There’s been many questions over the generations that have divided our opinions and have helped shape the way we think. How did the universe come to be? Is there life on other worlds? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? But one question is above all of these in the grand scheme of things and it’s one that divides many people, myself included. Which of these great institutions is better, Marvel or DC? Or are you a fan of the independents? Where do you stand on whose better between The Justice League and The Avengers? I’m going to be talking about the best and the worst in comic book film and television.
First I would like to take you on a little trip down memory lane and give you an insight at what I remember of these comic book behemoths from my childhood, both on paper and on screen. How I came to grow up with them, maybe where they’re headed in the future, and just to warn you… this may take a while.
Let’s talk DC first. My earliest memories are of the caped crusader himself, Batman. I don’t mean the Christian Bale version that many people are familiar with today, I’m talking the Batman of old played by Adam West. I wasn’t born when this series first aired in 1966 (I’m not THAT old people!), but it was rerun enough on TV that I had the chance to see it. The cartoon style POW and SOCK that appeared during the fight scenes were always a highlight for me and gave it a comic strip feeling. Cringe worthy quotes like “Holy strawberries Batman, we’re in a jam!” always stuck in my head. How can I not mention the sight of the caped crusader and boy wonder climbing the side of a building… with a slack rope to boot! Priceless!
Other characters I remember include Wonder Woman, played by the glamorous Lynda Carter. An Amazon warrior who has amazing strength, a lasso of truth and the ability to deflect bullets with her bracelets. Changing into her outfit by simply spinning around, I mean WOW. Let’s not forget the Scarlet Speedster himself, The Flash aka Barry Allen. A forensic scientist who accidentally gets the ability to run at near light speed. He can even run up the side of buildings! You’re probably aware of the new version of this starring Grant Gustin (which is awesome I may add), but there was another back in 1990 with John Wesley Shipp playing the character. Never heard of him? Well if you watch the current CW version, he plays Henry Allen, Barry’s father. And how can I possibly talk about anything DC related without mentioning the Man of Steel himself, Kal-el, Clark Kent, Superman. Born on Krypton and sent to Earth by his father, Jor-el, he grew up to become one of the greatest heroes created by the DC universe. And while the character has been taken up by many people over the years few can argue that he was fully thrown into the limelight by the films of the 70’s and 80’s starring the late Christopher Reeves.
So most of my DC memories as you can tell are from the screen and I could carry on for a lot longer about other characters. I haven’t even covered all the heroes such as Green Lantern or Aquaman. Not to mention the likes of Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, Lex Luthor, Deathstroke, etc. who provide the nemesis for our heroes. But I can imagine that by now some of you are waiting, hoping that finally you can hear about the other sides of this tale, so… now for the massive world of Marvel.
At last I hear some of you cry! Told you in would take a while. Where to start? I think in the early days I would watch the TV series The Incredible Hulk (1977-82) and The Amazing Spider-man (1977), although Spidey didn’t last that long, only 13 episodes. The Spider-man and Fantastic Four cartoon series from the 1960’s, plus The Incredible Hulk (1982) also sit in the back of my mind somewhere gathering dust. While they may have seemed a little rough around the edges, they played a massive part in myself getting engrossed into the Marvel Universe. Over the years these have been followed up by other versions of the characters, Spider-man and his Amazing friends springs to mind with one of my favorites being the character Iceman (pardon the pun but he was so cool)! With the likes of the X-men animated series (1992-97) bringing me into my teens, it’s safe to say that my upbringing was layered with superheroes and people in costumes. No wonder I grew up the way that I did! Now Marvel comics are definitely more in my youth. I had many annuals based on the X-men and Spider-man, fighting of the likes of Dr Doom, Carnage and Apocalypse.
Let’s not forget the more independent comics that have also given us amazing characters that have shared the limelight with these two giants, which is no light task. Now I may not have read many of these, like so many people I wasn’t as familiar with them as I was the more mainstream ones, but I have seen the fruits of their labor on the screen. A friend of mine wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t mention The Crow, and rightly so too as it’s a classic. Eric Draven was brilliantly portrayed by the late Brandon Lee, I loved the dark edge and raw emotion that was in this version. The likes of Judge Dredd (Rebellion Developments) have been done and rebooted to varied levels of success, while we also have Hellboy (Dark Horse Comics) who was played perfectly in my opinion by Ron Pearlman. And let’s include the likes of Spawn (Image comics) in this list. One that I do know from both comics and TV are the lean, green, pizza loving fighting machines, that’s right, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mikey had to be my favorite).
So what happened to all these comic characters, who provided us with so much release from reality, once they were translated to the big screen? Maybe it’s because of the freedom that you can do with animation, there is no worrying about going over budget with special effects, actors’ salaries and massive sets. You want a flying alien, you draw it, however you like. Is it the direction taken by the director? Should they have stayed true to the original story? Or maybe it’s the fact they have taken the fun factor out of it?
I’m going to be honest and say although I enjoyed the X-men trilogy (for the most part). I felt a little let down as some aspects weren’t true to the comics, let’s not mention the outfits! The Toby Maguire depicted Spider-man films started with so much promise, but after the first I feel that they lost momentum with the character and with all the villains they could have used did they choose wisely? DC have produced great series lately, with both Arrow and Flash wowing us and giving us a good dose of action and humor combined. Marvel meanwhile have dominated the cinema experience, with the release of Iron Man in 2008 they set a chain reaction off that has done nothing but thrill audiences, including characters such as Thor, Hawkeye, Captain America and Hulk to name a few, with my personal favorite being The Avengers, plus lets not forget Guardians of the Galaxy.
But maybe Guardians of the Galaxy makes my point for me. It bought the fun factor to the big screen and let’s face it, that’s the point… to entertain. For me that’s what the comics do, allow you to use your imagination, they make it fun!
With Marvel continuing their with various story-lines and DC building up to the the Justice League we can only hope that past mistakes are being learned from and we can see our favorite comic strip characters given a chance on the screen.
Now with so many comics, film and TV series out there that we could debate about this a lot longer, maybe even write a novel (a graphic one maybe). I have merely scratched the surface and hopefully got you thinking about what you want in a comic based production, stirred up a few memories or maybe you stopped reading to dig out an old issue of Batman or Spider-man. If that’s the case then this piece has done a good job and worth every word written.