Spiderman, Comics and the World of the Super Hero!

When I was a school kid which now I think of it, sometimes feels like years ago and other times feels like yesterday, I was a big, very big fan of comics. All my pocket-money went on comics and I would spend many a happy hour reading, lost in the world of comic book heroes. My Dad used to get me a copy of the Hotspur even though I knew it was really for him despite his denials. I read the Hotspur after I managed to prise it off him and a number of other comics like the Beano, The Tiger, TV Comic, TV 21 which was based on Gerry Anderson’s TV series and  whole host of other comics, all of which have faded into the world of comic history. Looking round the newsagents these days you don’t seem to see comics any more. Perhaps today’s youngsters are too grown up, too enthralled with computer games and television. Still, I loved those old comics and still do and I tend to think they kick started my imagination and made me want to be a writer.

Another type of comic I used to buy were American comics which back then were split into two types, DC comics and Marvel comics. Superman and Batman were the stars of DC comics along with the Flash, Green Lantern and Wonder Woman. On the Marvel side were Spiderman, the X-men, the Hulk, Ironman and many others.

Every summer I used to beg my mother for the latest summer 80 page Giant, which was usually one of the DC comics. It consisted of 4 stories from an ordinary comic reprinted in one bumper edition. A great staple of the 80 page Giant was the superhero ‘origin’, the story of how that particular superhero began his life of crime busting and derring do.

Fast forward to the present day and those superhero characters have made the leap from comic book pages to the big movie screen, mainly with the help of modern-day computer generated effects.

Superman.

Superman, made in 1978, started off the movie superhero craze and starred Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. It was a movie made before the aforementioned CGI were even thought of. Many traditional techniques were used in the film such as back projection, miniatures and matte paintings. Wire riggings were used, suspended from cranes or the studio ceilings, to enable Christopher Reeve to fly as Superman.

Marlon Brando appeared as Superman’s father, Kal-El and many other major film stars added to the cast list and the budget. The shooting was constantly marred by cash flow issues but somehow the producers kept everything together and the film was released in December 1978 becoming a major financial hit, in fact the 6th highest grossing film of all time, despite a multi million dollar salary paid to Brando who appears in only part of the film.

Batman.

Batman hit the big screen in 1989 in a film directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader. A series of films followed with various actors taking on the role of Batman. Burton’s film was a dark, serious version of Batman in some ways returning to the vision of Batman that the original authors, Bob Kane and Bill Finger had first presented in 1939 when the comic strip began. The film depicts Gotham City as an ugly and bleak city where crime is an every day hazard.

I’m not sure I’d put the Batman films down as my all time favourites. They are actually a little slow with outbursts of action and violence. The Batman film franchise, like all film franchises, has rebooted itself several times. In 2005 came the film Batman Begins, based upon a new comic book version called the Dark Knight. Batman Begins starred Christian Bale as Batman and the first time I saw it, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t resonate with my 1960s comic book memories and it seemed to me to be a sort of Batman meets Kung Fu, the 1970’s TV series. One of my work colleagues told me recently it was his favourite film ever so I watched it again after a busy late shift at work and actually, perhaps it’s not such a bad film.

Thor.

Thor was another comic book hero that became a feature film. In the comic as I remember it, Thor is actually a doctor who finds Thor’s hammer disguised as a walking stick, and when he bashes the stick to the ground the good doctor is transformed into the God of Thunder. The movie version released in 2011 was actually rather boring. I only managed about 40 minutes of it before changing channel. The X-men movie suffered a similar fate at the hands of my remote control. I think I managed about 30 minutes before going channel hopping. I don’t remember Wolverine from the comic books either. Cyclops, the Beast and Professor Xavier were all part of the X-men comic book version that I used to read, as was Invisible Girl, although perhaps that was the Fantastic Four. I did get to the end of the movie version of the Fantastic Four though, although another failure was Iron Man.

The Hulk.

Bruce Banner was a scientist who is accidentally exposed to gamma rays and finds that when he gets angry he morphs into a huge green-skinned mutant with incredible strength. There was a TV series made in the 1980s and a catchphrase of Bruce Banner’s, played by Bill Bixby was, ‘you won’t like me when I’m angry!’

In the 2003 film Erica Bana plays Banner and the Hulk is a creation of computer technology. I wasn’t crazy about the film, in fact the computer imaging looked more like a cartoon than CGI effects. The Hulk franchise was rebooted again in 2008 as The Incredible Hulk, this time Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner. In this film Banner is on the run from the American miliary and trying to cure himself of the effects of the gamma rays that transform him into the Hulk. The military however, want to use the gamma ray effect to create a ‘super soldier’ so they are intent on tracking Banner down. The film connected with the comics I used to read much more than some other superhero films and I enjoyed the film very much. The CGI effects were a big improvement on the earlier Hulk film too.

Spiderman.

One of my absolute comic book superhero favourites was Spiderman. The great thing about the 60s comic book version was that it wasn’t all about Spiderman. A lot of the appeal of Spiderman was the story of Peter Parker, the nerdy student who has a crush on red head Mary Jane Watson.

Peter gets bitten by a radioactive spider which gives him incredible spider powers: strength, agility and in the comics Peter develops this incredible synthetic web which he can shoot from his wrist, spin a web and swing from skyscraper to skyscraper across New York City. In 2002 the amazing Spiderman hit the big screen in a film directed by Sam Raimi and starring Toby McGuire as Spiderman. James Franco appeared as Peter’s fellow student but had I been casting the film, I think I might have been tempted to have Franco play Peter Parker. I thought that perhaps Toby McGuire was a little too wimpy!

Oh well, maybe I should stick to the comic books or even the old TV cartoon series. I did love that theme song . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Comics, and how they Kick Started a Writers Imagination!

When I was a school kid one of my passions was comics. And I mean comics of all shapes and sizes. The crazy thing is that now, whenever I look round a newsagent’s or supermarket, one thing you just don’t see are comics. Maybe the younger generation are too ‘adult’ these days for comics, or maybe they just appealed to my generation. Perhaps comics are just a casualty of the electronic internet age. Who knows?

image courtesy wikipedia

image courtesy wikipedia

One of the earliest comics I remember reading is one I used to prise off my Dad despite his protests that he wasn’t interested in comics. The Hotspur. It was a great comic, although a little old-fashioned even then. Another similar comic was the Valiant. Now the Valiant had some great stories. Captain Hurricane, who was usually the front page feature: A World War II Royal marine who had a habit of flying into what might be termed today a ‘wobbler’ but in the comic they called a ‘ragin’ fury’. Kelly’s Eye was another favourite, about a man who had an ancient charm he wore around his neck called the ‘Eye of Zoltec’ that protected him from harm. Then there was ‘The Steel Claw’ about a scientist who had a false hand which when connected to an electric current rendered him invisible.

Remember the Tiger? I used to buy that for a strip called ‘Skid Solo’ about a formula one racing driver and his team.

In the late sixties and early seventies I was fascinated by Gerry Anderson’s sci fi children’s series and a comic soon appeared called TV21 which featured Anderson’s series in comic form. What I loved about TV21 was that the front page was in a kind of newspaper format with a headline and associated stories, even sometimes with a stop press that all related to comic strips within the comic. For instance: Stop press. WASP submarine Stingray reported missing in the Atlantic. When you turned to the Stingray page, there was the full story.

image courtesy flickr

image courtesy flickr

I used to buy American comics too. DC comics like Superman and Batman and the Marvel comics featuring Spiderman and The Fantastic Four. My favourites were the older DC comics and you used to be able to get an 80 page ‘Giant’ featuring something like the origin of Batman. (All super heroes had their ‘origin’ edition.) In the case of Batman I loved the older 1940’s gothic versions of Batman with his 1940’s style Batmobile. It’s great to see the latest movie versions of these fantasy comic strips but they don’t always live up to their comic predecessors.

Comics instilled in me a love of stories and lit the fuse that burned inside me and made me want to be a writer. Just to finish this blog here’s one final comic confession: Many years ago my Mum had a part time job as a cleaning lady at a big posh house in Gatley. The family which lived there included two young girls who read a girl’s comic called  Bunty. I hate to admit it but my Mum used to bring home a pile of old Buntys every month or so and I used to put them in chronological order and sit down and read them! I really did love my comics!


If you liked this post, why not try my novel, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.