Saturday, December 28, 2013

When Hope Is All You Have


Cinema Blend has the story here that a Shazam! film about DC's Captain Marvel has a very slim hope of making it to a theater any time soon. That is due to the Man of Steel sequel you've been hearing so much about. The one with Henry Cavill as Superman, Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot, from the Fast & Furious film franchise (who love alliteration, give me a hey now!), just cast with Lynda Carter's blessing as Wonder Woman.

So, it all comes back to Superman's fault.


The Man of Steel and the World's Mightiest Mortal have a long history.


A history of being adversaries. Here's a quick recap. Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster launched a super-hero boom. The most obvious, is that DC Comics - where Superman makes his home - wanted another character like Superman. Bob Kane created Batman, with input from baseball player and writer Bill Finger, and Jerry Robinson. Like a bolt of lightning, other publishers tried to copy Superman's success. C. C. Beck and Bill Parker created Captain Marvel for Fawcett Comics. DC filed a lawsuit, claiming that Captain (Shazam!) Marvel was an infringement on Superman. DC claimed that Fawcett had copied Superman as Captain Marvel. The Captain was shut down. DC later acquired Captain (Shazam!) Marvel from Fawcett; but, after Marvel comics had developed their own Captain Marvel. DC had shut Captain Marvel down and now could not publish the character as Captain Marvel due to possible infringement on Marvel Comics. That's ironic. DC now used the character under the banner of the Wizard that gave Captain Marvel his powers, and whose name alter ego Billy Batson shouted to transform, "Shazam!"

It might be hard to imagine just how similar Superman and Captain Marvel were at one time...now. Captain Marvel is really an orphan given powers far beyond mortal men by a wizard. He has the wisdom of Solomon; the strength of Hercules; the stamina of Atlas; the power of Zeus; the courage of Achilles; and, the speed of Mercury. Superman is an orphan with powers and abilities far beyond mortal men. How similar are these guys, really?


Pretty similar.      

But then, over the years, Superman developed an alien origin. He isn't just mild-mannered Clark Kent. He is really Kal-El, from the planet Krypton. Before the planet exploded, his father and mother, Jor-El and Lara put him in a rocket and sent him away to escape death. As his origin developed, Jor-El picked Earth as the place to send the boy. Jor-El knew that the boy would develop super powers under a yellow sun. Krypton orbited a red sun. Superman had no weaknesses, until, June 1943 and voice actor Bud Collier wanted a vacation and Kryptonite was created. Over the years, in addition to Kryptonite, Superman has a weakness for magic.

In contrast, Billy Batson was an orphan newsboy; he's become a a kid radio news reporter. Clark Kent was a newspaperman until the 1970's, when his became a television news anchorman. He's gone back to being a newspaperman. Emphasis is not really put on Billy having adoptive parents - loving adoptive parents - like Jonathan and Martha Kent, Clark's adoptive parents. Billy's chief nemesis as Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is Doctor Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, a bald mad scientist much like Lex Luthor was from the Golden through the Bronze Age of comics. It is only a modern development that Lex has become a businessman and politician. Billy's only known weaknesses as Captain (Shazam!) Marvel is magic and lightning. Lightning is what transforms Billy into his alter ego.

Here's what I wonder. When DC acquired Captain (Shazam!) Marvel why didn't they have some fun and use him differently?


Instead of, say, just having Captain (Shazam!) Marvel always fighting Superman.


Instead of Captain (Shazam!) Marvel always fighting Superman.

 

Captain Marvel


Is


Always

 

Fighting Superman...

Here's what else I wonder: DC Comics' Golden-Age was made up of characters like The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and The Atom. Characters that have changed over the years. The Flash in the Golden-Age of comics was named Jay Garrick. From the Silver-Age forward The Flash was a police forensics officer, Barry Allen. Barry was inspired to become the Flash after lightning struck a rack of chemicals and those super-charged chemicals doused him.

What if a young Clark Kent was inspired to become Superman and fight for truth, justice and the American way by watching Captain (Shazam!) Marvel? Batman's origin has been re-written that he was inspired by the Golden-Age Green Lantern, Alan Scott, a Gotham City super hero. Alan was a railroad engineer that became a Gotham broadcast owner. Bruce Wayne was mentored by a number of Golden-Age heroes. Clark never really had a mentor, other than his adopted father, Jonathan Kent. Why couldn't a modern version of Superman include an origin where Clark was inspired by Billy Batson and his alter ego?

I get the "no tights, no flights" rule that Smallville operated under, but considering the opportunity for world building - like Marvel has been doing with The Avengers characters - the series was a kind of a missed opportunity. A missed opportunity that Man of Steel took hold of and ran at super speed with. DC is trying to get its characters into movies the same as Marvel, but using an opposite model. Instead of building up to a team movie - like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America, all leading to The Avengers - DC has been keeping characters like Batman, Green Lantern and Superman separate from each other. Until now. It appears the sequel to Man of Steel will be a group party.

Couldn't Clark have been inspired by the "World's Mightiest Mortal"? Maybe reading a Captain (Shazam!) Marvel comic book - Smallville's Lex was a Warrior Angel fan and had every issue. A Warrior Angel movie was even filmed in Smallville. Maybe Lex's father, Lionel, could have owned a production studio in Metropolis for a Shazam! television series.

With comic book characters, any thing is possible...     

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Best of DC Blue Ribbon Digest 9 - Batman: Bat-murderer!


The Beloit College Mindset List is an invaluable resource understanding the current generation. It helps college professors understand the perspective of entering freshmen; it should help people understand the audience he/she/they are trying to reach.

There was a time before trade paperback collections; padded monthly comics designed for trade paperback collection and graphic novels. There was a time when comic books only reprinted themselves in comic book pages. The value and collectibility of a comic book was high. Print runs were low and so was the cover price. Welcome to the pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths world.



I've been re-organizing my paperback collection and found in a box of Batman paperback books, The Best of DC #9 - Batman. It's one of my treasured favorites. It collects the Detective Comics #444 - Bat Murderer storyline that ran from issues 444 to 448 and a 1969 reprint of Batman #216 - Angel - or Devil?
From a time when we enjoy full, complete creator credits, it is amazing to see a story with only three credits; writer, artist and editor. "Bat-murderer" is credited to writer Len Wein, artist Jim Aparo, and editor Julius Schwartz. That's it. There's no penciller, inker, colorist, letterer or assistant editor credits. Missing is the staple "Batman created by Bob Kane" credit!

The story is collected from 100 page issues of Detective Comics. Twelve-page original lead material, followed by several reprint stories. Wein's script is heavy melodrama. It opens with Commissioner Gordon scolding a Sargent for lighting the Bat-Signal. He then waxes eloquent and explains to this subordinate why the signal must go dark. Gordon is such a cool, philosophical, everyman boss. Wein's script. Is. Full. Of. Importance; highlighted by bold words. This is classic comics.

Gordon calls The Batman in to investigate why so many professionals are in Gotham. The Batman's investigation leads him to Talia and later to her father, Ra's Al Ghul, Sterling Silversmith and The Creeper, before he reaches the solution to the mystery. This is the alternative Batman to the Super Friends, The New Adventures of Batman and Adam West's campy Batman of 1966. This is The Darknight Detective rather than Caped Crusader.


I must confess to a man-crush on Jim Aparo. Aparo was my first Batman artist, here in this digest and over in the three issue The Untold Legend of the Batman, The Brave and the Bold and then The Outsiders. He was a much leaner follow-up to Neal Adams. While Marshall Rogers is enjoyable, Aparo is more signature.
It's a noticeable change when Ernie Chan and Dick Giordano take over the story midway through to the conclusion.

In the end, it is a mystery if a smoking gun. Every bit a mystery that the Hush storyline would later be for Loeb and Lee.


Angel - or Devil? from Batman 216 is included to fill to 100 pages. It's a spotlight on the returned Alfred (who had spent some years deceased; and revived with a split personality as The Outsider), his niece Daphne and brother Wilfred. Both are thespians. There's a nice wink to Dick being incapacitated by a cold and unable to help Batman as Robin. That happened a lot before he left for college at upstate Hudson University. There's also a nod to the television series with a safe in the base of Shakespeare's bust. Dick Grayson's Robin is the only one who doesn't see a whole lot of action. This is more of an Alfred spotlight, with Batman as a supporting player, much like an enjoyable episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

Copies of this digest are very rare. If you have a copy treasure it and enjoy it. You might find a copy available for sale on eBay for upwards of $25! But it is certainly worth tracking down.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What Would A Gilligan's Island Comic Book Look Like?


Warner Bros. has announced that Josh Gad will write and star in a feature film update of the 1960's television sitcom Gilligan's Island. It's unclear, as yet, which stranded castaway Gad will play, or when the film will reach theaters. There have been a number of proposals over the years of who should play the classic characters. The late Sherwood Schwartz considered Michael Cera, from Scott Pilgrim, Juno and Superbad, to be an ideal candidate for Gilligan. Cera's response was that he hadn't been offered the part, nor was he even interested. Whatever story a Gilligan's Island cast and film tells, I'd like to see Warner Bros. affiliate DC Comics publish a monthly all-ages comic book.

But what would a Gilligan's Island comic book look like? It could look like a lot of different things.

Archie Comics have recently gotten renewed energy after celebrating a milestone 600 issues with a "What if?" storyline involving Archie marrying either longtime sweethearts Veronica or Betty. Not only that, but Archie has recently met KISS, done a crossover with Glee and parodied Twilight. Right now, Archie is riding the zombie craze with a Walking Dead-like storyline, Afterlife With Archie.


A Gilligan's Island comic book could look an Archie comic book. 600 issues is a pretty good model to follow. DC Comics published 163 bi-monthly issues of Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen from 1954 to 1974. Issues from that series have been collected in Showcase Presents: The Superman Family, and Superman: The Many Transformations of Jimmy Olsen.


Jimmy Olsen, like Archie, has had a lot of wacky and strange adventures. Jimmy's encounters with Professor Phineas Potter were the source of a lot of those wacky adventures and strange transformations.




A Gilligan's Island comic book could look something like a Scooby Doo comic book. Archie comics brought the Hanna-Barbera character to comics in 1995. DC Comics acquired the rights two years later. DC published 159 issues of Scooby Doo before relaunching the title as Scooby Doo, Where Are You in 2010. DC just launched a Scooby Doo Team-Up book.

In 1992, when Warner Bros. launched an animated Batman series - cartoon are now known by the sophisticated term "animated series" - a tie-in comic The Batman Adventures was launched. The book was relaunched a number of times to reflect changes in the series. The Batman Adventures ran 36 issues; The Batman and Robin Adventures another 25; and Batman: Gotham Adventures 60 issues. DC's all ages imprint has had equal success with Superman Adventures, a tie-in to the Superman animated series; Justice League Adventures and Justice League Unlimited; Teen Titans: Go and Tiny Titans. Those are just the super-hero properties. DC's Looney Tunes published 212 issues starting in 1994.

Still, what would an issue of a Gilligan's Island comic book look like? The Batman Adventures perfected a three-act story scripted out over twenty-two pages. A twenty-two page comic book is comparable to a thirty minute episode.


A Gilligan's Island comic book could look like a Simpsons comic book. Over the last twenty years, Bongo Comics has published 207 issues of Simpsons Comics. According to Wikipedia, with 538 episodes over twenty-five seasons The Simpsons is the longest-running American sitcom, the longest running animated series, and is the longest running prime-time scripted television series. Gilligan's Island lasted only 98 episodes before it was cancelled. Legend has it that creator Sherwood Schwartz wrote down ideas for the series on a roll of paper he unrolled at CBS offices to pitch the series.

If Archie can reach 600 issues, The Simpsons 207, Looney Tunes 212, Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen 163 and Scooby Doo 159 - and that is 159 in just one of three different runs - then Gilligan's Island certainly has potential. It's just a matter of finding the right all-ages writer that can capture the moral lessons of Gilligan's Island. Names like Sholly Fisch, Jeff Parker, Michael Uslan, J. Torres, Art Baltazar, Chris Giarusso, Kelley Puckett, and Terrance Griep come to mind. Each one has proven success writing all-ages comic books. Tim Levins comes to mind as a penciller to capture the look of the Castaways.  Joan Hilty would make an excellent editor.

Right now, DC is publishing a tie-in comic for Arrow; Smallville: Season Eleven; and Batman '66, stories based on the 1966-1968 live action Batman television series starring Adam West. There's no reason why a Gilligan's Island comic couldn't be both profitable and successful. 

     
    

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Gilligan Adventures



There was a Welcome Back, Kotter comic book. 'Strewth. It lasted ten issues. There was both a My Favorite Martian (nine issues) and a The Courtship of Eddie's Father (two issues) comic book. There have been tie-in comic books for The Terminator, Back to the Future, Lost in Space, Married...With Children, Quantum Leap, The X-Files and The A-Team.  

Star Trek and Star Wars have done very well as comic books. Star Trek: The Original Series started out at Gold Key Comics. When Star Trek: The Motion Picture came out, Marvel won the license and produced a number of issues before the license went to DC Comics. Right now, IDW is doing very well producing Star Trek comic books, based on the new J. J. Abrams reboot of the property. Star Trek made the bog leap to film in part because of the whole sci-fi boom of the '70's. A boom that was started by George Lucas and a film he made called Star Wars. Marvel produced a giant-sized, two issue adaptation of the film, a six- adaptation of the film and a total of over a hundred monthly issues that wrapped up with the release of Return of the Jedi. A few years later, Dark Horse acquired the license and has had great success for over twenty years with the property. Star Wars-inspired titles like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and Flash Gordon - which had been newspaper strips - to make the jump to film and television and ultimately comic books. Battlestar Galactica did modest success for Marvel in the '70's and recently for Dynamite Entertainment.

Right now there is a boom in licensed comic books. Cult favorite Firefly is returning as a Dark Horse comic book, where Buffy the Vampire Slayer has done well with both Season Eight and Season Nine comic books. Firefly has already enjoyed success with mini-series and one shot books at Dark Horse.

This year, Doctor Who celebrated his 50th anniversary on BBC and in a twelve-issue series, "Prisoners of Time", at IDW. The Matt Smith iteration is wrapping up a four-year run as well there. 

The Green Hornet was at Now Comics, then at Moonstone and now does very well at Dynamite Entertainment. The Lone Ranger is at Dynamite; along with The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman. Along with Firefly at Dark Horse, coming in 2014 at Dynamite is The Six Million Dollar Man: Season Six.

Companies like Boom!, Dynamite, Gold Key, IDW, Innovation, Now, Topps as well as Dark Horse, DC and Marvel have had modest to overwhelming success with licensed comics. DC and Marvel have turned it almost into an  infinity loop. Comics based on cartoons or live action series based on their comic book characters. Batman, Superman, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Justice League, Teen Titans and Young Justice for DC; Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, Fantastic Four and The Avengers are just a few of the characters at Marvel that have been developed as cartoons, then in turn tie-in comic books.

This is basically just a long explanation that if you can watch it on television or in film, you can probably see it show up as a comic book. Which makes me hope that with Warner Bros. going ahead with a reboot film of Gilligan's Island, DC Comics will add the property as a digital-to-physical comic book.

Bongo Comics has produced The Simpsons, Bartman, Radioactive Man and Itchy and Scratchy comics along with Futurama comics. The idea is not that far-fetched.

I think it would be kinda cool to see continuing adventures on Gilligan's Island. Classic Gilligan's Island. With the original characters. Like what DC is doing with their digital-to-physical Batman '66 comic. They can use the designs from the animated series and run with it. I'm nostalgic, so I would buy it in a heartbeat. The question is, would a '60's concept like Gilligan's Island sell today. IDW launched with CSI and 24 tie-in comics. Dynamite is working both The Lone Ranger and The Green Hornet which are Golden Age concepts, as well as '70's properties The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman. I would think if the stories and the art are good, a Gilligan's Island comic book would sell. There have been a lot of television and film tie-in comic books. The ones that sell have had high quality production values.

I believe that Warner Bros. and DC Comics need this. They have been trying to launch their super-hero properties from comic books to live action for a while now. Wonder Woman stalled in a live action reboot; Green Lantern underperformed. Superman has had mixed results. Batman has been the only proven money-maker.

I might be biased, because I am a fan of Gilligan's Island, but I'd like to see the little Minnow that could finally achieve the potential that it has been so close to.

What do you think?             

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Batman 1966 Fantasy Casting: Wayne's World

One of the things that interested me and inspired me to start a 'blog and a Facebook page, was the possibilities a question like "What if?" meant.

Right now, I'm re-reading Joel Eisner's The Official Batman Batbook. There's a new, updated version available, but I have the original. I'm reading it while watching the first season on YouTube and reading the new DC Batman '66 comic book. I'm sure that this is probably a limited diet to quench my Bat-thirst, but this is where I am right now. I'd love to get my hands on Jim Beard's Gotham City 14 Miles, but that will have to wait awhile. I've read Bob Kane's Batman and Me; Adam West's Back to the Batcave; Burt Ward's Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights and Batmania by James Van Hise and Hal Shuster.  I've seen the tele-film adaptation of West's and Ward's Memoirs and I've watched the Biography episodes on the show and stars. I would imagine Yvonne Craig has written about her role as Batgirl. I'm not sure if Julie Newmar has. I doubt that any other of the guest stars did, but they've talked about it in interviews.

Reading Eisner's book, though, I come away with a few points: first, that the show was a huge success, initially. It had a huge debut and the first season was phenomenal.  Secondly, the 1966 live-action Batman television series was a show that every one wanted to be on. Thirdly, the show was cancelled after three seasons when the novelty wore off.

Reading the episode descriptions and the cast interviews in Eisner's book, I think fans of the show can agree that the show unflinchingly followed a rigid, narrow formula and very rarely strayed from it. This is probably why both the success of the show and interest in it waned.

Batman also played it safe, taking a dark and Gothic figure and turning him "Campy". According to Eisner's book the show was actually nominated for a Emmy as a sitcom! It was played light-hearted, for laughs. Serious, darker villains like Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Clayface and Dr. Hugo Strange never appeared on the series, while The Riddler was elevated to a more prominent place in the rogues gallery than The Joker; and "The Clown Prince of Crime" was more mischievous than deadly.

If given the chance, I would re-cast the series. I would have cast runner-up Lyle Waggoner as Gotham City DA Harvey Dent; Jessica Walter as Pamela Isley. See that here. Raquel Welch as Julie Madison; Donna Reed as Dr. Leslie Thompkins; Meredith MacRae as Kathy Kane. See that here. Raymond Burr would have been Julie's Father Judge Madison; Lauren Hutton as Vicki Vale; Moses Gunn would have been Lucius Fox.


Batman '66 #3 saw the debut of two exciting new things: Arkham Institute - which is a cool version of Arkham Asylum for the criminally insane - and, Dr. Quinn.


'60's funny girl Goldie Hawn from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and Cactus Flower would be perfect in the role of The Joker's moll, Harley Quinn, the former Dr. Harleen Quinzel in the 1992 Bruce W. Timm and Paul Dini produced Batman: The Animated Series. Goldie would be the ideal devotee to The Clown Prince of Crime, right down to giving him the nickname, Puddin'.

If Bruce is engaged to an actress, then his youthful ward Dick Grayson would have to be romantically linked to singers, like Annette Funicello, Brenda Lee, Sandra Dee and Haley Mills.

 


Sandra Dee might be ideal as The Maid of Steel, Supergirl. Only this Supergirl would be adopted by the Kents, who are still alive and living on the farm in Smallville. So, instead of adopting the Linda Danvers identity that everyone is most familiar with, she would be adopted as Kara Kent, Clark's cousin as well as Superman's cousin. This would be perfect to develop storylines that would spotlight Dick Grayson and Robin and possibly introduce a 1960's live action Teen Titans.


In addition to Sandra Dee as a possible Supergirl, LuAnn Haslam would be a great cast as Betty Kane, alias Bat-Girl. Originally, she was Kathy Kane's niece and she had a crush on Robin. In the 1980's, she was re-imagined as tennis player Bette Kane, also known as Flamebird. She still had an infatuation with Robin.


LuAnn was Becky Thatcher in the Hanna-Barbera live action-animation mix The New Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The 1966 live action Batman had a lot of potential - a lot of unrealized potential. Potential that may have been wasted by hugging a formula and flogging it and milking it until it dried up. The show could have easily have continued beyond three seasons. If the episodes had been different from one another and unique; and the cast an ensemble of colorful supporting characters, not just the villains and heroes.

What if?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Batman 1966 Fantasy Casting: Robin, the Boy Wonder

[Note: As this post was fomenting and as I was composing it, word broke Thursday, September 5th, 2013 that Batwoman creative team J. H. Williams and W. Haden Blackman would be leaving the ongoing comic book series, citing editorial differences; specifically that DC was prohibiting Kate Kane's marriage to same-sex partner, Maggie Sawyer. The creators maintained that it was not so much the same-sexness, but the marriage. Over the last few years, previously married characters, like Superman and Barry Allen, had been re-booted as single. Superman's marriage to Lois Lane has been undone, and now he has begun a high profile relationship with Wonder Woman. Previously, the Amazing Amazon was linked to non-powered Steve Trevor. This new relationship launches a new Superman/Wonder Woman book. Also, in the last few years, Sue Dibney, the wife of Elongated Man Ralph Dibney was murdered by Ray Palmer's crazy ex-wife Jean Loring. Longtime partners Hawkman and Hawkgirl/woman were separated, as were. Jay and Joan Garrick, by a recent line-wide re-boot. It seems only Aquaman and Mera have a stable relationship...although it is unclear as to whether or not they are married or just partners.]

Let's talk about Dick Grayson. Robin, the Boy Wonder. The original sidekick. He, and Jimmy Olsen, were originally created to make Batman and Superman more approachable and kid-friendly. The idea was that Robin and Jimmy would draw readers in, because they were the "stand-in" for the target reader. Young boys would be able to see themselves in adventures right there along-side The Dark Knight or The Man of Steel. It was ideal. While it worked for Jimmy Olsen, it became problematic over the years for Dick Grayson.


The problem for Dick Grayson is that, like Bruce Wayne, his parents were killed. Bruce Wayne's parents were killed by a stick-up man in an alley. A young, orphaned Bruce vowed to wage a war on criminals, and when he reached adulthood he was inspired to take on the guise of a bat and become a Batman. Originally he was a lone figure. His friendship, as Bruce Wayne, with Gotham City Police Commissioner Gordon, kept him in touch with what was going on, but he was a loner. He was a millionaire-playboy. He was engaged to an up-and-coming actress, but that was short-lived. The problem for Dick Grayson, initially, is that he loses both his parents and is taken on in a male-chauvinist environment. His mentor is driven to perfection, and there are few females to counter-balance Batman.


A year after Batman made his debut in 1939, it was decided that he needed a sidekick. Something to balance and counteract the dark, Gothic image of The Dark Knight. For a year, Batman had fought monsters and gangsters. When Robin made his debut, he brought along with him the more colorful, and cartoonish rogues, like The Joker, Catwoman, The Penguin and The Riddler. Robin made his debut in Detective Comics 38, April 1940. The Joker and Catwoman made their debut around the same time, in the first issue of Batman comics in the Spring of 1940. Alfred Pennyworth, the Wayne family butler, was introduced in 1943. In the 1964, shortly before the television series premiered, Dick was given an Aunt Harriet. For twenty-four years, Dick Grayson was focused solely on adventure, crime and criminals. He had a few crushes; the only times he has been paired up as a couple has been with female super-heroes.


Initially, he was paired off with the original Bat-Girl, Betty Kane, the niece of adventurer and female counter-part to Bruce Wayne, Kathy Kane. Kathy fought crime alongside Batman as Batwoman. Betty was a Sandra Dee type. When Batman was being revamped in the '60's and brought to television, the sci-fi approach of the '50's was shaken off, and characters like Batwoman, Bat-Girl and Ace, the Bat-Hound weren't used anymore. Alfred had been killed off and Aunt Harriet added to the cast of supporting characters. Later, Dick was paired with the new Batgirl, Barbara Gordon, who was somewhere between five to ten years older than him. In the comic books, he was later paired with Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman's teen sidekick. Wonder Girl was an original member of the Teen Titans, a group of young sidekicks. Robin was the unofficial leader of the group. It wasn't until a revival of the group in 1980, that Dick was given a girlfriend, the alien super-heroine, Starfire, also known as Princess Koriand'r.

If Dick Grayson were a character in a novel or a play, his story would have boundaries. His story would have some kind of resolution. It would reach a conclusion or an end. There would be a sense of closure. But since Dick Grayson is a comic book character, and his story has been adapted to television and film, his story is ongoing. In an effort to keep him fresh as a character, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, there are certain compromises that have to be adhered to. The first one is that Robin, like Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, can never reach a conclusion. Superman fights a "never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way". Secondly, nothing can be introduced to distract from that never-ending battle. Bruce Wayne can never be seen enjoying any thing else outside of fighting crime as Batman.

  
Which explains why Dick Grayson has spent all his time in a male-dominant environment, without a girlfriend - or any kind of significant relationship - and the only contact he's had apart from Batman has been either with other sidekicks, or other super-humans. Now, remember, he's the stand-in for you and I in the audience. Dick Grayson, like Jimmy Olsen, represents you and I, that Batman, and Superman would take us on as a friend, confidant and sidekick. The problem is, that as a sidekick, Marvel's Peter Parker, alias Spider-Man is a better representation than Dick Grayson. Peter is more realistic. He's shy, he doesn't know how to talk to girls. Peter is the underdog that Dick - who is a millionaire's ward - could never be. Unless Bruce was given a completely different approach.

Bruce Wayne never officially adopted Dick Grayson. He was his guardian. He was his mentor. He was never officially his parent. That's because adoption requires two parents. A single person is rarely considered able to raise a child. So, the solution would be for Bruce to be in a somewhat stable relationship, like his engagement to actress Julie Madison. In the comic books, Jule broke off their engagement because, even though Bruce was a wealthy millionaire, he didn't actually do anything. He was idle rich. Julie, like any woman, wanted Bruce to accomplish something. As the head of the charitable Wayne Foundation, that would be possible. Bruce would be accomplishing a better Gotham City in both guises. Taking on an orphan, and raising him as a son, could draw Bruce and Julie together. The conflict could still be there in how Bruce handled characters like Pamela Isley (Poison Ivy), Selina Kyle (Catwoman) and Talia Head (Ra's Al Ghul's daughter). Any bumps that would come up in Bruce and Julie's relationship would risk Dick's adoption - and risk Batman and Robin's partnership.

The next step would be, where would Dick Grayson go to school and what crowd would he be part of outside of his relationship with Bruce Wayne, Alfred Pennyworth and Commissioner Gordon. In the comic books, his relationships were with other super-heroes and other teen sidekicks. He was the leader of the Teen Titans.

What would his role be on the 1966 live-action Batman television series?

"Boy, I wonder..."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Batman 1966 More Fantasy Casting

According to TVShowsonDVD.com, one of the most asked about television shows for season  or series box set collection is the 1966 live action Batman series starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Forty-seven years after it debuted on ABC as a mid-season replacement, it is still hugely popular. It was a show that every celebrity, star, actor and actress wanted to be on. That right there may be the reason it has yet to be collected in season sets or a series set.


Royalties may be holding up home release on DVD of the Batman television series indefinitely. Royalties to estates of cast members, celebrity villain guest stars and the bat-climb cameo appearances. The series was a collaboration of DC Comics, Warner Bros. and competitor 20th Century Fox, along with Greenway Productions. There may be royalties due for the Batmobile, and certain costume and set designs.

Jeff Parker, along with Jonathan Case, Mike Allred and Ty Templeton have been working on a new DC digital-to-print comic, Batman '66. It is possible that the estates for actor Alan Napier (Alfred) and Madge Blake (Aunt Harriet) have not agreed to license the likenesses of the stars for the series. The first issue shows different character designs from the actors that played the characters. Parker said in an interview with Comic Book Resources promoting the series that he would like to introduce modern villain Killer Croc based on actor Ted Cassidy, from The Addams Family, Star Trek and I Dream of Jeannie.

It's this kind of dream casting that got me thinking.

What if?

What if Lyle Waggoner had been cast as Gotham DA Harvey Dent? What if Jessica Walter had been cast as Dent's fiance Pamela Isley. What if over the course of a season these two characters had begun their descent into the villains Two-Face and Poison Ivy? It would have risked the shows light, comedy camp factor, but it could have given the series depth and legs. So would adding Bruce's comic book fiance Julie Madison, in star Raquel Welch. Bruce and Batman both could have been conflicted by Kathy Kane, played by Meredith MacRae, who would be inspired by the Caped Crusader to become Batwoman. Along with Alfred, Bruce and Dick would have Dr. Leslie Thompkins to confide in as played by Donna Reed. Bruce could seek legal counsel from Julie's father, Judge Madison played by Raymond Burr.

Another character that would be great to introduce into the 1966 timeline would be Wayne Foundation director, Lucius Fox.


Up until the series wash cancelled, and The Batman was returned to more dark, Gothic roots, Bruce Wayne was a millionaire-philanthropist, and head of a charitable organization, Wayne Foundation. It was not the industrial Wayne Enterprises in later years similar to Luthorcorp. It would be cool to see Moses Gunn in the role of Lucius Fox, bringing even more diversity to the cast and series. Believe it or not television was a male dominated club even into the 1990's with programs like Law & Order. Richard Brooks provided a racial diversity; but it wasn't until the mid-'90's and the casting of S. Epatha Merkerson, Jill Hennessy and Benjamin Bratt that gender and ethnic diversity was reached. Gunn would round out the regular and recurring cast of supporting characters for Batman and Robin.

The campy approach to the series eliminated a number of classic, more Gothic or scary villains; such as Two-Face, with his horrific scars. The Scarecrow was another, along with psychiatrist Doctor Hugo Strange, Clayface, Blockbuster and Poison Ivy. I would also suggest rogues like the Golden-Age Green Lantern villain Solomon Grundy, The Golden-Age Flash nemesis Rag Doll, and the rogue Deadshot.

With Two-Face (Lyle Waggoner) and Poison Ivy (Jessica Walter) covered; I would cast '60's Western-Action-Sitcom star Denny Miller, as Solomon Grundy. Most recently, Miller was the Gorton's Fisherman. 


This would be a radical change from the safe formula that dominated the series. The villains had pretty much been reduced to common thieves, robbing banks, stealing payroll, benefit proceeds and valuable works of art. Murder and mayhem was replaced by petty larceny and kidnapping. Grundy would be Batman's Frankenstein, a Hulk -years before the Bixby-Ferrigno series that lasted five seasons on CBS. Grundy would be simple and basic. He would be a better television rogue than Blockbuster.

 
Next, I would cast the late comic actor Wally Cox as Professor Jonathan Crane, alias The Scarecrow. Cox was best known as the voice of Underdog. It would be fun to see Cox in a very different role. Fear gas would be kinda cool against Batman and Robin. A Scarecrow episode could start with robbery, but then he would move on to terrorizing Gotham with his fear gas.

Next, I would cast limber comic Dick Van Dyke as the contortionist clown villain, Rag Doll, Peter Merkel. It would be fun to see Mr. Van Dyke bring the same multi-jointed action from Chitty-Chitty, Bang-Bang, and Mary Poppins to Batman. He was between series at the time Batman was on, so it would be a hoot to see.


Finally, I would cast another family-friendly actor, Disney staple Dean Jones as actor Matt Hagen, alias Clayface. He didn't become an actor until the Batman: The Animated Series years; but it would be fun to combine the original Basil Karlo and Hagen into this '60's live action Clayface. He would be similar to a the Spider-Man villain, The Chameleon, or what Malachi Throne's False-Face character ended up being: a master of disguise.

It would be cool to see Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Scarecrow, Clayface, Solomon Grundy and Rag Doll added to the already larger-than-life celebrity guest-villains.

What do you think? Hit or miss? Share a comment.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Batman 1966 Casting Call: Judge Madison, Vicki Vale and Jack Ryder

The Batman is a Gothic creature of the night. He is The Dark Knight. He is also the Dark Knight Detective.

After the cruel murder of his parents, Bruce Wayne what every normal, rational individual with tons of money and a lot of free time would do. Become a revenge-seeking costumed vigilante. Dressed like a bat.

For three seasons, two nights a week, on Wednesday and Thursday nights on ABC, Batman was the "Caped Crusader". He fought the good fight in broad daylight. On occasion he went out after dark. He was not scary, and neither were the rogues he fought. As ground-breaking and landmark a series as the 1966 live-action Batman television show was, the producers still played it safe. The show was a half-hour program two nights a week; but really, it was a sixty minute program broken up into two half hour segments that hinged on a cliffhanger. Producers didn't want to scare younger viewers, or alienate adult viewers watching with their children, so Batman became campy, and played for laughs. Gone were the Gothic, scary, thriller elements - and characters. Two-Face, The Scarecrow and Clayface were nowhere to be seen on the series. The Joker, instead of the insane psychotic we all know and love, was more clownish than terrifying like he was in the early comic books. The 1950's had been unkind to comic books. German-American psychiatrist Frederic Wortham had concluded in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent that "comic books were a negative form of popular literature and a serious cause of juvenile delinquency". Wortham had become a "Harold Hill", his "pool" were comic books. Twelve years later, in January of 1966, Adam West and Burt ward took the country by storm when Batman debuted. Batman was a show EVERY body wanted to be on.

Instead of characters like Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Clayface, Poison Ivy, viewers were treated to Bookworm, Egghead, King Tut, Lorelei Circe, Louie The Lilac, Marsha Queen of Diamonds and Zelda The Great.

Interestingly enough, immediately after the series had been cancelled, The Batman returned to his Gothic, suspense roots with stories by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, like, The Secret of the Waiting Graves.

Batman was still campy in cartoons, though.

In 1989, The Batman returned to theaters as a dark figure of the night with Michael Keaton as The Batman.


 But, what if? What if YouTube videos were true? What if fan-made videos and films were what the original producers had accomplished with the 1966 series? Over the passed couple of days, I've wondered aloud who I would like to see added to the cast, here and here.

Along with Adam West, Burt Ward, Alan Napier and Neil Hamilton, I would add Lyle Waggoner as Gotham City DA Harvey Dent, Jessica Walter as Dent's fiance Pamela Isley, Raquel Welch as Bruce Wayne's fiance Julie Madison, Meredith MacRae as Kathy Kane and Donna Reed as Dr. Leslie Thompkins.

On top of that I would cast the late Raymond Burr, best known as Perry Mason and Ironside as Julie Madison's father, Judge Madison. Like Chief O'Hara and aunt Harriet Cooper, the judge would be a completely original character created solely for the series. Batman would have access to Commissioner Gordon, DA Harvey Dent, Dr. Leslie Thompkins and Judge Madison. Bruce and The Judge would be social friends, because of his engagement to Julie. Like Harvey, The Judge would be a resource for law. But, The Judge might not be one hundred percent sold on The Batman as a Caped Crusader. More as a Dark Knight. One of the weaknesses of the series was that Jim Gordon and the Gotham City Police were reduced to incompetence around Batman. Instead of trying to arrest and unmask a costumed vigilante, he's been "duly deputized"! Instead of the urban myth that helps promote his war on crime and inspire fear in criminals, Jim Gordon has a hotline under glass in his office to summon the savior of Gotham.


Next, I would add news photographer Vicki Vale, Batman's version of Lois Lane, with fashion model-slash-actress Lauren Hutton. She could be the original Kim Basinger. Vicki would be obsessed with revealing this urban legend and unmasking Batman. Of course, Bruce Wayne would be fascinated by her photos. Nothing like Corto Maltese; more along the lines of portrait, landscape and scenery.

And then there would be Jack Ryder. Much like Vicki Vale, Jack would be obsessed with proving that The Batman is a vigilante and a menace to Gotham City. This would be tricky. Crusading television newsman Jack Ryder is the alter-ego of The Creeper. If The Joker could have a "martian" in an episode, (episode 118, "The Joker's Flying Saucer") then certainly Batman could face Jack Ryder's "Hotseat" program, while teaming up with The Creeper; along with Meredith MacRae's Batwoman, Cyd Charisse's Wonder Woman and Peter Lupus' Superman.


I would invite James Darren, from Gidget, The Time Tunnel and T.J. Hooker fame to join the Batman cast as Jack Ryder.

This is all fantasy casting. If there were no limits. What if? What if each one of these celebrity actors and actresses were available and agreeable to appearing on the series.

Jeff Parker expressed the desire in a recent interview at Comic Book resources to introduce Killer Croc to the Batman '66 comic book he is currently producing for DC. He expressed the desire to base the character on Ted Cassidy, who played great characters on The Addams Family, Star Trek and I Dream of Jeannie. I started wondering - what else could be possible?

What if?           

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Batman 1966 Casting Call: Leslie Thompkins, Julie Madison and Kathy Kane


Ben Affleck has just been inducted into an elite fraternity: The League of Batmen. He joins Michael Keaton, George ("Franchise Killer") Clooney, Val Kilmer, Christian Bale and Adam West. He also joins the likes of Olan Soule, Gary Owens, Frank Welker, Jeremy Sisto, William Baldwin, Bruce Greenwood, Rino Romano, Diedrich Bader and Kevin Conroy - just to name a few! - who have voiced The Batman for animation. A petition is being circulated to undo Affleck's casting. At last count it had reached 25,000 signatures. Warner Bros. received 50,000 letters from irate Batman fans about Michael Keaton's casting. Pick one of the many actors to portray Batman, and I'm sure someone is dissatisfied with the performance. I liked Keaton's Batman; his Bruce Wayne was a bit on the weak side. Bale's Batman is much to coarse for me, but I liked his Bruce Wayne. I would describe it as affable. Kilmer was like George Lazenby, the "transitional" Batman. Kevin Conroy managed to capture the best Batman and the best Bruce Wayne with just his voice. Adam West will probably be forever stereotyped as the character.
 
 

The 1966 live-action Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was a groundbreaking, landmark series. It was such a pop-culture phenomenon that EVERY body wanted to be on it.


Lyle Waggoner lost the role to Adam West. I think he would make an awesome regular cast-member as Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent. Dent was played in the 1989 film by Billy Dee Williams - also known as Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars films - Tommy Lee Jones opposite Val Kilmer in Batman Forever, and Aaron Eckhart in The Dark Knight. He was voiced on Batman: The Animated Series by Richard Moll, Bull from the '80's sitcom Night Court. The character really shined in both the O'Neil-Adams era of the Batman comics and the Timm-Dini animated universe. Instead of Stafford Repp's memorable Chief O'Hara, I would have loved to see Lyle Waggoner transform from DA Dent into Two-Face.

 

Alongside Waggoner's Dent, I would add Jessica Walter as Pamela Isley. It would be cool to watch these two actors unravel over the course of a season. Walter's Isley would reveal herself as the pernicious Poison Ivy; Waggoner's Dent would descend into the tormented Two-Face.

As much I like Dick Grayson's aunt Harriet Cooper, I would introduce a character that was introduced much later in the comic books: Dr. Leslie Thompkins. She was introduced in 1976, and became a surrogate mother-figure to a young Bruce Wayne. She and Alfred Pennyworth watched Bruce Wayne grow into The Dark Knight. She would know about both Bruce and Dick's dual idnentity, which would eliminate some of the inherent camp and silliness. Leslie could have added a sense of melodrama and philosophy to the series. The Donna Reed Show was just winding down in the Spring of 1966, I would have cast Donna Reed as Dr. Leslie Thompkins. I would have cast her as a series regular to get around her stance on guest-starring roles.


I would also cast Julie Madison, Bruce Wayne's actress fiance from the early years of Detective Comics. I would cast the character as recurring in a romantic triangle for West's Bruce Wayne. She would be a bit self-obsessed and oblivious to others around her, which would explain why she wouldn't discover Bruce's dual identity. It wouldn't matter. I think she would be the perfect first season romance. She would be in competition for Bruce's affections with the much more adventuresome Kathy Kane. Why these two women were never used on the television series is beyond me. It would be interesting to see Bruce deal with his feelings for Julie, Kathy and the alluring Catwoman. Here's who I would see as Julie Madison: Raquel Welch.


I wouldn't see Bruce and Julie lasting the complete run of the series. Remember, Bruce is supposed to be something of a ladies' man. So, he would be engaged to Julie at the start of the series. She would be perfect as a younger version of Aunt Harriet. Oblivious and clueless. She would be cast in a film at the end of the season, and due to busy schedules, the engagement would be called off.

The other figure in the romantic triangle would be the daring and adventurous Kathy Kane. She would be inspired, much like in the comics, to become Batwoman. not only would she be the perfect counterpart for Bruce Wayne; but, the ideal female counterpart to Batman, before the debut of Batgirl. It would be interesting to see some competitiveness come up between Batwoman and Batgirl. Kathy would be hard to cast, because like Yvonne Craig's Batgirl, the role would be somewhat physically demanding. But, I would cast the late Meredith MacRae in the role. At the time Batman debuted, she was in-between My Three Sons and Petticoat Junction, so she could have been available as Kathy. She could have stayed blonde, and then thrown on a brunette wig as Batwoman.


Most series have a limited licensing. The Batman television series would have a license to use characters related to Batman and appearing in Detective Comics and Batman. So, that would limit the use of Justice League and Teen Titans characters respectively. However, DC could have beat Joss Whedon by decades if they had begun with either The Adventures of Superman, or Batman. With the death of George Reeves in 1959, the potential for Superman to make a guest-starring or cameo appearance opposite Adam West would fall to Mission: Impossible's Willy Armitage, played by Peter Lupus.


Lupus made several commercials as Superman. He has the physique and the look of the Man of Steel. Special effects might be tricky to pull of his appearance; flying being the biggest challenge, but take away the flying, like showing Two-Face's horrific scars, and Superman and Batman could have had been The World's Finest before Henry Cavill and Ben Affleck.

To complete the Trinity, I would have cast dancer Cyd Charisse as Wonder Woman. Diana Prince would have added yet another female lead to the series, and another romantic link, and possibly another romantic triangle; this one between Lupus' Superman and the Amazing Amazon.


It would be cool to see a three-part episode with Superman, another three-part episode with Wonder Woman; and then, a full four-part episode, or two-hour television event with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. 

Batman could have been one of the longest-running super-hero television series in history. Still, forty-seven years later, we're still enjoying it, and the newly minted merchandising and a DC Comic of original stories based on the landmark series.

As always, I'm open to suggestions. I'd like you to share your comments and thoughts below.