Thursday, September 8, 2011

Once A Hero - The Marvel Comics Link

For reasons unknown, I found myself watching the opening to the TV show ONCE A HERO for the first time since its original airing over 20 years ago. The premise of the show was that a comic book hero named Captain Justice had somehow come to life and found himself having to deal with a real world much different than his fictional home. You'll have to forgive me for being a bit spotty on details beyond that, as it has been a few years. I remember liking some parts of the original pilot, disliking others, and not being particularly sold on the series. ABC must have agreed with me, as they yanked ONCE A HERO from their schedule after only a few weeks. I imagine it has not been seen since outside of the collector's circles.

I was watching the video and not really thinking much about it. There were faux comic book panels and covers, but I would expect something like that. My interest was piqued, however, when I spotted the Marvel Comics villain the Controller fighting Captain Justice. I'm glad I started paying closer attention, as that lessened the shock when frickin' THANOS showed up!

ONCE A HERO opening

Well, that was a wrinkle I didn't remember from my viewing of the show all those years ago! Still, it didn't take long to figure out what might've happened. Had ONCE A HERO been produced by New World Television? A quick check of the imdb confirmed that it had. New World owned Marvel Comics at the time, so it seemed like a little corporate synergy was going on between the two divisions in the creation of ONCE A HERO.

Only, why the heck would they use the Controller and most especially Thanos? Well, it is important to remember that Thanos' "career" was in a bit of a lull at the time, so I'm sure he wasn't deemed to be as big a deal as someone like Dr. Doom. But the simple answer is that those villains were used because they had been featured on comic book covers that were redone for the opening. And both of those covers belonged to the guy once labeled "the most cosmic superhero of all!" - Marvel's first claimant to the name Captain Marvel.

It made sense. Mar-Vell (swear to God his alien alter ego, all you non-comics readers) bore something of a resemblance to Captain Justice. He was the closest thing Marvel had to a perfectly "generic" superhero who was nonetheless prominent for years. Why not raid the back issues of his title for suitable covers to recreate as Captain Justice covers? Except they didn't stop there.

During my armchair detective work, I noticed there were several of the images that didn't match any covers from the Captain Marvel series. Playing a hunch, I discovered that some of the faux covers were instead based on books starring ADAM WARLOCK! Again, when I stretched my mind, I could see how Warlock could fit into the same general character design as Captain Justice.

Immediately, I started to wonder if this was an indication of direct involvement from Jim Starlin, who happened to be the artist most identified with both Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock despite not creating either of them. The usage of a Gil Kane Captain Marvel seems to suggest otherwise. Still, I can't help but wonder how Starlin must have felt to see his work reused in the opening of a TV show with no credit or compensation. I mean, he must have found out somewhere along the way, right?

I've made a little list ("He's made a little list!") of the covers swiped in the opening to ONCE A HERO. Well, the ones I recognize. There are some that I can't match to either Captain Marvel or Adam Warlock, and I honestly don't want to wade through hundreds upon hundred of Marvel covers trying to find them. Still, they DO look familiar. That image of Captain Justice rescuing people from a flood rings a bell, but I don't know which one. Ditto the one where he's under the spell of some villainess.

The covers!

Did you spot all of them? A few additional points:
  • Captain Justice was apparently published by "Pizzazz Comics". Though the logos are different, Marvel published a magazine called named "Pizzazz" in the 1970s.

  • Those covers were completely reworked, and weren't simply old comics with Captain Justice paste-ups. Freeze-frames reveal different dialogue on the redone Warlock #13 cover - something that would not have been obvious to most viewers. There's also the little matter of Thanos having been given his proper color scheme, rather than the one seen on Captain Marvel #33.

  • Marvel actually published a Captain Justice comic book series as a tie-in with ONCE A HERO. It only ran two issues before it was dropped due to the TV show's quick cancellation. And yet, even then, the cover to #2 managed to squeeze yet ANOTHER homage to a Captain Marvel cover into the mix - this time it was Captain Marvel #29.

So, does anybody out there have anything else to add? I'm especially keen to hear if you can identify some of the other covers swiped in the opening. Oh, and if anyone knows Jim Starlin's opinion on the matter, that would be great, too.

I never in a million years dreamed I would write so much about ONCE A HERO.

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