HOLY LIGHTNING, ITS GODS, SUPERHEROS, CRIME FIGHTERS AND GADGETS.
Thor Odinson, is a character that appeared in numerous comic books that have been published by Marvel. He is based upon the Norse God of thunder and carries his trusty magical Hammer Mjolnir with him. This Hammer has special powers and transfers these to Thor, allowing him to have super strength, the ability to fly as well as enabling him to control the weather. The character first appeared in comic form back in the August of 1962 in Journey into Mystery. The powerful character was created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Larry Leiber.
He was also to become one of the founding members of the Avengers team and was a regular in various publications from the house of Marvel making an appearance in every single Avengers tale. Thor also transferred well to an animated series for TV, as well as being on trading cards, video games and having clothing lines. In recent years has become a firm favorite of superhero fans in the Avengers movies and the three Marvel produced motion pictures that focus upon him.
Thor, (2011), Thor-The Dark World (2013) and Thor-Ragnarok (2017). The character was in many peoples opinion even more impressive on the big screen and actor Chris Hemsley took on the role bringing energy and adding a new and vibrant persona to the character. It is without a doubt that Thor has become a success story all round. Hemsley was supported wonderfully by veteran thespian Sir Anthony Hopkins and the love interest being provided by Natalie Portman. I think this Marvel franchise remains my favorite out of all of them and the appeal for the character and his adventures has increased even more since his appearance on the big screen.
The musical scores for the movies have all been commanding and exciting, with the thundering and relentless music for Thor-The Dark World by composer Brian Tyler edging its way to first position and Patrick Doyle’s atmospheric and driving soundtrack for Thor, the first in the series of the franchise coming a close second. The third movie in the series Thor-Ragnarok, was somewhat unfairly ignored, and the score by composer Mark Mothersbaugh was also overlooked by many. With the composer doing more than an adequate job enhancing and supporting the further adventures of the god of thunder.
The character of Thor might well have ended up as part of the DC family, as his creator Jack Kirby originally pitched the idea to DC in the 1950’s, which was some years before the Nordic superhero manifested in a Marvel publication. The image of Thor or at least the image we now associate with the character would have also been a little different if DC had taken him onboard. The character appeared in 1957 in Tales of the Unexpected and although the look of Thor was vastly different to what we know now, Kirby did retain some of the characters original features and combine them with fresher notions which would be utilized when he eventually landed at Marvel comics.
Another character that appeared regularly in the comic books and has featured prominently in the recent trilogy of movies is Loki, played brilliantly by actor Tom Hiddleston, who in the movies is seen as Thor’s mischievous and untrustworthy Brother, but in fact they were not related in Norse Mythology.
Loki became the target one of those famous but at the same time incorrect Hollywood studio re-vamping’s and was cast as Thor’s brother to benefit the films storyline. In Nordic folklore and mythology, Thor is the son of Odin and Frigg the latter his Mother was also referred to as Jord which means Earth. Loki, however, is the son of the giants Farbauti and Laufey of the Kingdom of Jotunheim. Loki was born to the Jotun, who in Nordic mythology are the enemy of the gods. Being unusually small for a Frost Giant, Loki was abandoned by his parents in a temple hoping that he would die, but after the war between the Frost Giants and Asgardians (gods) had ended, Loki was found by Odin. Odin took pity on the baby and altered his appearance with sorcery so that he would resemble an Asgardian,
Odin then raised him as his son alongside his true son Thor. As the child grew up Loki always felt that he was living in Thor’s shadow and was envious and resentful of him for being the future King. Loki is often referred to as the blood brother of Odin and counted among the Aesir gods of Asgard. His is the god of mischief and is cunning, intelligent, and dangerously wicked. Thor and Loki often lock horns in battle against each other, but also join forces to fight against monsters and the enemies of Asgard, Loki can never be trusted and is full of trickery, which often leads to Thor being betrayed. In the big screen movie versions Loki is an essential character and vital to the storylines, creating chaos and being underhanded and totally unpredictable, but also wonderfully.
From a superhero who is a god to a superhero who has no super-powers to speak of, he is mortal and relies upon gadgetry and intelligence to bring a halt to wrong doings and stop and snare criminals.
Batman, has been around for as long as I can remember, my own personal first encounter with the character was on TV in the form of actors Adam West and Burt (Holy Dynamic Duo) Ward in the guises of the crime fighting pair Batman and Robin, during the 1960’s.
The TV series was produced by CBS and ran from 1966 through to the latter half of 1968. During this time, the series introduced us to many arch enemies of the duo and villainous characters that were not only dastardly but at times clumsy and to be honest stupid. The series also introduced us to the rather dazed character of Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Gotham City’s dim-witted Chief of police O’Hara (Stafford Rep),
Batman or Bruce Wayne was aided not just by Robin or Dick Grayson, but there was Alfred the faithful butler, who was much more than just a man servant played by Alan Napier. Then there was Aunt Harriet or Mrs Cooper (Madge Blake) who was a regular in over ninety episodes of the show.
With the appearance of Batgirl/Barbara Gordon played by Yvonne Craig in 1967.
But Batman’s enemies outnumbered his allies and came in the form of The Joker (Cesar Romero for 19 episodes), The Penguin (Burgess Meredith also in 19 episodes), The Riddler (Frank Gorshin 9 episodes and John Astin in 2 episodes), Cat woman (Julie Newmar for 12 episodes and then Eartha Kitt for 3 episodes) King Tut (Victor Buono in 8 episodes), Egghead (Vincent Price in 5 episodes) and so many more that it would an age to mention them all.
The series even included an appearance of The Green Hornet. I think the appeal of the series for adults was that it never took itself seriously and no matter what situation the dynamic duo were in at the end of each episode we all knew they would emerge unscathed and victorious in the following one, children too loved the series because there was no real violence, many of the fights between Batman and Robin and whatever villain and their henchmen were involved that particular week, no one got hurt, the punches being covered up by a “POW”, and “SPLAT” or some other comic book terminology on screen in big bright letters. The music was the work of various composers, but the original theme was the work of Neal Hefti, with Nelson Riddle providing an arrangement of the theme for later episodes, Riddle also worked on the scores for around 90 episodes with Billy May and Warren Baker also writing incidental cues for the series.
The Neal Hefti theme is a fusion of surf music and spy bop, with guitars percussion and chorus. Its one of those pieces of music that once heard can never be forgotten, its more annoying than haunting, but has become an iconic piece that is associated with Batman. The series also included a number of performances from actors that were well known at the time and are a part of cinema and TV history, with Lesley Gore who had a hit in the 1950’s with It’s My Party also appearing as one of Cat woman’s disciples Pussycat and Bruce Lee also making an appearance in 2 episodes as the character Kato. Shelley Winters also turned up in 2 episodes as Ma Parker with the likes of Ida Lupino as Dr Cassandra and Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva also making appearances on the show, when you look at the cast list for the entire series it does read like a who’s who in TV and film from the sixties. Woody Strode, Cliff Robertson, Carolyn Jones, Milton Berle, David Wayne, Glynis Jones, Van Johnson, Maurice Evans, Roddy McDowell, Liberace, Michael Rennie, and even Otto Preminger the esteemed filmmaker appeared in 2 episodes in the role of filled with Mr Freeze in 1966 which was a role that Eli Wallach also took on in 2 episodes one year later. The list is literally endless the series which was at the time popular, is looked upon now as a send up of the original character, and one filled with high levels of campness and over the top and tongue in cheek moments.
But let us not forget that Batman was a character who appeared long before the TV series was aired. The Batman debuted in an issue of the Detective comic book in March 1939 the character was the brain-child of the artist Bob Kane who together with writer Bill Finger breathed life into the character that was to adopt the name of the caped crusader.
As we all now are aware Batman is the alias of the wealthy American businessman Bruce Wayne, The origins of the character are that he vows to take out his revenge upon criminals and low life’s after as a child he witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of a thief who guns them down mercilessly in the street. Wayne trains himself to become physically fit and intellectually superior. He then takes on the form of a bat like avenger, who patrols the dark streets of Gotham in search of the criminal elements in the city and to protect the innocent.
The character it is said came into being because of the success of another DC comics stalwart superhero, Superman, and although Bob Kane often took the credit for the creation of the character of The Batman, Bill Finger’s writing prowess played a large part in the development and also the growing popularity of dark and initially solitary crime fighter, because he developed the character into something that was more like a bat whilst also making him a figure that comic readers could identify with as being dark, shadowy and stealth like, but at the same time standing up for the downtrodden and fighting for justice.
In 1940, Batman was given his own publication, in which he was shown to be a ruthless and unforgiving vigilante who often resorted to violence and even going to the extremes of killing and permanently maiming his adversaries. As I pointed out at the beginning of this section on Batman, he is known as a super-hero, but does not actually have any super-human powers. He cannot fly like Superman, nor does he have X ray vision, or super strength.
So instead, our hero must rely on his own intelligence and also his wealth to help develop the tools he needs to combat the array of villains that descend upon Gotham. The CBS TV series in my opinion was entertaining in a cheesy and humorous way, but I also think that it did a lot of damage to the original creation of Batman, and even when the series stopped production many still thought of Batman and his sidekick Robin as a pair of crimefighters that bordered upon being a comedy duo rather than a dynamic one. For a number of years after the popularity of the TV series and subsequent feature film outings featuring Batman and Robin curtailed, writers attempted to try and restore the darker elements of the character.
But it was not really until the 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller that we saw any re-kindling of the original ideas of both Kane and Finger.
Batman has featured in many different comics and is also a member of The Justice League alongside other superheroes such as Wonder Woman, and Superman. Batman is one of the most popular and iconic characters in comic book and film history, with his likeness being made into toys most notably the Lego Batman as well as being the focus of video games, with his image depicted on clothing, and being launched to the cinema screen. The character has been portrayed by several actors, Adam West of course for TV, and on the silver screen, the likes of Michael Keaton, (Batman and Batman Returns), Val Kilmer (Batman Forever), George Clooney (Batman and Robin), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight Trilogy), Ben Affleck and soon Robert Pattinson have and will don the cape and cowl of The Batman.
Music for the film series has fallen to a handful of composers, the first two movies Batman and Batman Returns, being scored by the then relatively newcomer Danny Elfman, his scores for both movies are still regarded as the sound of Batman With the composers dark and irreverent music complimenting perfectly the even darker humour and imagery of director Tim Burton.
Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, contained wonderfully supportive and inventive soundtracks from composer Elliot Goldenthal, but the movies paled in the brilliance of the Burton helmed movies which I think was mainly due to the direction of both the movies by Joel Schumacher, who attempted to bring comedy back into the storylines, but in the opinion of many failed to get the balance right. I think the Dark Knight trilogy from director Christopher Nolan, made the most impression upon audiences, and the scores by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard too have attracted the attention of many.
What I loved about the music in the Nolan trilogy was that it is as shadowy and secretive as the central character, and it contained a proud and driving musical persona throughout. The music for the second movie in Nolan’s trio of movies,
The Dark Knight, I thought stood out because of the tense and apprehensive tones that the composer employed, creating a simmering saucepan of water effect, which is on the edge all the time and threatening to boil over at any moment. The highlight cue within the score must be Like a dog chasing Cars, it’s a builder, and it enhances the action, gradually gathering momentum until the percussive elements become uncontrollable and usher in the driving strings and the tense sounding brass, it’s a great piece of scoring and has to it an almost Wagnerian sound and style to it, it is bold and grand, operatic and total consuming. The composition taking on more and more instrumentation as it continues to propel headlong all the time adding tension and excitement to the proceedings. James Newton Howard is credited alongside Zimmer for this but was it a collaboration in the true sense or was it a collaboration when each composer contributed certain cues, its hard to tell, as the style remains pretty constant throughout and it is a sound and a style that I for one associate with Zimmer as opposed to Newton Howard. The entire trilogy of scores are all brooding and unsettlingly dark, but when I have said in the past where are the themes, well, if you listen again like I have, they are there and hit all the right spots with precision timing and are like musical punchlines that are strategically placed to create the most impact and also become an integral component of each and every scene and also are well placed and masterful pieces that lead from one scene into another seamlessly.
The score not only compliments Nolan’s set piece shots and punctuates the action as well as underlining and making the exciting chases even more frantic and affecting, but it also becomes an integral component of the film making process, at times elevating and creating even more drama. The sight of The Batman standing aloft and alone on a tall building surveying his domain is awesome enough but add to that the musical forebodding as conjured by Zimmer and Newton Howard and this is not only the stuff of cinematic memories but something that will live long in the minds of a generation.
The Dark Knight Rises is the third in Nolan’s trilogy and Zimmer scored this on his own it seems as no other composer receives a credit. The final movie in this trilogy, I thought was possibly the most action packed, maybe not necessarily the best but that I suppose is a matter of personal taste. Zimmer’s score is superbly mysterious and ominous, but it also contains slithers of emotion that he layers throughout the work. Again, the music superbly supports, punctuates, and enhances, every scene, every line of dialogue, and every sequence, vibrantly lacing and weaving into the action being played out on screen and also becoming an extension of the emotions of the central figures It at times becomes harsh and jagged but also possesses the sensitivity that is required at key moments within the film’s storyline.
The scores are ominous and relentless, as are the movies, which are a return to the darkness as originally imagined for the character. The way that the composer utilises voices within the score somehow gives the movie a softer and less aggressive feel, but this is something that many composers do for example when a scene is maybe violent and chaotic they score it in an emotive or serene way, the music being calming which in fact not only supports the sequence but has the ability to make the scene or the act of violence more impacting and thus become more memorable and affecting for the audience, because the music literally lulls them into a false sense of security. Zimmer is a master at layering, repeating, and building sounds and music to become an imposing force within any movie and has done this on many occasions to great effect. The cue Time, from the movie Inception is a perfect example. But in The Dark Knight Rises the composer seems to take this style of scoring to new levels, slowly building pieces and rekindling smouldering embers that gradually are fanned to grow into a ferocious and consuming inferno. This is displayed perfectly in the cue, Despair, Zimmer ushers in ominous and dark sounding brass that is underpinned with brooding and unsettling electronic support, the horns then become more of a background but remain a force within the composition, the darkness and the swirling synths and strings combine to become a driving and strident sounding piece, in which we hear fragments of a theme raising its head momentarily, and then it subsides until percussive elements take hold and bring both strings, horns and brass underlined by sharp stabs from the percussion alongside choral chanting until he sets a more defined course and brings into play a foreboding and virulent atmosphere.
Despair segues seamlessly into the cue Fear Will Find You, again Zimmer layering, building, and adding textures and colours to create dark and sinister sounds. Its, not something that I would listen to on a Sunday afternoon in the garden, but when the images of a Gotham city in turmoil and under attack are combined with Zimmer’s expressive and at the same time atonal shades and vibrant sounds it is in a word magnificent. This cue then moves into Why Do We Fall which is forthright, and action led, that mixes into the short but effective Death by Exile, which is the introduction to Imagine the Fire, another smouldering and action laced cue that is such an essential piece of the movie, without it the atmosphere and the mood that comes across would not be as taught and edgy. The final cue on the soundtrack release is Rise and it is the music played over what essentially is the end scenes of the film, and it is also an important part of the stories conclusion where everything seems to at last fall into place and we the audience think we know where it is heading, or do we?
Batman as we all know also transferred well to animation, and the scores for many of these have been made available by La La Land records in the States, the labels Batman the animated Series volume three, is excellent, The four-disc set is impressive and powerful. It contains music from around twenty-three episodes or at least selections from these episodes, the opening is courtesy of Danny Elfman with his familiar and dark Batman theme setting the scene for the remainder of the four discs. Track two through to seven are taken from the episode entitled Robins Reckoning, these first tracks being the work of composer Carlos Rodriguez written for part one of the story and tracks eight through to fifteen are the work of composer Peter Tomashek for part two of the same tale. The first six cues in my opinion are in many ways similar to the sound that was achieved by Elman on the original movies as there is a certain sense of the operatic at times within the work but at the same time Rodriguez maintains a quirky but apprehensive and mischievous style similar to what Elfman had fashioned initially. This I think is mainly down to the orchestration, strings and brass playing a major part in the make-up of the score, with not only drama but hints of the romantic being included along the way. Sections nine through to fifteen are somewhat different in their sound and overall style although saying this composer Peter Tomashek does retain that air of mystery throughout that is tinged with urgency and underlined with driving strings that are supported by booming percussive elements and at times rasps from the brass section that seem to sneer and push their way into the proceedings, his approach however is removed slightly from both Rodriguez’s approach and Elfman’s original take with the composer producing an inventive and original work that although dark at times does towards the end of the score transform into a more heroic or courageous sounding work which for me any way works a treat. Track number sixteen is billed as a bonus track from Robins Reckoning, and is composed by Carlos Rodriguez, it has a kind of circus style to it but in a macabre and somewhat unsettling way. Tracks seventeen to twenty-three are the handiwork of the brilliantly talented Shirley Walker, taken from P.O.V. or Point of View and is one of the composer’s earliest contributions to the series, which is reflected in her score as she refers to the original Elfman theme during some of the action sequences, a trait that seemed to become less and less as the series progressed.
This is a powerful score from Walker, and one that contains so many of her own themes it literally oozes charisma and brilliance which is why she is considered still to be the foremost composer when it comes to the Batman animated series, P.O.V. is a return to a more traditional way of scoring, bold themes, a march, numerous motifs and highly exhilarating action cues with driving strings and tense sounding brass stabs that certainly get the adrenaline going.Above all Walker’s music entertains away from the images as well as working with them. There are another seven sections on the four-disc set credited to Shirley Walker and each one of them is a delight and pleasure to listen to. See No Evil, The Man who Killed Batman, The Forgotten Terror in the Sky, being among them.
Let’s go back to Marvel for the next character, Spider-man, this is a series of films that has like Batman gone through various stages and had many lead actors assuming the Spidey persona on screen, some better than others it has to be said. Likewise, there have also been a few composers involved with the franchise, Danny Elman, Christopher Young, James Horner, Junkie XL, Hans Zimmer, Michael Giacchino, and Daniel Pemberton, have all put their own musical stamp upon the adventures of the crime fighter.
But, lets leave the musical side of things till later and look at the roots of this superhero, who swings from building to building fighting crime and upholding the law of the land. Spider-man creator Stan Lee wanted his character to deal with certain issues in both the outside world and his own personal life and therefore Lee decided that his central character should also be a teenager. Who after being bitten by a radioactive spider found that he had certain powers. Originally Lee’s publisher thought it was one of the worst ideas he had ever seen or heard, But, at the time there was an increase in the sale and demand of comics books to the adolescence market. Thus, Spider-man the comic book was born, and after a while soon established itself as a firm favourite for all ages. Which is something that it remained to do and went on to become one of the most in demand series of superhero tales in comic book form.
Originally Lee approached his long-time friend Jack Kirby, and asked him to come up with ideas as to how Spider-man would look, Kirby did so but Lee was not happy with what the artist had sketched, he wanted spiderman to be more like an ordinary looking person, and not a full on superhero. In the end Lee decided to ask artist Steve Ditko who was also working for Marvel at the time to design the character. After a few submissions Ditko came up with an image that Lee liked, and it was this that formed the look of the character that we still see today, and one that has become iconic. The heroic crime fighter has throughout his comic book and cinematic, animated life seen a few varying costumes, but for the most part they have been the red and blue spandex suit, that has the spider emblem on the chest, and not many have strayed far from Ditko’s original concept. It was in 1962 that Spider-man made his first appearance in the pages of a comic book.
Which was in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy, which was a series that had been cancelled.The story almost never got published as Lee’s publisher was still not convinced that Spiderman was something that people would want to read about. Lee however convinced him to run the story, saying it did not matter because it was going at the end of a comic book that had been cancelled and no one really cared either way. But, as it happened it transpired that the last issue of the series was to become a best seller, because of the inclusion of Spiderman. And it was because of its popularity from this one issue that Lee was asked to write an entire series featuring Spidey which was entitled The Amazing Spider-man. At times it looks like Spider-man has numerous iconic villains to battle, but in truth the hero has not one persistent archnemesis, apart maybe from the leader of The Sinister Six, Doctor Octopus, who is widely regarded as one of the character’s more prominent enemies. But there are other lawbreakers such as the Green Goblin and Venom, who are thought of as the characters nemeses. So, the character of Spider-man has become one of the most popular from the Marvel stable and has also converted well to the big screen and TV. The character has appeared in so many animated TV shows and movies, that it is hard to keep track of them, these range from Spider-man and his amazing friends, through to Spectacular Spider-man right up to his more recent cartoon incarnations in the films Spider-man into the Spider Verse (2018) and Spiderman far from Home (2019). There have of course been several animated excursions for the webmaster, Spider-man the animated series, which ran from 1994 through to 1998, The Spectacular Spider-man (2008/2009) and the movie Spider-man Homecoming in 2017. Spiderman made his animated TV appearance on the ABC channel in the United States on a series entitled just Spider-man (1967-1970), the series became known mainly because of its low budget, but this did not stop it becoming popular and remaining on air for three years.
It is surprising that after the success of the series that Spiderman seemed to disappear from the screens, and did not re-emerge until the 1980’s. When he re-appeared in a re-boot of the series briefly before being seen in the company of the likes characters such as Iceman from the X-Men series as well as new characters such as Firestar and Gwen or Spider Woman.Since those early days the character has featured and starred in Spidey devotees’ favourites such as Spectacular Spider-man, and The Ultimate Spider-man. With a new animated series announced entitled Marvel’s Spider-man. But it is probably the live action movies, that have created the most interest with cinema audiences and subsequent DVD sales and outings on streaming channels etc.
Each of the live action movies had a quality and attraction of their own and although all were Spider-man stories, each had an identity all of its own. Likewise, the musical scores were all different, even when a composer might reprise his duties on a sequel or prequel in the series. The first movie in the series was released in 2002 and directed by Sid Raimi, it contained a vibrant, pulsating, and highly rhythmic score from Danny Elfman, which from the off contained so many familiar nuances and quirks of orchestration that we all associate with Elfman’s composing fingerprint, to be honest it could have been another Batman score or even a revamp of the music Elfman penned for Darkman, but it still grabbed the attention of the watching audience and served the movie well. The score was certainly filled with offbeat quirks and off the wall musical experiments, the track Costume Montage sounding somewhat spaghetti western in places. The score was not all action led as Elfman displayed in the track Alone which was filled with a quiet sadness purveyed by strings and subdued woodwind. But in the main the first Spider-man outing on the big screen contained a full-on action score, filled to overflowing with over-the-top themes and some inventive orchestration and innovative writing and familiar Elfman trademarks. The composer returned to the scoring stage for Spider-man 2, and the music he created again was high flying and sweeping with just as many if not more of those familiar Elfman musical trademarks, but on this occasion the sound seemed even more grandiose with the composer utilising a greater brass section, lavish strings, booming percussion and creating more choral moments. The tense and dramatic sound that he achieved underlined and supported the web hurling crime fighter and also made for a good listening experience away from the images on screen.
Spider-man 3, again starred Toby Maguire as Spidey, and was also helmed by filmmaker Sid Raimi, the music however was composed by renowned film music Maestro, Christopher Young, but it did also contain some of the themes that had been written by Danny Elfman for the first two moves in the franchise. Now Young had created iconic soundtracks for films such as the first two Hellraiser movies and had been active in the writing of film music for years. His Spider-man 3, score which was revered by collectors was at times condemned by certain critics, and because the movie was not as successful as it was anticipated at the box office, the music that Young penned was never to see the light of day as a commercial CD release. Instead, a song album was released and presented as the original soundtrack, the film company hoping to re-coup some revenue from the sales of the album. The composer issued a private pressing of his score, which contained fifteen cues and had a running time of just over an hour. Young’s atmospheric music is in my opinion probably the best Spider-man score written, grand and imposing, fearsome, dynamic, and dramatic it is a high powered and commanding work.
In the main it is a symphonic score but does contain some electronic or synthesised elements that act as support. Young combined powerful symphonic moments with choral performances and wildly relentless thematic material, which although scored for action scenes still contained an engaging and strong melodic content. It’s a funny thing every time I hear Young’s score for Spider-man 3, it evokes memories of Jerry Goldsmith, Chris Young kind of composes in a similar way, with big brass and driving strings for the action sequences, but he scores the quieter or more intimate scenes with poignant strings and woods and has the ability to fashion beautifully haunting melodies as did Goldsmith. His music from Spider-man 3 is like his many other soundtracks inventive and inspired, and within it one can hear glimpses of past Young scores and sounds and styles that the composer would employ in future projects, Spider-man 3 [jm1] [jm2] is an underrated work and one that so deserves an official soundtrack release. Next in the series was The Amazing Spider-man (2012) which had a change in the lead actor, and a new director. Andrew Garfield became Spider-man, and the directorial role was taken on by Marc Webb, with the musical score duties falling to James Horner. As one would have expected, Horner created a large-scale score for the movie, but although it underlined, punctuated, and supported throughout, for me it still did not have to it the presence or indeed the inventiveness that we had experienced with both Elfman and Young. In many ways this was a conventional sounding superhero score if there is such a thing. But it was still bristling and bursting with that superhero sound, bold, sweeping, and energetic. Horner also brought melody to the proceedings which manifests itself in a more developed form in the track I Can’t See You Anymore, within which the composer utilises heart breaking piano solo that is enhanced by strings to purvey an emotional and affecting composition.
For The Amazing Spider-man the composer fashioned an original sounding score that was removed from the previous three movies, as in there is little reference to these within Horner’s work, and it’s striking that we cannot hear any of the composers trademarks that he always seemed to include in other soundtracks, yes we know instinctively its Horner, but it’s different and is possibly one of his better works in the latter part of his career. The End Titles are highly emotive and one of the composers most gracious and uplifting pieces that ends in a wonderfully lush way. The Amazing Spider-man 2, was possibly when the franchise hit rock bottom, musically speaking that is, with Zimmer, and Pharrell Williams having a hand in writing the score, as well as contributions from Junkie XL and the Magnificent six? This can be the problem with Zimmer he never seems to create a score by himself, or if he does it happens rarely in more recent assignments, is this because he can’t or is it because if it’s bad, he can blame someone else?
This score for me resembles a hotch potch of styles, that contains fuzzy and crashing elements that are grating and to be honest annoying, no wonder it is such a mix of unsuitable sounds and styles when you have more than nine people working on it. I will not even go any further because this score was, well not that good, it’s a work that should be forgotten as soon as possible, it makes me laugh, that Chris Young’s excellent Spider-man 3, was denied a release but this uninspired excuse for a soundtrack got more than one release with the various four million re mixes getting out there to the poor unsuspecting members of the public. Then in 2017 we got Spider-man-The Homecoming, music by Michael Giacchino, an ok movie with a relatively good score, Giacchino being no stranger to sci fi movies via his work on the reboot of the Star Trek films. The score for Homecoming was a symphonic one although it does rely on some electronic support, Giacchino fashioned an appealing and serviceable score that incorporated the original theme as used for the TV series many years before. Which worked wonderfully, even if it was a little cliched.
A year later an animated version of the Spiderman story hit the cinema screens, Spider-Man- Into the Spider Verse, was an interesting updating take on the story and character. British composer Daniel Pemberton provided the score for the film, and like many of his other scores was a fusion of styles, he is a composer who is difficult to categorise as his style never remains the same and he is always evolving and developing his musical sound and style. I enjoyed his efforts on this movie, some of the pieces were very quirky, but I think that is the attraction of this composer because of his undeniable talent and his unconventional approach to scoring movies and TV projects. For his foray into the Spiderman franchise his outlandish and unpredictable style paid off and it is undoubtably a score that people will return to many times once savoured.
In 2019 Michael Giacchino returned to scoring duties on Spider-man far from Home, again the composer created a grand sounding score, filled with urgent and frantic action led cues, a good soundtrack but not as entertaining as the composers work on his Spider-man Homecoming score. I felt that the composer conformed a little to the way in which other superhero movies were being scored, and it had hints of the likes of Silvestri, Williams and even John Ottman within it, whereas it would have been nice to hear a little more of Giacchino as I know he is in there somewhere.
From the wall crawling, web leaping, spandex clad crime fighter, lets head into the territory of the superhero that is the figure many associate with being the supreme superhero. (no not Banana man) Superman, alias Clark Kent, Kalel, or Christopher Reeve, (sorry he will always be Superman). The origins of Superman were that he came from the beleaguered planet Krypton, which was about to explode, he was put in a spaceship and sent into the safety of deep space by his parents and managed to escape the planet’s atmosphere just as it exploded. He then arrives on Earth and is adopted by the Kent’s who find the child after he crash lands.
The original story was the work of Jerry Siegel with illustrations courtesy of Joe Shuster the character appeared for the first time in Action Comics#1 in 1938. Then as more stories were written and put into comic book form the writer established and expanded the information on Superman, these details were about his home planet and how he received his superpowers etc, it also explored the central characters relationships with various other characters that popped up within the stories. The story has gone through many changes in its lifetime and been the subject of not just comic books but Radio broadcasts, television shows, serials, and a plethora of film adaptations, the story continues to evolve and being added to even now with each new cinematic adventure that is released. In the early days, the storylines were at times confusing and muddled when it came to the background of Superman, but as the story began to become more familiar and the character remained popular into the 1970’s and beyond, the continuity of the storylines also began to be clarified by writers and filmmakers, who took the basics from the original writer and illustrator as a foundation, and invariably built on this to suit the storyline of the movie or TV series that they were creating, often adapting it and altering it to suit current trends and tastes. Superman first appeared on screen in serial form after the second world war making his on screen debut in 1948 and then returning in 1950. The two serials each contained fifteen episodes or chapters actor Kirk Alyn took on the role of Superman and Noel Nielle was the love interest portraying Lois Lane. Spencer Gordon Bennett directed, but also shared the credit with filmmaker Thomas Carrin. These early episodes acted as inspiration for a movie, Superman and the Mole Men which was released in 1951, and starred George Reeves as the Man of Steel, with the role of Lois Lane being portrayed by Phyliss Coates. The movie, which was directed by Lee Sholem, was intended to act as something of a warmup act for a planned TV series The Adventures of Superman which hit small screens in 1952 and ran for six seasons through till 1958, the series also starred George Reeves in the central role.
The first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies are arguably the best from that period, with later instalments falling rather short of the mark and becoming ever more camper and comedy laden. Sadly, it was comedy that at times failed to make an impression upon audiences and the punchlines would often miss their target.
Maybe it was because the humour was more Americanised, and audiences outside of the States just did not get it. However, Superman (1978) and Superman ll (1980) were and still are movies that can easily be placed in the iconic category of film. The former being directed by Richard Donner, and the latter movie being helmed by Richard Lester and Donner also being involved but uncredited for his role. The scores for both were also popular with composer John William (who else) being enlisted to provide the score for the first movie and for the second outing composer conductor Ken Thorne would weave the central themes that Williams had fashioned for the man of steel into his soundtrack.
Thorne returned to score Superman 3,(1983), which like its predecessor was directed by Richard Lester, and in my opinion and don’t forget this is a personal take on the films, I felt that Lester was the downfall of the Superman franchise, others will disagree, but his movies were played for laughs, and I know there are no such things as superheroes, but these just seemed to fall apart with an over the top performance from Richard Prior, that I for one think is just, “stupid” and nowadays unwatchable. But there was always Christopher Reeve, and very much like his character Reeve was always there to save the day and the movie.
Superman iv, The Quest for Peace (1987) was the last in the series of the original Superman movies, and it did not fare much better than the Lester directed instalments, for this outing Sidney J Furie, took the directorial reins and musical duties were undertaken by Alexander Courage, who adapted the music of John Williams for the film as well as conducting the score.
Its an interesting thing that in between Superman 3 and Superman iv, another Superhero made their debut on the silver screen and in full colour, Supergirl directed by Jeannot Szwarc, burst onto our screens. With actress Helen Slater fitting very nicely into her blue, red and yellow suit in the title role. Supergirl was Kara Zor-El, Superman’s cousin.
The film despite having Peter O Toole and Faye Dunaway in its cast failed to create much interest at the box office, and the only real super thing about the movie was the excellent score by Jerry Goldsmith, which contained a particularly stirring opening theme and a beautifully written theme that was used to support one of the Flying sequences.
Talking of excellent scores, I must mention the music for the Superman animated series, a lot of the music from these animated movies was released on the La la land compilation, entitled Superman the Animated series, (what else). Shirley Walker is featured on the compilation, Walker who is sadly missed provided the series about the Man of Steel with some robust and richly thematic material. Her spirited sounding opening theme for the series is also the opening cue for the compilation, with a proud and anthem like sound created by flyaway woodwind and timpani acting as a background to somewhat cautious sounding brass flourishes that are them-selves supported by driving strings and transform from slightly apprehensive into full blown and proud performances. In just over a minute Walker sets the scene perfectly for the adventures of this superhero. Composer Lolita Ritmanis also wrote scores for the series and is represented here with her music for The Last Son of Krypton which according to, John Takis (who penned the excellent sleeve notes for the compilation and also the Batman Animated collection) was originally broadcast as a feature length movie, but is divided into three sections, the first part being scored by Ritmanis, who created a quite unrelenting score filled with action cues and a multitude of thematic material, in my opinion her style is not dissimilar to that of the late Elmer Bernstein, especially in the more action orientated passages and even at times within the quieter moments of the work as well.
Dark underlying strings laced with brass and percussion erupt into a more sustained onslaught if that is the right way to describe it that although essentially action music somehow remains melodic, Ritmanis at times echoes the Shirley Walker theme or at least fleeting references to it within her score, which also enlists the support of synthetic instrumentation. Part two of the story is scored by Michael McCuistion with part three being the work of Harvey B. Cohen. McCuistion penned a suitably poignant soundtrack for the coming-of-age section of the story where we see the young Kal-El taken in by his earth parents after crash landing near their farm in Smallville and then growing into the young Clark Kent, McCuistion’s score is an accomplished one that includes many variations and serves up so many musical styles, treats us to a particularly rousing Superman central theme where we see Clark learning to fly. These are scores that are pleasantly surprising, all are grand and have to them an epic style and sound they are crammed with action cues but also have to them their fair share of lighter moments that include compositions that ooze melancholy, romance, and emotion. It is also a showcase release that wonderfully highlights the importance of music in animated productions, that sometimes have their musical scores ignored, simply because they are animated movies and not live action affairs.
There have also been several spin-offs along the way the TV series Superboy for example, which ran from 1988 to 1992, was produced by Ilya and Alexander Salkind, who also produced the first three Christopher Reeves Superman films as well as Supergirl. The TV show starred John Haymes Newton as a young version of Clark Kent/Superman who is attending college. The series also features Stacy Haiduk as Superman’s love interest Lana Lang and Scott James Wells as Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor.
Then in 1993, we were served up another TV series entitled Lois and Clark-The new adventures of Superman, which by all accounts was a surprise hit and ran for four seasons. It featured Dean Cain as Clark Kent and Terri Hatcher as Lois Lane. The series opens with Kent taking a new job at the Daily Bugle in the city of Metropolis. It is where he meets Lois Lane and falls in love, the series was more focused upon the relationship between Clark and Lois but did have some great action that included several new villains.
This paved the way for the Smallville series which aired in 2001 and was successful for a decade. Tom Welling is the high school-aged version of Clark Kent living in Smallville. It became the longest running Superman TV series, with the Superman origin background being altered slightly for the series. Michael Rosenbaum takes on the role of Lex Luther who is also attending Smallville High with Clark, and other villains such as General Zod and Brainiac also pop up. Music for the 10 season series was the work of both Mark Snow and Louis Febre.
But now its back to the new generation of feature films as the Superman saga continues but gone are the comedic undertones as the Superhero gets serious. And with a more dark and serious tone also comes a much more driven and sombre sounding score at times. As tales of Superman entered a new cinema age, we would see something within the superhero that was not fully explored before and that is the emotion of the character as in Superman and his alias Clark Kent, also his human side would also be unearthed, and a darkness and a vulnerability also would rise to the surface. Hardened devotees to the character had mixed feelings about this change in direction, but surely better this way than down the road of cliched half comedic slanted failures, which surely would have happened if the franchise had continued the merry way it was going. Like Batman, Superman had come of age cinematically and had landed in the harsh and violent world that we live in or at least a version of it. And Batman and Superman would also face off against each other in this new filmic take on the Superhero who is arguably the most well-known crime fighter of all time. In 2006 Superman Returns was released, and it aimed to start where the series starring Christopher Reeve left off, however the film starts where Superman ll ended, and completely ignores three and four, (well maybe it’s a better judge of quality than many of us were). Thus, it is a little confusing for audiences, and does not make much sense as the story unfolds.
However, the movie did contain a great score by John Ottman (X Men Days of Future Past, X Men Apocalypse, Valkarie) who thankfully included the original John Williams theme within his score as well as writing some very impressive original action cues, as well as supplying the movie with emotional musical support. But the film is like someone had finished reading issue 1 and 2 of a Superman comic and then jumped to issue 38. Brandon Routh puts in a solid performance as Superman, who has returned to Earth after a five-year absence to find his arch enemy Lex Luthor played by Kevin Spacey plotting to kill him and destroy the United States to create his own continent that he can rule. Superman also must deal with problems in his love life, as Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) has moved on from him during his absence from Earth. Oh well, he should have called at least (oh sorry that’s ET isn’t it).
Man of Steel came next and was the first of what can be categorised as The DC new Universe, darker and more hard hitting the film starred Henry Cavill, who certainly made his own impression upon the character of the Superhero. The movie also had Russel Crowe as Superman’s birth Father Jor-el and Kevin Costner and Diane Lane as Clark Kent’s adoptive parents the Kent’s. After the death of his adopted Father Clark is consumed by grief and decides to travel the world to conceal his true-identity. But eventually he must accept who he is and become Superman once again to save the world from the evil Kryptonians who are led by the power mad General Zod portrayed by Michael Shannon.
The musical score is the work of Hans Zimmer, who also enlists the aid of Junkie XL, Nick Glennie Smith and Atli Orvarrson. It’s a score that at the time of the films release I must admit I did not like at all, but I think like many other film music collectors I had been slightly brainwashed (in a nice way) by the music of John Williams and that stirring theme that accompanied Superman on his many adventures. The music for Man of Steel is completely removed stylistically from anything that had supported and accompanied Superman previously. There are no marches as we know them, but instead the composers involved serve up an at times harsh and rather grating score it is shadowy and brooding in its overall persona, but it’s not all bad news for anyone who loves thematic film music, because there are a handful of cues that at least hint at a theme. But saying this, in the movie the music is brilliant, it supports, it heightens the atmosphere and creates sweeping and grand moods, plus it has a tender and touching side to it. On refection and after re-listening to this score I have to say it is not only serviceable but affecting. The cue Goodbye my Son being one of the soundtracks highlights with its use of female wordless voice choir and underlying strings, that bring a near celestial sound to the proceedings.
In 2015, Supergirl took to the skies once again, but this time on the small screen for the TV series, a series which is still running today. Kara Zor-El is Supergirl played by actress Melissa Benoist, and like her cousin Kalel was sent to earth when she was thirteen years of age, but unlike her cousin’s spaceship her vessel was knocked off course and is taken on a detour, through a phantom zone before it eventually arrives on earth. The consequence of this detour is that she is thrown twenty-four years into the future, where she discovers that her younger cousin is Superman.
Batman Vs Superman-Dawn of Justice was released in 2016, again the score was by Hans Zimmer who on this occasion collaborated with Junkie XL, the score for this movie was I think more developed and had to it a more melodic undertone. But saying this it also had the darkness that had manifested itself in Zimmer’s Batman Christopher Nolan scores and the power and drive of his previous Superman soundtrack.
Plus, it also contained some riveting and robust action music and a driving almost rock sound which weaved in and out of the soundtrack. Again, probably not a soundtrack to sit and listen to as just music although it has its moments in that department. This is a film score that serves the movie, supports the action enhances the images and creates atmospheres and moods wonderfully. The film focuses upon to of the most iconic superheroes, who on this occasion are pitted against each other, Batman seeing Superman as an alien interloper who needs to be stopped and Superman looking upon Batman as not an ally but an adversary because of his vigilante stance and sees him as just as threatening as the criminals that roam the streets. But as the two cloaked warriors engage in battle, they are unaware that Lex Luther, is developing a weapon that will be able to destroy them both. The character of Superman I think will be with us for many years to come, and there is a new film in the works with plans for a black Superman.
TO BE CONTINUED………….
We will return in a FLASH in episode three, to talk about more KICK ASS superheroes, a woman who is a wonder and and machines that were toys and both filmic and comic characters, and the musical scores that accompanied them all.