In parts 1 and 2, I went into great detail about the history of American superhero cinema. However, the genre isn’t exclusive to the United States. This week, we’re going to take a look at superheroes from around the world, some of whom have continuities that rival that of Marvel and DC.
Imitations and Innovations:
The number of superheroines in comics today can rival the population of most major US cities; an early forerunner actually originated in the Philippines. In 1947, the superheroine Varga made her appearance in Bulaklak Magazine. Due to creative differences with the editors of the magazine, the creator, Filipino cartoonist/writer Mars Ravelo, changed her name to Darna and re-launched her in Pilipino Comics on May 13, 1950. She is the first solo superheroine to get her own feature length film, which was released in 1951. Her superpowers are, by today’s standards, typical superhero faire, but much like Superman, she is a cultural mainstay in the Philippines.
European countries were not far behind the US when superheroes began to become popular, particularly in France and Great Britain. However, unlike most US superheroes, many made their debut, and stayed, within the pages of anthology magazines, the most notable one being Britain’s 2000AD well known for its Judge Dredd series.
Most of these anthologies, particularly in France, served the purpose of distributing American superheroes to these foreign audiences. Capitalizing on that popularity, the people behind those anthologies began producing their own heroes alongside them. Here we get heroes like Marvelman, known as Mircaleman in the US for copyright reasons, and Photonik, a French creation that ran along side translated Marvel stories.
As time passed, more and more countries began to produce their own comics. In the mid 70s, before the debut of Marvel’s Canadian super team, Alpha Flight, Canada saw the debut of Captain Canuck in 1975. Canuck is best described as a cross between Captain America and Flash Gordon as he was an agent in the Canadian Secret Intelligence Service in the then futuristic world of 1993. He is often confused with Guardian, the leader of Alpha Flight, due to their similar designs.
The late 70s and early 80s saw the debut of superheroes in southwest Asian countries, most notably heroes like Cat Claw, Serbia’s answer to Spider-Man, as well as the founding of Raj Comics in India, which produces heroes with Hindu-based ideas of morality such as Super Commando Dhruva. There were also Indian superhero films such as Mr. India and Krrish, the latter being one of India’s highest grossing films. This was followed by the founding of AK Comics in Egypt in 2004, bringing more original characters to the Middle East.
Japan is the only nation that rivals the United States in the production of superhero fiction, among many other things that Japan is known for, particularly in the field of animation and sequential art. In the books, Understading Comics and Making Comics, the author, Scott McCloud goes into detail about how comics in Japan developed in relative isolation. The same statement can also be applied to the development of superheroes in the region, which is why the first Japanese superhero emerged in such an unorthodox manner.
In 1930, before the medium of the comic book even took off in the United States, writer Ichiro Suzuki and illustrator Takeo Nagamatsu created the character Golden Bat. However, the character didn’t debut in the pages of a comic book, but in panels of a “kamishibai”, meaning “paper drama” in Japanese. A “kamishibai” is a traveling show in which a sequence of pictures is shown to the audience while accompanied by a narrator. Even when the art form began to lose popularity, the character remained popular long enough to make the transition into printed and animated form. Although the impact of Golden Bat was great, it was until the 1950s when superheroes in Japan began to emerge en masse.
Live action and drawn superheroes developed simultaneously in Japan. The success of characters such as Astro Boy and the success of the kaijū (monster) films produced by Toho paved the way for characters such as the Science Ninja Team Gatchman, as well as the Kamen Rider and Super Sentai franchises, the latter being the series on which Power Rangers is based.
It is interesting to examine the stark differences between Japanese and American superheroes both in their appearance and in how they are written. While superheroes in the US wear capes and masks, most of the early heroes in Japan wear scarves and helmets, if the heroes are human. While US heroes are usually written for one demographic, certain Japanese heroes seek to appeal to numerous demographics. The most notable examples from both sides would be DC’s Wonder Woman, which tends to be on the same level of violence as most male superheroes, and Sailor Moon, which is far more light-hearted and “girly” by comparison.
What it all boils down to:
In the end, no matter where these heroes come from, and whether they are made for the purpose of merchandising or legitimate story-telling, superheroes still serve their purpose of demonstrating values we uphold within our society as a whole. All together, they comprise a grand mythology that posterity will look upon and use for further inspiration like we have the ancient myths of our ancestors. Whether they suit up in a phone booth or transform on the spot, these champions of justice will continue to embody the values of truth, justice, hope and goodwill towards our fellow man.
For a more detailed analysis of Japan’s superhero history, please visit The Globe’s new website, www.globeslcc.com.