Casting The Justice League in 1977

I was recently reading an old issue of Justice League of America, #146 to be exact. It was a double-sized issue published in 1977 in which the League takes on The Construct, a giant robot who can communicate with and control other machines. Basically he’s a poor-man’s Ultron. The drama in this issue revolves around whether or not Red Tornado (who has apparently returned from the dead) is being controlled by The Construct or not.

All of that is fine and good, but what I really want to talk about here is the letter’s page. On that page, editor Bob Rozakis announced that “24-year-old Christopher Reeve has been chosen to play Superman in that much-talked-about movie! Chris, a graduate of Cornell University, tested with 200 other actors for the part!”

How’s that for a bit of superhero history? But wait, it gets better.

In anticipation of the upcoming Superman movie readers were asked to mail in their ideal cast for a hypothetical Justice League movie, just for fun. Rozakis announces the results in the letters column and they are hilarious.

I thought, since we’re all getting geared up for the Justice League Movie (which, apparently, has been in production since 1977), I’d share the cast that comic fans wanted to see in a Justice League movie 40 years ago.

Some of the fan picks were gimmes, obvious choices, or big-time stars. Other choices are celebrities whose stars have faded considerably since the 70s – a few you’ve probably never heard of. Rozakis announced the winners as well as some of the runner-ups. I’ve listed the most noteworthy and comical examples here.

Wonder Woman

Fans were apparently almost unanimous in their support of Lynda Carter as Wonder Woman. No surprise here really. In 1977 we’re right in the heart of ABC’s classic Wonder Woman television series. Carter’s Wonder Woman was and remains wildly popular.

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The Flash 

Apparently, fans wanted Lee Majors, the six-million dollar man, for the Flash. Majors also got votes to play Superman, Green Lantern and Green Arrow. Stunningly, Charles Bronson was one of the other popular choices to play Barry Allen. Bronson as Flash seems a bit like casting Russell Brand to play Martian Manhunter. Bronson was a crime-fighting action star, but I have no idea what would make people want to see him as a spandex-clad speedster.

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Green Arrow

Fans tabbed Frank Converse as the 70s Oliver Queen. Who is Frank Converse? He was a TV actor who looked an awful lot like Oliver Queen. His claim to fame was that he starred in an NBC drama series called Movin’ On from 1974-1976. The show was about two truckers who drove around helping people… and presumably delivering things.

Another popular choice for the role was Charlton Heston, which may seem odd at first, but if you think about his performance in Planet of the Apes, you can kind of see it. One great irony of course is that Green Arrow is the JLA’s resident bleeding heart lefty and Heston is… well… not… that.

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Black Canary

Farrah Fawcett received almost unanimous support to play Dinah Lance, or Black Canary. Fawcett’s celebrity was sky high in the late 70s. She was one of the stars of Charlie’s Angels. Also, the iconic red swimsuit poster came out in 1976; to this day it remains one of the most recognizable glamour shots of all time. This seems like a pretty bang on choice to me.

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Green Lantern

Not much to see here. Fans picked Don Galloway, a supporting character on the long-running NBC TV series Ironside, which starred Raymond Burr as a paraplegic detective.

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One thing that’s a bit odd is that fans were almost exclusively committed to TV actors for the Justice League film. Curious. Perhaps it’s because there just were no superhero movies prior to Superman in 1977, though superheroes did appear on TV. So maybe when fans thought about stars who would pack themselves into brightly coloured leotards, they thought of TV actors more than film actors.

Some fans did vote for guys like Sylvester Stallone and Roger Moore to take on roles, but there are no votes for people like Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Robert De Niro, or Anne-Margaret Olsson. It really speaks to how far the superhero movie genre has come. It’s now expected that a comic book movie will feature blue chip talent. It would surprise no one, for example to hear that Johnny Depp would be playing Dr. Strange in a couple years or that Michelle Williams would be cast as Black Canary.

Aquaman

Another somewhat obscure choice for Aquaman: Doug McClure. He played a cowboy in an NBC western series called The Virginian, and looked kind of like Aquaman. One of the runner-ups was particularly strange: Olympic swimmer, Mark Spitz. Spitz was basically the 1970s version of Michael Phelps. Maybe readers were taking a piss, but I’m not so sure… I kind of think people thought Spitz would be a great Aquaman because he’s such a good swimmer, which is a bit like holding a casting call at Sea World because you need someone who can communicate with whales.

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Hawkman / Atom

One of my favourite fan suggestions from this JLA letters page is that Henry Winkler should play either Hawkman or the Atom. Awesome. Hilarious. I still want to see that happen. Ball’s in your court Zack Snyder.

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Batman

The overwhelming choice for Batman was Adam West. A bit surprising given how campy we now think that old Batman series was. If a comic book fan living in the 1970s was somehow able to travel through time and see The Dark Knight his or her head would probably have exploded at about the 11 minute mark.

Another astonishing vote-getter for the role of Batman. Leonard frikkin’ Nimoy.

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Superman

Though some fans were happy to have whoever would get cast in the Superman film play The Man of Steel in the JLA movie, other suggestions included Sylvester Stallone, and… buckle up… Bruce Jenner! It’s worth remembering that this poll was taken right after the 1976 Olympics when Jenner won the gold in the Decathlon. He was not always the skeletal patriarch of TV’s most irritating family.

The most popular choice, however, was Peter Lupus who played Willy Armitage, the muscle on Mission: Impossible. As with Mark Spitz (and Jenner for that matter), this seems like a case of fans thinking it was necessary to choose the strongest and most muscular actor to play Superman. I guess because they assumed the actor would actually need to lift really heavy things over his head

I wonder if this just goes to show how much we take special effects for granted. These days, I’m pretty confident that with a little makeup and some good CGI, Sheldon Cooper could be turned into a passable Kal-El. Not so in the 1970s. Still, maybe fans were onto something with Russo. He did play a helluva Superman in this TV spot for the United States Air Force.

Waring: watching this commercial might prompt you to immediately turn off your computer and enlist in the Air Force. It’s that persuasive. (Also, how did 1970s comic book readers completely miss the acting talent of Chicago Bulls star Jerry Sloan?)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed our little time travel adventure, our Retro Roll Call! Have a good one.

Copper and Chrome

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