Superheroes On World Screens edited by Rayna Denison and Rachel Mizsei-Ward (book review).

I was rather amused by the introduction saying there wasn’t many books out there about comicbook characters being adapted into movies when I have two more in my current pile on the subject from the same publisher.

The title, ‘Superheroes On World Screens’ is a bit of a misnomer because what this book is mostly about are characters being adapted from their sources by other countries. This leads into American creator Lee Falk’s ‘The Phantom’ and the history of its 1989 film. The Australians see the Phantom as their character and finance and filming came from there. Despite not doing well at the box office, I have to confess its one of my regular films to watch from time to time. I’m less sure about the comments that the film Phantom didn’t have any weaknesses. He was talking to his dead Dad throughout the film. If that’s not a little disturbing, more so as his Dad talks back, what else would be? There has been far too little said about ‘The Phantom’ film and, to my mind, it’s an overlooked classic not dependent on CGI as it was only in development at the time.

I was a bit puzzled how Thor ended up in this book but it was Stan Lee who revised the Norse myth to American culture and, as pointed out in the chapter, all the key actors in its recent films were British. When you look at the budgets on these films, they want the best cast possible and who are willing to do it and, these days, few actors think they’ll be typecast by them and see it as an asset on the CVs.

Something I hadn’t fully realised was how Spider-Man has been adapted to the requirements of other countries than just reprints. In Japan, with a totally revised origin, nationality and tech, he’s Shö Amanö aka the amazing Supaidäman, who has had both a TV and cinema career. Interestingly, both filmic versions have used the Nicholas Hammond 70s series as its costume template. I doubt if the Japanese version was ever going to be considered being shown outside of its domestic market but it’s quite an eye-opener. It does make me wonder if the Indian Pavitr Prabhakar version was made into a film, would they have to dance?

From here on, things change focus. Where ‘Doctor Who’ is concerned it’s the effect on the San Diego ComicCon than any of the stories filmed in the USA. I did find it odd that they didn’t discuss the episodes filmed in the USA. Then again, ‘Doctor Who’ is a world-wide phenomenon and a Time Lord with no fixed nationality which must increase his appeal world-wide.

I might not know much about manga animation but I do know that Steve Rogers never had the hots for Wonder Woman and suspect writer Daniel Martin confused him with Steve Trevor. His piece does look at the problems South Korea has rising about being technically good animators to creating their own material. In that respect, they need to look for creative non-conformist dreamers/writers although one would have to wonder if they would want to be found.

The Indian look gets on super-heroes at last gets a chapter of its own and although they do their own version of Spider-Man, as mentioned above, its key character is Nagraj, based on the attributes of a snake than a spider and rather successful in their home market. Considering the number of animal-orientated super-heroes, you do have to wonder why Spidey was the template when choosing something a little less common or mixing other elements into the mix might have been better.

I should point out that many of the writers in this book are actually British so I wondered what they would do in the chapter about British super-heroes. Just because they didn’t wear super-togs, doesn’t necessarily make them super-heroes. Writers Jochen Ecke and Patrick Gill centre on ‘The Misfits’ (2009-2013) as if nothing had come before them on TV. There was neglect in not referencing the TV series of ‘The Champions’ (1968-69) although granted, many others were kid-orientated, they still missed out on the likes of ‘The Tomorrow People’ (1973-79). Both, incidentally, also had comicstrips based on their adventures. ‘Judge Dredd’ is mentioned in the introduction but not in this chapter. Strange that, as he has had two films based on him and neither made in this country. The focus shifts to British writers working in America instead. They do an analysis of the TV series ‘My Hero’ which never got a proper DVD release over here but as a US import so they must have been relying on memory for some things. Even so, they shouldn’t have got Geraldine McNulty’s part as the dour psychopath receptionist Mrs Raven confused with Janet Dawkins’ mother who was played by Lill Roughley.

Co-editor and writer Rachel Mizsei-Ward’s look at Islamic super-heroes and the problems of hijabi mask does look at why do conventional super-heroines show so much flesh but neglects to realise that showing them as feminine allows them to get close enough to catch the villains unguarded before giving them a whack. There are some things that can’t be easily translated into other cultures and Mizsei-Ward doesn’t indicate whether the writers are of the faith or not which should have had a better bearing on her chapter. When you consider so many of the super-heroines are written and drawn by men than women, there has to be some sort of bias going on.

The super-hero template doesn’t readily adapt itself to other countries and, if anything, relies too much on the American version than find its own identity. I do think this book does lose track of what it intends covering from time to time but does highlight information that has been over-looked. Some of the observations are rather interesting but as seen above, can get hammered by mistakes that should have been picked up on. If I don’t point them out then you can bet others will wonder why I’m not doing my job as a reviewer properly. Where they do get it right is worth a look. Something for future books to consider of this nature is the bibliography should certainly be divided into the respected sections than grouped together.

GF Willmetts

June 2017

(pub: University Press Of Mississippi. 213 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £26.95 (UK), $30.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-4968-0969-8)

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