Sunday Matinee: History Of Comic Book Movies Part 4

Batman 1966After the problems in the 1950’s with the Fredric Wertham and the comics code along with the fading popularity of superheroes, the caped avengers made a comeback in the 1960’s. 1961 saw the beginning of Marvel Comics (formerly Timely in the ’40s and Atlas in the ’50s.) Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would kick start a whole era of superhero comics starting with The Fantastic Four followed by Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, the Avengers and more. Marvel’s stronger characterizations, real/current world situations would change superhero comics forever.

With Marvel cleaning up on newsstand racks it was only a matter of time before comics would return to other media. In 1966 ABC decided to green light a live action Batman TV series. It was originally supposed to be much more serious but series producer (and episode narrator) William Dozier felt that the only way to adapt a comic book would be to make it campy. And so the campy cultural phenomenon of Batman starring Adam West and Burt Ward was born.

The show tried to emulate the earlier action serials by ending episodes with a cliffhanger. The first two seasons were actually broadcast twice a week so Wednesdays had the first part with a cliffhanger and Thursday night featured the conclusion. A catchy theme song and visualized sound effects were just some of the memorable things from the series. The show featured a string of celebrity guest stars as the villain of the week such as Cesar Romero (The Joker), Burgess Meredith (The Penguin), Julie Newmar (Catwoman), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Vincent Price, Anne Baxter, Milton Berle and more.

After the first season they rushed a movie into production. Originally the film was supposed to lead into the TV series but ABC rushed the TV show into production forcing the film to get shot after season one. Despite the success of the TV show the movie bombed. The TV show would only last two more seasons before it got cancelled but it’s influence is still prevalent today.

Marvel wouldn’t make the leap to live action until the 1970’s but with it’s success it started making cartoons based on its properties in the late 1960s for TV. Most of them were poorly animated quickies just to have something out there. Starting in 1966 Grantray-Lawrence Animation made The Marvel Super Heroes show. It featured several of Marvel’s characters animated in seven minute shorts with very limited animation. In 1967 Grantray-Lawrence Animation made Spider-Man. Grantray-Lawrence produced the series cheaply but it was a success. It aired on ABC initially. After the first season Grantray-Lawrence Animation went bankrupt and Krantz Animation took over for the next two seasons with Ralph Bakshi producing, directing and writing the final two seasons.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IV7kSu83o6M

American superheroes weren’t the only comics being adapted. French comic Barbarella was made into a campy film in 1968 from director Roger Vadim starring Jane Fonda and the great Italian filmmaker Mario Bava took a break from directing horror to adapt Italian comic Diabolik into Danger: Diabolik. Japanese anime was starting to come over to America too. Astro Boy and Speed Racer were hitting TV screens and their influence would come to shape the future of comic books and animation in the years to follow.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.