Secret Origins II: The Evolution Of Screen’s Depiction Of The Superhero Part 1

In The Beginning

As long as there have been superheroes there has existed the desire to put those characters onto the screen. When the world’s most recognisable hero, Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, came onto the scene in Action Comics issue 1 in 1938, his break into other media wasn’t far behind.  Although predated by a small number of other superheroes such as Mandrake The Magician (1934) and The Phantom (1936), Superman was the first to capture people’s imagination on such a large scale.  In 1941, a mere three years after ‘The Man Of Tomorrow’s’ debut, Max Fleischer’s Oscar nominated cartoon shorts of Superman were released.  This signaled the beginning of the relationship between superheroes and the screen.

It’s All About Give And Take

A symbiotic relationship between superheroes and their screen counterparts has always existed (yes, Spidey fans, just like Venom!).  Not only does the comic books’ content determine what is put up onto the screen, but in some instances, elements of the film version are also filtered back into the canon and mythology of the character.  For instance, without Max Fleischer’s Superman the character wouldn’t fly but merely ‘leap over tall buildings’.  Fleischer introduced flight as it looked more cinematic, which was then later introduced back into the comic book stories.  Today we see flying as synonymous with Superman and couldn’t imagine the character without this ability.

Additionally, the Batman serials of the 1940’s introduced elements that we would deem quintessential to present day Bat-lore.  The first serial was entitled Batman and was released in 1943 with the second being Batman And Robin in 1949.  The synergistic relationship was widespread between the early Batman comic books and his formative screen incarnation with many features of the serial ending up shaping the Batman mythos as we know it today. For instance, the serial shows ‘The Bat’s Cave’, a lair in which Batman’s alter ego Bruce Wayne enters through a grandfather clock in his home, Wayne Manor. Furthermore, the butler Alfred Pennyworth previously shown in the comic book as portly was depicted on screen as slender with a thin mustache that was than adopted on the printed page (Check out Tor.com for more old-school Batman info).

Not all cinematic changes improve the aesthetic though, as some are made purely to aid the narrative.  In the case of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man (2002), Raimi did away with mechanical web shooters in favour of organic ones, as he felt they could be explained far easier and required less exposition.  The comics then brought both versions in line incorporating this concept into the comic canon.  This has now been reversed on both the screen and in the comics, however, back to the original and, in my opinion the better, man-made web-shooters.  Many fans prefer these as they let the reader perceive the genius and true ability of the man behind Spidey’s mask; Peter Parker (and not just seem a radiologically enhanced pretty boy in a red and blue lycra body suit!).

To Be Continued…


About the author

Chris Spence

You can read more of Chris' work on his blog http://filmandmoviehotspot.blogspot.co.uk/ and follow him on Twitter @TheRetroSamurai