Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is being touted as the first Marvel TV series, which is true… basically. Yes, this is the first live-action show from Marvel Studios, since Marvel took complete control of producing adaptations of their work – outside of the properties still licensed to other studios, of course. It’s also important as the first TV show to be tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, launched in 2008 with Iron Man. But it’s not the first time Marvel characters have made their way to TV…
In fact, there have been several Marvel TV adaptations in the past 40 years. Unfortunately, these previous attempts -- mostly made by studios not beholden at all to staying true to Marvel's source material -- were not exactly glowing successes, with the exception of a show about a certain green goliath, which managed to hit home with both critics and viewers. Still, as we venture into new and exciting times with the launch of S.H.I.E.L.D. and other potential series in development, including Agent Carter, let’s take a look back at those earlier attempts to bring Marvel to the small screen.
Note: This feature is specifically focused on live-action projects, as Marvel animation on TV is a whole other topic – and one with a lot more successes, that’s for sure.
Given he’s their flagship character, it feels right that Spider-Man was the first Marvel character to appear in live-action on TV (or in any medium, actually). Though if you’re looking for classic Spider-Man stories, you’d better try elsewhere. The Spidey Super Story segments that were a part of the children's show, The Electric Company, ran from just a couple of minutes long to several minutes, and featured Spider-Man facing a bevy of odd villains such as Eye Patch, The Tickler (Game of Thrones crossover!), The Wall and The Thumper, not to mention a woman dressed in an Easter Bunny costume.
Spider-Man himself never speaks out loud. Instead, when he "talks" a comic book style word balloon appears next to him, which he and those around him often awkwardly stop to look at. The show hardly had any budget for special effects, so Spider-Man never showed off any discernible powers or abilities except for his web, which amusingly would always begin as a crudely animated effect (as he shot it forward) before cutting to a shot of a bad guy caught in a net.
It’s also hard not to enjoy seeing the respected, Academy Award-winning Morgan Freeman -- then an Electric Company regular -- ham it up in various roles, including Count Dracula and a moronic cop, throughout the "Spidey" shorts.
A decidedly un-amazing version of our hero, The Amazing Spider-Man was the first live-action, dramatic take on the character, but lacking all of the energy and wit we expect from the character. The dated FX were simply all that could be done during that era (and on a TV budget), but much worse is that this show made their grad student-age Peter Parker (Nicholas Hammond) and his alter-ego incredibly bland, despite his fairly accurate costume and abilities.
Of Peter’s supporting cast from the comics, only Aunt May and J. Jonah Jameson were regularly included and not a single supervillain showed up – instead Spidey mostly fought one generic thug after another. Well, there was one pseudo-familiar foe for Spider-Man, as in one episode, Spidey fought his own... wait for it… clone!
The Amazing Spider-Man was actually a decently-performing series, but CBS cancelled it, and Wonder Woman, when they feared becoming too associated with superheroes (as if that’s a bad thing!), only keeping the better-rated The Incredible Hulk. Speaking of which...
While other Marvel TV adaptations of the era fell by the wayside, The Incredible Hulk triumphed. Viewed now, there's plenty to laugh at about this series, much of it thanks to dated aspects and the fact that there was a ton of melodrama and heart on sleeve sentimentality. And yes, this version of the Hulk (played by bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno) was drastically different from the source material, from his first name being David, not Bruce, to the fact that the Hulk himself was much smaller and far less strong than his comic book counterpart.
But what needs to be remembered was that this was also a big leap for comic book adaptations, simply for taking its characters and situations seriously. There was no campy or winking aspect to The Incredible Hulk and David Banner's plight was treated as just that – a plight. The show had a huge ace in the hole via Bill Bixby's great performance as Banner, who gave the character a believable sense of intelligence and sadness that was unlike anything George Reeves, Adam West or Linda Carter had been asked to portray as their respective superhero alter-egos.
The show was formulaic to be sure. Each week, David went to a new town and helped a down on his luck person, hulking out a couple of times, while managing to stay one step ahead of the reporter tracking him. And there were almost no supervillains in sight - minus a weird, old man version of the Hulk. But with the appeal of the Hulk himself and Bixby’s performance fueling it, the show managed the neat track of grabbing a large audience of both kids and adults, lasting five seasons (albeit a very truncated Season 5) in the process.
What if Spider-Man were Japanese? And had a completely different origin? And used a giant robot to fight monsters? Thankfully, a TV series answered these questions.
In one of the strangest comic book adaptations ever, Marvel licensed Spider-Man to Japanese company Toei for a show done in the Tokusatsu style – a style best known in the US thanks to Power Rangers, and its inclusion of Japanese footage.
This Spider-Man was a motor-cross champion, Yamashiro Takuya, who gets his powers from an alien from the planet Spider (stay with me here, folks), who gives Yamashiro a bracelet that gives him the powers of… Spider-Man! And the ability to summon a giant robot named Leopardon! But watch out, Spider-Man – Professor Monster and his Iron Cross Army are coming to cause trouble!
It really does look and feel like Spider-Man meets Power Rangers and is undeniably fun in that regard, in a super campy way. It in no way is faithful to Spider-Man beyond the costume, but hey, it’s not boring!
That Japanese Spider-Man series aside, Marvel in the late 70s was all about American TV Movies, which were all made with the hopes of leading into ongoing series. While two of these TV movie pilots, Spider-Man and Hulk, did indeed lead to weekly series, a couple other Marvel characters were less successful. Doctor Strange starred Peter Hooten as the title character, here a psychiatrist who follows in his father's footsteps when he is chosen to become the new Sorcerer Supreme. The Doctor Strange telefilm did at least include more of the supporting cast from the comics than the other Marvel adaptations of the era, including Clea and Wong. And the villain, Morgan Le Fay, was none other than Lucille Bluth herself, Jessica Walter!
Stan Lee would later say he was fairly happy with the Doctor Strange TV movie and that it was the Marvel adaptation of that era he had the most input into.
Another the many late 70s attempts at launching a Marvel TV show, Captain America was the subject of two TV movies. While none of the TV adaptations of this era could be referred to as "faithful," Captain America had perhaps the most egregious deviations, completely getting rid of the character's fairly integral backstory and origins.
This Steve Rogers (played by Reb Brown) was not from World War II, but rather a modern day ex-Marine who drives around California in his van and explains, "I've been coming down the coast slow and easy. You know, kicking back." But it turns out his father invented "The ultimate steroid" and Steve is transformed into Captain America – wearing a goofy costume, that included a motorcycle helmet. Even when Steve got a second costume that was far more in line with the comics, he still never dropped that motorcycle helmet – and don't get us started on the semi-transparent shield. Suffice to say, this Captain America never really felt like Captain America, and has some very cheesy, very late-1970s TV vibes running through it… though hey, at least Cap got to fight Christopher Lee in the sequel!
Continue to Page 2 as the Hulk returns, and brings Thor and Daredevil with him, two kinda/sorta X-Men projects make it to TV and more.
Source : ign[dot]com