Superheroes: We need to find a modern Marvel

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Why does Hollywood keep returning to the same old superheroes? There’s a universe of oddities out there, says Matt Thomas

Summer blockbuster season, never the preserve of wide-ranging creative thinking, seems to have hit a new low, especially when it comes to the matter of superheroes. The recent glut of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and X-Men films has proved that there's a big market for cinema featuring costumed bodybuilders knocking the snot out of each other and Hollywood has responded by cranking out sequels, remakes and reboots so formulaic that it's getting hard to tell one film from another.

We've just had X-Men: First Class, a repurposing of a franchise already on its third go around, and, new last week, Warner Bros' Green Lantern – in which your standard all-American test pilot saves the universe, having learned some boiler plate lessons about friendship, honour and self sacrifice along the way.

Why is it always the same old story? You don't have to venture very far off-piste to find much more interesting comic-book heroes, who exist outside the well-muscled-blokes-smashing-each-other-in-the-head archetype.

Take the Haunted Tank. Although there's a fairly limited range of situations in which a Second World War tank possessed by the ghost of a Confederate general can be of much use, the character was a mainstay of DC's G.I. Comics for the best part of 20 years. It brought the Civil War-era general's phantom back for a 2008 mini-series in which he found himself trapped in an Iraq-based tank under the charge of an African American commander. Hilarity ensued.

Luckily for the film industry, racist tank ghosts are just the tip of the weird iceberg when it comes to comics. If you're looking for a genuinely mind-mangling experience, look no further than the adventures of Herbie Popnecker aka the Fat Fury. Rotund and bespectacled, Herbie possessed some of the most spectacular and poorly defined powers ever possessed by a being in the spectacular and poorly defined world of comics. Deriving his supernatural powers from a selection of magical lollipops, he was super-strong, intermittently invulnerable, had a time-travelling clock and quite often found himself facing off with the devil, two-headed giraffe elephants and aliens. Comic-book wizard Alan Moore says that Herbie is his favourite strip of all time, which tells you a lot about the both of them.

Also running counter to the muscles-stacked-on-muscles aesthetic you'll find on most modern heroes is Fatman the Human Flying Saucer. The alter-ego of Van Crawford, a sort of podgy Bruce Wayne millionaire type, Fatman was granted the ability to transform into a human flying saucer by an alien, who imparted it to him in the form of a chocolate milkshake. Writer Otto Binder rather seemed to run out of steam after developing the original story, as did the comic, which folded after three issues.

What makes Fatman's brief existence even more bizarre was that Binder was a key contributor to the success of Captain Marvel, one of the most successful of early superheroes and went on to write for Superman, creating an estimated 50,000 pages of comic books before his death in 1974. Whether or not he counted Fatman among that tally remains unreported.

The most confusing of all comic-book characters, though, has to be Man-Thing. Not to be confused with Swamp Thing or The Thing, Man-Thing is essentially a chemically animated, shambling, emotionless patch of swamp – a role tailor-made for Mickey Rourke. An average Man-Thing adventure might find the mystic muck monster battling gorgon hillbillies, astral pirates and/or a maker of hallucinogenic candles. Marvel launched the comic-book series with a bumper, 32-page edition rejoicing in the title of the Giant-Sized Man-Thing, which has to be worth a laugh.

Given that the ranks of comic oddballs stretch off into the infinite, you can understand the difficulties Hollywood has in picking the protagonists of its blockbusters. But it wouldn't take a lot of effort to give us something just slightly different and a lot more interesting.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
Arts and Entertainment
Suha Arraf’s film ‘Villa Touma’ (left) is set in Ramallah and all the actresses are Palestinian

film
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

    The phoney war is over

    Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

    The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

    Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
    From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

    After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

    Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

    Salomé: A head for seduction

    Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
    From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

    British Library celebrates all things Gothic

    Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
    The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

    Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

    The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

    In search of Caribbean soul food

    Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
    11 best face powders

    11 best face powders

    Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
    England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

    Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
    Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

    They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone