Long before big budget blockbusters created the Marvel Cinematic Universe; even before Disney decided Marvel should be part of the family, Marvel Comics action heroes were already fighting evil on the small screen.
Appearing first as animated adventures, super heroes eventually made the leap to live action. During the mid and late 1970’s, heroes like Spider-man, the Hulk, in live action form, first entertained audiences in between commercial breaks as television’s finest.
Perhaps in an attempt to find their own “Batman” breakout, Marvel Comics heavy hitting super heroes began to make the leap from cartoon to live action. First as segments in children’s programming and eventually with series of their own, these early incarnations appeared in all their 1970’s glory (sans super slick effects).
Spidey Super Stories
Instead of a dedicated action television show, PBS gave Marvel Comics its first live action small screen appearance. From 1974-1977, Spider-man dropped in on Children’s Television Workshop’s educational series, “The Electric Company.” Seasons 4, 5 and 6 saw 29 “Spidey Super Stories” segments featuring the heroic webslinger. Though depicted as live action adventures, “Spidey Super Stories” retained comic book features which encouraged children to read word balloons instead of having Spidey speak.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Nicholas Hammond portrayed Peter Parker and Robert F Simon assumed the role of J. Jonas Jamison for Marvel’s 1977-1979 CBS series, “The Amazing Spider-Man.” During that time, however, only 13 episodes found their way onto the airwaves.
Also airing in 1978, Spidey made his way overseas to appear in a rather bizarre Japanese television series. This 48-episode series, broadcast from May 1978 until March 1979, was part of a licensing agreement between Marvel and the Toei Company.
Clad in familiar looking protective suit (Spider-Protector) our hero battles the evil Iron Cross Army using “spider string” and a Transformer-like flying robot known as “Leapordon.” Motorcycle racer Takuya Yamashiro replaces “Daily Bugle” reporter Peter Parker. Instead of the bite of a radioactive spider, Takuya’s transformation results from an injection of “Spider-Extract.”
The Incredible Hulk
“The Incredible Hulk” gave Marvel Comics its longest running live action television series. CBS first introduced the giant green monster in a two-hour pilot on November 4, 1977. For five seasons (1978-1982), and three reunion movies (under NBC), David Banner (Bill Bixby) searched for the cure to prevent his anger triggered transformation into the Hulk (Lou Ferrigno). Ted “Lurch” Cassidy narrated, and provided the Hulk’s voice. Charles Napier took over voicing Hulk when Cassidy passed away in 1979.
Arnold Schwarzenegger auditioned for the title role. However, portraying Marvel’s iconic super strong green hero fell upon the talents of body builder Lou Ferrigno Though the role found Ferrigno thrust into stardom, it was not without sacrifice. The Make-up process took three hours to complete and prolonged insertion of green contact lenses could only be tolerated for 15 minutes at a time.
As the mighty motion pictures from Marvel Comics continue to amaze with intense action, intricate plots, electrifying effects and extra credit surprises, looking back at the action adventures arriving which arrived for 1970’s television provides a perfect perspective. Not only showcasing how far production quality has improved in the past 40 years, these small screen series show the lasting allure of Marvel’s superhero stories themselves.
Be sure to check out “Small screen superheroes – Pt. 2: Early Marvel Comics live action TV movies” for more Marevel-ous movie magic manifestations of these comic book powered protagonists.