Friday, March 13, 2015
I mentioned The Dark Knight because, of course, Batman is one of the most popular superheroes. Making his DC Comics debut in 1939, the Caped Crusader finally came to television in 1966. Adam West and Burt Ward played Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder, and the series also included iconic turns from Burgess Meredith, Cesar Romero, and Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as frequent adversaries. The lighthearted tone of that series differed greatly from the darker, grittier portrayals seen in the Michael Keaton and Christian Bale movies, as well as from the Gotham TV series currently airing on Fox.
Making his debut just before Batman, Superman has been a sometime ally and sometime adversary to his DC Comics counterpart, such as in the upcoming movie Batman v Superman. A cultural icon, the Man of Steel has been through many television iterations, beginning in 1952 with Adventures of Superman, which featured George Reeves donning the cape. In 1988, The Adventures of Superboy followed Clark Kent and his alter ego in his youth, while in 1993, Lois & Clark dealt with Superman’s adventures as well has his relationship with Lois Lane (actress Teri Hatcher’s big break). Following on the heels of that show’s popularity, Smallville, in some ways similar to Superboy, explores Clark Kent’s origins and younger days.
It’s worth nothing that yet another DC Comics character, Wonder Woman, also had a series from 1975-1979 featuring the Amazon warrior princess. There have been considerably fewer series featuring characters from Marvel Comics, at least until Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. hit the airwaves in 2013. A notable example, though, is The Incredible Hulk, which ran from 1978 to 1982 and starred Bill Bixby as scientist Bruce Banner and Lou Ferrigno as the green behemoth he changes into during moments of intense anger. A TV movie continuation, The Incredible Hulk Returns, was originally intended as a setup for a series featuring Thor, another Marvel superhero, but that never panned out.
DC and Marvel have been the source for so much superhero lore in pop culture, but there are a number of other tales as well. One of my favorite shows as a kid was The Greatest American Hero (currently unavailable), about a hapless everyman who comes to possess a suit that bestows a number of powers—but, unfortunately, he loses the instructions and has to figure it out as he goes along. It also featured one of the all-time great TV theme songs, “Believe It or Not” by Joey Scarbury. A similar premise underlies the more recent series Heroes, in which seemingly ordinary people discover their own superpowers. The show concluded in 2010, but a 13-episode follow-up is scheduled to air this fall on NBC.
For those who love their superheroes, there are obviously plenty of options to choose from, and more on the way. In addition to current shows like Arrow and The Flash, there are any number of shows coming soon, such as Powers, a superhero detective drama starring Sharlto Copley and Eddie Izzard, and Constantine, a series featuring the DC Comics character played on the big screen by Keanu Reeves. In addition, there will be a number of further additions to the Marvel universe, like Daredevil and AKA Jessica Jones, both of which will be offered by Netflix. So which of these older shows do you love, and which of the new ones are you looking forward to?