8 Marvel superheroes who made it to television in the 1970s
Avengers like Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America and Dr. Strange all turned up on television in the disco decade.
Spider-Man swinging around with Captain America! Dr. Strange dabbling in the dark arts! This year promises to deliver loads of Marvel Comics superheroes on the big screen. Some have waited ages to see these iconic characters come to life.
Of course, if you were lucky enough to grow up in the late 1970s, you could have watched them all on television. While there was no Avengers blockbuster to bring them all together, these characters were assembled in the TV schedules at the end of the disco decade.
The Incredible Hulk was obviously the biggest of these Marvel good guys to hit the screen, and his large stature tends to overshadow some of these less successful launches. They may have been low budget, but they hold a special place in our heart — right next to memories of wearing Underoos.
The Amazing Spider-Man (1977–79)
Nicholas Hammond, the elder Von Trapp boy in The Sound of Music, slipped on the red tights and swung into action — thanks to an elaborate wire rigging — for a Spider-Man TV movie in September '77. Peter Parker becomes the Wall Crawler to thwart a hypnotist holding New York City hostage. The small screen flick was a hit, scoring CBS its highest ratings of the year. Months later, in the spring, The Amazing Spider-Man would debut. The two short seasons of the series performed quite well, though the network fretted that it was not gaining enough older eyeballs. Now there's something you would never see today: A network television show being canceled for skewing too young.
Image: CBS / Marvel
The Incredible Hulk (1977–82)
From his yak-hair wigs to the cameos of his creators, we have previously told you incredible things about the Hulk. The show logged an impressive 82 episodes over five seasons. Some of those stories stood alone as films. In 1977, The Incredible Hulk and The Return of the Incredible Hulk aired as TV movies, and both were chopped up into two-parters to form the first four hours of the 1978 series (the latter becoming "Death in the Family"). Both of those TV movies received theatrical releases overseas, as did the opening of season two, "Married," which was retitled Bride of the Incredible Hulk. We highly recommend you check out the awesome poster.
Dr. Strange (1978)
Stephen Strange is coming to cinemas this fall in a blockbuster, yet Benedict Cumberbatch is not the first actor to wear the cape and mustache. Creator Stan Lee poured his heart into getting this spooky series off the ground, which featured low-budget takes on Stanley Kubrick's stargate sequence… and Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development) as the villain! Her Morgan le Fay was the first notable Marvel villain to appear in live-action. The Hulk and Spider-Man never got to face off against their big-name nemeses. In an alternate dimension, Dr. Strange is a staple of our Super Sci-Fi Saturday Night.
The New Fantastic Four (1978)
Ah, the poor Fantastic Four. One of the most beloved team of characters from the printed page has had a rough career onscreen, largely due to legal reasons. Take this awkward animated iteration of the super-powered astronauts. You will note the absence of Johnny Storm. In his place is H.E.R.B.I.E., a.k.a. Humanoid Experimental Robot, B-type, Integrated Electronics. Sure, he may not be a man on fire, but he looks kind of like Wall-E. Why no Human Torch? Well, the rights to the character were tied up with another studio at the time, with plans to make a pilot. Alas, those plans never caught flame.
Image: NBC / Marvel
Spider-Man's origin story has been told countless times — but never quite like this. Gone were Peter Parker and the Daily Bugle. The Japanese production centered on Takuya Yamashiro, a motorcycle racer who is injected with alien blood inside a UFO from the planet Spider. While the storyline has little relation to the familiar Spider-Man, outside of his costume, this tokusatsu along the lines of Ultraman is a campy blast.
Captain America (1979)
Looking more like Evel Knievel in a wetsuit, the 1970s Captain America also had an altered origin story and a thing for motorcycles. The CBS production had more in common with Knight Rider than the brooding Cap of today's movies.
Image: CBS / Marvel
Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979)
Reb Brown returned to the role later that same year for this improved sequel. His costume has been upgraded (depending on how you look at it) to feature detailed helmet wings and a blue mask over the eyes. That being said, the biggest step up here came with the bad guy, played by horror master Christopher Lee. His motorcycle transforms into a hang glider, too. While rather unfairly maligned in this era, this sequel is fun for what it is, akin to the Wonder Woman episodes of the era.
Image: CBS / Marvel
Voiced by Joan Van Ark, this wonderful woman also changed costumes by spinning around. The production company behind the cartoon, DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, also created the popular Pink Panther shorts, as well as The New Fantastic Four. Thankfully, they had the rights to characters here, which means guest appearances from comic characters like Spider-Man, Kingpin and Dormammu in the brief 16-episode run.
Image: ABC / Disney
Bonus: Daredevil and Black Widow
We had to mention this oddity, which never made it to the air. Angela Bowie, David Bowie's wife, auditioned for the role of Wonder Woman in a TV movie, losing out to Cathy Lee Crosby. Her dream still set on playing a superhero, Bowie secured the rights to Daredevil and Black Widow with hopes of developing a series. Nothing came of it outside of some groovy promotional images, featuring Ben Carruthers as the Man Without Fear.