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The Hero Blog!

Telling the truth, whether you want to hear it or not.

Month

November 2015

The History of Superhero Movies: The Captain America TV Movies

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This is the sixteenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

The following year after “Dr. Strange,” CBS commissioned another pilot for a possible television series, this time starring Marvel’s first son Captain America.  This was the first time Captain America had been seen in live action since the Dick Purcell serial in 1944, and this adaptation of the character took just as many liberties with the source material as that one had.

This time, Captain America was Steve Rogers – like in the comics – but he wasn’t a super soldier from WWII who had been in suspended animation.  Instead, this version was the son of the “original” Captain America.  When the original operated is never discussed, though you could conceivably say that this movie shares continuity with the 1944 serial and it wouldn’t take a whole lot of imagination to make that work.

When we first meet Steve he has just gotten out of the United States Marine Corps and is looking forward to a life of freedom, not having to answer to anyone or address anyone as “sir.”  The government has other plans for Steve, however.

Dr. Simon Mills is carrying on the work of Steve’s father, who had given himself super-human abilities with a drug called FLAG – Full Latent Ability Gain – which is a stand-in for the tradition super soldier serum from the comic books.  Dr. Mills wants Steve to help to carry on his father’s work by becoming a new Captain America for the government.  Steve respectfully declines the offer.

Things don’t go as planned, however, as Steve soon becomes the target of several thugs, who are trying to build a hydrogen bomb.  They are after Steve because Steve is a close personal friend of a scientist who developed the bomb, and Steve is given custody of the bomb’s plans.  A car accident is soon arranged and Steve finds himself fighting for his life.  To assist Steve in his fight for life, Dr. Mills gives Steve the FLAG serum and Steve soon recovers.

Steve eventually does – after doing some soul searching – decide to take up the mantle of Captain America, and the hero is reborn.

While “Captain America” didn’t end up becoming a television series, ratings did warrant a sequel.  “Captain America II: Death Too Soon” reunited the cast of the original film, this time joined by Christopher Lee as an international terrorist named Miguel.

While the costume from the first film took several liberties in its design, the costume in the sequel was much more in keeping with the design from the comics.  The most notable exception was the addition of a motorcycle helmet instead of the traditional cowl.  This carried over from the first film, which also saw the character wearing a motorcycle helmet.

The sequel’s title, “Death Too Soon,” comes from Miguel’s plot to artificially age the population’s of the world’s biggest cities until he is paid a ransom.  Miguel tests the artificial aging weapon on a small town, which Steve happens upon by accident.  Noticing that something strange is going on in the town, Steve soon decides that this is a job for Captain America and begins to investigate, tracing the situation back to Miguel.

In both films, Steve Rogers is played by Reb Brown.  Brown, a relative unknown when he won the part of Captain America, would go on to be best known for the 1983 cult classic “Yor, the Hunter from the Future.”

Dr. Mills’ assistant, Dr. Wendy Day, was played in the first film by Heather Menzies, who had played Jessica 6 in the “Logan’s Run” television series.  In the sequel, this character was recast with Connie Sellecca, who wold later be most well known for the role of Pam Davidson, the love interest of William Katt’s Ralph Hinkley on “The Greatest American Hero.”

Unlike the “Dr. Strange” movie, both Captain America films are available on DVD, released on a single disc by Shout! Factory in 2011 to capitalize on the popularity of “Captain America: The First Avenger.”

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“MARVEL IN THE 1970S: DR STRANGE AND CAPTAIN AMERICA”. Twitch Film.

Cord Scott, Robert G. Weiner (2009), Captain America and the struggle of the superhero, p. 221

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Dr. Strange’

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This is the fifteenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

With the successes of “Wonder Woman,” “The Incredible Hulk,” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” CBS decided to explore even more Marvel Comics properties that could be suitable for television series.  The first such television film produced was “Dr. Strange” in 1978.

As with Spider-Man and the Hulk, CBS decided to go in a more grounded direction with Dr. Strange, although the mystical elements were definitely present.  Unlike “The Incredible Hulk,” however, “Dr. Strange” wasn’t afraid to use characters from the comic book.  Dr. Strange’s pupil/love interest Clea is present, as his Morgan Le Fey.  Much of the fidelity Dr. Strange had to the source material came from Stan Lee having much more input with this film than with any of the other Marvel television adaptations at the time.

“I probably had the most input into that one,” Stan Lee told “Comics Feature” magazine in 1985. “I’ve become good friends with the writer/producer Phil DeGuere. I was pleased with Dr. Strange and The Hulk. I think that Dr. Strange would have done much better than it did in the ratings except that it aired opposite Roots. Those are the only experiences I’ve had with live action television. Dr. Strange and the Hulk were fine. Captain America was a bit [of a] disappointment and Spider-Man was a total nightmare.”

“Dr. Strange” was intended as the pilot for a television series, however CBS ultimately passed on the property as a series but aired it as a made-for-television movie on September 6, 1978.

“Dr. Strange” makes for a unique television watching experience, as the film retained many of the psychedelic elements the comic book had been known for.  Once the film really starts to get into more of the mystical elements of the property, it begins to watch like an acid trip on the screen.

“Doctor Strange” has been mostly lost to posterity, however with Marvel Studios currently developing the property as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there may soon be a new life for this film in home video formats.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“MARVEL IN THE 1970’S: DR STRANGE AND CAPTAIN AMERICA”. Twitch Film

“The “Magic” of Video – Part I-A: DR. STRANGE – the 1978 TV Movie Promos, Design Art and Swag”. Sanctum Sanctorum Comix. January 25, 2009.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (1978)

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This is the fourteenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

Probably the most successful successful comic book property to come out of the 1970s – apart from Richard Donner’s “Superman” – “The Incredible Hulk” starred Bill Bixby in his fourth starring role in a television series and introduced body builder Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk.

“The Incredible Hulk” was developed and executive produced by Kenneth Johnson, who when approached about adapting a Marvel Comics property for television said “no.”  Johnson, initially, had no interest in doing a superhero on television, thinking the notion to just be silly.  That all changed, however, when he Johnson read “Les Miserables” and realized that “The Incredible Hulk” could be adapted using many elements from “Les Miserables,” most notably the idea of a fugitive on the run.  He also saw a way of combining a little Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the concept, which was one of Stan Lee’s original inspirations when he created the character to begin with.

While putting together the pilot for the television series, Johnson originally cast Richard Kiel as the Hulk.  While Kiel certainly had the height and the stature of the creature, after about a week of filming it was decided that he just didn’t have the physique for it.  Wanting a body builder, producers originally reached out to Arnold Schwarzenegger, who declined but recommended Lou Ferrigno.  Ferrigno, at 6’4″, didn’t have the height that the over seven foot tall Kiel had, but that was corrected by mostly filming the monster at angles from underneath, to make him appear taller than he actually was.

The series followed Dr. David Banner – changed from Bruce in the comics – as he traveled the country trying to find a cure for his Hulk ailment.  The series had two basic plot formulas that it used; the first formula saw Banner on his way to someplace where he might find a possible cure, the second involved him being at the place of the possible cure.  In both formulas, some event or series of events would transpire that would bring out the Hulk and the cure would be destroyed or otherwise rendered to be of no use.

As with other superhero television series at the time, “The Incredible Hulk” didn’t feature any of the antagonists from the comics.  It didn’t really feature any “supervillains” at all, apart from another Hulk creature in the two-part episode “The First,” which was sort of a generic version of the Abomination.  Instead, the series had Banner encountering every day threats, such as gangsters, corrupt politicians, and some just all around not nice people.  The main antagonist of the show was tabloid reporter Jack McGee, who was chasing down the Hulk in hopes of grabbing the story of the century.

Both Bixby and Ferrigno were given separate opportunities to play dual roles during the run of the show.  In the third season episode “Broken Image” David find out that he has an exact double who is actually a wanted criminal.  The crime boss, Mike Cassidy, soon devises a plan to take advantage of the situation to escape justice for his crimes.  In the fourth season episode “King of the Beach” Lou Ferrigno plays an amateur body builder, who also happens to be hard of hearing.  In a brilliant bit of television filmmaking, Ferrigno comes face-to-face with Ferrigno as his human character and his Hulk character share a frame.  The director of the episode even went so far as to make Hulk several inches taller than his human counterpart.

While the television series departed greatly from the source material, many of the changes made Banner and the Hulk much more compelling characters and its influence has been felt both in the comics and in other adaptations since.  In the early 2000s, writer Bruce Jones had a hugely successful run on the Incredible Hulk comic, taking many elements from the television series.  Many Bruce Jones elements – and some elements from the television series not used in Jones’ run – also made it into the 2008 film directed by Louis Leterrier.

“The Incredible Hulk” went on to have a five season run on CBS before being cancelled without warning seven episodes into its fifth season.  The primary reason for the cancellation seems to have been that the show had just become too expensive.  Many attempts were made to cut costs on the series, even resulting in the firing of Kenneth Johnson, but costs could not be sufficiently cut without harming the quality of the show.

This would not be the end of “The Incredible Hulk,” however, as the show would be revived several years later in a series of made-for-television reunion movies in the late 80s.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“Hulk Smash Television!”. IGN

“A Look Back: The Incredible Hulk on TV”. Film School Rejects. June 8, 2008

Glenn, Greenberg (February 2014). “The Televised Hulk”. Back Issue! (TwoMorrows Publishing) (70): 19–26.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2006/08/03/comic-book-urban-legends-revealed-62/

‘Captain America: Civil War’ First Trailer Thoughts

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As I am sure most everyone is aware of by now, the first trailer for “Captain America: Civil War” dropped at midnight.  If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it here.

First of all, the movie looks absolutely amazing.  It looks like it will deliver on all aspects, and fulfill most expectations.  Now, keep in mind that this is just a first trailer, and it is only 90 seconds long, so it may not really give a complete picture of what the film will actually end up being, but it is certainly longer than a teaser and does appear to give a fairly complete sense of what audiences can expect.  That said, I have a few thoughts.

The first thing that jumps out at me is that the film seems to have omitted, or at least significantly altered, the original political themes of the original comic book miniseries from 2007.  If you haven’t read the comics, the original story revolved around a Superhero Registration Act, similar to the legislation proposed against mutants in the first X-Men film from 2000.

This regulation was put forth after a group of inexperienced superheroes, the New Warriors, cause a devastating disaster, killing over 600 innocent bystanders and destroying several city blocks and an elementary school.  The legislation was quickly passed, and SHIELD was given the authority to enforce the new law.  The law would require superhumans, even those not actively involved in superheroing, to register their identities and abilities with the government and anyone actively engaged in any superhero activities would have to be trained.  The Avengers Academy would be created as a means to train superheroes.

Captain America is soon called in by SHIELD, with the expectation that he would lead the Avengers in the enforcement of the law, specifically by hunting down anyone who refuses to follow the law and register.  Cap, in keeping with his love of freedom and his unwillingness to go along with totalitarianism, respectfully declines.  SHIELD immediately tries to arrest Captain America, but he escapes.

The story picks up from there wit Captain America assembling a team of Secret Avengers to fight against the law and Iron Man being recruited to lead the government-sanctioned Avengers in pursuing and arresting the new outlaws.  This story was extremely interesting, and the film seems to have eliminated almost all of it.

The trailer gives the impression that the event that drives a wedge between Captain America and Iron Man is the issuing of a warrant for the arrest of Bucky Barnes – the Winter Soldier – for his crimes of terrorism against the United States and the assassination of various American dignitaries, including Nick Fury who faked his death after being attacked by the Winter Soldier in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.”  Basically, Cap is harboring a fugitive, and Iron Man is trying to bring a dangerous terrorist to justice.

I have severe problems with these changes.  First of all, it now puts Cap on the wrong side of the moral debate, when in the comics he was on the right side.  Cap’s entire point of view in the film seems to be, “He’s my friend so I’m going to hide him out, even though he murdered many people and was an agent for Hydra.”  As much as Cap respects and cares for Bucky, and would do anything to protect him, I don’t believe these actions fit with Cap’s character.

Bucky was under mind control when he was working for Hydra.  There is ample evidence of this, which Cap uncovered in TWS.  There is absolutely no reason for Cap not to encourage Bucky to turn himself in and then present this evidence to clear Bucky of any wrongdoing in the crimes of the Winter Soldier.  There is no reason for Cap to go outside the system, because the system can work for Bucky in this instance.

The original story dealt with themes of an overbearing government, and the very real need to want to take away the freewill of the people as a knee-jerk reaction to every tragedy.  It was completely relevant to the world we live in, and even more relevant today than it was in 2007.  The original story can even be seen as an allegory for the gun debate.  Because of the irresponsible actions of a few, the government decides that superhumans are simply incapable of existing without having government oversight over them.

The original story was very much about personal freedom, and the ability to exist without government interference in your every day lives.  It dealt very much with the right of people to be in charge of their own protections and the protections of their families.  The SRA required that superheroes register their secret identities with the government, which would place the safety of every superhero’s loved ones at risk should that information ever be stolen by a supervillain.  And we all know how well the government keeps secrets…

The movie looks fantastic.  I’m sure that it’s going to be a great movie, and I’m very much looking forward to it – though I do think “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” will end up being the better movie – but I’m disappointed.  I was looking forward to “Captain America: Civil War” being the libertarian movie of the decade, but it doesn’t look like we’re going to get that.  But hey, it’s just the first 90 second trailer, and maybe I’ll turn out to be wrong.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ TV Series

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This is the thirteenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

With the success of the Wonder Woman television series, Marvel tried to get in on the superhero television game and licensed several of their properties for television production.  These productions would eventually end up on the CBS television network, the same network on which “Wonder Woman” was airing.  Because of this, CBS had become to be known as the Comic Book Network for a couple of years.

The first Marvel Comics property to air on television was a pilot movie for a Spider-Man television series.  The telefilm was simply called “Spider-Man” and aired on September 19, 1977.  The pilot movie starred Nicholas Hammond as Peter Parker and his superhero alter-ego Spider-Man, as well as David White – best known as Larry Tate from “Bewitched” –  as newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson and Hillie Hicks as Joe “Robbie” Robertson.  This was the first live action adaptation of a Marvel Comics property since “Captain America” in 1941.

The pilot movie told Spider-Man’s origin story, with Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider and learning how to use his newfound arachnid abilities, as well as building his mechanical webshooters.  Spider-Man then goes on to take down a New Age guru, who is making law-abiding citizens turn to crime through mind control.

After the pilot movie aired, CBS ordered five additional episodes, making a six episode first season.  “The Deadly Dust, Part 1,” the first episode of the series proper, aired on April 5, 1978.  The most notable episode from the series’ first season was loosely based on a comic book storyline from just a few years before – a storyline that would be revisited in the 1990s in the form of the infamous “Clone Saga” – and was called “Night of the Clones.”  The story was significantly changed from the source material, with the idea of Spider-Man being cloned really being the only similarity.

The series proper saw the recasting of J. Jonah Jameson with character actor Robert F. Simon.  The series also featured a character named Rita Conway, who – while technically being an original character created for the television series – was strikingly similar in both appearance and function as the Glory Grant character from the Spider-Man comic books.  The series proper also saw the character of Robbie Robertson being dropped from the show completely.

“The Amazing Spider-Man” had decent overall ratings, finishing in the top 20 of the entire season, however CBS was reluctant to renew it for a second season.  This was mostly due to the series’ expense, and the fact that it wasn’t performing as well as hoped in the adult demographic.  In the end, CBS did order a second batch of episodes, but again the number was limited.  A seven episode second season was produced and the title of the series was changed, simply, to “Spider-Man.”

The character of police Captain Barbera was written out of the show for the second season, and episodes were aired sporadically.  The second season of Spider-Man was treated much more like a series of specials than an actual season of television.  The second season was used mostly to hurt competing programs during key points within the year.  As was the case with the first season as well, the second season featured no supervillains from the comics and Spider-Man fought mostly street thugs and white collar criminals.

The tone of the series was very much like every other 70s cop show, only featuring Spider-Man instead of a regular human protagonist.  The show also didn’t do the special effects all that well.  Spider-Man’s webs often looked like nothing more than a length of white rope shooting out from his wrists, and the wall-crawling effect was obviously a stuntman being pulled up the side of a building by a crane, pantomiming as if he were crawling.

By the standards of the time, the Spider-Man television series wasn’t terrible, however it does leave a bit lacking to modern audiences and by the standards of today.  In the mid-1980s there was talk of reviving the series, teaming Spider-Man up with “The Incredible Hulk,” but this didn’t end up happening.  While 12 of the 13 total episodes have been released on VHS, these VHS tapes are long out of print and at the time of this writing there have been no plans to release the series on DVD.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“There’s a web of truth woven into action of ‘Spider-Man series'”. St. Petersburg Times (St. Petersburg, FL). Apr 5, 1978.

“TV’s worst season slowly nearing an end”. Boca Raton News (Boca Raton, FL). UPI. May 15, 1978

Richard Meyers (Oct 1978). “Return of the video Superheroes.”. Starlog Page 50-51.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Wonder Woman’ TV Series

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This is the twelfth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

After the promising, yet disappointing, reception to the Wonder Woman television movie a year before, ABC decided to revamp the concept and try again.  This time, producers cast Lynda Carter for the lead role, a role she would be identified with to this day.  Wonder Woman’s love interest, Steve Trevor, was cast with former Batman contender Lyle Waggoner.

This time, the decision was made to keep Wonder Woman more true to the original concept, even using the World War II setting of the character’s original creation.  The pilot movie, titled “The New Original Wonder Woman” aired on ABC on November 7, 1975.

The strength of the pilot movie led to a 13-episode first season order, which was a little odd in the way it was aired.  The first two one-hour episodes of the first season (after the pilot movie) were aired at the end of the 1975-1976 television season, while the remaining 11 episodes aired as part of the 1976-1977 television season.

Being set during WWII, the first season heavily featured Nazis as the villains and often made use of war-themed plots.  Wonder Woman herself, in her secret identity as Diana Prince, was a member of the United States Navy and worked for Steve Trevor, who was an Army pilot.  The first season is also notable for being the only live action adaptation of Wonder Woman’s sidekick Wonder Girl, here called Drusilla instead of Donna Troy.  Drusilla is the name of an Amazon from the comics, though she was never Wonder Girl and is not Wonder Woman’s sister.

The first season was a little more stylized, using comic book style narration blocks as location indicators.  The first season wasn’t quite what the Adam West Batman television series was, but it didn’t take itself as seriously as it would in later seasons.  While the ratings were respectable for the first season, again they did not meet ABC’s standards and after 13 episodes, the series was cancelled.

Producers then moved the series to CBS.  Another pilot movie was made, serving as the premiere of the second season, and the setting was updated to the 1970s.  Lyle Waggoner returned as Steve Trevor, but since the producers didn’t want to throw away the entire first season, he was depicted as being the son of the original Steve Trevor and his father’s relationship with Wonder Woman was briefly mentioned.

The series’ second season was also upgraded from 13 to a full 22 episodes.  With the setting change, Diana’s civilian job was also changed from being a Navy secretary to working with Steve Trevor, Jr. at the Inter-Agency Defense Command, an organization similar to the CIA or the FBI.  The stories were also written in a much more serious tone.

The third season tried to pander more to the teenage audience, and as such made several changes.  The Wonder Woman theme was updated slightly to have a more disco sound and the scope of the series was changed to be more identifiable with a teenage and young adult audience.

The final episode of the series, which was actually aired out of order as the third to last episode, saw Diana move from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles and would have seen the Steve Trevor character written out of the series for season four.  This decision was made to once again revamp the series, but ultimately there wasn’t to be a fourth season and the series ended after three seasons.

While the series in itself wasn’t terrible, it did seem to have trouble finding a direction and sticking with it.  It was always reinventing itself, which was what ultimately led to its downfall.  While a Wonder Woman television series was developed by David E. Kelley, and a pilot was shot, the pilot was ultimately rejected by network NBC and never aired.  Wonder Woman would not be seen again in live action until Gal Gadot dons the bullet-repelling bracelets in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.”

This version of Wonder Woman was resurrected by DC Comics in a series of “Wonder Woman ’77” comic book specials, following in the footsteps of the “Batman ’66” comic book series.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“NYCC: DC Digital Adds “Wonder Woman ’77,” “Mortal Kombat X” & “Fables: Wolf Among Us””. Comic Book Resources. October 12, 2014.

Joby, Tom (1980-05-12). “Cathy Crosby turns down ‘Wonder Woman’ offer”. Associated Press.

Wonder Woman at TV.com

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Wonder Woman’ (1974)

Wonder_Woman

This is the eleventh installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

Most people remember the Wonder Woman of the 1970s as Lynda Carter, who starred in a very successful television series that lasted for three seasons.  While Lynda Carter is the best known Wonder Woman from the period, she isn’t the only one that existed.  A full year before the CBS television series debuted, a made-for-TV movie – which in itself was intended to be a pilot for a television series – aired on American television network ABC.

This made-for-TV movie starred Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde-haired Wonder Woman, and the superheroine’s hair wasn’t the only blatant change made from the source material.  This film depicted Diana Prince – code-named Wonder Woman – as a secret agent, under the command of Agent Steve Trevor.  The character’s costume was significantly changed, and her identity was pretty much a matter of public record.

Wonder Woman’s origin was mostly kept intact.  She was still an Amazon, sent to “man’s world” as our protector.  While Wonder Woman had no lasso of truth or invisible plane, she did ride a motorcycle.  The film followed Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor as they chased down Abner Smith (Ricardo Montalban), a villain who has stolen a secret file containing classified information on several government agents.

The movie aired all of twice, and while the ratings were high enough to be deemed respectable, they weren’t high enough for ABC to green-light a television series.  An ABC representative eventually admitted that the decision to update Wonder Woman for a modern audience was probably a mistake.  A television series did eventually materialize on another network, and while Cathy Lee Crosby claims to have been offered the role in that series, Lynda Carter was ultimately cast and history would soon be made.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

TV Staff Previews, Uniontown (PA) Morning Herlad, March 12, 1974,

TV Key Best Bets, Wisconsin State Journal, August, 21, 1974.

Wonder Woman Tries Comeback, Tom Shales, Washington Pose, November 7, 1975.

Cathy Crosby turns down ‘Wonder Woman’ offer, Tom Joby, Associated Press, May 12, 1980.

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Shazam!’

Captain-Marvel

This is the tenth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

33 years after the release of “The Adventures of Captain Marvel,” Captain Marvel and his young alter-ego Billy Batson were adapted for television by famed animation studio Filmation.  “Shazam!” was the first live action television series the animation studio had ever produced.

By the time the television series rolled around, Fawcett Comics had been out of business for over 20 years and the rights to many of their characters, including Captain Marvel, had been licensed by DC Comics.  DC had begun publishing Captain Marvel, under the title “Shazam!,” for two years when they sub-licensed the character to Filmation for the television series.

In between the time Fawcett went defunct in 1953 and DC acquired the character in 1972, Marvel Comics had created and began publishing their own Captain Marvel character.  Because of this, when DC acquired the Fawcett character they were prohibited from advertising the character as “Captain Marvel.”  They were still allowed to use the name in the book itself, but not on the cover or on advertising materials.  Because of this, the title of the book became Shazam!, which carried over to the television series.  Since DC’s New 52 relaunch, the character himself is now called Shazam.

While the series was live action, Filmation basically treated it the same as they did their animated shows.  It was directed at the same child audience, it aired on Saturday mornings and each episode ended with a heavy-handed moral being spoon-fed to the audience.

Once again, there were no villains from the comics used in the series.  Instead, Billy Batson and his guardian, Mentor, would help out kids with every day issues in every episode.  The series dealt with things like runaways, bullies, juvenile delinquents, and other issues that were affecting the real kids in the audience.

The television series varied significantly from the source material.  Taking a page out of the Green Lantern/Green Arrow comics, the television series wasn’t based in any one city.  Instead, Billy and Mentor traveled around the country in an RV, helping people as they happened upon them.  Also, instead of getting his powers from a wizard named Shazam, Billy Batson actually had audience with the Elders, the actual Greek, Roman and Hebrew gods from whom his powers were derived.

Captain Marvel was played by two actors during the course of the series’ three season run.  Jackson Bostwick portrayed the eponymous superhero during the first season, and was replaced by John Davey for the second and third seasons.

At the start of the second season “Shazam!” was joined by a spin-off, “The Secrets of Isis,” to form the “Shazam/Isis Hour.”  While the character Isis was an original creation for television, she was later incorporated into the DC Comics universe and was also used in an episode of the Superman-related television series “Smallville.”

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to like me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and check out my column at TheBlaze.

References:

“The History of DC Comics on TV”. http://www.ign.com.

Smith, Zack (31 December 2010). “An Oral History of CAPTAIN MARVEL: The Shazam Years, pt. 1”. Newsarama

The History of Superhero Movies: ‘Batman- The Movie’

batman_1966

This is the ninth installment in a series of articles tracing the complete history of superheroes in film and television, from the first superhero serial all the way to the current Marvel and DC cinematic universes.  For the previous installment click here, for the first installment click here.

It sometimes boggles my mind when people complain about movies like “Spider-Man 3” or “Batman & Robin,” which each had three villains, stating that they were damaged by having too many characters.  “Batman: The Movie” had four villains, and it didn’t suffer one iota for it.  It isn’t about the number of characters you have, but how well you use them.  “Batman: The Movie” used them fantastically.

Almost immediately after filming wrapped on the first season of the television series, principal photography began on the feature film version.  Originally, the feature was planned as a sort of pilot to the show, and as a way to sell the series overseas.  The decision was made, however, to go into production on the first season first, because if the series was a success it would translate to a larger audience for the film and because 20th Century Fox could share the cost of the series with the network, while having to foot the entire bill for the feature.  So instead of the film being used the sell the series, the series was actually used to sell the film.

The feature version took everything the “Batman” television series had to offer and turned it up to 11.  Filmed on the same sets and using the same costumes as the series left plenty of money to make the film seem like it had a much bigger budget than it actually did, because there was a lot of money that had already been spent.  Because of this, producers were able to do things and show things in the film that they never would have been able to show in the series, and for the first time fans got a sense of how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were changed into Batman and Robin while sliding down their bat-poles.

The film introduced a bat-copter and bat-boat that hadn’t previously been seen in the series, as well as a Penguin submarine.  The bat-boat and bat-copter would eventually be used again in seasons two and three of the television series.  Without the feature film, these vehicles would have been too expensive to build on a television budget.  The film also introduced the bat-cycle, which probably saw the most use in the television series.

Unlike the television series, the film dealt rather heavily with political issues of the day, most notably Cold War concerns of nuclear war, the sale of war surplus military equipment and it even took a few shots at the Pentagon.  The United Nations was also featured, although called the United World Organization in the film.

For many years, the film was the only part of the 1966 Batman that was available on home video due to rights concerns.  The film had home video clauses in its licensing agreement, due to the popularity of Super 8 home projectors at the time.  No such agreement was made for the television series, but that has since been released to DVD and Blu-ray.

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References:

Garcia, Bob, “Batman: Making the Original Movie”, Cinefantastique, Volume 24, #6/Vol. 25, #1 (double issue), February 1994, p. 55.

Batman at 45: A Milestone Tribute to Pow, Bam and Zap!, Chris Gould, 2011

 

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