The Surprisingly Prolific Comic Book Actors

Hugh Jackman has played Logan aka Wolverine in seven different films. It’s an impressive number that will shortly increase with a third solo Wolverine film and possibly X-Men:Apocalypse, although at the time of writing he has yet to be officially cast. A few other names are snapping at the heels of Jackman, notably the cast of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you include the forthcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron, Chris Evans has played Captain America four times (five if you include his appearance as Loki using magic to look like the first Avenger in Thor: The Dark World), Scarlett Johansson and Chris Hemsworth have portrayed Black Widow and Thor respectively four times each whilst the King of the MCU, Robert Downey Jr. has made an impressive six appearances as Iron Man/Tony Stark (including his post-credit appearance in The Incredible Hulk).

Unfortunately for Hugh Jackman, as far as this article is concerned, his multiple appearances as Wolverine only count as one. Instead this article is looking for actors that have played multiple comic book characters and whether it’s because the actor loves comic books or a simple coincidence, some unusual names will follow. The reason they are unusual is because you don’t normally associate these actors with multiple comic book roles, whether its because the films were made years apart or maybe because you never knew a certain property began life as a comic book.

To begin, let’s look at two actors from nobodies favourite Batman film, Batman Forever.

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Jim Carrey, known for his rubber-faced antics and over-the-top characters, has appeared in three different comic book movies. In Batman Forever he played the Riddler, where his character Edward Nygma went from a shy unsure inventor to a crazed lunatic who actually learned Batman’s secret identity and failed to do much with that information. Carrey also had a role in Kick Ass 2, although after filming he distanced himself from the violent movie. His third comic book movie was one of the film’s that originally brought him to our attention- The Mask. Although the film was markedly different from the source material, The Mask is based on a comic book with a sporadic publishing history dating back to 1985 and in most versions is a much darker tale than the comedy Carrey wonderfully provided.

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His villainous co-star in Batman Forever was Tommy Lee Jones, playing Two-Face. Unlike The Dark Knight, which showed the alter-ego of Harvey Dent descend into madness, Tommy Lee Jones is already dressed as Two-Face from the opening scene and gives a ridiculously over-the-top performance, undoubtedly in an effort to combat Carrey’s own high frequency display. Jones has also appeared in the MCU, portraying Colonel Chester Phillips in Captain America: The First Avenger, in which he plays a world-weary grumpy character who must put his faith in the untested Steve Rogers. Speaking of world-weary grumpy characters putting their faith in untested new recruits, we can easily move into Jones’ third comic book role- K in the Men In Black franchise. Only a total of ten issues were produced between 1990 and 1997 and once again the source material was darker than the family comedy films that followed.

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In Men in Black 3 a younger version of K was portrayed by Josh Brolin, our next actor. Fans of the MCU will already know that he lends his voice to Thanos, a character set to cause problems for the Avengers in the two-part Infinity War films scheduled for release in 2018 and 2019 and who has already made two appearances, with Brolin providing uncredited vocals in the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy last year (Thanos never spoke in the Avengers mid-credit sequence, although he did provide a sinister grin). His other comic book credits include Dwight McCarthy in the sequel to Sin City, a character previously played by Clive Owen in the original movie, who underwent facial surgery. The film was a box office bomb, as was Brolin’s 2010 foray into DC Comics western adaptation Jonah Hex, where he played the title character.

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Also present in Jonah Hex was Michael Fassbender. Not to be put off comic book characters due to the aforementioned flop, Fassbender has gone on to portray Magneto aka Erik Lensherr in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past with another sequel in production (plus a cameo in The Wolverine). His comic book role you may have forgotten was in the glorious-looking 300, directed by Zack Snyder and based upon the Frank Miller and Lynn Varley limited series. Fassbender played the young soldier Stelios alongside Gerard Butler’s King Leonidas.

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Our next stop involves the Marvel Comics character Frank Castle, better known as the Punisher. There have been several attempts to adapt the gun-toting vigilante to the big screen and three actors have portrayed the role, two of which have appeared in other comic book based movies (not Dolph Lundgren, FYI). Ray Stevenson is the latest actor to try and make a success of the Punisher, in the 2008 flop Punisher: War Zone. This didn’t stop him joining the MCU as Volstagg, one of the Warriors Three in Thor and its sequel. In between the Thor movies Stevenson starred in G.I.Joe: Retaliation, a brand famously linked with a toy line but which began as a comic strip in 1942. Thomas Jane breathed life into Frank Castle in the 2004 film (and the far superior fan-made short The Punisher: Dirty Laundry) and also appeared in The Crow: City of Angels, a sequel to the Brandon Lee movie based on a cult comic book. Jane also had a brief uncredited cameo as one of the Vegan Police in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a film directed by Edgar Wright and based on the graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley.

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A more prominent role in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World belongs to Brandon Routh, who plays Todd Ingram, one of the antagonists of the film and the character arrested by the Vegan Police. Routh’s most notable comic book role is unquestionably that of Clark Kent/Superman in the mis-fire Superman Returns, a film that disappointed at the worldwide box office and left fans divided in its attempt to capture nostalgia as a semi-sequel to the first two Christopher Reeve movies. Routh also had a disappointment at the box office with Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, based on the Italian Dylan Dog comic which has been running almost 30 years. Only a quarter of its $20 million budget was recouped and the film was critically panned, currently holding an 8% ‘rotten’ rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes. Routh has had more luck on television, with a notable villain role in geek caper Chuck and more recently he has returned to the world of DC Comics in Arrow, as Ray Palmer/The Atom, with a spin-off in production.

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A less obvious choice for this list is Doug Jones, an actor and former contortionist. He is best known for playing non-human roles, such as Abe Sapien from the Hellboy films and the Silver Surfer from the second Fantastic Four film (although he only provided the voice in the second Hellboy installment, with David Hyde Pierce cast in the first and Laurence Fishburne voicing the Surfer). He has had two other minor roles in comic book projects, playing the character Thin Clown in Batman Returns, one of the Penguin’s henchmen and as an additional Ripper (the Kangaroo-human hybrids) in Tank Girl, loosely based on Alan Martin and Jamie Hewlett’s comic series of the same name.

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The wonderful John Malkovich has also delved into three separate comic book worlds, even if he hasn’t realised it himself. In 2006 he starred in Art School Confidential, based on a four-page black-and-white comic by Daniel Clowes. He has also starred in two films in the RED series (based upon a Warren Ellis limited comic) and turned up in Jonah Hex. Also in the movie RED was Karl Urban, notable for appearing in Priest (adapted from the Korean comic) and as the title character in Dredd. Another member of the RED team is Morgan Freeman, who played a prominent role in the Dark Knight trilogy and appeared in Wanted, based on the Mark Millar comic.

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There are other actors who have appeared as several different comic book characters, such as Ryan Reynolds, who are simply too obvious to include. Many actors including Mickey Rourke, Nic Cage, Jessica Alba, Halle Berry and Benecio Del Toro have appeared as two comic book based characters. There is one actor who stands out as the most prolific and its notable that he was mentioned at the beginning of this article. Chris Evans, famous as Captain America, has also notably played the Human Torch. He also appeared in The Losers as Jensen (based on work by Andy Diggle and Jock), Lucas Lee in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and as the lead role Curtis in the outstanding Snowpiercer (based upon the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige). Finally, including a voice performance, Evans has his sixth separate character- Casey Jones in the 2007 TMNT, from the ever-successful Turtles franchise which began in 1984 as a self-published black-and-white comic.

So there we are, a semi-conclusion to a long but by no means definitive list of actors not afraid (or not aware) of starring in multiple comic book inspired movies. If Chris Evans is reading this, next time Hugh Jackman harps on about his multiple films as Wolverine, ask him about his other comic book projects and see what happens. Flame on indeed.

– Brendan Bergmanski

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