OK. If there is anything us comics geeks can be proud of these days is the following: we finally made the mainstream world see what the hell kept us ticking for years during high school…the comics book universe: “The Avengers!”, “The Dark Knight Returns!”, “Deadpool!”, “The Green Hornet!”, “Defendor!”…Uh, well...they can´t all be gems.
With over 172! official superhero movies produced -including TV movies, according to Wikipedia- and a bajillion more coming up, from Aquaman to the friggin´ Power Rangers, the biggest discussion on forums, blogs and social media continues to be -specially after the success of "Suicide Squad"- figuring out: “Which Superhero Movies are Better: DC or Marvel?” First of all, I´m not going to answer this question for you, because either you´re a) an Avengers Assembler, b) a JLA wannabe, or c) you don´t really care, you just want to see a good superhero flick. Secondly, there is no way in the Hoary Hosts of Hoggoth I am going to be able to cover this topic in just one blog, so bear with me, please. Today we are stopping at the end of the 70´s.
Our iconic heroes (Kal-El, Bruce Wayne & even El Zorro) first jumped off the comics page to radio shows, creating thousands of young followers until serial films appeared… Anywhere from 12 to 15 black and white episodes per season (any number was way too much!) gave fans a chance to see their heroes in action…until “Superman & the Mole Men” changed everything! (Or did it?)…I guess you had to be there, but the year was 1951, and after just 12 days of filming, the first official feature movie based on any comics character took mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent (actor George Reeves, no relation to Christopher) along with Lois Lane to an oil well, Mole Men who glowed in the dark, plus your healthy dose of angry hordes of townspeople with pitchforks…What could have gone wrong?
Superhero movie fans (if there were any who could be called so at the time) would have to wait a decade and a half to see another film feature presentation. Holy box office, Batman! Adam West & Burt Ward took their campy classic Bat-show to the silver screen, scoring a whopper of $1.700.000 at the time. The writers sent our caped crusaders everything but the kitchen sink: Why couldn´t the combined forces of Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Cesar Romero (The Joker), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler) and Lee Meriwether (Catwoman) just drown Gotham´s Bat-finest in a Bat-shark-infested Bat-aquarium? Holy tintinnibulation, Batman!
What about Marvel? Yes, Stan, talking to you. Maybe the 70´s wasn´t Marvel´s finest hour for movies, but who can argue with Bill Bixby & Lou Ferrigno´s amazing Hulk TV show? DC had Wonder Woman & Shazam!, while Marvel added a horrible Spider-Man show (if you don´t have the tech, just don´t do it – Spidey was practically throwing fishnets at kung fu fighters!). No surprise to anyone, this show was cancelled. However, nobody took the hint. The House of Ideas decided to capitalize on the Hulk´s success with two monstrous TV movies: Doctor Strange and Captain America. Excelsior? Not quite indeed.
Why they chose Stephen Strange as a character for a movie at that time is beyond me. What was wrong with Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Daredevil, X-Men, Sub-Mariner, Silver Surfer? Maybe it was the LSD-fueled issues of the decade that made the product more attractive, but the 70´s sure could have done without this soap opera of a TV movie. Luckily, 38 years later Marvel Studios is finally doing it right with Oscar nominee Benedict Cumberbatch (Don´t tell me you´ve haven´t seen "The Imitation Game" or "Sherlock"!) But at that time, even the movie´s director, Philip DeGuere was quoted on saying it was “hard to even get a grasp on the concept of the movie”. Wong was there, Clea was there, even Morgan Le Fay was there (actress Jessica Walter, famous for playing "Lucille” 20 years later on “Arrested Development”). However, they misread the whole origin story and transformed our arrogant, tormented Master of the Mystical Arts into a groovy, easygoing doctor in a movie project that was doomed and way over its budget from the get-go.
Captain America, on the other hand, got two movie deals! (Please...please... do...not...watch...these...movies) Who knew? They changed the whole backstory. Steve Rogers is an ex-marine whose father´s nickname was "Captain America" (Okeyyyy...) and spent his time driving around in his van while working on his art (whaaaat?) until his life came to be at risk. What better moment than this to use F.L.A.G. (the ultimate steroid) to save his life? This poorly executed piece of flim was incredibly able to pitch a second part: “Death Too Soon”. Not too much to write home about, unless you want to check out some classic Christopher Lee as the supervillain “General Miguel” (stereotype much?), Steve Roger´s “Evil Knievel” helmet (actually makes sense if you are going to run around in a bike) and of course... his pet cat.
So far, I would have to say this period (1950-1979) has got to go to DC. Not only did they get the first official superhero movie into the history books (even if it did have too many "Mole Men" in it), but also the first financial success with “Batman” (campy, much?). On the other hand, Marvel never went to the silver screen and produced three TV movies, which might as well could been directed by the Ferelly Brothers´ brothers. And then, out of nowhere: the game-changer. The moment superhero movies started for real. 1978 was the year: Superman, the Movie. “You will believe a man can fly!” Christopher Reeve. Margot Kidder. Gene Hackman. Beautifully directed by Richard Donner, who turned a $50 million Budget into $300.000.000 and gave us all the time of our lives. DC 1, Marvel 0. This blog will be continued…