Every Tuesday night on ABC and Wednesday night on the CW, viewers can experience new superhero adventures “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” and “Arrow.” However, these shows wouldn’t be possible if superheroes had never been created. Before 1938, there wasn’t a DC or Marvel Comics industry. The way Americans got their adventures was through the dailies or, if they could afford it, through a radio. It wasn’t until 1938 when two boys from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, would change pop culture forever with their character, Superman.
Many people know the origin of the Man of Steel: being sent to Earth by his parents from a destroyed planet called Krypton and raised by a middle-class couple called the Kents. He adopts a secret identity as Clark Kent, “a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper,” and fights for truth, justice and the American way. Within two years, Siegel and Shuster’s creation would be given daily and weekly strips, a cartoon series from Fleischer Studios, and a radio show, which could be heard on WGR in Buffalo at the time. The Superman radio show stayed true to the comic books, introducing Perry White, the editor of the Daily Planet and the one element that strips Superman of his powers: kryptonite.
Then, in 1948, the Man of Steel gained more popularity after Colombia Pictures made a movie serial starring Kirk Alyn in the title role, Noel Neill as Lois Lane and Tommy Bond as Jimmy Olsen. Movie serials were very popular at the time as television was in its infancy. In the Superman serial, the flight sequences were animated due to the film’s low budget. Two years later, Alyn reprised the role in “Atom Man vs. Superman,” where he faced his most famous enemy, Lex Luthor, portrayed by Lyle Talbot. In 1951, the radio show ended, and the Man of Steel flew over to television with George Reeves taking the role. Jack Larson played Olsen and Neil reprised her role from the serials. The show was on the air for six seasons, and made Reeves and Superman American icons.
DC’s other popular character, Batman, also made his way through the various media outlets since his debut in 1939. Batman was created by a young New Yorker named Bob Kane. The Caped Crusader begins with a young Bruce Wayne witnessing the murders of his parents and he dedicates his life to getting rid of crime in Gotham City. The early strips were too dark for some readers, so Kane and his co-writer, Bill Finger, created Robin, the Boy Wonder. Dick Grayson was an acrobat with his family when his parents were killed in a circus accident. Bruce takes the young boy under his wing, and the Dynamic Duo was born.
They first appeared in movie theaters in 1943 when Colombia made the serial, “Batman,” starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft as the duo, fighting Dr. Daka (J. Carrol Naish) and the “House of the Rising Sun.” The serial marks the first appearance of the Bat Cave as well. A sequel, “Batman and Robin,” was made in 1949. The 1943 serial would be rereleased in 1965 and would inspire the 1966 TV show.
ABC had been planning on developing a series based on a superhero for prime time, and turned the project over to William Dozier. After reading a few Batman comics, however, Dozier realized the only way to make a show about the Caped Crusader was as an action comedy. Adam West and Burt Ward were named as the Dynamic Duo, and made the show successful. West was able to turn a ridiculous situation into a gruesome one with his tone, and Ward always exclaimed, “Holy (insert phrase here) Batman!” Many celebrities made appearances as well, most notably, Cesar Romero (Joker), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Frank Gorshin (Riddler) and Julie Newmar (Catwoman). The show was a smash hit, and a film based on the show would be made in the summer of 1967. Ratings started to decline and even Yvonne Craig as Batgirl couldn’t prevent the show’s cancellation in 1968. In 1979, West, Ward and Gorshin would reprise their roles in NBC’s two “Legends of the Superheroes” specials, but there hasn’t been a live action show about the Dynamic Duo ever since.
After the Batman show was canceled, superheroes were off prime time until 1975 when ABC created “Wonder Woman,” another DC Comics character. The show was canceled in 1979, but it turned Lynda Carter into a star.
Marvel Comics would finally get in on the action in 1978, when CBS aired “The Incredible Hulk,” starring Bill Bixby as Doctor David (not Bruce as he was named in the comics) Banner, and former bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. The show would air for five seasons, but from 1988 to 1990, TV movies were made with Bixby and Ferrigno in their roles.
Throughout the ’90s, superheroes made appearances (most notably Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher in “Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”), but it wasn’t until 2001 when “Smallville,” a superhero show designed for teenagers, aired on the WB network. “Smallville” starred Tom Welling as Clark Kent, and told the story of Superman before he put on the tights. Kirstin Kreuk portrayed Lana Lang for the first seven seasons as Clark’s love interest before Erica Durance took over as Lois Lane. Michael Rosenbaum played a young Lex Luthor, as he changed from Clark’s best friend to his mortal enemy. Alison Mack would play Chloe Sullivan, Clark’s friend, who was created just for the show. The creators of the show, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, used many elements from the comics into the show, which lasted for 10 seasons.
The CW is now the home of one of the most action-packed shows on prime time, “Arrow.” Based on DC’s character, Green Arrow, the show follows the story of billionaire Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), who is involved in a shipwreck and is stranded on an island for five years. During those five years, Queen learns how to defend himself. When he returns to Starling City, Queen takes to the streets at night as a vigilante and murders the wealthy businessmen and petty criminals, who, as he says in his low tone, “have failed this city.” Oliver also tries to make amends with his former flame, Laurel Lance (Katie Cassidy), and her father, Quentin (Paul Blackthorne), who both blame him for the death of their sister/daughter Sara (who returns from the dead in Season Two). Oliver then makes his network of friends from those who work for him, especially John Diggle (David Ramsey), who is his bodyguard, and Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards). Many other characters from DC Comics have appeared on the show, including Roy Harper (Colton Haynes), who is Green Arrow’s sidekick in the comics, and the Huntress. Last season’s finale showed Malcolm Merlyn (John Barrowman), the main villain, “die” at the hands of Oliver, but he too returns from the dead in Season Two. This season’s villain is Brother Blood, also known as Alderman Sebastian Blood (Kevin Alejandro.) This show has nonstop action with plot twists every second and will keep you on the edge of your seat.
The other new superhero show on prime time, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” is based on Marvel’s government-funded secret agency, and revolves around Agent Phil Coulson, portrayed by Clark Gregg, reprising his role from “The Avengers” movie. If you watched “The Avengers,” Coulson was murdered by Loki, Thor’s brother, but he has returned from the dead after being revived by medical technicians. Since his return, Coulson forms a small team of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents. The group investigates new and strange cases every week. The one flaw this show has is there haven’t been any actual superheroes in any of the episodes. Director Joss Wheldon has said that the Marvel films will tie in with the show at various times.
So if you’re a true comic book fan or just looking for a couple of good shows to watch, I recommend “Arrow” and “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”
Joseph Kraus is a sophomore at North Tonawanda High School.