the Mask (or "Big Head" as he was called) turned into a football player and humorously ran over a bunch of mobsters, they were bloody and broken and dead. Second, Stanley Ipkiss? The guy Jim Carrey played in the movie? The guy who got his own cartoon series and separate comic spinoff? Yeah, Stanley died. Stanley died really, really early. As in, first issue.

In terms of the franchise, Ipkiss became the protagonist and reaped the benefits of being Jim Carrey. The comics toned down the violence in light of the movie's success and at one point resurrected Ipkiss as a zombie before being rekilled by his ex-girlfriend. In the last Mask story published, Lt. Kellaway (the actual main character of the comics, yet goofy comic relief in the movie) dug up Ipkiss' grave and threw the mystical mask in there as a good hiding place.

19. Phil LaMarr as John Stewart
Justice League (2001-2006)

During the time before Hal Jordan was brought back as the One True Green Lantern (so sayeth Geoff Johns), there was a bit of a media power vacuum. Even though Kyle Rayner showed up in the Superman cartoon and established the Green Lantern concept, the Justice League spinoff used the more hardened John Stewart for the role. LaMarr played him well and if there was anything close to a main character on that show, it would have been him.

Stewart's appearance led to a generation of impressionable kids to wonder why Ryan Reynolds was playing Green Lantern in the movie when Green Lantern was totally a black guy. Before that, there was brief talk of doing a Justice League movie to combat the Avengers franchise with Common set to play John. It also really changed up the character in the comics. His Marine backstory from the cartoon leaked into his comic self, heavily retconning in a military past that wasn't there before.

18. Clark Gregg as Agent Phil Coulson
Iron Man and a bunch of other Avengers properties (2008-present)

You have to hand it to Clark Gregg. What started as a minor role in Iron Man tested well enough that he got more scenes. Then they ended up using him in Thor. Then he got a couple short films to showcase his character. Soon he became the glue holding the Avengers Saga together and was even used as a catalyst in the Avengers working together. Then they gave him a supporting role on the Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon and decided to no-sell his very important movie death for the sake of the upcoming series Agents of SHIELD. That's pretty damn good.

Naturally, Coulson is now part of Marvel's continuity as go-to SHIELD agent #924. He's part of canon, so that's cool, but he hasn't really done enough to get him higher on the list. Still impressive.

17. Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury
Iron Man and a bunch of other Avengers properties (2008-present)

The original Nick Fury from the 60's was based on Dean Martin because Dean was the coolest dude around at the time. Decades later, when Marvel was creating the Ultimate Universe, it was decided that Nick Fury needed a redesign. He needed to be based on a more modern pop culture badass and that's why Ultimate Nick Fury was designed to look like Samuel L. Jackson. Sam was pleased as punch at this and gladly took up the role that was literally meant for him.

Then things got silly. With the success of the Avengers movies, Marvel decided to introduce the original Nick Fury's illegitimate son into regular continuity, where he would lose an eye, take over SHIELD and – oh yeah – he's black. His name turns out to be Nick Fury!

It's like the "Landfill's brother" scene from Beerfest, only told with a straight face.

16. Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman
Wonder Woman (1975-1979)

Wonder Woman was grandfathered into being part of DC's Trinity with Superman and Batman. She always stuck around, but she never really found her way. Even in the late 60's/early 70's, DC didn't know what to do with her, so they radically changed her into being a judo-using crime fighter dressed in white with no powers. That didn't work, so they just re-released a bunch of old issues while wondering what to even do with the property.

Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman series did wonders for her. As completely cheeseball as it was, it somehow came together as well as everyone involved could have hoped and really gave Wonder Woman a mainstream identity. While it didn't seem to affect her comic self all that much – it's not like you ever see her spinning around to change clothes, especially since she lacks the secret identity aspect – it did give her a status as both a feminist icon and a sex symbol.

15. Norman Alden as Aquaman
Super Friends (1973-1986)

Aquaman wasn't always seen as a joke. He was relatively popular in the comics world before they introduced the Super Friends cartoon in the 70's. The first season is easily the biggest offender, as that's when everyone on the show was completely worthless. Sure, every now and again Superman would remember his ice breath or Batman would remember being smart or Wonder Woman would lasso something, but Aquaman became the focus of how bad the show was. Even as a guy who starred in his own cartoon prior to this, standing side-by-side with his more superior peers hurt him. He was the guy who could talk to fish and he never lived it down.

Even to this day, Aquaman is laughed at for being the fish guy no matter what DC tries. Give him a beard and hook hand? Turn him into an underwater Conan the Barbarian? Have him deflect bullets with his forehead while acknowledging the stigma of being the worst superhero? Nothing works. Coincidentally, if Geoff Johns tried to make Aquaman more like the John DiMaggio version from Batman: Brave and the Bold, they might have made some progress. Everything else feels like overcompensating.

14. John Colicos as Apocalypse
X-Men (1992-1997)

Thanks to the X-Men animated series, Apocalypse went from being a member of the rogues' gallery to being the final boss of all that is X-Men. While he lacks the deepness and personal connection of Magneto, Apocalypse is seen as the escalation in threat. Magneto is the end boss of X-Men: Children of the Atom? Then Apocalypse is the end boss of X-Men vs. Street Fighter. Magneto is the end boss of X-Men Legends? Then Apocalypse is the end boss of X-Men Legends 2. People have been wondering where he is in the X-Men movie sequels for years.

It's really because despite the problems of the X-Men cartoon, they made a star out of Apocalypse. He was depicted as nigh invincible to the point that the only way they could stop him was going back in time and preventing his existence and even THAT didn't work. John Colicos really owned the role, delivering some of the most hardcore lines in children's cartoon history with the boom of a god.

- "I am as far beyond mutants as they are beyond you! I am eternal!"

- "Evil?! I am not malevolent! I simply AM!"

- "I am the rocks of the eternal shore! Crash against me and BE BROKEN!"

The voice modulation and the whirling noises every time he moved only succeeded in making him the most badass threat on that show. Makes sense that in the X-Men: Evolution series they originally tried keeping Apocalypse mute because how do you follow up on that?

13. Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze
Batman: The Animated Series/Batman Beyond (1992-1999)

Mr. Freeze has been around for a long, long time and was even featured on the Adam West Batman show a couple times. Even with that kind of exposure, he still owes everything to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for making him such a three-dimensional character in Batman: The Animated Series. There's no better proof than Grant Morrison's Animal Man. Towards the end of Morrison's run, Animal Man wandered into a strange limbo of forgotten DC characters like Ultra the Multi-Alien and the Green Team. Mr. Freeze greets Animal Man, showing that before Michael Ansara's deadpan delivery hit the scene, Mr. Freeze was nothing more than an obscure go-to name from Batman's past.

Five years after making his animated debut, Mr. Freeze was played by one of the world's biggest action stars in Batman and Robin. The movie sucked eggs, but going from a joke about how nobody remembers you to being a major character in a huge film franchise is a pretty big leap regardless.

Not to mention, his animated backstory has been the basis for almost every version of Mr. Freeze since.

12. Scott Adkins as Deadpool
X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Now, wait! Hear me out on this! While people seemed to dig Ryan Reynolds playing the part of pre-powered Wade Wilson, everyone collectively groaned at seeing him mutated into Deadpool later in the movie. He had no mouth, eye lasers, Baraka claws and not a damn thing that had to do with Deadpool other than a healing factor. Backlash happened before the movie's release, mainly because of a workprint version of the movie being leaked, as well as images of the action figure making their rounds.

The backlash was pretty huge, even to the point that radio DJs were getting into it. Before this, Deadpool was only known to the comic fans. He was like the guy people who knew a little about comics would tout to people who didn't know comics ("If they do another Marvel vs. Capcom, you know who should be in it? Deadpool!"). Suddenly, it was like Marvel was realizing that more people cared for him than they ever realized. They put his name out there more and for a year or so, he was everywhere. Four ongoing series at the same time!

That's calmed down a lot, but he's still seen as more of an A-lister these days than he was prior to that bad movie happening.

11. Chip Zien, Ed Gale, Tim Rose, Steve Sleap, Peter Baird, Mary Wells, Lisa Sturz and Jordan Prentice as Howard the Duck
Howard the Duck (1986)

This is another entry like Aquaman, only worse. Howard the Duck was a staple in Marvel during the 70's and early 80's. He was the resident comedy character, existing as a counter-culture avatar of satire. Despite being part of Marvel, he had a real underground feeling to him. Then they made a movie about him and ruined everything. How could anyone ever take him seriously again? Not that he was that serious to begin with, but with that movie came a stigma that may never be washed off.

10. Billy Bixby/Lou Ferrigno as David Bruce Banner/the Hulk
The Incredible Hulk (1979-1990)

The popularity of the Incredible Hulk TV series never really had a direct impact on the comics, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give it some spot on the list. The adventures of Dr. Banner and his violent alter-ego made the Hulk into a household name and introduced a lot of recurring aspects into the pop culture vernacular. Usually when you see some kind of reference to the Hulk in general in someplace other than comics, it's more based on something you'd see from the old TV series. Maybe it's the green eyes from the pre-transformation or the montage of tearing clothes or my favorite, the sad hitchhiking sequence.

Hell, both movies had to ape the, "You wouldn't like me when I'm angry," bit. That's as Hulk as apple pie is American.

9. Yvonne Craig as Batgirl
Batman (1967-1968)

Showing up in the final season of the live-action Batman show, accompanied by the most obnoxious of theme songs, Yvonne Craig livened things up as the third masked vigilante to regularly protect Gotham City. Craig's take on Barbara Gordon became the most mainstream version of Batgirl and that's appeared to have some ramifications on the present. When DC rebooted their continuity, they made sure that Barbara Gordon was Batgirl again after almost 25 years of being out of the spandex. Even though Barbara had found her place as the wheelchair-bound super hacker Oracle and we got two enjoyable Batgirl replacements in Cassandra Cain and Stephanie Brown, she had to be Batgirl again because as far as the public is concerned, Batgirl is Barbara Gordon. Instead of sweeping her paralysis away as never happening, they instead claimed that it happened, but she got better.

So good on Craig. She left enough of an impact in her handful of episodes that it mended a broken spine decades later.

8. Phil LaMarr as Static
Static Shock (2000-2004)

This one should be a no-brainer. With four seasons, comic book superhero Static starred in his own animated series that did tremendous ratings and led to him crossing over with heroes from the DC Animated Universe, such as Batman and the Justice League. He even made a cameo in an alternate future episode of Justice League Unlimited to show that even in his sixties, he was still a card-carrying member of the Justice League. This is pretty slick for someone who wasn't even part of DC's comics continuity.

Static was part of Milestone, a subsidiary owned by DC that was out of the game several years before the cartoon became a thing. In other words, they took a dead comic that wasn't even part of the main DC roster, gave it a show and turned it into a big deal. Years later (and really, years late), Static got brought into DC continuity and even joined the Teen Titans for a bit. Unfortunately, Static's been shoved into some bad, bad comics since his rebirth.

7. Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn
Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League (1992-2004)

When putting together an episode of the Batman cartoon, Paul Dini decided that the Joker needed a female accomplice for a rather moot reason. Dini decided to base this face-painted moll on his longtime friend Arleen Sorkin, who was brought in to supply the voice. Sorkin's Harley Quinn became one of the more defining parts of that cartoon's run and the character herself was a huge hit. For one, Kevin Smith named his daughter after her.

Harley was brought into DC comics continuity, where she went on to star in her own solo series, a couple team books and has another solo series coming down the line. She's also endlessly popular with the cosplay crowd as you'll see a sea of Harleys at any given comic convention.

6. Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man
Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Avengers (2008-present)

This one was hard to rank. Iron Man has always been kind of important. He's been starring in his own series since the 60's, he's had a couple cartoons, starred in the most boring animated superhero movie I can remember and was even debated on during an episode of Seinfeld. On the other hand, Downey was the best possible casting choice and hit the role with his full potential. As the herald of the Avengers franchise, he's gone from being a continually big deal in comics to being the guy that kids want to dress up as for Halloween.

Downey's given Iron Man some Spider-Man-level reputation to the masses and that really can't be ignored.

5. Townsend Coleman as Michelangelo
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987-1996)

It took a few issues of the Mirage TMNT comic for the characters to really develop distinct personalities. In the beginning we had the stoic leader, the violent wildcard, the tech whiz and... that other guy. Mikey didn't really have anything going for him, which makes it kind of funny how he became the turtle that defined the franchise. The 80's cartoon took the comic version's optimism and turned it to 11. Coleman's Michelangelo captured the imaginations of children all over by being the party dude with a love for the worst possible pizza toppings imaginable and a lengthy vocabulary of surfer talk. We've seen multiple iterations of the Ninja Turtles concept in the years following and it wouldn't have been possible without the reptile in the orange mask.

While future versions of Michelangelo have played up on the eccentric behavior, I'm glad that none of them replaced the nunchakus with that stupid grappling hook like they did in the 80's cartoon. God, I hated that!

4. Wesley Snipes as Blade
Blade Trilogy (1998-2004)

There used to be this gameshow on Comedy Central called Beat the Geeks and in one episode, a comic geek was asked to identify who made his first appearance in Tomb of Dracula #10. He didn't guess correctly and when told that the answer was Blade, the crowd jeered him. He shot back that Blade sucks and they booed him even harder. Then he pointed out that, hey, Blade was cool in the movies, but he's sucked eggs in the comics.

He wasn't wrong. Other than being a black dude in sunglasses who hunted vampires, there weren't too many similarities. He wasn't even a vampire, but was immune to becoming one. The success of the movie not only changed things for comic book movies, but changed a lot for Blade as a character. In the comics, he started looking more like the Wesley Snipes version and they even found a way to turn him into a "daywalker" vampire.

3. Jackie Kelk as Jimmy Olsen
Adventures of Superman (1940)

Jimmy Olsen, much like Harley Quinn, didn't make his debut in comics. Well, sort of. Jimmy was introduced in the Adventures of Superman radio show, mainly as someone for Superman to play off of. Siegel and Shuster gave that identity to an unnamed redhead who had appeared in the Superman comics two years earlier. It's kind of like chicken/egg meets Pee-Wee saying, "I meant to do that!" In his first appearance, he was played up as more of a good friend to Clark Kent than being Superman's Best Pal.

Other major things introduced in the Adventures of Superman show include Perry White, kryptonite and the first time Superman and Batman interacted.

2. Terence Stamp as General Zod
Superman and Superman II (1978-1980)

Despite having the selling point of being an evil Kryptonian, General Zod wasn't the most memorable villain. For decades, DC Comics has tried again and again to reintroduce and reimagine him. Seven times if you're keeping count. The main reason they kept doing this was because the most watchable Superman movie used General Zod and everyone loved him. Stamp's overly-dramatic performance owned the movie and succeeded in making even Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor an afterthought.

And so, DC kept trying and trying. At times it came off as desperate, constantly bringing up the, "Kneel before Zod!" quote as if to say, "Remember how cool he was in that movie from years ago? He's just as cool here and now! We promise!" Only the sixth incarnation of comic book Zod – the one who resembled Stamp the most – had any lasting success and even he was done away with once the New 52 reboot happened.

1. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler
Batman (1966-1968)

The Riddler is considered one of the most go-to antagonists in the Batman lore, but that wasn't always the case. He was created in 1948, where he made two comic appearances that year. He didn't appear again for an entire seventeen years, giving him a total of three showings. A year after that, the wonderfully over-the-top Frank Gorshin played him in the very first episode of Batman and the rest was history. Joining Joker, Catwoman and Penguin in the big movie that came from it, the foursome became known as the big four of Batman's rogues' gallery. From there on, Riddler made many frequent appearances in the comic pages.

Coincidentally, Gorshin wasn't the biggest fan of Riddler's original Hamburglar look and came up with the idea of the question mark suit and derby. That too became a major staple of E. Nigma.

So riddle me this, readers: What other names would you say I've wrongfully omitted from this list?

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Interesting choice for Wolverine, but you know a characterization is spot on when even Hugh Jackman's version owes a lot to the voice work.

In terms of the TMNT, though, I'd have to mention Josh Pais. The only actor to do both the suit work and the voice in the first live action Turtles movie, his choice of giving Raphael a Brooklyn accent has defined the character ever since; all versions subsequently made give Raph some version of the accent. Just a tonally perfect take on the character.

I'd be interested in the one other hard actor/comic character association and what relevance you place there - Christopher Reeves and some old guy you may not have heard of.

Superman owes almost nothing to Christopher Reeve. He's always been crazy stupid popular, and for that matter his character was already pretty well established by the time that Reeve took the role.

That's not to say that Christopher Reeve as Superman isn't one of the most iconic portrayals of all time, but he didn't really ADD anything to Superman's popularity or his character.

I totally agree with you on that. Now it would just feel wrong to have Raph without the accent.

There's only one that I can think of (and I'm a little surprised that it wasn't #1) and that's Kevin Conroy as Batman. We're talking The Animated Series, a bunch of the movies in the Animated Universe, and the Arkham games. Ah, who am I kidding...I think I'm just craaaazy about the voice acting done by most of those folks from The Animated Series (including Mark Hammill's Joker). My two cents.

I know a number of people have said Jackman's Wolverine, Conroy's Batman, and Hamill's Joker, but I think that John Glover's Riddler in BTAS had a great lasting effect into the 'suave' version we have now. And honestly, I feel that Gambit's popularity is due in large part to Chris Potter.

Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is an unexcused omision

Although Jackman, Hamill, and especially Conroy's performances were outstanding, the characters were always popular. I would put Julie Newmar performance as Catwoman on the list. Catwoman because the CCA hadn't appeared in comics for over a decade before Newmar appearance. Which is pretty strange for one of the most copied characters in comics, and who did they replace her with Catman. I'd also put John Kassir as the Crypt Keeper for HBO's Tales from the Crypt. It brought the classic EC Comic stories back from Comics code authority death.

agreed, it would be a sin for Ralph not to have that accent