For obvious reasons, comic strip characters made it onto the screen first. Original comic book characters didn't really kick off in a big way until Superman showed just how viable heroes created specifically for comic books could be.
The earliest live-action comic strip movie I have is Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). I know Tarzan wasn't originally a comic strip character, but I'd argue that the success of the Hal Foster daily comic strip running in hundreds of newspapers in the USA from January 1929 was almost certainly what caught the attention of the the great MGM Studios.
Other strip characters would soon follow, notably Palooka (1934), an adaptation of Ham Fisher's boxing strip Joe Palooka, and Blondie (1938) based on the Chic Young comedy strip. But it was in the weekly movie serials where comic characters would really come into their own.
In rapid succession, comic strip characters paraded across the screen in low-budget serial chapterplays: Flash Gordon (1936), Dick Tracy (1937), Jungle Jim (1937), Secret Agent X-9 (1937), Buck Rogers (1939), Mandrake the Magician (1939), Terry and the Pirates (1940) and The Phantom (1943).
|DC Comics were a bit prima donna-ish about allowing Hollywood to film their star character Superman, so many other companies' superheroes appeared on screen first, like Fawcett Comics' Captain Midnight (1942).|
Sadly, Republic's serial version of Captain America bore very little resemblance to the dynamic artwork of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby that appeared in Timely's Captain America Comics. I think once the character was licensed to the movie studio, then the producers would just do whatever they wanted. Much as I enjoyed seeing the Captain America serial at Saturday morning pictures all those decades ago it was evident, even to my ten year old sensibilities, that the character on the screen didn't have much to do with the Lee and Kirby Marvel Comics I was reading.
For a start, this Captain America didn't have a shield. That's right, serial producer William O'Sullivan decided to ignore the character's unique selling point. Then he changed Cap's civilian identity from Steve Rogers to Grant Gardner, District Attorney. Finally, to pile insult on top of injury, he gave Cap a gun with which to shoot the bad guys. I hardly even noticed the missing wings on the sides of Cap's mask ...
That said, I still think this is still one of the great serials. The action is non-stop and the stunt players put everything they have into the many, many fight scenes. I won't dwell on it further here, but I wrote a review of this serial a while back for IMDB. So follow the link if you want see what I said.
After that, Captain America wouldn't appear on screen for another 22 years, and when he did, it wasn't a great deal better.
"MARVEL SUPERHEROES ON TV!"Towards the end of 1966, Stan Lee started running teasers at the foot of random pages in the various Marvel titles promising that Marvel Heroes were going to be on television.
|These little banners started showing up in assorted Marvel titles towards the end of 1966.|
|Pretty quickly, full page ads started showing up revealing the line-up of the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon show. Front and centre was Captain America.|
As it turns out, I wouldn't see any of these cartoons until many years later. Fifty years later to be precise - when I finally got round to buying DVDs of the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon shows last year.
|The title card of the very first Captain America cartoon, a fairly literal transcription of the origin story from Tales of Suspense 63.|
Produced using very limited animation by Grantray-Lawrence the cartoons relied very heavily on artworks from the actual Marvel comics. In fact, so similar are the cartoon frames to the comic book art that I'd say that it's perfectly possible that the animators worked with stats of the original art.
|Here's a comparison of the art from the key transformation scene, showing how close to the original artwork the cartoon is. There's some degradation in the detail, suggesting that the animators worked from stats or tracings of the original art.|
|The storyline from Tales of Suspense 64 forms the mid-section of Episode One.|
This is an inexplicable decision on the part of the show's producers. Why would anyone think that it would be a problem to depict Nazis as the bad guys in a kids' cartoon? Especially given that Cap was created solely for the purpose of fighting the Nazi ideology. Did the producers think that somehow it was a bad idea to show Nazism in a bad light to 1960s children? I guess we'll never know what the agenda was here, but it's a decision I find more than a little weird.
The second half then takes in the Sando and Omar plotline from Tales of Suspense 64, where they too were originally Nazis, then segues into the Red Skull story from ToS65.
|Episode Two reveals the origin of The Red Skull from ToS 66, along with the stories from ToS 67 and 68.|
|Episode Three adapts the three-part story from ToS 69 to 71.|
|Episode Four takes the Captain America scenes from Avengers 7 and 16 and melds them into a single story that reveals that Bucky's dead, then has Zemo die by his own hand.|
|The fifth episode of the Captain America cartoon adapts the story from Avengers 4, telling of the revival of the WWII hero and the introduction of the Teen Brigade.|
|Guest villains The Melter, The Black Knight and the Radioactive Man ally themselves with the mysteriously revived Zemo to tackle The Avengers and Captain America.|
|Just like in the comics, The Adaptoid absorbs the abilities of the Avengers - Giant Man, The Wasp, and Hawkeye - to defeat Captain America.|
|This episode of the Captain America cartoon is a straightforward re-telling of the origin of Hawkeye and how his mentor Swordsman cheats his way into The Avengers.|
Next time I'll cover the remaining episodes of the Marvel Super-Heroes Captain America show and look at the three Captain America tv movies in the 1970s and 1990s.
Next: Captain America goes live-action