Sunday 20 January 2019


Spider-man has scaled the Highs and lows of comic book adaptations

Another week, another Spider-Man story. You can't pick up a paper these days without getting caught up in the Marvel hero's sticky web. First came the news that there's to be a total reboot of the movie franchise. Then there's the never-ending saga of Bono and The Edge's Broadway musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has gone through more rewrites than the Gospels. And this week we learned the comic book version of Spider-Man is to die.

Anyway, this got me to thinking about the last time Spider-Man was almost killed. The culprit was the CBS television network, which in the 1970s produced 13 episodes of The Amazing Spider-Man, a live-action series so terrible it should have finished off the superhero's celluloid ambitions forever.

A lump of wood called Nicholas Hammond (one of the Von Trapp children in The Sound of Music) played Peter Parker, whose web-slinging alter-ego was portrayed by a mute stuntman. With its mundane plots and dire action scenes, The Amazing Spider-Man is the worst comic book series ever made, but then comic book characters have always had a chequered relationship with the small screen.

Wonder Woman was loved by little girls, as well as by leering dads who enjoyed star Lynda Carter, with her kinky boots and shiny knickers. Knickers or no knickers, Wonder Woman was, in the American parlance, pants.

The Incredible Hulk was a worldwide hit. Disappointingly, though, it featured none of the fantastical elements or supernatural villains of the comics. Series creator Kenneth Johnson said he was inspired more by Victor Hugo's Les Miserables than by the source material.

Still, both these were masterpieces compared to two made-for-TV movies featuring Captain America in the 1970s. These dispensed with the character's iconic costume and had him riding around on a motorcycle looking like Peter Fonda's character in Easy Rider.


Superman, the daddy of all comic book heroes, has fared better on TV. Lois & Clark and Smallville were major successes, although they were as much about romantic life and personal relationships as about a kiss-curled super-being flying around with his knickers outside his tights. In Smallville, the young Clark neither flew nor wore the famous red-and-blue costume.

Comic book heroes tend to take themselves seriously, yet there's strong evidence to suggest they work best when they're played tongue in cheek. The 1960s Batman remains hugely enjoyable because of the camp scripts and the wonderful, deadpan performances by Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin.

One of the most enjoyable superhero series, though not based on a comic book, was the 1980s comedy-drama The Greatest American Hero, about a teacher who receives a super-powered suit, from aliens but loses the instruction manual and never quite masters how to control it. Blunderman -- now that's my type of hero.

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