DC Entertainment Film and Television Historical Firsts

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After reading 10 THINGS DC ENTERTAINMENT DOES WELL by Mighty Icon (very interesting read) it inspired me to speak on another great thing DC has done over the years, the world outside of comics, although they have even more to be proud of there. That is the fact they have done the first in just about every category there is from Radio to Television, to team-ups.

Here I will spread them out a bit and give my own opinion, while my opinion is just that, the list I’m putting up are facts and one of the great reasons I grew up a DC fan, while having some respect for the competitors.

 

FIRST TELEVISION SERIES

While Flash Gordon has the honors of having the first ever Radio and Serial adaptations (starting in 1935) and Popeye had the honor of being the first Animated Theatrical Short (starting in 1933), DC along with a partnership with Kellogg’s cereal as a sponsor developed The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves, a TV series that would air for 7 Seasons (1951-1958) and develop two unaired pilots. Originally what would become the Season 1 2-Part Finale titled “The Unknown People” aired as an hour-long film in theaters titled Superman and The Mole Men in 1951.

The first season featured Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane but later seasons would bring back Noel Neil (who was Lois Lane in the two Kirk Alyn Superman serials) as the character giving her an edge that wasn’t seen too much at the time. This would be the first live action appearance of what would later be Jonathan and Martha Kent, in this series they have different names (in the Fleischer shorts the origin is changed drastically). Television at the time was still very new and while the series went from Black and White to Color many didn’t notice until years later. This interpretation featured a more grounded Superman, who while he always fights to protect everyone, including the villains, he has moments where he does what he needs to do, giving him a more relatable feel to him. This series also provided a sort of crossover with Lucille Ball on her series I Love Lucy , where George Reeves playing “Superman”, goes to Little Ricky’s birthday party and Lucy is seen dressed up as Superman.

 

FIRST CROSSOVER SERIES

While the I Love Lucy/Superman episode can be considered a crossover it really isn’t, but DC with a partnership with 20th Century Fox does have the distinct honor of having the first crossover of comic book heroes crossing over. In the episodes “The Spell of Tut” and the two-part “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction” the characters of Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee), characters that originally debuted on a radio program and later became a comic book, made appearances on the series establishing the world’s connected (both shows were being Produced by William Dozier), the 2nd/3rd appearance was an attempt to garner more views for the troubling Green Hornet series that ended its first and only run later on. In the episode the two sides see the other team as villains at first but discover that they are on the same side. The episodes themselves were not too bad but they do contradict each other as the first crossover they clearly see them as fellow heroes. This series also featured the first live action female comic book character with Batgirl (played by Yvonne Craig).

 

 

FIRST TV/FILM CONNECTED UNIVERSE

While The Adventures of Superman did start off as a 1 hour theatrical film before going into a TV Series that was always the plan to get people to see the TV Series when it went to air. In 1966 after the first season of Batman wrapped 20th Century Fox commissioned a live action film set within the continuity of the series starring Adam West (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Burt Ward (Dick Grayson/Robin), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Frank Gorshin (The Riddler), Caesar Romero (The Joker) reprising their roles from the TV Series, Julie Newmar was under contract with another studio when the movie was being shot, so Lee Meriwether stepped in as Catwoman. The film definitely had a bigger budget but it ultimately felt like a 3 part episode of the series.

Swamp Thing years later would develop its own connected TV Series which would have the star of the films reprising his role in the series. Swamp Thing is also the first adapted Vertigo character.

 

FIRST FEMALE COMIC BOOK SERIES

While there were three attempts to bring female DC Characters to the small screen with Batgirl, and twice with Wonder Woman (played by Ellie Wood Walker and Cathy Lee Crosby) it wasn’t until 1975 that Lynda Carter graced the small screen and became the first ever female comic book character to star in her own show. The series which by this time DC Comics were now owned by Warner Bros. aired on ABC (Season 1) and CBS (Season 2 and 3) and would become the version of Wonder Woman many would cling to as a representation of the Amazonian Princess. Getting a name change after the 1st season, the series went from WWII Nazi-Era territory to a more up to date (at the time) threats. It had its share of campiness but never went as far as the 1966 Batman TV Series. Her contribution to the character has allowed her to come onto Smallville as Moira Sullivan and many feel she should be in some capacity in the upcoming Wonder Woman film starring Gal Gadot.

 

FIRST LIVE ACTION FILM

Batman the Movie was definitely a film, although it felt like a 3 part episode of the series, however Superman: The Movie is considered by many to be the first theatrical film based on a comic book and it certainly was one that took the source material seriously and with respect. This was also the first film to be distributed by Warner Bros. and Produced by the Salkinds. Originally shot as two films (with Superman II) this would also be one of the biggest comic book film productions until the upcoming Justice League films that will be filmed by Zack Snyder.

Starring Christopher Reeve (Clark Kent/Superman), Margot Kidder (Lois Lane), Gene Hackman (Lex Luthor), Marlon Brando (Jor-El) and Directed by Richard Donner based on a script and story by Tom Mankiewicz and Mario Puzo (The Godfather), Donner set the tone of how comic book films should be treated, with respect and how to gain an audience’s attention to go see it by casting Gene Hackman and Marlon Brando. Donner was able to cast an unknown like Christopher Reeve and still get fans to come and see.

At the time in 1978 the majority of people still felt like comic books were for kids and only though of them as the campy 1960’s Batman, this legitimized it for many.  John Williams score also gave birth to the ultimate superhero score. While I do find Man of Steel to be a better representation of Superman overall, I will never deny that Donner’s film is a testament to how well a film can work. As I said above Superman: The Movie was shot as two films, however due to some controversy between the Salkinds and Donner the 2nd half of Superman II was left unfinished and eventually Richard Lester who would go in and Direct Superman III would finish it up. Donner still filmed a good portion of Superman II and when it finally released in 2006 to celebrate the release of Superman Returns on video, many fans like myself got to see Donner’s true vision and one that needs to be watched together with the first film.

 

THE FIRST COMIC BOOK CINEMATIC UNIVERSE and FEMALE FILM

This is lumped together because they do both at the same time. While it is true Universal Monsters being the first to have a connected Universe. DC Comics, The Salkinds and Warner Bros. all earned the right to say they tried it first with a comic book film with Supergirl, starring Helen Slater as Kara Zor-El and directed by Jeannot Szwarc from a story/script by David Odell, while the film was a flop, it did have a great performance by Helen Slater in her first film appearance and it featured Jimmy Olsen played by Marc McClure, reprising his role from the Christopher Reeve’s Superman films. Faye Dunaway and Peter O’Toole are this films major stars and despite the results, Faye Dunaway always seemed to really love playing the role.

 

FIRST DARK COMIC BOOK FILM

While Tim Burton’s Batman is far from dark nowadays, at the time it really pushed the boundaries of how mature you can go with comic book films and because of this films like The Crow, Blade and soon Deadpool are possible. There certainly wouldn’t be a Nolan Batman Trilogy. As John Williams score gave life to Superman: The Movie, Danny Elfman did the same for Batman and even today even fans of the Nolan trilogy will still show respect to the great score Danny Elfman gave to the Burton Batman films. Starring Michael Keaton (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Jack Nicholson (The Joker), Kim Basinger (Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon) with a script by Sam Hamm.

 

FIRST TELEVISION UNIVERSE

While Hanna Barbara and Filmation both had multiple DC cartoons that connected they were always continuing timelines, so more like sequels. In 1992 Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and Eric Radomski with Andrea Romano came together to give us Batman: The Animated Series, starring Kevin Conrory as the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman, this series aside from winning some Emmy’s would be the first in a series of shows, shorts, video games and even films that would be dubbed The DC Animated Universe, not to confused with the current DC Animated Universe which has a more PG-13 tone to it, that feature just about all the DC Heroes past and present teaming up. I posted the trailer to the feature length film that was released after the first season was over and connected to the series as an example.

This series also had a sequel called Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero which acts as a bridge between the FOX series and what would be the WB Kids era.  It wouldn’t be until 1998 that this version of Batman was moved to WB Kids and given a new slicker look that he would first team up with Tim Daly’s Superman from Superman: The Animated Series and officially starting the universe’s expansion.

The series also gave us new backstories for characters like Mr. Freeze, Mark Hamill’s famous role as The Joker and the debut of Harley Quinn. Following this team up we would get Batman Beyond, set in the future where Bruce Wayne is an old bitter man training a new cocky teen to be Batman as well as a spinoff series The Zeta Project, we also got Justice League, Justice League: Unlimited and Static Shock as well as two more connected films,  Batman Beyond; Return of the Joker and Batman: Mystery Of the Batwoman. This franchise of films, shows and games are still considered to be the definitive take on all of DC and has yet to be challenged. I will also post here that currently WB Animation and DC have 3 separate and a possible 4th separate Animated Film Universe that started with Justice League: Flashpoint Paradox.

 

FIRST DIVERSE COMIC BOOK FILM

While Meteor Man was given a comic book after it became a film by Marvel comics, the first comic book to film adaptation featuring a diverse character was in the form of Steel, I won’t beat around the bush this film was terrible but it was once again an example of times where Warner Bros. and DC Comics have tried something different and it didn’t work out (this is why later on they took forever to start their own DC Cinematic Universe, they learned from past mistakes).

This film starring Shaquille O’Neal was released in 1997 and was originally meant to be a spinoff film when Warner Bros. were getting ready to developed a series of films based on the Death and Return of Superman that proved to be popular at the time, however with the injury of Christopher Reeve, the issues with scripts like the infamous Superman Lives film and cancellation of Lois & Clark: The Adventures of Superman the television series, Warner Bros. were having a difficult time getting Superman back on the big screen. Still once again we do have another example of DC putting themselves out there for fans.

 

FIRST CONNECTED LIVE ACTION SHOWS

We are currently seeing a new first for DC, their connected live action TV Universe with Arrow then followed by The Flash and soon Legends of Tomorrow, we also have Vixen, an animated webseries that will connect and the possibility the Supergirl over at CBS will eventually connect. There were speculation that Birds of Prey was connected to Smallville, but since that series only lasted one season we never got a chance to see how true that was, therefore here we are.

Keep in mind there are always a chance DC’s major ace up their sleeve could be a multiverse crossover between TV and Film (of course Turtles Forever did do this first but in animation), so take a seat and enjoy as Warner Bros. and DC once again plant their flag all over TV and Film in the coming years. I know this was a very long article, so if you managed to read all this thank you and please sign off below on your opinion.

Eric Curto

Eric Curto

My name is Eric and I am loving this current comic book boom, I was around for the first one with Superman: The Movie, Supergirl(being the first female and crossover film) and Batman and have been enjoying the resurgence since Blade. Can't express how much I cannot wait for WB & DC to take back the film universe but until than I love the TV shows we have gotten. I only started reading comics about 10 years ago but am connected more to DC over Marvel or any other major company. If you wanna chat feel free to contact me
Eric Curto
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  • Wow Eric, thIs is an excellent article!! I’m flattered that my words inspired you to write this. I would also add yet another DC first: Static Shock, the first diverse animated series.

    • And, THAT I am anxiously awaiting!

    • Eric Curto

      I did mention that Static Shock was made as part of the DC Animated Universe, but didn’t think of the Diverse part of it, good call and yea you did great on your article