Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"That's All We Had Back Then!"

Karen: During our recent discussion of the Spider-Man TV show and how we watched it even though most of us knew it wasn't that good, our pal David B. remarked, "That's all we had back then!" I know I've made the same comment many a time, particularly when trying to explain to someone younger why I would watch all those crummy Marvel TV movies, or why we never complained about any of the special effects on Star Trek, or Dr. Who. Those shows were all we had. Not like today, when there are a ton of well-made super-hero and sci fi films around. Pre-Star Wars especially, sci fi was a limited commodity, and super heroes even more so. I know I personally watched anything with any super-heroes in it, even those terrible DC specials, Legend of the Superheroes. That's all we had back then!

Karen: I'm very grateful and ecstatic to see so many movies featuring my comic book heroes now, especially when they are done so well, like the recent Marvel films. I never take them for granted, because I went through the rough years -like most of you! Share your thoughts on what it was like as a kid, dying for some super-heroes on TV or film, and what you feel now that they have become common place.


William Preston said...

Age will play a big factor in view of that era. I was old enough to feel always slighted by the TV shows, but also to have no expectations with regards to TV. The shows could never live up to the comics (which often, with some exceptions, could never live up to the hype Marvel created around the idea of the comics and the idea of the Marvel Universe). In Marvel's cathedral, comics were the stained glass; the TV shows were some attempt, outside the cathedral itself, to capture some of the wonder, mere itinerant, wild-eyed preachers in shabby duds; it was obvious they weren't where the real show lay.

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
It was way worse on the other side of the pond. The Spider Man TV show was spliced together as movies here, so you had to pay to see it in the cinema. Some of the movies you guys talk about, I’m sure we never had. We had the camp Batman show, but I don’t remember the Cap movies you talk about, except something with a guy called Matt Salinger.

I also remember those Hulk movies (the ones after NBC bought the franchise from CBS and were trying launch DD & Thor live action series) as being much better than they were. I just couldn’t believe I was seeing Thor on the TV.

So, you think that we have artificially good memories and remember those things not only more fondly than they deserve, but actually remember them as being much better made than they were?

Something that has really changed for me is that when I was little I just wanted TV/movie adaptations to be EXACTLY like the comics and hated any deviation. Now, I’d rather see them do something that works cinematically and syncs well with the on-screen version of the plot than slavishly follows the comic which was written to serve other ends. For example, if they were staying loyal to the comics then the Avengers movie would follow the plot of Avengers #1, including the part where the Hulk disguises himself by joining the circus.

If that is omitted, I, for one, will not be writing outraged letters to Joss Whedon.

Regarding the quality then versus now, my first thought was a line from one of my favourite comedians (please excuse the swearing)...

“I loved Dr Who when it was shit, so imagine how I feel about it now....”


david_b said...


Keen observation on expectations and enjoying our beloved television series. A few comments to add..:

1) A succinct viewpoint/testament as to the care given to paint the fantasy on the small screen..: I believe either Barris or West commented on the 60s Batman movie DVD commentary that in the old days, they didn't have CGI or animation to make the fire come out of the Batmobile, it HAD to be real. There was no other way to do it. There were huge time/money investments on those effects back in the day, but I applaud the creative geniuses who decided it was worth the investment.

2) To me, a great deal of what made Marvel work was Stan's approach to the Marvel story-telling experience, part tongue-in-cheek, part attitude, part majesty with a side-order of human failings. Aside from perhaps the Batman, the 50s Superman series, and perhaps Wonder Woman, this aspect has never been fully realised or conveyed on the small screen, once you sell the concept to the networks, production studios, target groups, sponsors, etc.

And those examples were all DC characters.

'The Tick' wasn't on long enough, but from what I saw there was potential for that there as well.

I was typically disappointed by the live-action outings, and much of the kiddie animated stuff as well from the 70s. Hate to add this for all those critics of the 60s Batman series, but it got it right when it worked well on many levels (at least initially) and not played for cheap laughs (like the 70s Superhero Roast). It's like viewers had the impression they were let in on 'the inside joke'.

In a sense, our heroes were comfortable in being 'Heroes', villains were allowed to be 'Villains'.

Anonymous said...


To respond to your last statement, I remember having this thought after seeing the Tobey Maguire Spiderman movie - "What took 'em so long?"

Speaking strictly about recent Marvel films, we have had debate here about which ones we like better. But I think, overall, these films have done a good job of capturing the essence of the characters I grew up reading about in the Bronze Age and in Silver age reprints.


Doug said...

I'll add that not only was it "all we had back then", but with no means of recording programs it was a one-shot deal -- or you missed it. There were few disappointments in pre-adolescent and adolescent life like getting to school the next day and feeling like you were the only kid in the world who "didn't see it last night??".

I looked forward to every superhero show, live-action or cartoon. And like many have said over the past weeks of Karen's TV tour, there was often disappointment at the lack of alignment to the comics. I think that's why I treasured then, and have come to again, the Batman TV show. It looked like the comics...


david_b said...

Doug, for all the missed expectations from Bronze television events, the prize will always be laid at the altar of the 'Star Wars Christmas Special'.

A rough (and painful) jewel in the crown of King George yet-to-be-besmirched by the King himself, as was his movies.

Yes, fodder for a later column. But you're 100% correct, unless you had a tape-recorder handy, one shot's all you had.

Doug said...

I recall clearing not only my schedule, but the whole family's (even my grandparents, who we were staying with at the time) in the weeks and days ahead of the scheduled airing of "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park". Even as a 12-year old I saw how inanely stupid that show was (the concert parts were still cool), and was almost as disappointed as the adults in the room -- whom I'm sure felt like they'd just lost two hours of their lives they'd never get back!

One-shot, can't-miss, indeed...


PS: I wish I could recall more specifically about Legends of the Super-Heroes or the Star Wars Christmas Special, as I know I watched both of them. Perhaps the purging of my memory is due to a subconscious preservation of self?

Anonymous said...

The good news is that science fiction and comic book adaptations are now common, with good special effects and big budgets. The bad news: those things are now so common that we will probably start to take them for granted, and the thrill will be gone.

Doug said...

Richard said: So, you think that we have artificially good memories and remember those things not only more fondly than they deserve, but actually remember them as being much better made than they were?

Yes. Take our comic book reviews for example. Karen and/or I sometimes denigrate books that we loved as kids -- it's just a different lens that we look through now. And it pains both of us (we discuss this via email, often) when that happens -- we feel almost like we've betrayed ourselves. I think there's a natural tendency to take those treasures of our youths and want to lock them away, forever preserved as we remember them. This is true of all forms of pop culture. Do some things get better with age? Sure! Unfortunately, we evolve in our tastes and perceptions while the past remains static.

And sometimes that's sad.


Anonymous said...

Hi Doug,
You raise a fascinating and insightful point. When you & Karen denigrate a book you loved as kids, you feel like you’re betraying something, but isn’t it interesting that the sense of betrayal you feel is not to the comic, its creators, or even the character, it’s to yourselves? I think you made a much bigger point there than you gave yourself credit for.

To an extent, ten year old Karen and ten year old Doug exist in a bubble and the relationship to that comic is in the bubble with you, preserved in amber. When you re-read the comic and have to acknowledge that it was rubbish, you’re bursting the bubble and betraying the innocent enjoyment that you felt at the time by analysing it through your world-weary, cynical, 45 year old eyes. You’re focussing everything you’ve learnt since on it and in the process destroy the innocence with which you enjoyed it in the first place. But the betrayal you feel is not to the comic, which is actually no better or worse than it ever was, it’s to yourself. We’re back to the glass, darkly.

On some level, all of our insightful, learned, educated intelligence now ain’t worth ten minutes of our 10 year old naivety.

And isn’t it interesting when you re- read as an adult something that held you spellbound when you were a kid and there is nothing to it. It really makes you realise how narrow your horizons were (but in a good way).

In the words of Bob Seger....’wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then’.


Anonymous said...

I only wish the super hero movies today were FUN. After seeing the Batman movies, I felt dazed by dreariness and just thought how I wouldn't want to live in Gotham where the heroes are huge A-holes nearly as bad as the villains. In the Iron Man movies, at least the first one, there was the 2nd one Tony Stark just seemed like a huge A-hole I wouldn't want to hang out with. The problem, I think, is people taking comic book characters which are inherently silly and trying to give them a serious treatment. I find it pointless and a sign that comics fans are still embarrassed by the source material they should be embracing for what it is: good clean goofy fun!

My $.02 anyway.

--Matt alias Anonymoud

Karen said...

Richard, it's really been difficult to go back and read some of these comics that we thought were great, only to discover that they were full of plot holes or silly beyond belief. Each time that happens, it's like a little glass being broken inside. Little memories that are shattered. I also notice that my reactions to this vary. Sometimes I'm annoyed that I could have ever liked something so terrible; other times, I feel sad that something I once enjoyed has been stripped bare and exposed as false. It's almost to the point where I dread reviewing a book I really loved, just in case it turns out to actually be awful. The Kree-Skrull War is a case in point. It's my favorite comic book epic, and it shaped how I look at comics and even story-telling to some degree. So I was very nervous about reiviewing it. Thankfully, for the most part, it held up very well.

But there are times when I feel like Doug and I are running through a big hall filled with childhood memories and joys and just smashing them.


Anonymous said...

Hi Karen,
Poignant and true. I feel the same, although for me, and I’m sure for you, sometimes a happy memory survives the awful truth all by itself.

To give you an example, over here, Marvel comics were not consistently imported and a title on had collected faithfully for months would just suddenly disappear (if you ever see the term ND or Non-D, it means non-distributed, which means that every copy that ever came to UK shores was brought SINGLY by a collector/dealer/individual and consequently they are very rare).

For that reason, when you were really into a story, you spent the entire month (1 month in childhood years = about 3 years in grown up years) on tenterhooks not just waiting to see how the story would turn out, but IF the bloody comic book would even show up. If it didn’t, you might wait years until you could buy it a comic book store (if you lived near a big city).

For some reason, the cliff hanger at the end of MTU #36 (Spidey & the Frankenstein monster) left me gagging for the next instalment (Man Wolf). As you might remember (?), it’s completely non-memorable, but I still cherish that memory of the month that never ended waiting for MTU #37. To use your metaphor, it’s a glass that stayed stubbornly intact.

Regarding Kree / Skrull, that is a great example of another related phenomenon – which is this: with many things, especially movies, finding out the mechanics of how it was made spoils the magic. And sometimes this is true of comics e.g. Captain Marvel only existed to swipe DC’s copyright of the name; team up books and other stories were only written to protect copyright; Buckler, Smith and others drew like Kirby not as a tribute, but because they were compelled to draw in the house style, etc.

Kree/Skrull was also my favourite and only later did I learn the gory details: that Roy launched in with no overall plan or idea, that he was also trying to keep cancelled series like Captain Marvel and the Inhumans alive, Adams wanting to do a Fantastic Voyage parody and Roy saying ‘yeah, OK, chuck that in’, Roy’s various predilections for political satire, social comment, old sci fi movies and the comics of his youth being thrown almost randomly into the mix and Adams being unable to hit the deadlines.

Looked at in retrospect, with all this background knowledge we now have, Kree/Skrull should look like a ridiculous mish mash of ideas and different / unfinished / only vaguely-related stories laid over each other with a weirdly inconclusive ending.

Doesn’t though, does it?

It’s still good to the last drop.
Some stuff was so bloody good in and of itself that the more you know about it, the better it gets, and looking back and realising how dispirit all the elements were, only makes me appreciate it more.


david_b said...


A large reason for my BAB enjoyment is nurturing the joy I had as a youth spending hours reading comics and going nuts over story arcs, characters and such, pure escapism.

I personally feel little if any need to allow maturity to put a dent in that genre; quite the contrary, it makes it even more fun to look at it from the 'what-were-they-thinking?' category.

And tricky, especially when your eBay spending goes up, trying to track down all the cool issues you missed featured here.

In fact, everyone here seems to embrace this spirit in a wonderfully creative, vibrant fashion. Looking at these stories of old help them to live and breathe even today.

Case in point, FF 138 was the FIRST FF issue I saw since the vague memory of the 60s cartoon series.. Now I know most FF fans today would view it as a 'throwaway B-villain story', but back in 1973, it was one of the BEST comics ever, proudly upholding the 'Greatest Comic Magazine' masthead.

J.A. Morris said...

Not only were those movies & shows all we had, we could only see that when they were on tv or in theaters!

Whenever the 1966 Batman movie was on, it was an event for me & my friends. No VHS or DVDs during my childhood, you planted yourself in front of the tv for 2 hours and watched a grainy print on the local UHF station.
And for most of my childhood, I didn't live in a market that carried the Adam West series, so it was movie or nothing.

Anonymous said...

Chin up Karen:

I watched the Batman and Robin meet Green Hornet and Kato episodes on the Hub the last two nights.

Silly nonsense.

Loved every minute of it!


Doug said...

I think there's an interesting demarcation there, Tom, between those things that we accept as light-hearted or even silly and those things we once thought was "art", "great cinema", or even (gasp!) "literature" only to find that after 30-40 years it doesn't hold up.

Batman is certainly a wonderful case study for this notion. I loved the TV show as a child, grew to disdain it as a teen and young adult (as the Dark Knight grew darker) and resented its formative effect on the general public in regard to comic books as simply "bam, pow!" drivel. Now as a middle-ager I'm back to liking it for what it was, with no ill feelings. Hey, if after almost 50 years it is still airing and having an impact on the public consciousness, it must have some merit.

Long story short -- our expectations and/or perceptions of what something was/is are huge in this corner of today's conversation.

I hope I made sense...


starfoxxx said...

Just a weird side-note....
I've been intrigued by the LEGENDS show, since obscure 70s and 80s movies and comic book themes are probably my top "guilty pleasures", along with the grateful dead and other obscure rock and roll stuff.

Anyhoo, the image from LEGENDS also intrigued me, well, mostly Black Canary's ample cleavage. (There; I said it). I found the actress name on wiki---Danuta Rylkos Soderman. Her only credits on IMDB are for the 700 CLUB (?!?!). There must be some weird story there.

Doug said...

Oh, boy -- Starfoxxx,you are hereby deputized by the BAB to find out more! I simply must know more!

You're right... that must be some story.


Karen said...

I wasn't trying to be all gloom and doom. Certainly there are a number of comics we've reviewed that we had a lot of fun re-reading. But there are those (just like films or TV shows) where you go back and say,"Why was I excited about this?"

But as a kid, I would often read a comic three or four times before the next issue came out. And I was anxious for that next issue. It was a magical time, and of course, to a large extent, we're trying to recapture those feelings again. But it's not possible. I can enjoy things but it's on a different level, which is as it should be.

Regarding the DC Legends of the Super-Heroes shows: I knew at the time that they were pretty awful, yet I couldn't not watch them. There they were, living and breathing, the Justice League. It was hokey and cheap but still...

Actually Hawkman looked pretty good!

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how comics and SF in mass entertainment are just a part of peoples lives these days. It's probably analogous to westerns in my parents childhoods. I still remember following excessively cheesy SF shows like The Six Million Dollar Man or The Fantastic Journey (maybe the worst), because there was so little to choose from pre-Star Wars. But you try and tell kids today about walking five feet in the snow to adjust the TV antenna...

I dated a woman 18 years my junior for a little while, and she grew up reading comics and watching SF, all the time. And so did all her friends. Her generation missed the "one comic fan per school to ostracize" experience that I grew up with. Frankly, I'm glad she did. I love the stuff I grew up reading in the Bronze Age, but I don't miss the feeling of isolation in the 70's.

As far as the occasional narrative shortcomings to be found in some of our favorite comics from the 70's: I find they don't bother me much. They are what they are, and I still love them. Sometimes I'll even read a caption from JLA out of context to my wife the psychotherapist out loud. I always get a laugh from her, but it's not a derisive laugh. She see's the comics of my youth as an important factor to later creativity. So there, Lighthouse School!

Our two year old son is fascinated by the cover of Avengers Masterworks Vol. 1 laying on my end-table. He really likes Iron Man.

Jame Chatterton

Inkstained Wretch said...

It's always a little treacherous to revisit those things. Like Karen said, you don't want to ruin cherished memories by finding out that things weren't exactly as you remember them.

Having said that, I've generaly had fun revisiting these old shows. Partly it is that I recognized that a lot of it was pretty bad at the time but was just thrilled to get my superhero fix however I could.

Memory does cheat a little bit. I bought a DVD of the Super Friends a few years ago and learned that the animation was even worse than I remembered. But was all still fun.

I used to watch the Lynda Carter Wonder Woman show with my older sister each week. It was one of the few shows we could agree on and we kind of made an event out of it, matching a big batch of popcorn to enjoy that night's episode. Even at the time I thought that Carter did not much look like a fierce Amazon warrior, but, hey, she was still battling evil and the theme song was cool.

Still can't stand the Adam West Batman show though. I know that puts me in a majority here. So be it.

Fred W. Hill said...

Aside from the '60s Batman show, I just didn't get all that exceited about any of the live-action tv comcis shows. My family did watch Wonder Woman regularly, but then we also watched the Six-Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman and WW wasn't all that different from those shows. Plus, well, it was just fun watching for Lynda Carter alone, as I'm sure my dad would have agreed! Otherwise, the shows all struck me like many of the Silver Age DC comics which bored me because the characters too often had cardboard personalities and there was no development, nothing to make me want to keep up with the characters. I could've lived with cheap special effects if the stories had been more genuinely entertaining. I loved the BBC TV version of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy far more than the recent movie version, despite the latter having far more expensive and lavish special effects. And even the original Star Trek was fun, however cheesy it sometimes was.
As for ye olde comics themselves, I view them as, at their best, a progressive movement. It wasn't consistantly steady and certainly many classics, including the Galactus Trilogy and the Kree-Skrull War have their awkward elements, as well as moments of genuine grandeur in those and many other Silver & Bronze age mags. A few months ago I read volumes 2 and 3 of The Essential Thor, covering most of Kirby's run, and last week I pulled the issues of Walt Simonson's run out of the box to re-read those for the first time in about 20 years. Ya know, Kirby did repeat various story elements too often, but overall I'd say those are still some of the best comics ever. And Walt's Thor remains my all time favorite Marvel Comics run from the '80s.

Garett said...

Very interesting topic. I find I'm often separating nostalgia from what inspires me now. Perhaps it's the imagination of a kid that gets fired up, so that even if you went back and pointed out the plot holes to that kid, it wouldn't matter. I think the 10 year old me would chastise modern me for missing the point, the excitement and creativity of the heroes. Kids aren't only looking at what is, but further to what could be.

I still like the effects on the original Star Trek show! I think that show, the stories have held up better than Star Wars. I'm delighted when a show like The White Shadow is actually better than I remember--I just watched season 2 and it's great tv, characters, stories, writing. I have a feeling 6 Million Dollar Man won't be as good, but boy it was great back then! Part of it is firing up the ideas for playing after the show's over--ah for a kid, not now. : ) Bionic punches, jumping were part of playground action. I should pull that out now, in a cafe.

I remember "that's all we had"--wanting more Star Wars movies, and getting Battle Beyond the Stars. I remember scouring the tv guide hoping for some kind of superhero movie, maybe an old Flash Gordon late at night. Regularly I'd see "Back to Batman" in the listings, and my heart would race!! Only to look closer to see: "Back to Bataan". : (

Al said...

I remember when one of our local television channels began running "The Adventures of Superman" - this was in the mid 70's and none of us knew this show existed. The local station ran a large ad in the local paper announcing the show would begin running. Even though the show was over 20 years old, we were all so excited about it. And as a kid, we didn't take note of the cheap and cheesy effects. After all, it was Superman in live action. That was more than enough to make us tune in.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I remember when the Incredible Hulk came out on TV, it was the first time I had a color TV in my room. It was like being in heaven, able to watch the show that I so dearly loved. It wasn't so painful after the Six Million Dollar Man (another favorite of mine) was canceled.

When watching I knew they couldn't do the special effects of a feature fim, however it was decent drama. I knew Ken Johnson was producing according the credits. It couldn't be half bad if they got the producer of the Six Million Dollar Man and the Bionic Woman behind the scenes.

I find myself gravitating toward the older shows. They had less tech and more heart.

Rip Jagger said...

This is officially a "get-off-my-lawn" moment.

Kids today don't know how good they got it! The blockbuster superhero flicks are downright common and arrive like clockwork each and every summer to dazzle.

Seeing any comic book character in the more "legitimate" mediums of television or movies seemed to validate us fans who regarded ourselves as denizens of a ghetto, isolated from the larger world and looked down upon because we liked stuff that most folks regarded as kiddie crap.

With nerd-tainment in the ascendency these days, I miss my time as an outcast really, that special feeling of fighting the system sort of. Sharing a secret that the great masses miss, is gone. Success brings its own problems.

We can't go to our own conventions anymore because Hollywood has absorbed them into its massive maw. The comics have become secondary to the films in fact, and I'd argue that most people these days regard superheroes mostly as a movie phenomenon and not a comic book one anymore.

We've lost by what we've gained. It's great to anticipate an Avengers movie, despite the fact the comic book is not what I prefer anymore. But I miss that time when Hawkeye was the Avenger no one but comic book hardcores knew about.

Ah well! Life moves on. I have mowing to do.

Rip Off

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, move away from the computer screen for an evening (my time) and find this thread evolving into a whole different beast...
Great conversation everyone, and great and often eloquent comments - Doug's third comment a little over half-way up the thread almost made me *choke* like Silver Age Superman did so often.
One thing I wanted to add, inspired by Fred mentioning Simonson's Thor, is that great feeling you get when you find some of that old material rises above the nostalgia and is just as good or perhaps even better than you remember it. My personal example: Goodwin & Simonson's Manhunter. Back in the day, I think just before high school, I vaguely recall reading about two installments (either reprinted somewhere or perhaps in borrowed copies of those old Detective dollar comics, can't precisely remember...) and thinking, "Wow, those are awesome!" Then, about five years ago, I read the entire story in that reprint volume, and my first thought was, "Holy cow! That's one of the best friggin' comics stories I've ever read!"

As for the topic at hand, I pretty much agree with the consensus, and can testify that I too dutifully watched all superhero-related TV or movie material, even if at the time I knew it was pretty lame (and I'm almost embarrassed to admit how much I just loved, earnestly loved, that Kiss movie when I first saw - now I like to watch it just to revel in its utter crapitude).
And Rip, re: mowing. After some heavy rains, the weather's finally getting nice here, and I do in fact have a weekend of lawn-mowing and yard work awaiting me...

Anonymous said...

Rip – you make some great points, and I feel that the movies have to an extent ‘taken our private friends away’ and make them public property. No matter how foxy Scarlett looks as Natasha, she’ll never really be the Black Widow. Not my one anyway.

I do however also feel the opposite. After years as a comic book nerd, suddenly the consensus seems to be that this stuff is quite cool, and, we the BAB’ers are standing, striking a pose atop the world’s largest, 50 year ‘I told you so’, like the last panel of Avengers # 95 (without the slightly gay pose from Iron Man).

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel Rip, but I don't want to end as that guy on the lawn (possibly because I hate yard-work). Try looking at it this way: We were ahead of our time! We were the future in the 70's. Sure, it was lonely, but that's the price we pay for being pioneers. All those popular kids who made fun of us? They're paying Imax-3D prices now, for them and their kids.

James Chatterton

Roygbiv666 said...

I remember seeing the TV Guide listing for "Legends of the Superheroes" and anxiously awaiting it. The Huntress!! Too cool!! Then, I seem to remember it being postponed or something, cause it seemed to take forever.

Then it came on - I think I was disappointed, but Hawkman looked like he could break you in two.

Not good, but still exciting to see more than Batman & Robin on TV.

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