Not all MCU characters are ones that first debuted in the comics!
The majority of characters appearing across the Marvel Cinematic Universe are also ones who originated in the domain of Marvel Comics. That makes sense given that the comics been published since the 1940s, there’s a treasure trove of fictitious individuals to draw from when you need heroes, villains, mentors, comic relief sidekicks, or anything in between. However, sometimes, installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe do require brand new characters that have never been seen in the comics, particularly when these features focus on lesser-known superheroes.
Thus, over the years this franchise has delivered its fair share of totally original characters that have managed to become as beloved as the characters that have been able to drum up a fanbase for decades in the comics. While the personalities of these individuals vary greatly, the seven best instances of original characters created exclusively for the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies speak to the value of occasionally deviating from the sacred comics source material.
When S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) first showed up in Iron Man, nobody could’ve imagined that he would turn into a regular fixture of subsequent Marvel Cinematic Universe features. Over time, though, Coulson not only kept on appearing, but he began to develop a concrete personality that ensured he was far more than just an apparent piece of connective tissue between the earliest MCU titles.
Initially, Coulson’s personality was that of a no-nonsense guy who seemed to have seen it all. Even the sight of Asgard’s robot defender The Destroyer didn’t phase him. The Avengers, however, took Coulson to another level of depth when he was revealed to be Captain America’s biggest fan. His endearing personality and Clark Gregg’s mastery of comedic awkwardness made Coulson more engaging than ever, which made the character’s death there all the more potent. Though there are several original characters in the MCU, Coulson was the one who set the standard for not only how good such individuals could be, he also established how the unique storytelling approach of this franchise could gradually turn a decent character into a great one.
Just a few months before she started headlining the CBS sitcom 2 Broke Girls, Kat Dennings first leaped onto many people’s radars with her work as the intern Darcy Lewis in the first Thor movie. A comic relief character, Lewis provided some nonchalant amusement in her dialogue while having a friendship with Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) ensured that the female lead of Thor had a life outside of making heart-eyes at the God of Thunder.
After Thor: The Dark World, Lewis vanished from the Marvel Cinematic Universe for nearly a decade. Then, out of nowhere, this plucky figure returned in WandaVision, with Lewis now having graduated from intern to doctor. Here, Lewis cemented her position as one of the best original characters in the franchise thanks to her enjoyable investment in Wanda’s sitcom life as if it was an actual TV show. It was an unexpected return for this character, but a welcome one that reaffirmed how regularly entertaining Lewis is.
One of several newly created figures for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was Katy (Awkwafina), the titular superhero's longtime best buddy who eventually comes along for Shang-Chi’s journey back home to his father’s criminal empire. It’s easy to imagine a version of this film where Katy became just generic comic relief, a character whose quips were forced rather than an enhancement to the entire production. Luckily, Shang-Chi opted to hire Awkwafina to portray this character, thus ensuring that Katy’s various moments of levity land with an expert sense of comic timing.
Even better, though, Katy isn’t just around to deliver cued-up gags. She even gets her own character arc that culminates in her using archery skills to help stop a monstrous demon. There’s a welcome sense of complexity to Katy, a figure who gets to be funny but is also someone we’re meant to get emotionally invested in. Plus, her fashion sense is delightful, particularly her constant fanny pack and those bright green pants. The mid-credits scene of Shang-Chi teases Katy not just being a prominent part of further Shang-Chi adventures, but also of the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe mythos. Given how cool of a character she turned out to be, that sounds like a welcome development.
In the comics, the character Scott Lang doesn’t have a deep bench of supporting characters he’s always rubbing shoulders with. Thus, any film focusing on Lang, like the 2015 Marvel Cinematic Universe film Ant-Man, would have to create a new roster of individuals to serve as Lang’s friend group. This is where Luis comes into play, an original character portrayed by Michael Pena.
Though he has no roots in the comics, Luis fit like a glove into the world of Ant-Man and reliably delivered the funniest moments of this superhero’s two solo movies. His penchant for delving into elaborate stories about the past has proven consistently amusing thanks to the dialogue deliveries of Pena. This performer delightfully plays the character with such amusing, undaunted optimism that you can’t help but like the guy. Though he was created out of the lack of similar characters in Scott Lang’s comic book forays, Luis has turned into someone who more than justified his presence in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Shang-Chi didn’t just have to confront his father in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. He also had to face off against his younger sister, Xu Xialing (Meng'er Zhang). Though a newly created character for Shang-Chi’s first solo outing, it’s impossible to imagine the movie existing without her. Zhang is highly compelling on-screen in her performance while the character’s understandable bitterness towards her brother lends an extra layer of complexity to Shang-Chi’s arc.
Best of all, Xialing is incredible to watch in the fight scenes, particularly during a series of fistfights located high up in the air. The exciting nature of the post-credits scene of Shang-Chi teasing where this character could go next solidified just how exceptionally Xialing was brought to life. After all, who gets stoked about this scene if the original character at the center of it wasn’t somebody you were invested in?
Thanks to folks like Thanos or Rocket Raccoon, animated characters are nothing new for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Animated characters emulating the look of hand-drawn animation, though, that was brand-new ground when Miss Minutes first showed up on screen in the first episode of Loki. Looking more like a Felix the Cat companion than a typical MCU character, the distinctive appearance of Miss Minutes immediately put her on people’s radars.
Initially functioning as the mascot of the Time Variance Authority who can deliver exposition in a digestible manner, Miss Minute became something much more complicated and interesting throughout Loki. Her “aw-shucks” voice and seemingly innocent demeanor were revealed to be concealing her hidden connection to He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors). With this revelation, the underlying creepiness of Miss Minutes became more apparent than ever. The character’s moral complexity was perfectly handled by the voice acting of Tara Strong. She could effortlessly make Miss Minutes convey warmth and menace within the very same sentence. Characters with hand-drawn animated appearances aren’t common in the MCU, but an original character as good as Miss Minutes suggests they should be more common.
Midway through Iron Man 3, the rug gets pulled out from under Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and the audience. The film’s main villain, The Mandarin, isn’t actually real. Instead, he’s a character created by Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) that’s been inhabited by actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley). Up to this point, Kingsley’s iteration of The Mandarin has worked fine as a conventional baddie, but his performance gets taken to a new level once this revelation occurs. A famous Iron Man baddie from the comics is actually a brand-new figure, one whose comical ineptitude proves an amusing contrast to the grim apocalyptic scenario Killian is brewing.
In Iron Man 3 alone, Slattery left an impression as a dynamite piece of subversive storytelling that made great use of Ben Kingsley’s gift for comedic performances. Delightfully, the character was brought back for Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings as a captive of the real leader of the Ten Rings, the organization Slattery claimed to be running in Iron Man 3. Here, Slattery continues to be an amusing presence, particularly in his interactions with fantastical critter Morris as well as him discussing how Planet of the Apes inspired him to pursue acting. Nobody expected Slattery when they first started watching Iron Man 3, but through his two Marvel Cinematic Universe appearances, the character has turned into an unexpected treasure.
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Douglas Laman is a life-long movie fan, writer and Rotten Tomatoes approved critic whose writing has been published in outlets like The Mary Sue, Fangoria, The Spool, and ScarleTeen. Residing both on the Autism spectrum and in Texas, Doug adores pugs, showtunes, the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox, and any music by Carly Rae Jepsen.
Not all MCU characters are ones that first debuted in the comics!