Black Panther: Wakanda Forever includes the long-awaited introduction of Namor into the MCU. The character debuted in the Golden Age of comic books, becoming one of Marvel’s first and most significant figures. However, Wakanda Forever significantly changes his storyline to fit the modern world, giving him a much-needed boost.
Like Namor, many Golden Age characters had to change to keep up with the times. Throughout the years, these heroes and villains have undergone significant alterations to keep them fresh and relevant for modern audiences while keeping the essence that first made them pop culture icons.
Debuting in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, Namor is the ruler of the underwater kingdom of Talokan. He has Mayan ancestry, speaks Mayan, and takes great pride in his background and people. Like the franchise’s previous villain, Killmonger, Namor stands as a contrast to the hero: both he and Shuri want to protect their kingdoms but adopt radically different approaches.
Wakanda Forever‘s Namor is significantly different from its comic book counterpart. The original Namor came from Atlantis and acted as an anti-hero, continuously entering into conflict with the Fantastic Four. Namor’s reinvention on the big screen adds to the character’s rich legacy, making him seem fresh and relevant in today’s multicultural landscape.
Batman has arguably the best and strongest rogues gallery out of any superhero. His villains shine because of their psychological complexity, acting as perfect foes for the obsessive and damaged hero. Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, is among his most famous foes, a somewhat old-fashioned and slightly silly character who might seem like too much of a product of his time.
However, Oswald has kept reinventing himself, becoming one of the Dark Knight’s best and most notorious enemies. Danny DeVito’s gruesome take on the character showcased the freakish elements, while Colin Farrell’s portrayal presented him as a crime lord and businessman. Oswald can be both, which is why he stands out among other Batman villains.
Before Marvel took control of the Captain Marvel name, it belonged to one of DC’s most famous Golden Age heroes. Now known as Shazam, DC’s Captain Marvel was one of the company’s flagship characters, as famous as and occasionally outselling Batman and Superman. He lost his place as the Golden Age ended, and while he got a re-introduction in 1972, he never could recapture the glory of his old days.
However, Shazam returned to the spotlight in 2019 thanks to the film of the same name. Portrayed by Zachary Levi in one of his best performances, Shazam became a lighthearted and comedic figure, in stark contrast to DC’s other big-screen figures. He might not be as famous or beloved as DC’s Trinity, but Shazam got successfully reintroduced to the big leagues in a charming and undeniably fun way.
Undoubtedly the greatest female hero in comic book history, Wonder Woman remains an icon. Her place in live-action has been defined by two great versions, each tailored to succeed in their respective time. Lynda Carter played Wonder Woman in the 1975 show of the same name, portraying a more stylized version of the character. Carter’s Wonder Woman was funny, charming, unassuming, and nearly flawless.
Gal Gadot’s take on the character emphasizes her warrior roots. She’s still beautiful and graceful but much more hands-on and battle-hardened. Both versions keep Wonder Woman’s overwhelming kindness but update key aspects of the character to better reflect their times’ sensitivities.
For years, Aquaman had an awful reputation. He was considered the joke of the Justice League, a silly character in a silly orange suit with a bunch of silly powers. That changed in the new millennium when DC Comics did a considerable effort to update the character and make it less of an embarrassment.
However, Jason Momoa’s performance as Aquaman in the DCEU truly made a difference. Part surfer dude, part bonafide god, Momoa’s Aquaman is what many believed the character could never be: cool. Momoa’s take on the king of Atlantis imbued new life to the character, revitalizing him in the audience’s eyes and making him a powerhouse of incomparable strength and stature.
Catwoman is one of the Dark Knight’s most enduring and meaningful villains. However, their chemistry is undeniable; indeed, Batman and Catwoman’s iconic relationship is among the best romances in the genre.
The infamous cat burglar has had many lives on screen, from the vivacious Julie Newmar to the seductive Ertha Kitt. Michelle Pfeiffer’s performance in 1992’s Batman Returns arguably remains the ultimate take on the character. Transforming Selina into a meek secretary who uses her new identity as Catwoman to pursue sexual liberation and revenge, Pfeiffer’s take on the role was made for the feminist wave of the ’90s. Future versions, including Hathaway and Kravitz, focused more on the con-artist angle, keeping Catwoman relevant in the pop culture lexicon.
The Man of Steel is the poster child for what a superhero should be. Powerful beyond comprehension, Superman remains kind, selfless, caring, and honest. He is the ultimate role model, and his many versions over the years stay true to that characterization — for the most part.
Christopher Reeves’ defining take on Superman remains beloved to this day. He was the Last Son of Krypton ripped from the comic book page and an incredibly tough act to follow. Brandon Routh did his best Reeves impression, but audiences didn’t respond to his performance. Henry Cavill went for a more grounded approach, playing Superman as a misunderstood man-god. His portrayal remains divisive, but it undoubtedly resonated with many fans; however, it seems like he will adopt a more traditional approach to Superman now that he’s back in the role. Still, the Man of Steel remains a compelling figure in pop culture, perhaps because of his overly traditional stance.
Once upon a time, it might’ve been unthinkable for Marvel’s ultimate boy scout to become such a popular character with modern audiences. However, the MCU and Chris Evans successfully turned Captain America into a genuinely intriguing, layered, and inspiring character throughout the Infinity Saga.
Cap is still very much by the book, but his personality is more complex than it ever was on the page. Dealing with severe trauma and regret, Cap is the perfect leader for a team like the Avengers. His commitment to his duty and battling prowess made him a fan favorite, but his role as the ultimate embodiment of heroism made him a cinematic icon.
Arguably the best and easily the most recognizable villain in comic books, Joker has been around since 1940. As his arch-nemesis, Joker has pulled many infamous schemes in the comics and played a crucial role in the Dark Knight’s most iconic storylines. Logically, he’s also appeared in several live-action adaptations.
Jack Nicholson defined the Joker for the 20th century, portraying him as a mobster and living up to his title as the Clown Prince of Crime. Heath Ledger took the character in another direction in 2008, portraying him as a deranged psychopath and anarchist, cementing the Joker as the all-time best comic book villain. Finally, Joaquin Phoenix turned him into an unwilling and homicidal leader and the embodiment of a villain who believes himself the hero of the story.
Few characters have undergone as many transformations as the Caped Crusader. The character’s persona has stayed mostly the same, although he has taken some confusing tours toward comedy. Still, Batman remains the Dark Knight: traumatized, stoic, obsessive, and caring.
However, modern iterations of Batman have taken different approaches. The animated series showcased him as the ultimate hero, while Nolan’s trilogy presented him as a vigilante. This year, Matt Reeves focused on the detective aspect, proving just how versatile and adaptable the character is. Through it all, Batman has remained compelling and fascinating, a figure who exists outside the norms but will always do what’s right.