Shoddy Guide to Batman and Superman
Batman and Superman. One of our all time greatest bromances, and yet in their most recent cinematic offering (Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice) they appear to be fucking each other’s shit up. This seems like an odd turn of events, gentle readers, but not to worry as all will become clear (maybe) in our next Super-Guide installment:
While researching this guide, it soon became apparent that there were too many juicy backstories for a single post (wait until you hear about that nutty shitbag Marlon Brando), and so I’ve decided to cut the article into thirds to make it easier on everybody’s eyeballs. In this first post we will concern ourselves with the earliest of the three eras (1940 – 1969).
But before we launch into the celluloid adventures of these two iconic characters we’re going to look back at their history in print. By that, I mean we’re going to breeze over eight decades of Comic Books in a handful of flippant sentences – such is the way of the shoddy blog. Let’s start with the Boy-Scout himself:
Created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938, Superman draws his inspirations from a number of Pulp Science Fiction icons. The main influence was Edgar Rice Burroush’s John Carter of Mars, a human who finds himself on the titular planet, where he is stronger and more agile due to the lower gravity. Another major inspiration was the stories of Doc Savage, an adventurer trained by scientists to have a mind and body with near-superhuman abilities.
Superman kicks off in Action Comics No. 1, which is also the first time we meet Lois Lane. Supes is a bit weaker in this earlier iteration, he can only jump high (not fly), can only run as fast as a train, and can lift cars and that’s about it. Piss weak, I could take him.
The Comic books are influenced by the radio plays and comic strips of the time – his ability to fly came from the radio plays, as did Jimmy Olsen. When the actor voicing Superman needed time off, they invented Kryptonite to explain his absence. Bald headed cunt-rat Lex Luthor appears in this decade too.
We see Supes’ first love Lana Lang appear, and Super- Pricks Brainiac and Bizarro roll into town (who will continue to fuck Superman’s shit up to this day).
We learn this decade that Superman gets his powers from the sun, and not from eating orphans as no doubt somebody must have thought (no, just me ?). Zod and the Phantom Zone enter the cannon. We find out that Lex and Clarke Kent were buddies in their youth in Smallville (Yowzer).
The Christopher Reeves Superman film appears on the screens, bringing changes to the character that remain permanent from now on (the big S is actually a Kryptonian symbol, Lois Lane names Superman, Martha Kent is still alive). Superman fights Spiderman in a special (as in kinda retarded) crossover comic.
DC reboots their entire line with a series titled Crisis on Infinite Earths. Superman’s story is retconned and various details changed (he was now born on Earth having been sent here as a foetus). His powers have also been toned down from his silver age peak, so no more juggling planets and daffy shit like that. Lex Luthor is no longer a mad scientist, but a villainous Real Estate Tycoon – kinda like Donald Trump but not as evil. Oh Snap! Check out my political humour bitch!
Clark Kent revealed his secret identity to Lois Lane this decade (only took him half a fucking century) and they get married. The happiness is short lived, as Superman is murdered by a creature named Doomsday. There were massive comic book events leading up to the fight, the funeral, and the aftermath – and this malarkey played a significant role in the Comic Book Crash that decimated the industry (see the Deadpool article for more details). When the dust settled, there were FOUR different characters claiming to be Superman. Check out these assholes:
But not to worry, as the original Superman eventually returned (after a brief stint as a being of pure electricity. Fucking 90s, hey?).
DC reboots their line a second time, this time naming it New 52. Most of Superman’s history is erased, and he is now younger than traditionally portrayed. But hey, he gets to goose Wonder Woman this decade as well!
And now for the Caped Crusader…
Influences? Now check out this mad shit right here:
In 1837 England produced the urban legend of Spring Heeled Jack, a wing devil who terrorized women. He evolved into an anti-hero in the late 1800s, and developed into the hero of a popular serial in 1904. By this point he had become a British Lieutenant, who would become a bat-winged vigilante by night and has an underground hideout where he create gadgets that help him in his fight against corrupt politicians. Jack would carve an S with his rapier whenever he completed a mission.
Spring Heel Jack was a major influence on Zorro, the Californian nobleman that would don a costume at night to terrorize criminals. His first appearance was in the pulp magazine All-Story Weekly in 1919.
Zorro was the biggest influence on our boy Batman – The Mask of Zorro is the film playing at the Gotham’s Park Row cinema when Bruce Wayne’s parents are killed (in most of the versions of his origin). Batman made his first appearance in Detective Comics Number 27 in May 1939.
Inspired by the popularity of Batman, Spring-Heeled Jack was used as a vigilante super hero in the UK comic Hotspur in the late 1970s. So Spring Heeled Jack influenced Zorro, who influenced Batman, who influenced Spring Heel Jack.
Batman enters the public conscience in the 27th issue of Detective Comics. He starts his crime-fighting days as a vigilante and enemy of the police. We are introduced to an embittered Bruce Wayne, and he even kills a few fuckers.
This is the decade in which the real world-building kicked off. Gotham City is defined, we meet Alfred the butler, and are also introduced to the Bat-Mobile, Bat-Signal and Bat-Cave. DC begins building the greatest Rogue’s Gallery in Comic books with the Joker, Penguin, Scarecrow, Riddler and Catwoman. Dick Grayson arrives as the first Robin, a move meant to “soften” the image of Batman.
In the 50s we got ourselves a Bat-Plane. Icy villain Mr Freeze joins the fray, and the older villains get origin stories. Batwoman rolls in. The modestly titled World’s Finest Comics thrills readers with Batman and Superman team ups.
The Brave and Bold comics introduce the Justice League, though Supes and bats only have cameo appearances in the first stories.
The 70s bring us a darker, grittier Batman…
…but the 70s were just an entrée for the harrowing mindfuck of the 80s. Check out the cover for Batman’s 400th appearance, where our boy is sticking a gun to his fucking head.
This is also the decade in which Dick Grayson left his Robin role to become Nightwing. A new Robin named Jason Todd hit the scene, but the readers didn’t really dig his swagger. DC offered readers the chance to vote on whether the character was killed off. The readers had him executed.
Superman died this decade, but that doesn’t mean Batman got off lightly – Bane broke his back like an impatient anus snapping a large poo in half. Bruce Wayne quits being Batman for a while. SPOILER: He comes back to his Batman duties. Tim Drake rolls in as the third Robin.
Tim Drake’s girlfriend Stephanie Brown becomes the fourth Robin in 2004. Batman’s son(!) Damien becomes the fifth Robin in 2009.
Besides that, this is the decade of DC’s major reboot – but most of Batman’s history stays intact.
That brings us up to date with the comics, now for the films. To quote the Joker:
Batman and Superman are such titans of the genre, that they could have easily been awarded their own separate articles. But their movie fates have always been intertwined, the successes and failures of one hero’s films have shaped the succeeding output of the other’s. The stuff that didn’t get made also plays an important role (there was a 19 year gap between Superman films for starters), those films are included in red.
Enough prattling, on with the list.
Superman (serial) 1940
Negotiations failed with Superman publisher National Comics (who would become DC), and so the film was replaced by Mysterious Doctor Satan. What an odd choice to replace Superman. The 1940s were goofy!
Superman (serial) 1941
They tried again to get this bad boy off the ground, advertising it as a 1941 release. National Comics demanded absolute script control which shit the film producers to no end…not that it mattered anyway, the rights to the character were already committed to the Paramount cartoon series. This combination of pitfalls doomed the production.
Batman (serial) 1943
Although Supes first appearance in comic books beat Batman by almost a year, it is the Caped Crusader who first appeared on film (beating Superman to the punch by five years). The Batman serials hit the screens in 1943, trying to get some of that episodic coin that Zorro and the Lone Ranger reeled in during the 30s.
The world was well and truly at war by this point, so Batman was presented as a secret agent fighting for the Government against the “Yellow Peril”. Half the cast were in horrifically racist “yellow face”, the other half of the cast spent their time screaming “A Jap!” when spotting one of the enemy. The productions were rushed, and the whole show was as cheap and nasty as it sounds – particularly the Bait-suit which looked like a baggy pair of pyjamas, complete with ill-fitting eyeholes the hero could barely see through.
It’s crazy to think in the 40’s an athletic man was dressed in a baggy suit. In the modern era, fat fucks hit comic con in suits that are way too tight. Progress!
As awful as this show sounds, it was actually quite successful. It also gave us our most iconic version of Alfred the butler that has lasted until this day (he was a plump little shit in the comics before this), and the serial also invented the Bat Cave.
After two false starts earlier in the decade, a film serial finally gets off the ground (no pun intended, ya know, coz Superman can fly and shit). The 15 chapter serial features Superman’s Krypton backstory, his Kent family upbringing, Perry White, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. For some reason the antagonist is not Lex Luthor (who had been facing off with the Big S in the comic books for about eight years by this point), but some whacko bitch called the Spider Lady.
Each time Superman flew, the footage was replaced with a cartoon effect. The lone stuntman almost broke his leg on the one and only stunt he had to pull off (jumping off a fucking truck). The writer added a joke to the script, at one point instead of shouting out “Up, up and away!” Superman was going to yell the Lone Ranger’s “Hi-Yo Silver!”. This gag didn’t survive into the shooting script, a fact that makes me furious as fuck.
The serial was enormously popular, spawning a sequel we will visit shortly.
Batman and Robin (serial) 1949
Batman comics had been around for a decade by this point, and a sizeable chunk of his delightful rougue’s gallery had been established prior to this serial. So naturally, the film makers decided to not go and tap from that delicious well, and went with a completely new and shitty villain called the Wizard instead. The Wizard was a hooded villain with an electrical device that could control cars, and whatever, fuck him.
Just like the previous Bat-Serial, Batman and Robin featured production values lower than a Slug’s nipples. They learnt no lessons from the previous poorly fitting costumes, so once again Batman can barely see through the fucking eye holes. The actor playing Robin is sporting pink stockings to hide his hairy legs. The Bat-Signal can be clearly seen in the daylight, because WHAT. They recapture the genius of a Bat-Gadget by recreating the miniature blowtorch Batman keeps in his utility belt. Except, they film Batman pulling a full size blowtorch from inside of his normal Leather belt. That just sounds disturbing.
Atom Man vs. Superman 1950
Finally, one of these fucking serials uses an established villain, as Lex Luthor makes his onscreen appearance. Still, these kooky bastards can’t help themselves and have Lex dressed up as Atom Man for most of the serial. Another 15 chapter serial, the cheap fuckers actually rerun Superman’s origin from the previous serial and use that as chapter seven. There’s also a bunch of stock footage (actually from another serial called Avenging Waters), Superman ‘flies’ by standing upright with arms stretched, and the camera rolls onto it’s side (for trickier scenes, they revert to a cartoon again), and would you be surprised if I said the actor playing Lex wore a shitty rubber bald wig?
The good news, is that television killed off these cheap-ass movie serials and I will bother you no longer with them. The bad news? Still plenty of tripe to come.
Superman and the Mole Men 1951
This 58 minute black and white movie was created as a trial run for a new TV show titled “The Adventures of Superman”. The TV show would become a popular long running success. The actual film is wet hot garbage . Shot for 12 days on a studio backlot, and featuring midgets with costumes so fuck-awful you can actually see the zippers, Superman and the Mole Men is one hour of boring piss. People think the Mole Men are evil, Superman proves they are not. That’s it. I can’t even complain about the cheapness of the FX shots, because there aren’t any!
The cheap fucks even went and chopped the film in half to use as two episodes on the TV show.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
This article is mainly concerned with the Cinematic offerings of these heroes (if I listed all of the TV shows we’d be here all fucking day), so I’m glad they pumped out a Batman film in the 60’s and we can give a shout out to Adam West. The 60s Batman show was the kind of television you loved as a kid, thought was complete dogshit as a teen, but then found strangely endearing again as an adult.
This film was created in order to generate more interest in the TV show, which was nearing the end of it’s first season when the movie was released. Adam West asked for more cash as this was a Motion Picture and not a TV episode. The studio told him to go fuck himself, as they could always find another actor to play Batman. West sheepishly retracted his demand.
The film has Batman climb down a ladder from his Batcopter onto a yacht, which disappears and a shark bites him on the leg. Batman sprays it with Shark-repellent, and the shark drops off him. And then the shark explodes. That’s just the opening scene, and already it sounds more entertaining than the previous 15 years of fare. No wonder the film is remembered so fondly.
If you thought the antics involving this early stuff was fucking kooky, wait until we hit the 70s!
Next: Batman and Superman 1978 – 1999