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Welcome to the two-hundred and forty-fourth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the previous two hundred and forty-three.
Comic Book Legends Revealed is part of the larger Legends Revealed series, where I look into legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can check out here, at legendsrevealed.com. I’d especially recommend you check out this installment of Music Legends Revealed to find out how the girl band behind “He’s A Rebel” was not the actual girl band behind “He’s A Rebel”!
This week, a special theme week based on comic book characters being adapted into other media!
COMIC LEGEND: The musical “It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman” was inspired by the success of the Batman TV series.
STATUS: I’m Going With False
In his column last week, our own Greg Hatcher wrote about It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman, the Broadway musical about Superman:
In the late sixties, given the television success of the Adam West Batman, it’s not surprising that someone thought it might be possible to succeed with that same campy superhero take on Superman. It’s a little more surprising that they thought it should be done as a Broadway musical.
Especially given the technological hurdles they’d have to overcome in trying to make Superman look, well, super. It didn’t work out and the play closed after four months.
I say this not to pick on Greg, but to point out that this is how MOST people view how things went down. If Greg is repeating the story, then that’s surely something that is accepted among fans, as Greg knows his stuff.
So the idea is that it was…
The Batman TV series was a major success…
So then someone tried to cash in by doing a similar project with Superman, only as a Broadway musical (here is Bob Holiday as Superman in the musical)…
Only (and I’m sure you’ve guessed this by now, why else would I have led with the following sentences?), that’s not really how it went down.
The Batman TV series debuted on January 12th, 1966.
It’s a Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman began its previews on Broadway on March 9th, 1966 before opening on March 26, 1966.
So this was not a case of putting out a musical to cash in on the success of the TV series, as Broadway is faaaaar too slow for such a thing. Theaters are booked well in advance, and the Superman musical had work started on it a good long time before the show’s opening.
Not only that, but the writers behind the songs, composer Charles Strouse and lyricist Lee Adams (writers of the hit musical Bye Bye Birdie, which had already won the pair a Tony Award in 1960), were playing the musical as straight as they could. The show actually is famous in musical circles as a show that ENDED UP being campy, but was not originally intended that way. Says Strouse, “In hindsight, we were ahead of our time. We thought it was clever, but people thought we were being “clever,” that we were trying for a trendy cult show – whereas we wanted something for everyone.”
That doesn’t seem like he was trying to emulate the Batman show, now does it?
And it’s not like musicals based on comics were new, as Lil’ Abner was a hit in 1956…
In any event, while the music of the show is actually well regarded, it was, indeed, a notable financial flop, closing in July of 1966.
Interestingly, though, even with this flop, Strouse was still a big fan of the idea of doing a musical based on comics – “A comic strip is an ideal basis for a musical comedy because they are similar forms of popular culture, both dealing in broad strokes, telling simple stories in as few words as possible.”
And sure enough, in 1977, Strouse returned to the comic world, with much greater success, with the Tony Award-winning Annie (his THIRD Tony Award! He also won in 1970 with Applause).
So while the musical has certainly been conflated with the Batman TV series (obviously, the media coverage of the musical at the time totally tied in to the TV series, as how could it not?), it was its own thing.
Thanks to Chris Stansfield, who wrote in to the blog on this topic, inspiring me to feature it as a legend. And apologies to Greg for featuring his quote at the beginning! It’s meant as a compliment! Honest!
COMIC LEGEND: A Japanese television show about Marvel superheroes eventually led to the Power Rangers!
STATUS: True Enough for a True
One of the longest running live-action children’s series is Japan’s “Super Sentai” genre of shows.
The basic concept of the shows is that they all involve a team of highly trained good guys who wear colorful outfits band together to fight the bad guys. Almost invariably, they then are forced to go into giant robot form to fight the bad guys (who invariably have somehow become giant-sized).
However, when the basic foundation of this idea was developed in 1975 in the series Himitsu Sentai Goranger, only part of the premise was in place. There was a team of highly trained good guys wearing colorful outfits, but there were no giant robots, and that really HAS become a major aspect of the genre. It was followed by a show about cyborgs, but still no giant robots!
So guess what show first introduced the Super to the Super Sentai (basically, what show added giant robots to the mix)?
None other than Spider-Man!!
You see, as I mentioned in a previous installment of Comic Book Legends Revealed, Marvel made a deal with the Japanese entertainment company, Toei, in the late 1970s to produce animated programming. That did not work out. However, they also made a deal where Toei could do LIVE-action stories featuring Marvel characters, and that had greater success.
In 1978, Toei debuted their Spider-Man series…
The series held pretty true to Spider-Man’s roots…except, you know, the whole part about him having a giant robot that he would fight bad guys in…
Toei quickly realized that people inside humanoid giant robots was what they were missing with their Sentai series, so they then debuted in 1979, in conjunction with Marvel Comics, Battle Fever J, based in part on Captain America, this series adapted the previous Sentai series only now the team also use the giant robots debuted in the Spider-Man series.
Commenter Carl felt it worth pointing out, and I agree, that there HAD been giant robots in Japanese pop culture before, but they were specifically robots, not people within giant robots like the Spider-Man series and the Super Sentai series that followed. Thanks, Carl!
After years of different shows riffing on basically this exact premise, eventually one of the shows, 1992’s Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger (where the twist is that their robots are dinosaur-based) ended up inspiring an American TV series.
Here is the Japanese show…
Yep, the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers were based on this series, and it has been around ever since.
So, if you were a Power Rangers fan, you have Spider-Man to thank! If you hate the Power Rangers, well, you have Spider-Man to blame!
Thanks to reader Lunchboxkun for suggesting this one!
COMIC LEGEND: Two episodes of the 1960s’ Spider-Man animated series were made up of re-used footage from the cartoon series “Rocket Robin Hood.”
As you all likely know by now, cartoons have not always been the place to go if you want good production values. We, as viewers, have been spoiled by the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini level of quality on recent superhero cartoons.
In the 1960s (heck, in the 1980s! Heck, some of the shows in the 1990s weren’t exactly anything to write home about), the key to many productions was to do a show as cheaply as possible.
So one approach was to use as much stock footage from previous episodes as possible.
This was a common practice with the popular Spider-Man series that ran from 1967-70.
After a fairly high quality first season, the original producers of the show, Grantray-Lawrence, went bankrupt. Krantz Films did the last two seasons at a highly reduced budget, and they commonly re-used older Spider-Man footage to create “new” episodes of the series.
But that was one thing (however annoying it was), but for two episodes in the last two seasons of the show, they went even farther than that – it not only used footage from another cartoon series, it used practically ALL OF THE FOOTAGE from another cartoon series!
Rocket Robin Hood was another show by Krantz Films that ran from 1966 to 1969. It was produced and aired in Canada (although a few United States stations also carried it).
The concept of the show as as delightfully simple as the name might suggest…
It was stories starring Robin Hood and friends…only in SPACE!
Well, in the episode “Phantom From The Depths Of Time” of the Spider-Man series (season 2), they practically lifted the entirety of the Rocket Robin Hood episode, “From Menace to Menace.”
Check it out…
Here’s from the Robin Hood show…
Here’s the Spidey episode…
Pretty hilarious, no?
And they then did it AGAIN in the final season, in one of the very last episodes, ripping off the Rocket Robin Hood episode "Dimentia Five" for "Revolt in the Fifth Dimension."
Here's from the Robin Hood episode...
And here’s from the Spider-Man episode…
I guess it's not too surprising that the show didn't last much longer, huh?
Okay, that's it for this week!
Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Here is the cover by artist Mickey Duzyj. I think he did a very nice job (click to enlarge)…
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See you all next week!
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