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Topic: Why Did The Batman Serials Give Us Generic Villains? Post ReplyPost New Topic
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 12 November 2018 at 9:30am | IP Logged | 1 post reply

I have seen the BATMAN serials (1943 and 1949). As a kid, I enjoyed them back when Channel 4 aired them in the 80s. Well, to a certain extent.

Even as a kid, I could tell the budgets were low - if I remember rightly, there weren't any Batmobiles - and I sort of forgave that. I did enjoy the cliffhangers and action. Plus, I was happy to see live-action Batman, although my first experience of that was the Adam West series.

But is there a reason they went for generic villains (a hooded villain, The Wizard, and a racist stereotype, Dr Daka)?

Could the budget really not have stretched to Riddler, Joker or Penguin? Might have improved the serials slightly to see one of those.

Also worth mentioning is this: as a kid, there was no IMDb or Google. You only learnt about shows either by writing to a publication such as TV TIMES, who did often reply to readers' queries, or waiting until a book was published. When I first saw these serials on Channel 4, I did wonder if there might be others. I was wondering if they'd made others. Obviously, they hadn't.

Around 1989/90, I did read a magazine which focused on these serials and 1979's LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES. It was insightful, but did make me wish DC had been better served. Be careful what you wish for, I did buy a copy of LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES (NTSC version, not sure if UK ever released it). I was looking forward to seeing live-action versions of Hawkman, Green Lantern, Solomon Grundy, etc. It was quite bad, to be honest.

So, thoughts on the 40s serials are welcome, but I can expand this topic further, too. I know this wasn't unique to WB/DC, but thinking about the 40s serials, LEGENDS OF THE SUPERHEROES and so much else, it sure must have been frustrating for some to be enjoying comics but seeing pretty poor or underwhelming representations on the small screen.

And while I know the 1960s BATMAN series casts a long shadow - I'm fed up of seeing "Holy!" headlines in tabloids - it at least gave me a colourful depiction of Batman, plenty of villains who appeared akin to the comic versions, plus fun even though the series has its detractors.


Edited by Robbie Parry on 12 November 2018 at 9:34am
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Eric Sofer
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Posted: 12 November 2018 at 10:14am | IP Logged | 2 post reply

"Legends of the Superheroes" probably included both "Challenge of the Superheroes", and - oy vey - "Roast of the Superheroes." Not very good is a compliment. Most of the super powers were shown as: pose, green screen off the screen, wow that was cool. Captain Marvel did get to do the strapped to the vehicle flying bit, but... yeah, you can do better than this. Its biggest claim to fame was a return to Batman and Robin for Adam West and Burt Ward... as cheesy as possible.

As for the serials... this is just supposition, but obviously, the rights for Batman, Robin, and Alfred were granted. The producers might have wanted to make their own generic villains, in case they were a big hit. (Remember, those Batman stories didn't have a lot of memorable villains either.) 

Just as you say, "frugal" was the watchword in producing these. I can't help but think using the Joker or the Cat would have incurred costs that were easily avoidable.


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Christopher Frost
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Posted: 12 November 2018 at 8:10pm | IP Logged | 3 post reply

Most serials were made on a shoestring budget so generic bad guys were the easy way out.
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Brian Hague
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Posted: 12 November 2018 at 11:07pm | IP Logged | 4 post reply

Another factor might have been that Batman and Robin alone were fantastical enough. Standard-issue bad guys weren't hurting the attendance of any of the other serials. Why go over the top with fantastic villains as well as fantastic heroes? 

This was also the era wherein super-soldier Captain America who fought such bizarre characters as the Red Skull and the Black Talon was shown onscreen as a crusading district attorney armed with a pistol. 

Including all of the ephemera from a given comic book series may have been seen as too much of a good thing. Studios seemed to think it best not to overwhelm the audience with implausibilities.

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Brian Hague
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Posted: 12 November 2018 at 11:27pm | IP Logged | 5 post reply

LEGENDS OF THE SUPER-HEROES as its known on DVD today (It was "CHALLENGE OF..." and "ROAST OF..." when originally shown on TV, back to back on the same night.) was from the era when any damn fool idea one could come up with could make it on TV as a comedy/variety show.

The programs were designed to appeal to the kiddies while openly mocking the properties for the amusement of the adults. They are just about completely unwatchable. "Ghetto Man" and "Retired Man" (formerly the Scarlet Cyclone) are, believe it or not, not the worst things in shows that feature a tap-danced Mordru the Merciless singing about how he loves being evil and Charlie Callis as a mugging, joke-telling Sinestro. Be afraid. Be very afraid...


One note of interest concerning the programs is that they apparently tried to realize some of Alex Toth's original designs for the characters from the Super Friends. The results are... weird. Toth also did the art for the casting notice that appeared in Variety. Black Canary actress Danuta apparently went on to appear regularly on The 700 Club. 



Edited by Brian Hague on 12 November 2018 at 11:28pm
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 13 November 2018 at 4:49am | IP Logged | 6 post reply

Thanks for the comments and information, guys. Appreciate the info and background, Brian.

Yes, as a kid, seeing photos of live-action versions of Hawkman and Solomon Grundy was particularly exciting. And that's all one knew without the benefit of IMDb or Google.

I remember writing to a magazine (may have been Starburst) asking if there was a chance of a VHS release. I eventually found an NTSC copy at a comic convention.

And, my goodness, I was so disappointed. It had become a life's work tracking it down.

"The Challenge" had a modicum of entertainment, I guess, with the whole bomb thing, but even through naive, younger eyes, I didn't like the mocking. 

"The Roast" is, well, there's no modicum of enjoyment there. Terrible. I'd rather drink a pint of suntan lotion than ever watch that again.

The few photos I saw once had me thinking I'd be finding a superhero series akin to BATMAN or WONDER WOMAN. It could have been something different.
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Jack Bohn
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Posted: 13 November 2018 at 9:41am | IP Logged | 7 post reply

Somewhere I was reading about serials, the writer proposed the idea that a serial could have an interesting hero, or an interesting villain, but rarely both. "The Mysterious Dr. Satan" and "The Phantom Creeps" illustrate the extreme, being named after their villain. (One exception would be "Flash Gordon" with both Flash and Ming, but that's also a rare case of being so closely adapted from its source. My DVD case said the first year of the strip, which sounded like a lot to me, until I remembered it was a Sunday comic, and that would be four pages per episode, which then sounded sparse, but the Sunday pages were pages, you can read four pages and see them directly translated to a screen installment for quite a number of episodes. There is a bit of a hiccup where the plot calls for a marching army of Lionmen, but it still follows the story printed.)

Sometimes I wonder how much these comics heroes in serials are just a "skin" over a standard thief or spy runaround. TCM is running "Mandrake the Magician" in a Saturday matinee, and so far his magic act has been just a sideline to him protecting his friend the scientist and the invention of artificial radium. One plot point has revolved around his showbiz connections. (And it has the most inept cliffhanger setup; so much so that I wonder if it was added in the '60s or '70s. After our heroes are put in jeopardy for the end, clips from the next episode are shown with them running around, and an announcer describes the menaces they will face next, and asks if they can survive that!)
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Daniel Gillotte
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Posted: 13 November 2018 at 10:25am | IP Logged | 8 post reply

Kids in the 70s and 80s wee starved for superhero action outside of comics. There were barely any decent superheroics in cartoons even, that's why GI Joe and Transformers were popular, in part I think, they were the closest stand-ins for comics we had.

I think that's why any of us have any nostalgia for the execrable output of live shows that we had. It was ALL we had! Ha, such a difference now where there are so many superhero tv shows I don'rt have time for them all, even the ones I actually even wanna watch.
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John Byrne
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Posted: 13 November 2018 at 12:17pm | IP Logged | 9 post reply

Perhaps the saddest part of the “Challenge” and “Roast” is that they made a small effort to do accurate versions of the costumes. Badly, but at least they tried. (Poke in the eye with a DULL stick!)
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Doug Centers
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Posted: 13 November 2018 at 1:20pm | IP Logged | 10 post reply

"... Badly, but at least they tried."

...

Right! No matter how "bad" the whole project was ,(I think this is where cringe worthy originated) nobody had the arrogance to think their design was better than decades of the originals.
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Robbie Parry
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Posted: 14 November 2018 at 9:59am | IP Logged | 11 post reply

Having watched the likes of Cathy Lee Crosby's WONDER WOMAN and the like, I was pleased when I first saw imagery for this - for the reasons given by you both.
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