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.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May


Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before