Last week, French actress Lea Seydoux was offered the lead in the upcoming X-Men spinoff Gambit, which will have Channing Tatum playing the title character, the most famous Cajun in superhero comics history. The female lead was reportedly being eyed by several actresses before it was announced that Seydoux had been offered the part of Bella Donna Boudreaux.
And that announcement probably left a few casual X-Men fans asking, “Who?”
You see, we’re now deep enough into the age of superhero movies that many of the characters making their way onscreen aren’t exactly household names. This is actually a good thing: As movies mine decades and decades of Marvel and DC lore, we will see characters plucked up from obscurity and realized onscreen in ways that longtime comics fans would have never thought possible. After all, how many of the people buying tickets to Ant-Man had actually read an Ant-Man comic beforehand? How many even knew there was an Ant-Man?
As it happens, Seydoux – herself not yet a household name, but wait until she plays a Bond girl in the upcoming Spectre – will be portraying just one of the new super-women who will soon be making appearances at your local theater. In case you’re a big fan of the movies who maybe doesn’t have extra time to read up on the comics that inspired them, here’s a primer on these new characters.
1. Bella Donna Boudreaux (Lea Seydoux in Gambit)
Bella Donna is Juliet to Gambit’s Romeo, at least in the comics version. (See more of her here.) They’re part of rival New Orleans clans – she’s with the Assassins’ Guild, he’s with the Thieves’ Guild – and while their respective fathers attempt to marry them off, the pair ends up having a long, tortured romance that usually ends in tragedy for one or both of them. She, like Gambit, is a mutant, and can fire blasts of energy in addition to kicking butt in a traditional manner.
• A ladies’ man like Gambit wouldn’t just have one love interest. In fact, in the comics, he has an on-again, off-again romance with Southern belle Rogue (Anna Paquin in the movies). Surely this is a love triangle that could be realized onscreen, no?
2. Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie in Suicide Squad)
She’s currently the best-selling female character in comics, but unless you were a ’90s child, you might have missed out on this deranged – but cheerful! – female jester. In the ’90s-era Batman cartoon, Harley started as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a brilliant psychologist studying the Joker, but he twisted her brain toward madness. She endured an abusive relationship with him before going solo.
The character crossed over into the comics shortly after, and today she stars in her own line of comics. She also shed the jester get-up for an edgier, more Suicide Girl-inspired look. She’s an anti-hero: Not evil, but lovably mad. See more of her here.
• She might be the most famous female Jewish character in comics, but X-Men member Kitty Pryde (Ellen Page) and new she-Avenger Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) might argue with that claim.
• She was inspired by an episode of Days of Our Lives.
• Courtney Love was at one point tossed around as a candidate to play Harley in a Batman movie that was ultimately never made.
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3. Psylocke (Olivia Munn in X-Men: Apocalypse)
She’s Betsy Braddock, sister to the British counterpart to Captain America, Captain Britain. Only she’s not, because her body was switched with that of a Japanese assassin, and she never really switched back. She retained all the psychic powers she had before, but now she has ninja skills too, which means hers is the most beneficial identity crisis ever. Psylocke fights with a sword made of pure mental power, and she looks like a preteen girl’s dream: swathed in purple, often with a butterfly motif. (See more of her here.)
It would seem that X-Men: Apocalypse is holding true to the character’s comics origins, as Munn has posted Instagram videos showing off her newfound swordfighting skills.
• Psylocke technically appeared in X-Men: The Last Stand, played by Meiling Melancon, but that character was different enough that producers are apparently pretending like it didn’t happen.
• Munn previously played reporter Chess Roberts in Iron Man 2, but there’s no Marvel conflict here. Remember that Iron Man and The Avengers take place in a different universe than the X-Men movies do. Paradox averted!
4. Enchantress (Cara Delevingne in Suicide Squad)
In the comics, she’s freelance artist June Moone, who can costume-change into the Enchantress and wield cool magic powers. The character has tread the line between heroine and villainess ever since she was introduced in 1966, when she was dubbed “The Switcheroo-Witcheroo.” And although she has been a part of the Suicide Squad comics, most DC fans probably could have named a dozen female characters they’d expect to see onscreen before the Enchantress.
It remains to be seen how Suicide Squad will handle her magic powers and dual identity. However, the film’s trailer does feature a shot of Delevingne in a mousy, librarian get-up in one shot. See more of her here.
• Not to complicate matters, there’s also an Enchantress in Marvel Comics. Her sister, Lorelei, actually showed up in a first season episode of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. So yes, we could one day have dueling Enchantresses.
5. Jubilee (Lana Condor in X-Men: Apocalypse)
Based on the outfit Sophie Turner was photographed sporting in her role as the new Jean Grey, it looks like this new X-Men movie takes place in the ’80s. If it does, then the film’s inclusion of Jubilee makes perfect sense: She’s a mutant mallrat. In the comics she flees an orphanage to live at a mall.
Her real name is Jubilation Lee, so it’s also fitting that her special power is creating “fireworks” – flashy displays of light that she can fire away at anyone trying to hassle her – mall security or otherwise. See more of her here.
• Jubilee made cameos in the second and third X-Men movies, but kids who grew up watching the ’90s animated X-Men cartoon, which featured her as a main character, should be stoked that she’s finally getting a chance to shine onscreen.
6. Amanda Waller (Viola Davis in Suicide Squad)
Davis’ character in the film has no superpowers. Make no mistake: Amanda “The Wall” Waller is one of the toughest women in comics, and she exerts a great deal of power. She’s a government agent who wants to control those with special powers, but she’s also in charge of sending out criminals on deadly missions. In some of the comics, she works closely with Lex Luthor and even serves in Luthor’s administration when he becomes president. See more of her here.
• While Davis was the perfect casting choice for Waller’s movie debut, the character has previously been played by Pam Grier on Smallville and by C.C.H. Pounder and Angela Bassett in animated form. Cynthia Addai-Robinson plays a younger take on Waller on Arrow.
7. Blind Al (Leslie Uggams in Deadpool)
It’s maybe not surprising that Blind Al is appearing as a supporting character in the upcoming Ryan Reynolds superhero movie, but few would have predicted that Broadway star Leslie Uggams would be the one to portray the foul-mouthed, cynical character. Blind Al is Deadpool’s roommate, and though they care about each other on some level, they’re antagonistic toward each other in their strange domestic partnership. (This should not be surprising if you heard Uggams’ one profane line in the red band trailer for Deadpool, which is very NSFW.)
In addition to being Deadpool’s roommate, the comics version of Blind Al – see more of her here – has vague ties to British Intelligence, and it’s hinted that she has a darker, weirder and more violent history than she’s ever revealed to Deadpool.
• In the comics, it’s hinted that Al had an affair with Captain America before he went into deep freeze. It’s too bad that Chris Evans’ version of the character won’t ever come across Uggams’ version of Blind Al, who exists in the X-Men universe but not the Avengers one.
8. The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton in Dr. Strange)
When Dr. Strange hits theaters in 2016, it will likely be the most unusual movie yet in the Marvel cinematic universe. Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing the title character, a doctor who becomes endowed with magic powers and must fend off supernatural threats to the planet. Dr. Strange’s mentor is The Ancient One, who is depicted as male in the comics – check him out here – but who will be portrayed by Tilda Swinton in the movie. (We’re not clear what this could mean for the character, as Swinton transcends gender in real life.)
However, we can all revel in the knowledge that casting Swinton to play an all-powerful, 500-year-old “Sorcerer Supreme” is one of the best casting coups in the history of movies. For all we know, she might actually already be all those things.
• No, really – we’d really like to know if Tilda Swinton is a 500-year-old sorcerer in real life. If anyone seems like they could be, it’s her.