Comic Book Heroes

Superheroes are sexy again. Thanks to the success of the "X-Men", Hollywood is rushing a slew of action films based on comic-book heroes into production. Columbia has announced Tobey Maguire as their "Spider-Man", and slated production for November. Rapper 'DMX' will take over the mantle of "The Crow" early next year, and sequels have been scheduled for other comics-derived films; "Blade" and "Spawn". But superheroes with a cool cachet on both the big and small screen are a relatively new phenomenon.

One of the main problems for film makers and television producers is staying faithful to the comic book. In the past this has usually meant slavish attention to costume details that scream comedy. In the sixties TV makers cashed in on the caped crusader with Adam West in the kitsch "Batman" series. The seventies saw Lynda Carter achieve iconic status as "Wonder Woman", "fighting for our rights in her satin tights", and Spider-Man's seventies incarnation, with actor Nicholas Hammond from "The Sound of Music" in the lead, lacked street cred.

The first Superman movie, however, proved that a strong script and credible acting could overlook the fact that Christopher Reeve was wearing his underpants over his tights. The same approach reaped rewards for the first sequel, but the subsequent movies went down the slippery slope of self-parody. In 1989 Tim Burton re-invented "Batman" with Michael Keaton donning the cape and cowl. However the studios felt they needed to add a bit of colour to "Batman & Robin" and placed Joel Schumacher at the helm. Their attempts misfired.

The CBS television series "The Incredible Hulk" realised early on that the best approach was to retain the essence of comic book while making the show a piece of entertainment in its own right. They concentrated on the plight of scientist David Bruce Banner (renamed from Bruce in the original comics), played with conviction by Bill Bixby, as he went on the run trying to find a cure for his alter-ego-inducing Gamma Radiation experiment. "The Fugitive" slant ensured a long running series, and gave birth to that immortal line: "Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." There are whispers that Universal will bring the avocado hero to the big screen.