POW! Classic Film Stars Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

BATAs Hollywood maps out a future almost entirely reliant on superhero movies – the soft opening of Marvel’s ANT-MAN notwithstanding – it’s important to remember that comic books were not always on Hollywood’s A-list.

In their first live-action screen incarnations in the 1940s, superstars like Batman and Superman were relegated to low-budget, Saturday morning adventure serials produced by Columbia Pictures and marketed primarily to children. The often unintentionally hilarious cliffhangers found our heroes battling low-rent, contemporary bad guys – Batman fights a Japanese scientist played by J. Carroll Naish in yellowface in his 1943 debut – and, while they’re fun to watch ironically today, they bear little resemblance to what was to come.

It took the ratings success of ABC’s twice-weekly TV series to bring the Caped Crusader back to movie screens (courtesy of 20th Century Fox) in BATMAN (1966), but that was more campy comedy than action-adventure. And after George Reeves’ Adventures of Superman defined the character for a generation of TV viewers (first during its 1952-58 run, then in two decades of syndicated reruns), Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN (1978) finally brought the last son of Kypton to feature films (from Warner Bros., corporate cousin of DC comics since 1989).

But what if that wasn’t the case? What if superheroes had been as integral to classic film as they are to today’s movies?

BATMAN_byJoePhillipsJoe Phillips has an idea of what that might have looked like. The San Diego-based artist, a veteran of comic book titles like Wonder Woman and Superboy, has drawn a series of stunningly gorgeous posters recasting Studio Era stars as comic book icons. He calls the work Silver Screen Heroes, and it’s the stuff classic Hollywood dreams are made of.

“I am a huge classic film fan,” Phillips told me via Facebook message. “It certainly influenced my work and how I craft stories with pictures.”

Imagine Cary Grant as Batman, Gregory Peck as Superman, James Cagney as the Hulk, Buster Crabbe as Aquaman, Marilyn Monroe as Power Girl, Clark Gable as Iron Man, and Humphrey Bogart as Hellboy. The mind reels. Then thrown in a rogues’ gallery of villains, including Katharine Hepburn as a whip-wielding Catwoman, Yul Brynner as Lex Luthor, Danny Kaye as the Joker, and Shirley MacLaine as wise-cracking Harley Quinn.

While all of this is unfortunately entirely fictional, Phillips does a great job of retro casting, matching frequent co-stars in era-appropriate vehicles. Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland co-star in TEEN TITANS, the most action-packed 1930s musical MGM never made. Real-life husband and wife William Powell and Carole Lombard team up in a spooky, sexy Pre-Code production of DOCTOR STRANGE. And Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman join forces for a Eisenhower era WONDER WOMAN – quite a departure from their 1958 co-starring vehicle CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF.

I’ll admit to losing patience with the ponderous, violent epics that superhero movies have become, particularly in the DC universe. But imagine Cary Grant vs. Gregory Peck in BATMAN VS. SUPERMAN with a cameo by Elizabeth Taylor? Somebody please invent a time machine.

Phillips is offering limited edition 11×17″ signed prints of the Silver Screen Heroes series for sale. Only 10 of each are available. Visit his eBay page for more info. And a big hat tip to Andrew Wheeler of Comics Alliance, where I first learned of this project. 


About willmckinley

I'm a New York City-based writer, video producer, print journalist, radio/podcast host, and social media influencer. I've been a guest on Turner Classic Movies (interviewed by Robert Osborne), NPR, Sirius Satellite Radio, and the official TCM podcast. My byline has appeared in Slate.com and more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager and Gay City News. I'm also a social media copywriter for Sony's getTV and a contributor to four film-and-TV-related books: "Monster Serial," "Bride of Monster Serial," "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial," and "Remembering Jonathan Frid."
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16 Responses to POW! Classic Film Stars Reimagined as Comic Book Heroes

  1. Gotta love Bogie as Hellboy

  2. Terrific! As anyone who grew up in the fifties knows, superheroes (as well as monsters and even science fiction) were not taken seriously and thought of only for kids. Back then we waited forever for a half way decent B movie to come out that would hit us where we lived and most of them sucked. It’s incredible to me how much that has all changed.

  3. Bill says:

    Actually Shirley Maclaine dressed as the fictional Bat-LAAAAADY in Jerry Lewis’ Artists and Models.

  4. Kelly says:

    I like Marlyn as Powrgirl that pretty cool

    Also Bogie as Hellboy CLASSIC LOL!

  5. Vienna says:

    Marvellous illustrations.

  6. Jennifer says:

    These are great! The Doc Strange with Powell and Lombard is my favorite, I think. Thanks for this, Will!

  7. Sorry for the language, but those posters are fucking incredible! My favourite has got to be the one for Doctor Strange. And I love how he drew Claudette Colbert being photographed from her left side – amazing attention to detail by the artist 😉

  8. popegrutch says:

    I like the idea, but I’m disappointed that he didn’t keep it chronological. Clark Gable died three years before Marvel introduced Iron Man and Bogart had been in the ground for decades before anyone conceived of Hellboy, just to name a couple. Seeing stars of the 60s playing superheroes of the 60s would have been more interesting to me. Oh well, that’s what I get for being a historian.

  9. Pingback: Friday Link Roundup #22 | Cinefeels

  10. Roger McCalmont says:

    Marvelous idea & great art. I think Martha Raye would make a better Harlequin.

  11. Ron Johnson says:

    Great casting of Taylor & Newman. Cagney, Powell, Crabbe & Hayworth, too.

  12. cc says:

    William Powell and Carole Lombard look amazing. Powell’s awesome blue eyes would have been great.

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