The X-Men movies have been giving us a glimpse of Marvel's mutants in the 1960s and 1970s. That's all well and good — but we'd really love to see some other superheroes reconnect with their roots in the movies. Here are eight superheroes who'd be more interesting if they were closer to their earlier comic-book versions.
8. Ninety-Nine Percenter Superman
In Superman's first few issues, he was the man of steel, but he was never mistaken for a bird or plane — unless he was on board a crashing plane. He wasn't as fast, as strong, or as powered up as he is today. That might seem limiting, but it helped get him away from constantly battling space monsters and gods. Sure, Superman took out his share of bad guys, but they were humans. If that doesn't sound like much of a fight, consider who he was fighting. Superman would do things like force corrupt mine owners, who endangered miners' lives with shoddy safety standards, into their own mines. He'd threaten corrupt politicians, and leave them dangling (from their suspenders) in public places from telephone poles. He was only just super enough to be unstoppable, and he used that superpower to physically fight the socially or politically powerful. In any modern superhero story, that would be insane. It would be hard to imagine most superheroes spending a movie attacking senators and kidnapping business leaders. But seeing Superman as a pissed-off big friend of the little guy kind of works, because it's Superman. And Henry Cavill would probably have fun with this.
7. Green Lantern Was Just Magic
Green Lantern was one of the earliest comic book characters. People say he got his start back in 1940, and they're right. But just like Superman, he's had a few tweaks over the years. One of those tweaks is having anything at all to do with space, or aliens, and pretty much all the stuff that made the movie feel overblown. So what if you cut that part out? The first Green Lantern, Alan Scott, was just a guy with a magic ring that was powered by a special lantern. In fact, Alan Scott was nearly Alan Ladd, a play on Aladdin and his magic wishing lamp. There's no doubt that giving Green Lantern a science fiction spin helped keep it going in the Space Age, but how much fun would it be to just see a movie about a guy playing around with his magic wishing ring?
6. Actual Detective Batman
Today we only see Batman crouching on rooftops or in the shadows, giving gruff instructions to the police commissioner. There was a time when Batman wandered down streets, and talked to people — without first dangling those people off buildings. He talked to them because he was a detective, instead of an action hero. Yes, he did his share of battling henchmen or taking a swing at The Joker, but he also spent multiple issues tracking down serial killers by talking to witnesses and analyzing evidence, especially in the 1970s. Most Batman movies and comics these days involve criminals who are targeting Batman himself, and aren't hesitant to let him know that, so the need for detective work is minimal. It's a shame that, despite being The World's Greatest Detective, the modern Batman does so little detective work. Think about how fun it would be to see a movie about Batman solving an actual mystery!
5. The Punisher was a Straight-Up Villain
There have been a few attempts to get the Punisher work as a movie franchise. Most of them have failed, even if they've been reasonably decent movies. Why? There are any number of explanations, but I think they failed partly because the Punisher was the hero of the movies, instead of the villain. The Punisher's first appearance was in an issue of Spider-man. He was trying to kill Spidey. True, it was because he thought Spider-man had killed someone else — but the fact remained that he was trying to trap Spider-man and shoot him in the head, and Peter Parker had to fight for his life against a lunatic who wore a skull on his chest.
The Punisher hit the shelves in the mid-1970s, and was the herald of an era. The late 1970s, 1980s, and early 1990s were filled with characters who started as villains, were a hit with fans, and transitioned (although sometimes only briefly) to heroism. Characters like Deathstroke, Deadpool, Deadshot, and Lobo followed in the Punisher's footsteps — but the Punisher was the first, the best, and the one that has consistently remained a hero. Maybe that's the problem. Maybe, to get the same reception he had in comics, we need the Punisher to make the same transition in movies. He has to start out as the villain — just like he was back in the 1970s. Now that Marvel has the rights to the character back, you could see this happening.
4. The Cat Before Catwoman
Catwoman has been around nearly as long as Batman. Selina Kyle made her debut in Batman #1, in 1940, and let's face it, that has always been her era, rather than the 1980s and 2000s fetishwear era that's been captured on film. The classic 1940s femme fatale, she combined the slinkiness of forties movie stars with the good, old-fashioned can-do spirit of Rosie the Riveter. In her first issue, she's just called The Cat, but all the elements are there. She's a cat burglar and jewel thief. She plays Batman to her advantage while he tries to get her to go straight.
What's interesting about these earliest versions of Selina Kyle is how relatively circumscribed they make current versions seem. Catwoman is an interesting figure now, but she has a limited MO. Back in her heyday, she tried a lot of different strategies. Instead of being a determined loner, she often ran a gang of thugs to pull off heists. Instead of always breaking in a window, she would disguise herself as a boy or an old woman to throw off suspicion. She made up origin story after origin story to gain sympathy or to manipulate the listener. She had a whole bag of tricks, and used all of them. Especially after the Halle Berry film and Anne Hathway's version, it's time for a different spin on Catwoman — and a more 1940s trickstery version would keep people guessing for a whole movie.
3. Dinah Lance and Oliver Queen: The Power Couple
Maybe power couple isn't quite the right word for it, but this is one of the few times in history two superheroes have just lived together, in an already-established relationship. So much of every superhero story, whether it's on television, in film, or in comics, is meeting that special someone, stringing the romance out, finally getting together, breaking up, and getting back together. Starting with The Longbow Hunters, in 1987, and stretching out several years, this is one of the few stories in which the couple are just a couple. They have their jobs, and they both go out to their heroing, and they live together. Just seeing it done once is a reminder of how rare it is in the superhero genre. And if they ever decide to revamp Green Arrow for the big screen (instead of just using the television version) this is what we'd like to see.
2. Politically Vengeful Namor
Namor the Submariner has been around since the 1930s, and has never cared much for the "surface dwellers." In the 1940s the character, like nearly all comic book characters, went to war on the side of the Allies, but by the 1960s no one knew what to do with him. For a while he had an amnesia storyline, then he regained his memories - and learned that Atlantis had been used for testing nuclear bombs.
He's been threatening the human world ever since, and the kicker is, it's generally acknowledged that he's been doing it with good reason. A lot of superhero movies now days have political subtext, but they usually center around the right to privacy and the need to limit governmental power. We've been focusing on domestic issues. Unfortunately, the subtext for the 1960s Namor story — the fact there are repercussions for how we treat other nations — has never stopped being relevant. Maybe Namor's the guy to revive the issue. Maybe that could finally get us a Namor movie.
1. Congresswoman Batgirl Has It All!
The earliest versions of Batgirl were not what anyone would call progressive, but by the 1960s, Batgirl comics started reflecting the women's movement, and it led to one of the coolest and craziest characters in comics. When Barbara Gordon was introduced in 1963 she had her PhD in library science,and argued that Robin should be her sidekick, not Batman's. Soon enough, heading up the Gotham library and bickering with Batman wasn't enough for Barbara. In the 1970s, she ran for Congress on a "get tough on crime" program, and won. But she couldn't give up her crime-fighting activities. Comics about Congresswoman Gordon show her pining for more excitement than she gets at work — and slipping out of formal evening functions, so she can fight crime as Batgirl.
Just to top it off, she played the field romantically. It was around this time she dated Jason Bard, a hard-bitten private detective from Gotham. She also dated Dick Grayson, at the time seven years her junior and still in college. She was even fixed up with Bruce Wayne, once. The Batgirl comics of the 1970s embraced an optimism that we don't often see much in any superhero medium. In a genre currently full of heroes who have to weepily decide between being a hero and having a personal life, we might need a book, and a hero, that embodies a life filled will all different kinds of work, and all different kinds of adventures.