You can tell that nature is healing from the pandemic because a new installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to be released in theaters. In a few days, Marvel resident super spy Black Widow gets a long-overdue solo film directed by Cate Shortland (Somersault), which got me to think about how far various Marvel-related filmic efforts have come from the humble days of 1944’s Captain America serial. Back in the day, Marvel Comics didn’t have the best of luck when it came to theatrical adaptations of their most popular characters. Sure, there was a smattering of direct-to-TV offerings but big-budget productions featuring heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men or the Hulk seemed like a wild dream. To fill that void, a handful of brave fans took matters into their own hands and made their own short films based on Marvel’s menagerie.
Back in 1969, screenwriter Don F. Glut, who would go on to write for various Marvel cartoons including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, was an amateur filmmaker who produced over 40 short films in the science-fiction and horror genres. The last short he produced was based on The Amazing Spider-Man and featured Glut himself as the web-slinger battling the histrionic yet powerful Dr. Lightning. I was most impressed by the use of stop-motion animation and miniatures to showcase some of Spidey’s moves in a way that would have been very difficult to execute convincingly with a live actor in a harness in front of a bluescreen.
Hope you enjoy it…and happy birthday to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2, one of the greatest superhero films ever!
2021 marks the 80th anniversary of Captain America Comics #1, the debut of Steve Rogers, better known as the shield-slinging Sentinel of Liberty, Captain America. Since 1941, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s patriotic paladin has been a vital element of various Marvel Comics tales, supported by a diverse cast of iconic heroes and villains, including Bucky Barnes, the Falcon, Sharon Carter and the Red Skull, Cap’s most notorious foe. Last week’s episode of the popular Cap-adjacent Disney+ miniseries, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, would be the last bit of major Marvel Cinematic Universe content until the release of Loki in June. If you’re experiencing a little bit of Cap withdrawal, take a look at one of the most infamous Marvel films made before the dawn of the all-encompassing MCU: 1990’s Captain America.
The film is a distinctly low-budget affair but that’s something that could be expected from a movie distributed by 21st Century Film Corporation, a company formed by Menahem Golan, former co-owner of the infamous Cannon Group. The story of the film, directed by Albert Pyun (Cyborg) and written by NAACP Image Award nominee Stephen Tolkin, is a combination and distillation of two of the most well-known Captain America stories: his Golden Age origin and his Silver Age reintroduction in the pages of The Avengers. If the first two MCU Cap movies are any indication, both stories have plenty of material and thematic weight in them to make a pair of effective films that play to Cap’s strengths as a character. Unfortunately, the film doesn’t give enough time to either of those tangents which makes the film feel a little unfocused and undercooked. Matt Salinger’s understated and inconsistent performance as the title character doesn’t help. Although the script has a good understanding of the bravery, determination and pathos that define Cap, Salinger doesn’t always keep up the pace. He does well in the action scenes and he certainly looks the part but he doesn’t really sell the idea of Cap as a commanding presence who wants to find his place in a world that has moved beyond him. His co-stars do a better job of making Cap feel like the icon he should be, especially superhero movie veteran Ned Beatty (Superman) and Robocop’s Ronny Cox, who sometimes feels more heroic than the title character. Kim Gillingham showed promise in her dual role based on Sharon Carter and Bernie Rosenthal, two of Cap’s most important supporting characters. Finally, Scott Paulin (The Right Stuff) gives an competent performance as a reimagined version of the Red Skull but Darren McGavin, Carl Kolchak himself, does a little better as a corrupt general who secretly works for the Skull’s organization.
Despite its flaws, I thought Captain America worked more often then it didn’t. It has a decent understanding of the idealistic spirit of Cap’s character and the political intrigue that informs some of his best stories. It even has some fun and creative action scenes. If you only know this movie for its less-than-stellar reputation, I think you’re in for a bit of a surprise.
This month is a very important one for Batman fans. 80 years ago, three of the most important characters in the Batman mythos made their first appearances in the comics:
Dick Grayson, Bruce Wayne’s eager and reckless young ward and the first Robin. Introduced in Detective Comics #38 by Bill Finger, Bob Kane and Jerry Robinson as the Watson to Batman’s Holmes, Robin proved to be popular enough to become a major part of many essential DC stories, including the formation of the Teen Titans and his own maturation as a solo hero and a leader in the guise of Nightwing.
Selina Kyle, best known as the beguiling burglar Catwoman. Ever since her debut in Batman #1, she has evolved from an enigmatic thief and audacious supervillainess to a complex and cunning anti-heroine with a unique personal connection to the Caped Crusader.
Last but certainly not least, everyone’s favorite cutthroat comedian, the Joker. Premiering in Batman #1, the Clown Prince of Crime has become one of the most persistent and formidable knaves that the Dark Knight has ever dueled as well as one of the most iconic villains in pop culture.
To celebrate this anniversary, I’ve decided to share John Fiorella’s excellent 2004 short film Grayson. The short, framed like a movie trailer, illustrates a possible future for the Boy Wonder, acceptably portrayed by Fiorella, where Batman has been murdered and an older Robin comes out of retirement to find his killer. Although it may seem strange that Dick would go back to the Robin persona in this short instead of becoming Nightwing, the concept has some precedent in earlier comics with an older Grayson from an alternate Earth joining the Justice Society as Robin in Justice League #55 published in 1967. While the story is straightforward and the cast is adequate, with Kimberly Page’s Catwoman and the late Brian C. Bethel’s Joker as the only standouts, the real stars of the short are the terrific production design, which is impressive when you consider the $18,000 budget, and the creative cinematography of co-producer Gabriel Sabloff (Samson). Grayson fascinated me when I first saw it on TheForce.net and it’s still pretty remarkable today.