I bought my first Iron Maiden record in 1982. “The Number of the Beast” garnered great reviews from the heavy metal community.
Here in America it also received threats from church officials as being an agent of satanism. Heavy metal music does a lot of satanic material. It just fits the genre so well. This kind of music is a tonic for many fans. I love complex guitar based music. Soaring vocals are a huge component as well.
Circus magazine wrote a response to the controversy. The article explained Iron Maiden are not devil worshippers, just devil-may-care.
I was a fan for life after that era. Their mascot Eddie, a re-animated ghoul, appears on every album cover. Created by Derek Riggs, he assumes different types and styles that fit each album’s themes and concepts.
From their eponymous debut in album to their first double studio album in 2015, the band’s music has evolved from traditional metal to a more progressive groove.
Their line-up changed several times. Original vocalist Paul DiAnno quit due to substance abuse. His replacement was Samson singer Bruce Dickinson who turned out to be their ticket to global stardom.
For two albums, Bruce was replaced by Blayze Bayley. Their 10th and 11th albums were as good as anything they had done before but fans did not like this change.
In the year 2000 the band made a huge comeback with Bruce’s return. Guitarist Adrian Smith also came back. This current line-up of the group proved to be their best.
Since the year 2000 Iron Maiden are Bruce Dickinson (Vocals), Steve Harris (Bass), Adrian Smith (Guitar), Dave Murray (Guitar), Janick Jers (Guitar), Nicko McBrain (Drums).
The past 20 years of a nearly 50 year career have produced critically acclaimed records like “Brave New World”, “A Matter of Life and Death”, “The Final Frontier”, and “The Book of Souls”.
This followed their now classic albums of the 1980’s: “Killers”, “The Number of the Beast”, “Piece of Mind”, “Powerslave”, “Somewhere in Time”, and “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son “.
A documentary film, “Flight 666”, follows Maiden on a record setting world tour in which lead singer Bruce Dickinson piloted the band’s plane called Ed Force One.
Around the world Maiden’s fan base grew not only larger but younger too. In my opinion Iron Maiden have the best fans.
In the past four decades you will have seen people wearing Iron Maiden shirts or patches or bracelets or hats.
In 1982, Eddie was a demon spawn. Then in 1983 he was condemned to the rubber room. In 1984 he was an entombed pharaoh. In 1986 he became a cyborg. In 1988 he became the Seventh Son of a Seventh Son.
Now in their fifth decade, Iron Maiden are nominated to the Rock Hall of Fame.
Not seeking this award, the band will continue to empower their massive audience that spans the globe with their upcoming seventeenth studio album.
Bassist Steve Harris founded the group on Christmas day 1975! He said at the end of each decade that Maiden had another ten albums in them. And their sixteen studio records all have songs that became big concert classics.
This is a snapshot song list of my favorites from the band’s ongoing career:
Murders In The Rue Morgue
Phantom of the Opera
Die With Your Boots On
The Number Of The Beast
Run To The Hills
Hallowed Be Thy Name
Flight Of Icarus
Where Eagles Dare
To Tame A Land (inspired by Dune)
Sun And Steel
Two Minutes To Midnight
Rime Of The Ancient Mariner
Sea Of Madness
Somewhere In Time
Stranger In A Strange Land
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son
The Evil That Men Do
No Prayer For The Dying
Bring Your Daughter To The Slaughter*
Public Enema Number One
Be Quick Or Be Dead
From Here To Eternity
Afraid To Shoot Strangers
Judas Be My Guide
Fear Of The Dark
Sign Of The Cross
Lord Of The Flies
Man On The Edge
Judgement Of Heaven
The Angel And The Gambler
The Educated Fool
Dance of Death
The Wicker Man
Brave New World
Out Of The Silent Planet
Brighter Than A Thousand Suns
The Reincarnation Of Benjamin Breeg
Lord Of Light
Satellite 15…The Final Frontier
Isle Of Avalon
The Man Who Would Be King
When The Wild Wind Blows
If Eternity Should Fail
Speed Of Light
The Book Of Souls
Death Or Glory
Tears Of A Clown
Empire Of The Clouds
*The only single to reach #1 on the chart.
Up the Irons!
The list of songs above reflects how well Iron Maiden have covered their horror, science fiction, fantasy, and historical literary interests.
Their songwriting is done now by each band member. Steve Harris is their lead songwriter who composed epic songs lasting a minimum of six minutes on every record. Frontman Bruce Dickinson wrote the longest track in their history so far. “Empire Of The Clouds” runs 18 minutes!
Arguably the most epic of bands, I hope Maiden get elected to the rock hall of fame this year. They deserve this honor.
Dearest readers I leave you with a few of my favorite versions of mascot Eddie:
A couple of weekends ago my husband and I were transported out of the city for the first time this year!
My super amazing sister-in-law and brother whisked us away to their home upstate.
You see my beloved Brian’s birthday is coming up this week so this was a celebration.
August 21, 2020
Upstate NY is bucolic with mountains, rolling hills, and picturesque farms.
Set within this menagerie is a home full of love and wonder.
My sister-in-law gets organic produce delivered and grows vegetables on her deck.
She whipped up salads full of flavor within minutes. Our niece made a surprise pop-in with a friend too.
Dear readers, we are all in good health with no reason to fear being exposed to Covid. We are moving on.
Following our lunch we were taken on a scenic drive around rural towns leading to our destination of Rhinebeck, NY which is home to the State fair. This event was cancelled this year.
Our first set of images were taken in this charming village. The community has restrictions in place. Indoor dining returned everywhere North of the city! We were able to celebrate my husband’s birthday inside a restaurant!
On our way back to the city we visited Cold Spring. This town has interesting shops with antiques, records, and sweets.
Social distancing rules are in place.
There were walking patterns too. On our visit the town of Cold Spring was not crowded.
Cold Spring was lovely. Signs of hope were everywhere.
Scenic Cold Spring, NY
Seeing family again fills you with love.
A return to downtown for the first time this year! A very warm sticky day. Lots of great people watching.
In green tee and shorts is my hubby. Another Birthday brunch with a friend.
Open Streets is a city program that closes off certain blocks to traffic for cleaner outdoor dining.
The above gallery at the top you can glimpse a selfie I took in a men’s store.
Gotta Have Park!
Although it’s late August there are still hot days ahead. The park provides great moments from sweet dogs to cool people.
My hubby and I saw my parents for the first time this year!
Johnson Avenue is an open street for eateries. At W.235th and Riverdale Avenue.
There are teeny cars and tricycles provided free of charge for families with toddlers.
Summer always goes by the quickest. Warm to hot days; far less clothes; being. The crisis is not over. We have a long way to go yet. Let us all hope the days ahead are healthier.
For this week I will leave you dear readers with a gallery of lovable poochies! After all these are the dog days…
Without Buck Rogers there would be no Flash Gordon. First appearing in 1928, the character of Anthony “Buck” Rogers was the first to feature space exploration! As it paralleled the latest advances in technology of the early twentieth century, the space hero would take to alien worlds to defend Earth from certain peril.
The strip made its first newspaper appearance on January 7, 1929.
Later adaptations included radio in 1932, a film serial, a television series (in which his first name was changed from “Anthony” to “William”), and other formats.
Buck Rogers was the inspiration for other comic strips:
The adventures of Buck Rogers in comic strips, movies, radio and television became an important part of American popular culture. It was on January 22, 1930, that Buck Rogers first ventured into space aboard a rocket ship in his fifth newspaper comic story Tiger Men From Mars.
The Buck Rogers strip was popular enough to inspire other newspaper syndicates to launch their own science fiction strips. The most famous of these imitators was Flash Gordon (King Features Syndicate, 1934-2003).
I did not discover this about these 2 serials until I created this entry for Evan’s Gate!
In the 1980’s NBC-TV premiered “Buck Rogers In The 25th Century” based upon the feature film of the same name that appeared in theaters. Starring Gil Gerard as Buck and Co-starring in the series were Erin Gray as crack Starfighter pilot Colonel Wilma Deering, and Tim O’Connor as Dr. Elias Huer, head of Earth Defense Directorate, and a former starpilot himself.
Buck Rogers will getits own entry in this blog at a future date. You just cannot celebrate a Flash Gordon Anniversary without providing this necessary background.
The television series lasted two seasons. The actors strike of 1980 disrupted production. When it returned the show was revamped with new characters and format. The 1980-81 Season was to be its last.
Fun fact: Larry “Buster” Crabbe” made a cameo appearance on the Buck Rogers TV series!
Serial Start For Flash Gordon
Serial adventures were a staple of the American cinema from the 1930’s through the 1950’s. Each week a chapter would appear in theaters. The ending was usually a cliffhanger. Our hero would be caught in some sort of death spiral that left viewers wondering how they would manage their escape.
These serialized adventures were provided as an added attraction at theaters. They did a lot with small budgets.
Based upon various comic strip characters of the day, those serials produced one character in particular that has stayed around for over 70 years—Flash Gordon. A comic strip created by Alex Raymond in the 1930’s influenced the adventures of Batman, Superman, Captain Kirk, and Luke Skywalker.
I saw the original movie serials on Channel Thirteen, a Public Television station here in New York during the 1970’s. The re-runs coincided with the release of Star Wars in 1977.
Later on I discovered that Star Wars creator George Lucas was a fan of Flash Gordon. He inquired about the rights with King Features but found out the expense was beyond his means. Movie fans got a space fantasy filled with characters inspired by Flash Gordon.
I had been enthralled by science fiction and fantasy since the re-runs of Star Trek. Then Flash Gordon appeared and then Star Wars. I could not see the direct lineage of these series until much later.
Summer of 1977 marked movie history being made. George Lucas’ Star Wars changed the popular culture. Becoming at the time the highest grossing movie of all time, its success would lead to the first Star Trek movie in 1979 and Alien in that same year! In fact Alien won the Visual Effects Oscar over Star Trek. And of course launched another franchise.
Then came a big budget European feature film of Flash Gordon announced in the pages of American fan magazine, Starlog. Italian Producer Dino DeLaurentis with Director Mike Hodges created a unique vision of the comic book hero.
The Italian film legend Federico Fellini turned down an offer to direct Flash Gordon.
Putting together an all-star European cast with two unknown Americans as Flash and Dale was an unusual contrast not unlike Star Wars. There were many European stars wearing masks in both pictures.
For example British TV/Film actor and Bodybuilder David Prowse wore the Darth Vader costume for Star Wars; British TV star Peter Wyngarde (Department S, Jason King) wore a mask as General Klytus in Flash Gordon. Mr. Wyngarde’s voice is heard while Mr. Prowse gets dubbed by James Earl Jones.
But I digress. Back to our main focus. The cast of Flash Gordon—
Max Von Sydow (“The Seventh Seal”, “The Exorcist”) was Emperor Ming The Merciless; Timothy Dalton (James bond) was Prince Barin; Brian Blessed (Black Adder) was Vultan; Ornella Muti was Aura; Mariangela Melato was Kala; Peter Wyngarde (Jason King) was Klytus; Richard O’ Brien (Rocky Horror) was Fico; Topol was Dr. Hans Zarkov; Melody Anderson was Dale Arden; Sam J. Jones (“10”) was Flash Gordon.
Coming Of Age
As a gay kid in the 1980’s there were a lot of stimulating images in film. What I mean is that there were lots of films featuring shirtless guys on their posters. “Beastmaster” is a good example.
“Flash Gordon” was a singular phenomena. There are no sequels. At the time it cost $70 million which would probably be over $200 million today.
At the time of release the picture had a PG rating. There are scenes with graphic violence and sexual connotations but nonetheless there was no PG–13 back then in 1980. The blood shown on screen was blue and green.
I loved this film for its tremendous effort to capture the spirit of the original serial. Now seen in rich color of every shade and hue. The skies of Mongo were a awash in red, blue and orange.
It was important for the film to keep to the universe Alex Raymond created in the 1930s. The only update was making Flash a football player for the NY Jets, Dr. Zarkov was a NASA scientist, and Dale is now a travel agent.
As a kid I was ignorant of this paradigm. It’s important to note the exoticism worked both ways in the film. Princess Aura seduces the blonde/ blue-eyed Flash Gordon as her object of exotic desire.
This was strong stuff for a pre-teen gay kid! Then you had Sam J. Jones shirtless in the execution and resurrection scenes, wearing nothing but a pair of PVC briefs!
A ton of art was created for the film and some of it just for promotional purposes. Unknown to me at the time how many posters exist is incredible. Released globally there were images used in various countries to target specific audiences based on region.
Lobby Poster Art
All I knew then was the poster for American release was brilliant. Then I found a small copy of the art in a full page ad in Playbill magazine. I cut it out and put it on my wall. The name AMSEL was signed on Ming’s cloak.
The film’s Tagline, all in caps, PATHETIC EARTHLINGS…WHO CAN SAVE YOU NOW?
Who was underlined to stress that Flash is the hero.
The lightning bolt logo with planet Mongo at its center was an American market image. The font with its Red/Yellow/Orange coloring was brilliant. In Europe as well as in the opening titles the name is stylized in the mode Alex Raymond had used. You see it in the Italian promo posters we saw earlier in this entry.
Also note how Ming is so large like Darth Vader was for the Star Wars posters with Flash and Dale in a similar pose like Luke and Leia!
Instead of a fleet of X-Wing fighters you get a fleet of Hawkmen swooping down in an almost 3-D effect with Vultan’s cloud kingdom seen in the background on the right side of the frame.
All of his works are signed AMSEL with floating periods on either side of his name.
Richard Amsel was a prolific artist who attended the oldest school of Art in Philadelphia. After graduating he went on to create the poster art for films like “The Sting” and “Chinatown”. Following “Flash Gordon” he designed the art for “Raiders of the Lost Ark”!
He also designed album covers including Bette Midler’s Divine Ms. M.
He had an association with TV Guide for 13 years producing over 40 covers. A portrait he did of Lily Tomlin hangs in The Smithsonian. His final movie poster was for “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”.
The collage seen below is just a small sample of Amsel’s TV Guide covers. His first was an image of Lucille Ball upon her retirement from TV and show business.
I put up two of my favourites: All In The Family, Alice, and Richard Chamberlain in Shogun, a mini-series that aired for a week on NBC.
Notice the placement of the cast of Alice and All In The Family is similar to his placement of characters in his film poster work for Flash Gordon.
Richard Amsel died of AIDS in 1985 at the age of 37. I mourn him today. I had no idea he was one of the many awful casualties of that pandemic. His work is amazing.
Critical Reaction To Flash Gordon
The film found appreciation with some film critics, such as The New Yorker ‘s Pauline Kael. Kael described Flash Gordon as having “some of the knowing, pleasurable giddiness of the fast-moving Bonds…The director, Mike Hodges, gets right into comic-strip sensibility and pacing“.
She also stated the movie was “Like a fairy tale set in a discotheque in the clouds.”
On their syndicated TV program Siskel and Ebert were giving films a Yes or No at that time before their now iconic thumbs up or down.
Gene Siskel of The Chicago Tribune did not care for it. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a borderline Yes vote citing the fun comic book nature of the movie.
In homage to the serial chapters of the 1930’s the film version was produced in strong primary colors and utilized Chroma Key effects.
Chroma key compositing, or chroma keying, is a visual-effects and post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on colour hues (chroma range). The technique has been used in many fields to remove a background from the subject of a photo or video – particularly the newscasting, motion picture, and video game industries.
All of the space craft were done this way. Flash Gordon riding a Hawkman rocket cycle was also accomplished with this method as seen below. War Rocket Ajax, Vultan’s Cloud City and Flash with the Hawkmen approaching Mingo City are all Chroma Key images.
The lavishly produced feature included giant set pieces adapted directly from the pages of Alex Raymond’s work partly as homage and because the formula worked!
I love the film as much as Rocky Horror loyalists. I can quote dialogue from any scene. This section brings us to my favourite parts of the film. A bit tricky because I really do enjoy all of it. Here goes…
In The Court Of Ming The Merciless at the point in which are trio from Earth first encounter all the ‘breeds’ of Mongo. This set is enormous. Ming’s throne looks like the inspiration for the Iron Throne on a certain HBO series.
Each ‘breed’ of Mongo gets introduced. Gathering in Court to present their tributes to the Emperor we see rivalries between Hawkmen and Treemen as the two groups argue over who stole their tribute!
The image seen above is a fish-eye view of the court. Unknown to me as a kid but later appreciated as a film student that Flash Gordon utilized the Todd–AO camera system. At the time of filming in 1979 this was the state of the art widescreen format. Everything about the film is grand scale for a timeless adventure.
The Palace of Prince Vultan and his Hawkmen.
Initiation on Arboria where Prince Barin rules his treemen there is a rite of passage that all youth must experience. Within a warren of hollow tree stumps lives a beast in which the initiate must reach all the way in full arms length. If you choose the wrong path the beast will bite injecting the victim with deadly venom. The result is pain so awful the victim begs for death. Barin forces Flash to take this test in order to live.
Above in this gallery a view of Arboria against the colorful skies of Mongo, at the left bottom a birds eye view of Flash and Barin as they begin their duel, and on the right the beast that resides within the stump.
Lorenzo Semple Jr.
The dialogue in Flash Gordon was purposefully done in a tone of high corn. Movie fans always call it camp.
Having written King Kong for Dino DeLaurentiis, Lorenzo Semple Jr. was then asked to write the Flash Gordon script.
The Batman TV series of 1966 was also written by him. The camp humour of that show was revived in Flash Gordon.
To this day every fan of this movie can quote dialogue. The language is comic book affectation in my opinion.
Lines like, “We only have 14 hours to save the Earth” could only make sense in an over the top fantasy.
Original Soundtrack Music By QUEEN
Flash Gordon is the ninth studio album and first soundtrack album by the British rock band Queen, released on 8 December 1980 by EMI Records in the UK and in February 1981 by Elektra Records in the US. It was one of two film soundtracks that they produced along with Highlander. It is the soundtrack to the science fiction film Flash Gordon and features lyrics on only two tracks.
Following the success Queen had with Flash Gordon two other notable rock groups contributed to movie soundtrack albums: Toto’s music was featured in “Dune” and AC/DC’s music was heard in “Maximum Overdrive”.
This was unusual at the time. Rock groups were not generally commissioned to score films.
I walked out of the cinema with the Queen music in my head. Following a trip to a furniture store I went to a local record shop to pick up the album. Dropping the needle onto this record was such a joyful moment for me.
Then to find they had included the dialogue from the film throughout the record was such a bonus. And the package for this record was so different from all of Queen’s previous efforts. It included an insert with a full colour image of Ming on one side and the lyrics for Flash and The Hero plus album credits on the other in red and yellow.
Seen above are the inner sleeve of the soundtrack featuring images of Queen on on side and the international cast on the other with a die cut in the center that lines up with the custom label featuring the logo.
For whatever reason the American version of this record did not have the die cut hole. The center was left intact so you lost the custom label peaking out effect.
Years later DJ Vanguard released a special re-mix of the single Flash.
On what turned out to be Queen’s final American Tour with Freddie & John in the Summer of 1982 Flash opened their shows followed by a performance of The Hero at the top of their setlist.
Flash Gordon Memorabilia
From the original 1930’s film serials to the 1980 feature to today the Flash Gordon franchise has produced a large array of collectibles.
In the 1930’s there were tin wind–up toys of spaceships from Flash Gordon and miniature figures in tins.
In the decades that followed numerous Sunday comic strips were published weekly. Comic Books, Toys, Figures, Posters, Trading Cards, Candy, Mugs, T-Shirts, Keychains, Magnets, and on and on and on.
Above are images of collectibles relating to the Flash Gordon franchise. On the Top Left are Flash and Ming figures with fold out Vultan’s Cloud Palace backdrop from Biff!Bang!Pow!
On the Top Right an early Pop-Up Book.
On the bottom Left a Lionman figure from Mattel based upon the Filmation animated series in 1979 on NBC.
Middle Right is a Viewmaster pack with 21 stereoscopic images also from the cartoon. And the bottom Right is a volume collecting Sunday comic strips of Flash Gordon now published by Titan books. There are 4 volumes in this series.
Flash Gordon books and magazines have been published over the past 70 years. In this gallery seen above notice the Mad Magazine clone Crazy with its parody of the movie!
The 1980 movie spawned several comic book adaptations, a novelization, poster books, and recently a graphic novel from Dynamite press called Zeitgeist.
Both DC & Marvel have published Flash Gordon comics at some point.
Archie Meets Flash Gordon in New Crossover One-Shot. Archie Comics has announced a new crossover one-shot with Flash Gordon, that was to hit comic shops back in June of this year.
Pulp Fiction is a term used to describe a huge amount of creative writing available to the American public in the early nineteen-hundreds. Termed “pulp magazines” because of the low quality paper used between the covers, these publications proliferated in the nineteen-thirties and nineteen-forties and beyond.
Flash Gordon was the subject of several pulp series sold in drugstores and book shops. The gallery seen below features some of the covers published. There were even Flash Gordon Flip-books! There the small sized books that you flipped pages fast to create the illusion of motion! Checker books’ collections of Alex Raymond strips in full color featured The Ice Worlds of Mongo.
Toys + More Collectibles above and below
A pinball machine showed up in game arcades which I got to play several times. It had Queen’s music! The Atari Game Cartridge was less exciting somehow, Mattel sold a toy rocket ship for kids.
Titan Books published a 4 volume set collecting Flash Gordon comics from Alex Raymond to the present day.
There was even a Flash Gordon Colorforms Set! Along with Silly Putty and Yo-Yos Colorforms were a 1970s staple kids toy.
The 1979 NBC Saturday morning series was licensed to comics, figures, and lunchbox/thermos sets.
There was also a program sold at select theaters for the film. I found it years later at a Horror/SciFi Convention.
40th Anniversary of Mike Hodges’ Flash Gordon Movie featuring the music of QUEEN
STUDIOCANAL is excited to announce the new 4k, Ultra High Definition restoration of Mike Hodge’s cult classic FLASH GORDON (1980), in honour of the film’s 40th anniversary.
Flash Gordon was scanned from the original 35mm negative to produce 4K files. Over 500 hours of manual restoration repaired serious damage that included image instability, scratches, and intermittent flicker.
The sound was scanned from the original track negative and underwent restoration to improve issues ranging from audio drop-outs throughout the feature and during reel changes, digital clicks and optical distortion.
The film was colour graded for theatrical, home entertainment and 4K HDR release, using previous digital releases and 35mm prints as a reference. In line with the Director’s vision and the original 35mm cinema release, VFX work was applied to remove the strings in all scenes where visible. This restoration was approved by Director Mike Hodges in May 2020 and will include the first 4K HDR Dolby Vision master of Flash Gordon.
This Fall a new coffee table book will be published called Flash Gordon The Official Story by John Walsh.
Originally there were to be 3 Flash Gordon movies to form a trilogy. Sam J. Jones had a falling out with the movie’s producers. The box office in North America was disappointing. At a cost of $70 million (a huge amount in 1979/80) and a paltry $20 million take in America no sequels were made.
While the irony is not lost on me that Flash Gordon up until this movie had multiple chapters including the short lived NBC cartoon, I think the movie is even more appealing because it is the only one of its kind.
A short-lived live action series appeared on the SyFy Channel. Dispensing with the former image of Ming as a caricature of Asian villainy he appeared as a bland modern CEO in an alternate dimension.
Another animated series also appeared on Cable television with less than encouraging results. Flash Gordon went into dormancy again.
The chroma key special effects. The model space ships. The glitzy costume design. Queen’s trademark sense of corn/camp are all part of the 1980 film’s lasting appeal.
This movie has become a true cult classic. Appealing to sci-fi/ fantasy geeks around the globe many of whom dress up as their favourite characters for ComicCon and Halloween.
I have seen the film at least 100 times. It’s my favourite cult film.
Seth Macfarlane, creator of the animated series Family Guy is a fan. His comedies, Ted & Ted2 featured Sam J. Jones and Flash Gordon. Comic book artist Alex Ross loves the movie and also proclaims Queen as a favourite band.
Family Guy episode with the Hawkmen. The Ted movies were packaged with Flash Gordon.
Alex Ross art above for the Blu-Ray of Flash Gordon; The Ming Wants You art came with the disc.
There is talk in recent years of a Flash Gordon reboot with CGI effects but time will tell if this becomes reality.
All I know is that this work combined two of my favourite things: Flash Gordon and QUEEN.
This Fall boss Fight Studio is releasing figures of Flash and Ming to celebrate the 40th Anniversary; Movie posters for the 40th Anniversary Edition.
There is a new documentary called Life After Flash now streaming on Amazon Prime. It tells the story of actor Sam J. Jones’ sudden stardom followed by years outside show business. It will be one of the many extras on the upcoming blu-ray sets.
Thank You Dear Readers! And Thanks Flash!
“Keep your feet on the ground, put your hand on your heart, lift your head to the skies, and the world’s for your taking. Yes, you’re a Hero!”
The summer of 1939 was a milestone in American entertainment.
The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind premiered in movie theaters.
Superman made his first appearance in Action Comics.
In the first story told by creators Joe Schuster & Jerry Siegel our hero could not fly! He could jump a building in a single bound and lift cars over his head.
Over the next 7 decades there would be many creative teams assigned to Superman. In recent times DC comics restarted their comics at issue #1. So many changes over time. I will relate what Superman meant to me as a kid and now.
Television, Movies, Comic Books, and collectibles are the focus of this entry. Just some memories of how this character impacted my life.
In my early childhood television showed reruns of series broadcast in the 1950s and 1960s. There were sitcoms like “I Love Lucy”, “Father Knows Best”, “Dennis The Menace”, and “Bewitched”, sci-fi like “Star Trek” and “Lost In Space”, and then there was a comic book based series—-“The Adventures of Superman”.
I remember watching this series in black and white. George Reeves played Clark Kent/Superman and Noel Neill played Lois Lane. The opening titles were great. A voice over coupled with images described his powers as “faster than a speeding bullet, strength like a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, it’s a bird, no..it’s a plane..no..it’s Superman!
Watching all episodes of the series made me want to read the comic magazines from DC. The impact this made on me as a child was greater than the mark made when Jor-El, Son of Krypton, crash lands on the Kent farm in Smallville.
Described as mild mannered Clark Kent, he would report for the Daily Planet newspaper. His change into Superman was Clark dashing into a storage room at the newspaper or using a phone booth. He would loosen his tie and remove his eye glasses to cue the audience.
The narrative importance was lost on me back then but today has great meaning. The creators were Jewish kids from Ohio who used the ultimate immigrant story, Jesus or Moses, as their source material.
Like Moses placed in a basket, the baby Jor-El is placed in a space capsule. He is launched into space to escape the destruction of the planet by their sun. The baby lands on earth. Raised on a farm by the Kents, his secret is kept by them.
When Clark matures he is sent to the big city to begin a mission to “fight for truth, justice, and the American way” as Superman. The costume is made by his surrogate mother. The ‘S’ on the Chevron is a Kryptonian letter meaning hope. The comic books were crucial in discovering all of the details in this narrative.
You can see why these ideas would sail over the head of a child. The adventure was good enough for my imagination. The effects of flying were all done by green screen on TV. Superman flew at steep angles due to this limitation in effects. The sound mix was cool. Right before he flew Superman would take a few running steps then a sound effect would cue us sitting at home. It sounded like a lid being released from a power vacuum.
Through animation Superman became the hero you saw in print.
The Max Fleischer series was captivating. In the 1970s the Saturday morning series, “Superfriends” added Batman and Robin, Wonder Woman, and Aquaman to the mix. As a kid I loved the cartoon, but later appreciated the animated series to be quite superior in quality.
In 1978 Warner Brothers brought Superman to the silver screen. Christopher Reeve, a mild mannered star of stage, became a movie star. Margot Kidder was Lois Lane. Gene Hackman played Lex Luthor. Ned Beatty as Otis, the dimwitted sidekick. Jackie Cooper as Perry White, Editor of the Daily Planet. And perhaps the greatest feat of casting at the time—Marlon Brando as Superman’s father.
The movie featured a score by John Williams (Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Indiana Jones, and many more classics) that was groundbreaking. His “Superman March” would stay as the theme of the series to come. There were 3 sequel episodes.
In the debut feature the arch villain Lex Luthor plans to blow up the San Andreas fault in Southern California to trigger a devastating earthquake. Lois meets Clark. Lois interviews Superman. The Fortress of Solitude is introduced.
Superman II brought back the entire principal cast. It focused on the three Kryptonian villains sentenced to eternity in the Phantom Zone at the start of the previous film.
Superman saves the Earth from a hydrogen bomb at the Eiffel Tower. He hurls the device into deep space. The ripples of the shock wave caused by detonation shatter the Phantom Zone barrier. Ursa, Non, and General Zod are set free with the same powers as Superman.
Terence Stamp (Billy Budd, Priscilla Queen of the Desert) is imprinted in my memory forever as Zod. Commanding all of humanity to “kneel before Zod” as he takes control of Washington, DC is quite a scene.
Despite Superman III being quite comic with Richard Pryor the story lacks in compelling elements. And Superman IV—The Quest For Peace is just dull. The franchise went dormant after this series. The next feature, “Superman Returns” featured newcomer, Brandon Routh. Then more recently, Henry Cavill starred in “Man Of Steel”.
There were crossover features like “Superman v. Batman: Dawn of Justice” and “Justice League” that failed to catch the public imagination. The future of this character is more certain in the weeklies published. The movies are demanding. In my opinion, the impression made by Christopher Reeve was indelible.
In my young adulthood the man of steel returned to the small screen. ABC TV ran “Lois & Clark” Starring Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher. Comic book artist John Byrne’s modern retelling of Superman’s origin where Clark is the dominant personality was the series’ inspiration.
John Shea played Lex Luthor as a business tycoon with unethical methods. Lane Smith was Editor Perry White. The role of Jimmy Olsen changed hands from Michael Landes to Justin Whalin after season one. The show would run from September 1993 thru June 1997.
Since his first appearance on a comic book page 80 years ago Superman has become an iconic presence. Thousands of books, magazines, toys, games, trading cards, playing cards, clothing, and any matter of object imprinted with his image/logo are now a billion dollar industry.
Mego toys produced Superman action figures. Ben Cooper provided Halloween costumes. Our imaginations took care of the rest.
Super Books. The panels in a comic book provide more detail than any screenplay. I did not consider the artists when I was a kid. That is a focus you do not get until you are much older.
Curt Swan drew Superman in the 1970s. This portrait of the character became the standard for modern renderings of Superman. The Mego figure was based on this look. The costume in the first 4 films were also this design.
These stories were tales of adventure no movie could ever match. The Fortress of Solitude was my favorite. Although the rendering on film was quite beautiful I prefer the detail of the page.
Bob Kane and Bill Finger introduced the world to their crimefighter 80 years ago. This blog entry are just my thoughts about the character. Caped Crusader, Dark Knight, or World’s Greatest Detective are all fitting monikers used over the years.
38 years on there would be the television debut of the Batman character in a primetime series that would air twice a week. Several episodes would be two parts long featuring a cliff-hanger ending in part 1 and concluded the next night. ABC aired the show for 3 seasons. This was my first memory of Batman. My generation saw the reruns on New York’s local stations WPIX 11 and WNEW 5 during the 1970s.
After school the reruns of Batman were always fun to watch despite not seeing the program in color as intended until the 1980s! We had a black and white set even after the networks were broadcasting in color. As a kid I did not care because the show was great. Several of the episodes were based directly on Batman comics published during the 1940s–1950s.
The episodes “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle” were adaptations of “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler” from Batman #171 (May 1965), written by Gardner Fox; in it, the Riddler, jealous of the attention Batman is giving the Mole Hill Mob, arranges a trap so Batman will apprehend the gang and give the Riddler the Caped Crusader’s undivided attention.
The episodes “Instant Freeze” and “Rats Like Cheese” were inspired by “The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero” from Batman #121 (February 1959) by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff.
The series was so popular that a movie was produced for theatrical release. This would air during Superhero Week on ABC-TV’s 4:30 movie in New York. I watched it many times in my childhood.
Adam West’s Batman was funny, living pop art, and corny. For a kid it was perfect. I think the 1966 series is the most enjoyable of all the screen incarnations of the character.
The fight scenes between Batman & Robin and their nemesis plus henchmen were filmed at an oblique angle (aka Dutch) to literally show they were crooked! The animated comic balloons appeared on screen to spell out the sounds like in the comic books—Biff!, Pow!, and Splat!
The Greenway Productions team captured what comic books look like on the page. Never taking itself too seriously was the key to unlocking the imagination of its viewers. A line-up of movie stars all played the villains that to this day are hard to match. The later features on film in the 1990s attempted to place big stars as Batman and as various villains to mixed results.
When the dynamic duo climbed up building walls there would be a cameo by a star or a fictional character looking out their window. They would have some chit chat that was quite funny. On YouTube their listed as “Window Cameos”.
Nelson Riddle provided a jazzy music score to accompany the action in Batman. Unfortunately the attempt to spin-off a Batgirl series failed.
However Green Hornet and Kato did get a full season of episodes. And the only characters billed as guest heroes! Yvonne Craig as Batgirl was the first time on television that a female superhero was featured in an ongoing role. Today, “Supergirl” is a prime-time series.
I always thought that Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation had the best rogues gallery. The Joker (Cesar Romero) , The Riddler (Frank Gorshin), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith), and Catwoman (Julie Newmar) were the tops for me.
Many of the villains were taken directly from Batman comic books. There were also original characters featured since many celebrities of that time wanted to appear on the show. Milton Berle (TV’s first star) as Louie The Lilac, Carolyn Jones as Marsha Queen of Diamonds, and Victor Buono as King Tut are just a few of the many colorful villains added to the rogues gallery of Gotham.
Because of the series I then followed animated series that featured Batman. Bob Kane created the animated series “Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse” as a comedic series based upon his Batman characters.
Superfriends was a weekly show featured on Saturday mornings in the 1970s. I also began reading the comics. Reading the Batman comics from the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970s I saw the evolution of the characters.
I found out the series’ first season made most of the episode titles rhyme, “Hi Diddle Riddle, Smack In The Middle” was the premiere. It was a 2 parter that featured Frank Gorshin as The Riddler.
Later, in the 1990s, Warners produced Batman The Animated Series featuring the voice of Mark Hamill (Star Wars) as The Joker. This show captured the noir look of the 1940s Batman.
During the 80 years of Batman comic books different creative teams were entrusted with the growing legacy of Batman. When it began there was no Robin. The Batmobile looked different than it does now. Renderings of villains changed as well from era to era. Gadgets were added like the Bat-arang, Bat-rope, and everything else that you can think that fits his crimefighting techniques.
In the printed issues of DC comics Batman was known as The World’s Greatest Detective. Take that Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, and Miss Marple! Then I discovered how much better the actual stories could be when produced in serial form week after week. In fact, Batman was the only prime-time show to air twice a week in its first 2 seasons other than the Soap Opera, “Peyton Place”.
The Bat-Copter, Bat-Boat, and Bat-Cycle were added over time. The series featured them when the series’ ratings began to fall in Season 3.
My first encounters with Batman on the page was in the 1970s. Neal Adams was drawing him. I was shocked how dark the stories were compared with the bright TV show. I think there are many interpretations I like but my first sight of it was that splendid TV series. The serialized format of the show evoked the movie serial of Batman appearing in theaters in the 1940s.
Grant Morrison was the most recent series I read in the last few years. I loved this updated version. There was even a run of comics called “Batman Incorporated” in which every nation got their own Batman to fight crime.
Over the last 80 years Batman has refelected our deepest fears of a world too chaotic to tame. Every generation has their Batman. For me it is the late Adam West. Then screen actor Michael Keaton starred in the feature film directed by Tim Burton in 1989. Following a sequel, “Batman Returns”, Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever”), George Clooney (“Batman & Robin”), Christian Bale (“Batman Begins”, “The Dark Knight”, and “The Dark Knight Rises”), and Ben Affleck (“Batman vs Superman”, “Justice League”) have played Batman in the movies.
The look Warner Bros. created with Tim Burton’s dark vision of the world of Batman stood in deep contrast with the TV series. This more serious treatment would be favored in the 1990s and 2000s.
Imagination is a powerful tool that develops in childhood. I had Batman toys in the 1970s. Played out adventures with friends in the park. The reason it’s important to read at least some of the stories on the page is simply because there are thousands to choose from each decade. You can see what each passing era was like for the characters and each creative team that was used to animate the adventures.
Every time Batman celebrates a milestone anniversary the comic book shops have compilations of the best Batman stories from each decade. There have been numerous comic book series devoted to the characters featured in Batman stories. Even Alfred Pennyworth, Bruce Wayne’s butler and surrogate father had his own series of comics.
The Batman character has appeared in TV, radio and movie serials, feature films, video games and animation. When he debuted in 1939 all of the new forms he would take only happened because audiences have been attracted to the stories. The people that got Batman on the air in 1966 were fans of the character.
“Where does he get those wonderful toys?” is a line from the movie “Batman” in 1989, spoken by The Joker, played by Jack Nicholson. This line is probably the most memorable in the script. It evokes the countless number of toys based on the characters in Batman produced over 8 decades. There are Billions of dollars worth of toys every year dedicated to this enduring legend.
The past 5 years, “Gotham” has aired on Fox as the latest TV version of Batman. For the first time the Batman character is not shown until the final episode which just aired a few weeks ago.
Focusing on the anarchy of a city wracked by serial crime and a crimefighter named James Gordon. The origins of the classic villains are depicted. Penguin, Riddler, and Selena Kyle (Catwoman) are present during the entire series. The origins of The Joker, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and Bane are depicted.
The noir series was so dark I had to watch with the lights off to see it! There was a viewer discretion bumper at the beginning of every episode. The stylized violence was still the most graphic I have ever seen on a network show. The times did indeed change a lot.
No matter how the fortunes have changed for this enduring character in recent times there will most certainly be many more adventures written and performed in the next 80 years.
Warner Bros. announced a new feature film, “The Batman”, to premiere in 2021. Robert Pattinson (Twilight) will become the youngest actor to play the Dark Knight.