Before the over-the-top mayhem and dark humor of Amazon’s The Boys, before the post-apocalyptic nightmare of The Walking Dead, before the sprawling space adventure of Avengers: Endgame, there was MARS ATTACKS! The original pulp sci-fi card set, released by Topps in 1962, influenced them all.
Now nearly six decades later, The Topps Company has licensed Mars Attacks to SideKick Lab, who will develop, produce, and publish a new series of Mars Attacks trading cards, which is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter. This campaign was fully funded in just over an hour!
I was always such a big fan of movie serials and pulp superheroes even before my initiation in to comic books. I loved characters like Superman and The X-Men, but I also loved The Shadow, Commander Cody, and the Green Hornet. Some of those heroes made up some of my most entertaining fantasies, and it wasn’t a big adjustment considering most of the nineties’ superhero movies were mainly adaptations of pulp heroes like “The Phantom” and “The Rocketeer.” Kerry Conran remains one of the most prophetic filmmakers of all time.
So this is where comic book movies were in 1996, kids.
You don’t know how good you have it. These days everyone has Iron Man, and Captain America, Oscar winning Spider-Man movies, and massive team movies from DC and Marvel. Aquaman is a friggin’ box office juggernaut. In 1996, though we had slim pickings, and, well the best we could get was a truly terrible, painfully dull cinematic adaptation of a pulpy Dark Horse comic that doubled as a remake for “Casablanca.” No seriously, this is as good as it got for us comic book fan boys.
For me, “Sparks” was an easy sell. I’m someone who loves serials, and classic pulp heroes that used their fists and fell for dames while fighting crime. Though “Sparks” is obviously an indie production, it garners the spirit of classic pulp heroes through and through. From a murder mystery, hard boiled cops, masked heroes, and the like, “Sparks” is an entertaining throwback to pulp heroes that, while flawed, is still worth a watch. If only for the great cast. Directors Todd Burrows and Christopher Folino leave no stone unturned in their ode to classic forties comic books, even featuring characters that smoke like it’s going out of style.
I love pulp heroes and classic superheroes from the 1930’s. If you were around during the 90’s, you will remember many of the heroes that studios attempted to revive for big franchises and massive movie series. And sadly they all failed. From Tarzan, and The Phantom, right down to The Rocketeer, they were all fun movies, but audiences wanted no part of their worlds. “The Shadow,” the biggest inspiration for the creation of Batman, is still one of the most underrated superhero adaptations ever made, but one that unfortunately never bloomed in to a full fledged film series.
You can almost see where Alec Baldwin would have been a wonderful Bruce Wayne and Batman at some point in his career. Early in his life, Baldwin was heavily considered for the part of Bruce Wayne and Batman in the first cinematic incarnation of the Dark Knight. Back then Baldwin was thing, dark, had a sense of mystery to him, and garnered a raspy gravelly voice that made him sound mystifying. Unlike Batman, The Shadow operates on an entirely different code of ethics and crime fighting, and is never above using his two trademark hand guns to instill justice on the slime of the city.
There aren’t many films in the ilk as Ernest Hemingway’s “The Killers.” Though I’ve yet to see the Burt Lancaster original from 1946, “The Killers” is never without its assortment of merits and high points. You want cool? You turn to Clu Galagher. You want power, you turn to Lee Marvin, and lo and behold, “The Killers” teams both actors together to form a B grade thriller that’s stylish and entertaining. The duo Siegel’s film centers on are a searing team of hit men. Clu Galagher is bad ass, and Lee Marvin is just great. I can see why Quentin Tarantino would be inspired by this for his own characters Vinnie Vega and Jules Winfield.
It seemed like such a good idea at the time. The Syfy Channel or The Sci Fi Channel has had a good track record for television series that excelled in epic space adventures with hit shows like “Stargate” and “Farscape.” Plus, they engineered one of the most critically acclaimed award winning reboots of all time, “BSG: Battlestar Galactica” which ended up being an important touchstone for science fiction in the twenty first century.
So what in the heck happened with “Flash Gordon”? Syfy and their executives not only seem to miss the point with these characters of the pulp era, but completely seek out to alter their personas rather than re-invent them.