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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Upon Further Reflection, Amazing Spider-Man 2 Breaks My Heart

Here be Spoilers. And foul language. Fair Warning.

I know this is about a month out of date. I had to reflect on this for a while. By now, everyone who wanted to see ASM2 has seen it. These are my thoughts. I welcome yours.

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I hate this franchise. I fucking hate it.

But before I really get into this review, let me be clear about the exact nature of my hatred. Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man movie franchise inspires in me the kind of hatred that can only be inspired by something you love.

Have you ever been cheated on? The pain and the anger generated by that betrayal is only possible because you’ve been wounded by the very person you love the most. The very person you put your faith and trust in, is the one who stabs you in the back. So, if you’re with me, I am Elin Nordegren and Webb’s Amazing Spider-Man is my Tiger Woods. I want to chase it down the street with a fucking 9-iron. I want to smash its stupid, smirking face in.

This movie gets lots of things right, and then gets so many others so very, very wrong. And the things it gets wrong are stupid, stupid things.

Let’s start with the planes. Late in the film, Electro drains all the power out of New York City (which, right there, is stupid – just juvenile, uncreative, stupid action). The loss of power means that the airport loses contact with two passenger planes and they end up on a collision course with each other. Spider-Man then turns the power back on and the planes are saved. It occurred to me about halfway through the airplane episode that this was useless action filler. Stupid. Stupid. Fuck, stupid, fuck.

There were no recognizable characters on the planes. They were random collateral damage – a trumped up, unimaginative action movie catastrophe to which there is no emotional connection, no spectacular pay-off, no sigh of relief when the planes are saved, because, who the fuck cares about these stupid planes?! Spider-Man and Electro are fighting a climactic battle at a power plant (cliché and stupid, but whatever) and we keep cutting away to see these pointless planes.

Compare that scene to the ferryboat scene at the end of The Dark Knight. The Joker orchestrates a prisoner’s dilemma that has everything to do with the plot of the movie and its commentary on the darkness and resiliency of the human spirit. It’s an unforgettable piece of film. Amazing Spider-Man 2 answers that with two planes that maybe are going to crash, but don’t because Woosh! Woah! Cool!

There are so many interconnected webs of rage-inducing awfulness in this film that I just need to break it down by character.

Electro. Jamie Fox is fine, good even. Except that his Electro is the worst written super villain since Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze. He’s all special effects and no soul. The motivation for this character is all over the place – totally incomprehensible. He’s got a stalker crush on Spider-Man. He wants to be “seen” by people. That gets twisted, (Instantly!) into a desire to kill Spider-Man because Electro decides the wall-crawler is “selfish”. Also Oscorp stole his schematics for a power plant, so he wants revenge… I guess? And to make everyone “Live in a world without a Spider-Man.” Basically, Electro’s origin story is “Yadda, Yadda, Yadda… Hey look the Sinister Six!” Oh, and also Electro is Dr. Manhattan now.

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One other thing: if a soulless, cutthroat, exploitative company like Oscorp discovered one of its employees was smart enough to design a high-tech power plant that solved the world’s energy problems, probably they would exploit that person further, as opposed to completely ignoring him and treating him like a glorified maintenance man. Probably. Probably they would, you know, see if he had any other ideas that could make the company more money. They probably wouldn’t just let B. J. Novak treat him like a bitch. Fuck.

Okay, now Gwen. Emma Stone is a really great Gwen Stacy. She and Andrew Garfield have obvious chemistry on screen. For a good chunk of this movie I thought Webb was doing a good job setting up Gwen’s inevitable death.

Then the final 30 minutes of the movie happened. Maybe I was living in a cave, but I didn’t realize that this was going to be Gwen’s swan song. I thought she was sticking around for another film. I kept thinking that all the way through this film. Mostly because I thought there was no way that the Green Goblin – who looks ridiculous by the way – is going to kill Gwen Stacy five minutes after he first acquires his powers. But… yep that’s what happens, in a fucking clock tower! A clock tower! Symbolism!

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And how does Gwen end up in harm’s way? She follows Spider-Man to the super high-tech power plant. And why does she follow him? Because she’s SEEN THE SCHEMATICS and knows how to fix the damage Electro has done. SINGLE-HANDEDLY! She’s in high school! But y’know, she’s the valedictorian so she can pretty much fix a power plant by herself.

Look, I recognize that Webb wants to disrupt the whole damsel in distress narrative. He wants to make Gwen capable and heroic in her own right. Great. I’m down with that, but make her heroism plausible. No one can fix an exploded power plant by herself. Stupid. Have her invent some doo-hickey that short-circuits Electro’s powers or something. In comic books as in superhero movies, the willing suspension of disbelief only operates in particular zones. Can people come back from the dead? Yep. Do people get superpowers when struck by lightning? Totally believable. Can a really smart high school kid pilot a submarine because her grandfather was in the navy and told her all kinds of underwater seafaring stories? No.

Lastly, let me talk about the whole secret origin sub-plot. Webb has spent a lot of time on this. It’s an interesting question, whatever happened to Peter Parker’s parents? But the revelation that Peter’s dad was an Oscorp scientist adds absolutely nothing to the plot or the mythology of Spider-Man. It’s pointless.

Look, part of the reason this movie makes me so angry is because there are other moments where Webb absolutely nails it. Like, near the end of the film, after Spider-Man has gone into semi-retirement and that kid puts on his Spidey jammies and stands up to the Rhino… I nearly cried. That is everything Spider-Man is supposed to be. That’s what he was to me as a kid. Spider-Man never has it easy; he always does the hard thing because it’s the right thing.

There are little pockets of greatness here, but it just seems like the fingerprints of studio execs are all over this film.

If you want to turn your brain off for two hours, Amazing Spider-Man 2 will let you do that. But turn your brain off, because if you think about any of this stuff it will make you crazy.

Bring on the X-Men.

Dr. Strange Movie “News”

I saw Captain America: The Winter Soldier over the weekend. (No spoilers here). Pretty good movie. Better than Thor: The Dark World, probably as good or a little better than Iron Man 3.

There was a little speculation nugget tucked into the film that I thought was worth mentioning.

At one point in the film some bad guys have occasion to list off some people who might one day get in the way of their evil agenda. One of the names on that list: Stephen Strange.

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Rumours of a Dr. Strange movie have been circulating online for about a year. The Master of the Mystic Arts makes good sense as a next move for Marvel.

The fact that Dr. Strange was referenced in the newest Marvel movie doesn’t mean a film is imminent. It does mean Marvel’s movie people are thinking and talking about it.

Dr. Strange’s first appearance is Strange Tales #110 (1963). It’s not affordable for your average collector. Even low grade copies will run you over $1,000. Unfortunately, that’s also the first appearance of Nightmare, one of Strange’s main nemeses.

However, as I said before, the first appearance of Mephisto is pretty widely available on eBay and it’s more reasonably priced. Mephisto is, to my mind, Marvel’s preeminent supernatural bad guy. If Marvel keeps making movies, he’s bound to show up sooner or later.

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As of right now there’s a 9.2 CGC graded copy of Silver Surfer #3 available on eBay for under $450. Raw, mid-grade copies are much cheaper. They’re not free, but $50-$150 will get the job done. It’s a bit of an investment, but I consider it a good bet to increase in value, particularly if a Dr. Strange movie trilogy becomes a reality.

Incidentally, The Winter Soldier has already earned more money than the first Captain America movie, meaning Marvel isn’t going to stop making films any time soon.

Copper and Chrome

What Did I Tell You About Deathstroke?

A trailer for the new arc on CW’s Arrow has been released. You can have a look. Deathstroke is the big bad here. I maintain that he may be DC’s most interesting (and most marketable) non-Bat-villain. He just doesn’t have the same brand recognition those other characters do, at least not yet.

As I’ve said, there’s an opportunity here for speculators and collectors.

Speculation: Valiant #1’s

I’ve mentioned before that I love Archer & Armstrong, and I’ve just added Shadowman to my pull list. Valiant’s reboot, now two years old, is going pretty swimmingly, at least in terms of critical reception.

Sales have been respectable. A quick check with Comichron indicates that most of their titles sell in the neighbourhood of about 10K-12K copies a month. That puts them in Image territory, with titles like Chew and Rat Queens, and some of the D-list DC titles like StormWatch. They’re nowhere close to the top-tier books like Batman (120K issues) or Superior Spider-Man (90K issues), but they seem to have carved out a nice little niche for themselves.

My guess, however, is that Valiant’s ambitions lie elsewhere. Valiant was founded by Jim Shooter and Bob Layton back in 1988. In the mid-90s the company was sold to Acclaim Entertainment whose primary business was video games. Acclaim put out a few Marvel games, (including a terrific Maximum Carnage game for SNES!). They also made a number of games based on Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, a Valiant property. Surely they planned to do more with their Valiant properties, but ultimately, Acclaim went belly-up in 2004, taking Valiant with them.

A few savvy investors were able to rescue Valiant’s characters from the wreckage five or six years ago. They’ve since received financial backing from people with deep pockets who have experience in both the comic book and movie industries.

Here’s the thing: comics are great, and a well-run comic publisher can, no doubt, be profitable, but everyone has seen what Marvel has done at the multiplex. Investors are looking at comic books and seeing movie and merchandising deals. They’re not looking for moderate profits, they’re looking for franchises and licensing deals with Hasbro. These guys saw a universe of superheroes that had fallen into disrepair and saw the potential for millions of dollars in profits.

In a New York Times article from July 2012, two of Valiant’s chief investors, Jason Kothari and Peter Cuneo, aren’t shy about discussing movie plans:

“Mr. Kothari said he expects Bloodshot to be the first Valliant character to make the leap into theaters. Sony is working on the property with the producer Neal H. Moritz, perhaps best known for the “Fast & Furious” film franchise. The director Brett Ratner, whose films include “X-Men: The Last Stand,” has committed to Harbinger.
The remaining three movie projects are tied to Archer & Armstrong and characters called Shadowman and Ninjak. “Movies are obviously important to us, but great comics are absolutely essential,” said Mr. Kothari, who holds an undergraduate business degree from Wharton and is Valiant’s chief executive. “Readers are very discerning, and they are not looking for a movie pitch in comic book form.”
When it comes to movies, Peter Cuneo said he is not worried that Valiant’s characters are not well known outside comic circles.
“The general public didn’t know Iron Man and look at him now,” he said of the Marvel character that has starred in two hit movies and anchored “The Avengers.” “What matters is the quality of the movie you make.”

A more recent piece over at Super Hero Hype suggests that plans may have changed slightly. It seems J. Michael Straczynski started work on a Shadowman script a little over a year ago.

Straczynski confirmed that the first draft of the script will be turned in by the end of spring and they’re hoping to start production in the first part of next year for a fall 2014 release date. He also confirmed there likely won’t be any other Valiant Comics cameos in the Shadowman film, but that down the road it’s a possibility.

All of this is to say that any number of Valiant characters could be headed for the big screen at any time. Obviously this isn’t a done deal, but it seems more likely than, say, a Grifter movie, or a Silver Sable TV show. If these characters do make it to the box office, there’s a fair chance that the first issues of Valiant’s reboot could go up in value. More than that, the first appearances of these characters in the 90s are likely to go up in value too. I’ve picked up a couple of NM Valiant #1s from the 90’s (Quantum & Woody, Archer & Armstrong) for $1.00 each in the past year. You might want to see what you can find in the sea of discarded 90’s dreck at your local back issue depository.

And, in the meantime, pick up some of Valiant’s rebooted books. Maybe they’ll be worth something someday, but, if not, you’re still getting your money’s worth. Some great stories being told over there.

Can DC Find Its Iron Man?

iron_man_3DC has been playing catch-up to Marvel in the movie game for over a decade. While DC was releasing Halle Berry’s Catwoman and a false-start of a Superman reboot, Marvel was raking in fat stacks of cash and critical acclaim with X-Men and Spider-Man franchises. Thanks to Christopher Nowlan and company, DC was able to string together a stellar Batman trilogy, but in the meantime, Marvel has been building an entire universe on the big screen and making money hand over fist.

Iron Man was really the cornerstone of this whole enterprise. And what Marvel accomplished there was nothing short of astonishing. I’ve always been fond of Iron Man, but let’s be honest: he’s B-list. 10 years ago your mom didn’t know who Iron Man was. Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, sure. Iron Man? He was just some random robot. With a good script and brilliant casting, Marvel was able to move Iron Man into the big leagues. This was a big deal; by scoring a home run with Iron Man Marvel built up a lot of good faith in the movie-going public. People who wouldn’t normally have gone to see a Thor movie were willing to take a chance on Marvel. The more consistently good films Marvel put out the more the company strengthened its brand. (Marvel is about to put the audience’s faith to the test with upcoming Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy films.)

The rest is history, of course: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man 2, The Avengers, billions of dollars.

DC clearly wanted to mimic this model. They tried hard with Green Lantern and ultimately failed. The question now is where do they go from here? Clearly with the announcement of the Batman / Superman movie they’ve signalled their intention to start expanding the DC universe at the multiplex. But some fans wonder if they’re jumping the gun. Marvel spent five years methodically putting pieces in place for Avengers. At times it seems DC wants to compete with Marvel without laying the groundwork.

They’ve had some success with Arrow; now they’re planning a Flash television show.

For my money, Flash is DC’s next, best shot at expanding their universe beyond the big two. Whatever they choose to do with the character, they should exercise caution. Green Lantern failed. Wonder Woman got canned almost instantly. DC’s benches are only so deep.

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You’re not going to draw moviegoers to the theatres with Zatanna and Booster Gold.

Okay… maybe Zatanna.

Okay… maybe Zatanna.

Perhaps Batman / Superman is going to be the first in a series of fantastic and profitable World’s Finest cross-overs, and DC will just sit on a possible Justice League movie for a decade or so until they can reboot their whole universe again.

But if they have any hope of copying the Marvel model in the near future, a lot is riding on the Flash.