Monday, November 3, 2008

Attack of the Live Action Hero Series Part 3!

Well, we've looked at those weekly prime-time shows that gave us a chance to see our heroes in living, breathing action...but what about those other times they've shown up?

Believe it or not, other heroes made an attempt at live-action, either in television movies or series pilots that never got picked up, or even in Saturday morning shows of their own. Here's a look at some of those.


The first attempt by animation studio Filmation! for a live action show, Shazam! turned out pretty well. Don't get me wrong, the acting is horrible, the show deviates from the comic book in huge ways, and it screams 70's throughout...but it's Captain Marvel, man! How awesome was that? Ok, so the old man named "Mentor" was a stretch, and Billy Batson was a little old--yet they kept the "Billy shirt" and Cap costume as close to the comic books as you could have ever hoped for.

Shazam! ran for 3 seasons, with a new actor taking the title role over after season 1. They traveled around in a Winnebago and saved the world...what kid didn't dream of a life like that in the 70's? Even after the 3 seasons was over, we still got to see Captain Marvel show up in one more movie later on with some other familiar faces.


"Oh, mighty Isis!" With those words, we were treated to our first look at a new heroine. She had no comic book background to play around with, but this schoolteacher-turned-superhero had her share of adventures. Captain Marvel even showed up for a few episodes with her (and she returned the favor).

She wasn't Wonder Woman, but she could fly and had a few other things going for her. She later turned up in cartoon form along with a few other heroes in the Super 7. The entire series is available on DVD if you're waxing nostalgic someday.

Captain America

So you think the upcoming Captain America movie will be your first chance to see him in action? Nope, you're wrong. In the mid-70's we got two great television movies starring Reb Brown (of Space Mutiny fame, one of Mystery Science Theater 3000's best riffed movies) as Steve Rogers. The shield was clear and the mask was actually a motorcycle helmet, but at least they got the colors right. Horror film icon Christoper Lee showed up in one of the movies as a villain, so you know it was worth watching!

Hopefully when the new Cap movie comes out he'll stay a little more faithful to the costume and shield--but I hope he still gets that awesome motorcycle!

Doctor Strange
In the 70's a lot of otherwise obscure heroes got their chance at stardom on television. One such unlikely hero was Doctor Strange. Peter Hooten starred as the title character, and it was full of the characters from the comic books like Clea, Wong, and others. I remember watching this as a kid mostly because it was a superhero I'd heard of and seen in the Defenders, but not because I'd read his comics.

Stan Lee actually commented that this was his favorite live-action project at the time (with the "Amazing Spider-Man" series being the one he hated most). He had a lot of hands-on control in the two-hour television movie, and you can tell. It is considered the best of the 70's heroes attempts, even though it failed as a pilot for the series.

I'm including a YouTube vid here of the first 10 minutes of the film. If it interests you, click on it and it'll take you to the YouTube page where you can watch the rest of the film in ten-minute segments. For the fact that it was a 70's film, the special effects aren't that bad and the story is fairly interesting.

Legends of the Superheroes/Roast

Like everything else in this list, this show was pretty lame by today's standards, but it's notable because it's the last time we ever saw Adam West and Burt Ward in costume as the Dynamic Duo ever again. We also saw Saturday Morning favorite Captain Marvel in there. It was the first time we'd ever seen heroes like The Flash, Hawkman or Green Lantern live before. It's also the last time we'd ever get to see Frank Gorshin do his Riddler work as well. Huntress was an odd choice for a female lead, but Wonder Woman was on another network at the time with a show of her own, so they couldn't use her.

The show was followed up by a "roast" episode. This was because celebrity roasts were big in the mid-70's, and they wanted to follow suit. It's not really that funny, but it's still nice to see the heroes in action again. Robin telling Batman he dented the Batmobile was a great little bit.

JLA Series Pilot

This was a pilot episode from the 90's written for a possible JLA series. It marks the only time we've ever seen any incarnation of the Fire and Ice in live action, and the first time we saw Martian Manhunter (better than the Smallville incarnation, that's for sure). The Green Lantern here is Kyle Rayner, and Fire and Ice make appearances with the Flash. It's easy to see why the series never got picked up for prime-time, though it could possibly fare better today if they tried to update it and gave it to the right writers.

The special effects were good for a pilot show. It's never been released on DVD, but you can find copies of it floating around the internet easily enough. It's worth it just to see the heroes in action.

Honorable mentions:

Electra Woman and Dynagirl

It only ran for 16 2-part episodes as part of the Sid and Marty Kroft Power Hour, but these two women made 70's Saturday mornings hot. Borrowing heavily from feel of the Adam West Batman series (camp, a cave, an assistant/helper, among other things), these two ladies stopped super-criminals every week. Of course, you wouldn't hide beauty like theirs with masks, so both ladies ran at it with no masks and no disguises in their secret identities--and no one ever figured out who they were. Dynagirl was channeling Burt Ward with every second she was onscreen, and Diedre Hall's Electra Woman was Adam West's Batman with a sex change, but no one complained. The "special effects" were the standard fare for a Kroft show and it'll probably never see the light of day on DVD, but it's a fond memory during Saturday mornings "Golden Era of Heroes".

A couple of episodes actually made it to DVD in a box set of other Kroft shows. The set includes other greats like Doctor Shrinker, and Bigfoot & Wildboy.

Believe it or not, the WB network actually commissioned a pilot to be shot in 2001 for an updated version of the show with Markie Post taking over the role of Electra Woman, and Anne Stedman coming in as a blonde Dyna Girl. Given the WB's penchant for putting anything on the air, I'm surprised we never saw this hit the airways.

Here's a parting look at the classic show:

Well, that does it for our looks at live-action heroes. There have definitely been some great moments on the small screen for heroes well-known and unknown as well. Even though Grayson will probably be a bust, I hope they continue to keep trying. I never get tired of seeing the spandex-clad warriors duking it out on primetime!

I leave you with this, perhaps the coolest commercial ever:


Rick said...

I have loved the look at the live action series. I actually have a copy of the JLA pilot. It seemed like they called Flash Barry Allan but he had Wally West personality. The Atom had the look of the Golden Age Atom but was more like Tay Palmer.
Since you closed with a commercial I was wondering if you know about a Baby Ruth commercial that starred Hawkman? It was out in the 1990's but not too long. I can't find it on andy video sharing site.

The Groovy Agent said...

Bravo! Excellent work. The clips you add just make the whole series even better.

I agree with Stan; the Doc Strange TV movie, while being very different from the comics, was quite good (compared to the other TV movies--excepting the superb Incredible Hulk--it was the best of the lot). I kind of liked the costume Reb Brown wore in the first C.A. movie, but it looked more like the Shield or something. They did get the costume mostly right in the second film, except the winged motorcycle helmet stayed.

Brian said...

My kids have the JLA pilot on VHS as well. I think it had potential, but it probably wouldn't have lasted long. I hadn't heard of that commercial, Rick. I'll have to look it up though. I love seeing Hawkman in action.

Glad you enjoyed the posts! It was a fun trip down memory lane for me. :)

Brian said...

Groovy, I liked the Cap costume too for the most part. I think the clear shield was a letdown, but I remember as a kid watching this on television and just being thrilled to finally see Cap in action.

And Hulk was definitely a big success for Marvel, which is funny because they took such a chance with changing a lot about the character...and yet it worked. They didn't deviate too much, but at the same time they made it different enough for a weekly success. I don't know why Marvel has never been able to recreate this winning formula with another hero.

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