Much has been made in recent years regarding the expansion of comics culture into other arenas. Typically, this “outside” attention focuses on the explosion of films based on comic subject matter, the flashpoint of which in the modern era is likely Blade. Sure, there are those that would pinpoint it to ’89 Batman, but for all intents and purposes, the Batman franchise stood alone at the box office, maintaining a thin strand to other media that was linked to a few contemporaneous TV shows (The Flash, The Human Target) and cartoons. By 1997, the Bat-franchise had collapsed, leaving only the animated TV shows and the husks of box office burnouts like The Shadow and The Phantom after them (let me be clear: those films have their fans, but they were not lasting hits).
But in consideration of today, where we see movie after movie hitting, where we see animated series after animated series, video games, toys, and more ad infinitum, it really does seem like there’s never quite been a time like in fandom. I would, however, venture to say that there was another brief moment that demonstrated what this could be like. To my way of thinking, that was 1978.
1978: We’ve visited 1978 before in the Flashback, notably for Teen Titans #53 almost a year ago. Of that year, I said: “Your big movies were “Grease”, “Superman” (yay, us!), “Animal House” (my advice to you: start drinking heavily) and “Every Which Way But Loose”, among others. Music was ruled by the iron hand of disco, with Andy Gibb and his brothers in the BeeGees dominating, not to mention several entries from the “Grease” soundtrack. On TV, “Wonder Woman”, “Incredible Hulk” and a variety of super-hero cartoons (including, yes, the Legion of Doom-fueled “Challenge of the Super Friends”) were on the air, and the biggest shows were “Laverne & Shirley”, its sire “Happy Days”, “Three’s Company”, “Charlie’s Angels”, and “All in the Family.” I was FIVE. Lucas was, like, negative four. Matt Brady was tending bar at 54. Ask Heidi. She was a regular.” And hey! That’s all still true.
If you look closely in the paragraph above, you’ll note several of the elements that I discussed. One of the top films of the year was Superman: The Movie. It was really the main proposition for this type of thing in pop culture. One could count Star Wars a bit, as it was still playing in many places and really getting rolling in terms of the merchandise behemoth that it would become.
The real super-hero and comic action, though, was on TV. During 1978, live-action prime-time series of note for, for lack of a better term, geek culture, in the United States included Wonder Woman, Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spider-Man, Battlestar Galactica, The Six Million Dollar Man (until March), Man from Atlantis, Logan’s Run (into January, but still . . .), and The Bionic Woman. Considering that there were only three broadcast networks at the time (ABC, CBS, NBC . . . for you younglings, Fox wouldn’t come along until the mid-‘80s, and the WB and UPN were much later), that’s a pretty impressive chunk of the schedule. Some of these shows were a direct response to the success of Star Wars, BSG in particular, but most of them were in progress.
As for Saturday mornings, it was a veritable avalanche of comic-related product. You probably all know that 1978 was the Challenge of the Super Friends season, pitting the Justice League of America against the Legion of Doom. But you could also find Godzilla Power Hour (also featuring Jana of the Jungle), Fantastic Four (with H.E.R.B.I.E. the robot instead of the Human Torch), Tarzan the Super Seven, (an anthology that included Freedom Force, Web Woman, SuperStrech and Microwoman and others), and Batman (this was the ’77 “Adventures” show, stripped to run with Tarzan and Super 7 at various times). More would air in 1979, including Plastic Man and the supremely weirdSuper Globetrotters, a show the re-envisioned the Harlem Globetrotters as super-heroes.
Additionally, Mego’s World Greatest Super-Heroes figures were still going strong, and a number of other toys, board games, puzzles and merch featuring the characters could be found.
So what was in the air in 1978? Star Wars? The Cold War? The Pop Culture Cycle? Disco? Something seemed to make the climate ripe for this particular type of entertainment. It’s also worthy to note that local syndication packages of the time made regular use of Batman and The Adventures of Superman, making them easily seen on a daily basis. Something as a culture had us in the mental space of wanting to see these kind of fantastic scenarios just about everywhere.
But, like all things, it faded. Sci-fi and fantasy may have boomed on the screen, but it faded a bit on TV. Sure, you’d get Buck Rogers and more, but U.S. television moved more into comedies and cop shows in the ‘80s. As you can see, though, today does put me in mind of that time. I know that being around five years old at that time certainly shaped my fandom just as the past few years have shaped the fandom of a number of younger people. Whatever the reason, it was the genre-inflected multi-media boom of 1978, and it’s your Friday Flashback.What was your favorite older multimedia comics project?