With the 1966-1969 Batman television series finally available on Blu-Ray and DVD, comic book superhero fans can now breathe easy that all of the most significant works in the development of the superhero genre in film and television are readily available. As such, this means we can now turn our attention to something far more important: the obscure oddities which have yet to see DVD, Blu-Ray, and/or online streaming.
Sure, some of the more peculiar and forgotten works based on comic book superheroes have made their way to disc, such as the 1974 Wonder Woman television film starring Cathy Lee Crosby, but there are still plenty of films and television shows that are unavailable. As such, I present five such works which need to be made available. After all, if Legends of the Superheroes can get a DVD release, why not these works?
The Amazing Spider-Man (1978-1979)
How has The Amazing Spider-Man live action television series not made its way to DVD or Blu-Ray already? Since 2002, there have been five high profile Spider-Man feature films released, providing perfect tie-in opportunities to release the program on home video. From what information I have been able to find online — which admittedly isn’t much — there are no rights issues preventing the series from being released. Indeed, unlike the classic Batman television series, The Amazing Spider-Man had several episodes released on VHS during the 1990s.
While some will argue that the series is best left forgotten as a failed attempt to bring Spider-Man to television, the show does actually have quite a bit going for it. Star Nicholas Hammond (The Sound of Music) makes for a solid Peter Parker, capturing the character’s down-on-his-luck charm. In fact, the pilot is filled with great moments that capture the spirit of the character, such as Peter’s need to borrow money in order to buy lab equipment, or a chuckle-worthy moment at the end of the film where we discover — along with J. Jonah Jameson — a photo Peter took of himself as Spidey, posing with some previously brainwashed martial artists.
This isn’t to say the show is without any faults: the elimination of Uncle Ben from the origin of the character is a massive misstep, the plots of each episode are standard 1970s crime drama fare, and the special effects used to achieve many of Spider-Man’s powers are unimpressive. Yet as a slice of Spider-Man history, the show more than deserves to be available on home video.
Justice League of America (1997)
With not one, but two major Justice League films in development, I get why Warner Brothers would want to hide the failed 1997 television pilot Justice League of America. Loosely based on the popular Justice League International run by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, the pilot film is simply terrible, featuring shoddy writing, a shockingly miscast David Ogden Stiers (M*A*S*H*) as J’onn J’onzz, awful special effects, and costumes that are poorly designed and constructed even by the standards of the late 1990s (Just look at The Flash’s costume. Look at it.).
Yet as bad as the pilot is, it also happens to be remarkably ahead of its time. Attempting to blend sitcom antics and super-heroics together, Justice League of America features pseudo-documentary interviews with its cast of characters, a full four years before the original BBC incarnation of The Office would popularize that particular narrative technique in television comedy. Granted, the fact that the cast of characters are mostly a bunch of obnoxious, self-absorbed twenty-somethings means that the interview interjections are irritating rather than humorous, but credit where credit is due. Regardless of its failure however, the approach makes Justice League of America historically valuable to individuals such as myself, and makes a DVD release worthwhile, be it through Warner Archives’ MOD service or as a “bonus” feature on a future Warner Brothers Animation DC Comics release, much like the failed 2006 Aquaman pilot was released on the Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths Blu-Ray.
The Fantastic Four (1994)
While the legality of releasing Oley Sassone’s The Fantastic Four on home video now is dubious, the original reasons for not releasing the film in 1994 are beyond irrelevant in 2014. Once a popular bootleg at comic conventions, the film has now become a permanent fixture on the internet, and is easily accessible to anyone willing to put in even the most minuscule of effort into finding it. Given this, those actually involved in the making of the film might as well make a couple of bucks off of it, even if it just ends up being fifty cents and a candy bar.
Of course, The Fantastic Four is a terrible film, poorly written and cheaply produced. However, it has taken on an almost legendary status, thanks in large part to the behind the scenes deal-making which lead to the film being made and later shelved. Indeed, Arrested Development featured a plot line in its fourth season partly inspired by the production of the 1994 film, and a documentary has even been produced about the film and its making. While being the Troll 2 of superhero cinema is not exactly a great consolation prize, it does make the film a noteworthy curiosity, one worthy of being released on DVD (I won’t push my luck for a Blu-Ray release).
Dr. Strange (1978)
I’ll give whoever holds the rights to the 1978 Dr. Strange television movie the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are waiting to release the film on DVD when Marvel releases its Dr. Strange film on the big screen in 2016. It is a shame though that people will have to wait until then to check the 1978 film out, because unlike most of the films I am writing about in this article, Dr. Strange is actually pretty good.
Unlike most of the efforts to adapt comics book characters to television in the 1970s, Dr. Strange never runs from its source material by trying to tone down the fantastical elements of the comics. Instead, the film actually embraces the premise of the comic and takes it seriously, telling an impressively faithful origin story for the character, played here by Peter Hooten, as he battles Morgan le Fay (Jessica Walter). Written, produced and directed by Phillip DeGuere, the film is a rather atmospheric work, and had it been a hit at the time it aired, could have lead to a memorable fantasy-horror series. With any luck, comic book cinema fans will get to see the film released on disc, hopefully with some solid supplementary material included.
Generation X (1996)
I admit: nostalgia plays a role in me wanting to see Generation X released on DVD. When I was a kid, this film was something my siblings and I were looking forward to as big fans of the 1992 X-Men animated series. At the time, Generation X seemed like it would be the only chance we’d get to see the X-Men in live action, and we were ready and willing to love it.
Of course, as is the case with most of the films previously discussed in this article, Generation X is pretty bad. However, as the first live action X-Men project, the film is a valuable piece of comic book film history. Fans of the feature films who will likely be surprised to see a number of characters they are familiar with appear in the failed pilot, including Banshee, Emma Frost, and Jubilee. Furthermore, fans of the comics will likely find the plot of the film fascinating, as involves a mad scientist (Matt Frewer) trying to developed psychic powers by extracting material from the brains of mutants, an idea which predates the concept of the U-Men, villains from the X-Men comics who attempt to use mutant organs to enhance their own bodies.
Given that there is nothing to be lost from releasing the film on DVD, Generation X might as well get its chance to shine in the five dollar bins of Walmarts across North America. Hopefully, someone will make that a possibility soon.
So what other forgotten works do you think deserve a DVD and/or Blu-Ray release? Leave your picks in the comments section below!