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Published on November 14th, 2010 | by admin

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Mars Needs Culture! #2: Video Killed The Comic Book Star: Part One

I love superheroes. I always have. Whatever part of your DNA that connects with people in capes, I have in spades. It translates to all mediums, too. Comics, movies, I even watched the new show No Ordinary Family after I was told it was weak, just to get my hero fix. Which brings me to this question: Can a decent superhero show be done on television?

For the sake of this pondering, I am going to eliminate animation. America has decided that any cartoon is for children, and no matter how many times Pixar or Miyazaki prove that animation is a powerful medium, mainstream audiences refuse to admit the obvious fact that we should be animating our superheroes. By the time Green Lantern comes out we will be using so much CGI that we are practically animating them already, but that is a column for another day, I think.

To see how we got to the current state and move toward the future of superheroes on the boob tube, let’s have a look at some of what they have offered us in the past, shall we?

1) The Adventures of Superman (1952-1958) – We start strong. This show holds up, I think. Granted, it holds up as a relic to a different time. George Reeves is the kind of Superman that would be a great host for a barbecue. While he was a large man, that’s all he was. Large is not SUPER. The pacing is slow and the stakes always seem low enough that any strong Joe with a bullet-proof vest could probably save Lois from the ruffians just as well. We will give it 8 issues of a twelve issue miniseries.

2) Batman (1966-1968) – I have always had a bit of mixed feelings about this show. I loved it as a child, outgrew it as a young man, and now I view it as a fun oddity. I have always wondered if the only way to look at it honestly is to have lived during its run. For instance, imagine as a fan of the superhero genre, having two episodes per week of Adam West and Burt Ward defeating the evil whoever. It is almost impossible to conceptualize any scripted show now pulling off such a feat. The breakneck pacing of the writing staff simply must be applauded. Plus, the style of the show may have worn out its welcome in just two years, but the issue of quality was never questioned. The negative of this program, of course, is that it dominated the way Batman and other superheroes were seen for decades. It wasn’t until Frank Miller re-envisioned the character in The Dark Knight Returns that we were able to find the Batman we all know and love today, the one that is much closer to what Bob Kane and Bill Finger wanted us to see. 9 issues of 12.

3) The Amazing Spider-Man (1977-1979) – I possess a bias towards this one. It’s a terrible show. I admit it. I love it. The pacing is bad, the storytelling is unforgivable, and it’s not really even connected to the Spider-Man mythos. He never fights a super villain, and every time Aunt May appears, she is played by a different actress. Let me say that again, whenever the main character’s only relative, the whole reason he finds the strength to fight evil, the person that in the comics he throws away his marriage to save appears (which is not often) she is played by A DIFFERENT PERSON EVERY TIME. Even in the face of all this I watch it whenever it is on in front of me. It’s like morphine. It dulls my senses enough that I can forgive the backwards film to show the webbing, or the fact that when he climbs on the walls his body moves effortlessly, almost as if his body was propelled by his torso instead of his arms and legs. Sigh, it’s so dreamy. 4 issues of 12 (but a solid 15 in my house).

4) Wonder Woman (1976-1979) – Poor Wonder Woman, she just never gets a solid break. A great character that is clotheslined by bad writing. It seems to happen in every medium, and sadly television is no different. The first attempt to bring Wonder Woman to TV was a silly attempt to get the Batman audience. As it was going to focus on Diana Prince as a comically plain woman and not an Amazon, thank heavens they abandoned that concept in the pilot phase. Wonder Woman was gathering notice as an object for women’s empowerment, even garnering a cover on the first issue of Ms. Magazine, such a step backwards was insulting. After another failed attempt by Cathy Lee Crosby, they finally got something right by casting the amazing Lynda Carter, whose charm made the series watchable. Somehow, the trappings of the character don’t translate to a television budget, the spandex unitard, the invisible jet, and the lasso that is in fact just a rope, just seem slightly underwhelming on the small screen. However, Ms Carter brings enthusiasm to the role; it is impossible not to have some fun. 8 issues of 12.

5) Shazam! (1974-1977) – I kinda remember seeing a bit of this as a kid. I remember liking it, but how could you not? Captain Marvel has so many facets that speak directly to me as a young boy. I was obsessed with mythology, so the idea that a small child could speak an acronym of several gods’ initials and become a superhero? Count me in! This series avoids the wizard Shazam entirely by having Billy Batson talk directly to the Council of Gods that bestow him with the mystical lightning that gives him his power. Yep, lightning gives him his powers and costume. That seems a bit cooler than sliding down a pole or spinning in a circle, eh? Ultimately, like The Amazing Spider-Man we talked about earlier, it suffers from a need to avoid super villains and violence almost entirely. It seems that the gods bestow mortals with the ability to change a tire when you really need it. Great concept, but sadly, not the wonder it could be. 5 issues of 12.

Well, that’s it for part one. Next week we will look at a few more, some that have origins outside the world of comics, and if we have time, I will pitch my idea for the bestest superhero show ever!

– JJ

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