The First Superheroes: Should They Be Rebooted?

Superhero movies are currently the most popular movie genre right now, and in recent years there’s been an explosion of superhero television. Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man have always been popular, but over the past decade more obscure characters like Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, and Aquaman have become household names. Hollywood is notorious for chasing a trend, and everyone is looking for their own superhero property. History seems to repeat itself.

After from batman success in 1989, Hollywood saw a boom in superhero projects, but instead of adapting popular DC and Marvel superheroes, studios focused more on the dough heroes of the 30s and 40s with movies like Dick Tracey, The ghost, and The shadow. These characters were certainly iconic in some ways, but they didn’t really have fans in the traditional sense. They had no regularly released comics or shows that the kids knew about; on the contrary, they had not been popular since the days of radio soap operas before television.

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Even in the 2000s, after the rise of the superhero genre, pulpy characters like The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger made their way to the big screen, but even with star power and top directors, both films underperformed and failed to capture audience interest. , becoming big bombs at the box office. Still, many of the iconic pulp heroes who have inspired various superheroes seem to be stuck in development hell, or no studio is interested in them at all.

While the superhero genre continues to dominate, and various characters from the pages of Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image Comics are based on movies and TV series, the classic pulp heroes that served as the basis to the genre of superheroes still have a place in the modern world? Does Hollywood have plans for them, and if they do, will the public even care? These are some of the earliest pulp heroes and if they have a place in the modern world.


Buck Rogers


Buck Rogers fires a laser gun next to a woman
Whitman/Universal Publishing Company

Originating in creator Philip Francis Nowlan’s newspaper comic strips in 1929, Buck Rogers is one of the most influential characters in science fiction, but despite his initial popularity, the character fell into mainstream oblivion and is now better known as a touchstone of pop culture without the mainstream. public knows a lot about him.

Due to complicated rights issues, two different Buck Rogers projects are in development, or just one hell of a development, as some believe they won’t be happening anytime soon. One is from Legendary Entertainment, a TV reboot that George Clooney is set to produce and eventually star in; the other is a Skydance Pictures film, but no further details were given about it. Whichever hits the screen first, there’s always going to be an audience for sci-fi, and the real trick to making this franchise work is figuring out how it might stand out from the material it inspired.

Flash Gordon


Flash Gordon has a large sword to protect a woman in the 1980 film
Universal images

Created in response to the success of Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon was created by Alex Raymond in January 1934. The character starred in several soap operas in the 1930s and 1940s, and even served as an inspiration to young George Lucas when he was creating star wars. Flash Gordon’s most notable fame in the modern era is the 1980 film starring Sam Jones, famous for his band Queen soundtrack.

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After a failed attempt to revive the franchise as a Syfy Channel series in 2006, Flash Gordon dormant for years. Matthew Vaughn and Julius Avery were attached to directing a live-action remake, before Thor: Ragnarok Filmmaker Taikia Waititi has signed on to direct an animated version for Disney/Fox before the film is reworked as a live-action movie with Waititi’s script still in development. The 80s movie Flash Gordon was a great inspiration for Waititi to Thor: Ragnarok, so he seems like the right person for the material (even though he has about a dozen different projects going on simultaneously as one of Hollywood’s hottest directors and writers), but one has to wonder what that Disney/Fox sees in ownership that they don’t already give with their various other franchises.


the spider


The Spider with his red guns and his black cape
IDW Comics

the spider was created in 1933 by Harry Steeger to rival the character The Shadow. The initial story was about millionaire playboy Richard Wentworth, who had served as a major in World War I and lived in New York, spared the financial downfall of the Great Depression, dressing in a black trench coat and a hat with a mask containing a spider on it. The character has appeared in a few film series but hasn’t been featured much in recent years, outside of IDW comics where the character’s story was retconned and eventually crossed over with other pulp heroes like The Green Hornet and Kato, a modern-day Zorro and The Shadow.

The biggest thing working against the character being revived is how closely the crime-fighter Spider is now associated with Spider-Man, and the spider would seem to be a derivative of him and The Green Hornet for a modern audience. . However, an atmospheric noir story following the character would make for a solid streaming series for companies that need more streaming hardware, like Paramount+ or Apple TV. It might even retain its period setting during the Great Depression and be sneaky about class consciousness.


Nyctalope


Nyctalope wears his special glasses and holds a gun
Hollywood comics

Predating both Batman and Superman by three whole decades, Nyctalope originated in the 1911 novel The Mystery of the XVs (later translated as Nyctalope on Mars) by French author Jean de la Hire. The Nyctalope has an artificial heart and other organs, which give him enhanced powers and senses, the most notable being his enhanced eyes, giving him excellent night vision (contrary to his name, which stems from nyctalopia or night blindness). He is both a precursor to the superhero concept, but could also be considered the first cyborg in fiction.

Although appearing in over 20 novels, the character has never appeared in film or television, and although the character’s origin might seem a bit too similar to The Six Million Dollar Man, there is still a lot of potential for the property. Either as a feature film series for a studio like Paramount, Amazon, or even Apple, who don’t have a major comic book company to tap into for their own superhero movie. The darkness of the character also lends a level of flexibility with plenty to play with, as a filmmaker could do a more traditional blockbuster or even a more introspective atmospheric character study to keep the budget down.


The shadow


Alec Baldwin with two pistols disguised as The Shadow in blue light
Universal images

Originating in radio serials in 1931, The shadow is one of the most iconic pulp heroes of all time. He’s been featured in a number of comic books, TV series and film adaptations, with the character getting a big-budget movie in 1994 with Alec Baldwin following the success of the first. Batman movies. The film was a disappointment, and since then there has been no real movie or TV series project focusing on the character. The closest came in 2006 with director Sam Raimi (Spider Man), and there were even rumors that Quentin Tarantino was set to direct a remake, but in 2012 Raimi said the project would not move forward, and no major studio has considered The Shadow since then.

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The Shadow has a lot in common with many detective and pulp heroes, so while it might not be blockbuster material, the character could lend itself to a weekly episodic series or high-profile streaming series. , in the vein of how HBO reimagined Perry Mason. The Batman starring Robert Pattinson also showed that audiences are in the mood for a dark, atmospheric detective story, so a version of The Shadows that opts for style and atmosphere instead of spectacle might work well.


Doc Savage


Doc Savage with a ripped shirt and a bunch of muscles in front of a mountain
Street & Blacksmith

Credited by Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee as the precursor to the modern idea of ​​superheroes, Doc Savage was created in 1933 and is a scientist, a doctor, an adventurer and a detective who has lived incredible adventures to punish evil. The character is an icon of the pulp novel era and has been featured in a number of comic books and radio dramas. Attempts to get a modern Doc Savage feature off the ground have been underway since 1999, with various high-profile talents like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sam Raimi attached at various times.

Director Shane Black (iron man 3) and star Dwayne Johnson were set to collaborate on a Doc Savage feature film, but the project ran into problems in 2018. Then in 2020, it was announced that the project would be reworked into a television series, but no news was forthcoming. made since. Doc Savage is a classic type of hero, a man of adventure similar to the iconic Indiana Jones character (whom he probably helped inspire); after the box office success of The Jungle CruiseDoc Savage could be the next big adventure franchise Hollywood is looking for.


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