As a Marvel fan, you owe it to yourself to dive into Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (new to paperback), an exhaustive history of the company from its golden-age roots to its purchase by Disney in 2009. There’s high drama in there that rivals the material offered in Marvel’s own books, from the conflict between Stan Lee and creators Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby, to the editorial micromanagement of Jim Shooter, to skirting the brink of destruction with the company’s bankruptcy in the 1990s. But amongst all of these conflicts that drive Howe’s narrative, there are also tidbits of trivia that might come as a surprise to even the most dedicated Marvel fans.
We were particularly amused by some of the TV and film projects that failed to get off the ground in one way or another. Stan Lee may have been pushing for films and television for Marvel’s properties from the get-go, but we’re probably lucky that Marvel movies didn’t start coming at us in full force until technology was ready to deliver on the comic book fantasy within the pages. Surprisingly, out-of-the-box casting ideas have pretty much always been a part of comic book film history. Even without Twitter and Facebook, fans still found the time to let their voice be heard on casting rumors by firing off letters to Marvel. Nice to know some things never change. Here are just a few of the oddball Marvel projects that never got off the ground.
Bo Derek or Donna Summer As Dazzler
The mutant pop star (and X-Men teammate) Alison Blair, aka Dazzler, had a strange, bumpy path to her eventual creation. She was intended to be the Disco Queen, the center of a multimedia event partnering Marvel with Casablanca Records. Marvel would handle the Disco Queen comic, while Casablanca would release a Disco Queen concept album and feature film spotlighting the dancing superhero. John Romita Jr., one of the few Marvel staffers who was into the disco scene at the time, modeled the comic character on avant garde model/musician/actress Grace Jones. That look might have worked fine for Donna Summer, who was intended to portray the character on a nationwide musical tour, but a lawsuit between Summer and Casablanca sidelined those plans. The “Grace Jones” design was tossed when Bo Derek expressed an interest in playing the character on film.
Unfortunately for Marvel and Casablanca, these plans were all cooked up while disco took its last breath and died. There was no Disco Queen film, and the “Disco Dazzler” as she’d been renamed in X-Men comic guest appearances, finally got her own book, Dazzler, in 1981. Instead of laying claim to being Marvel’s first female-led superhero film, it earned its own footnote in comic history — it was the first monthly comic offered exclusively to comic book shops, unavailable on the newsstand.
Angela Bowie As Black Widow and Ben Carruthers As Daredevil
While Daredevil preps for a television revival in an upcoming Netflix-exclusive series, he almost hit TV screens over 30 years ago, as a backup player in a proposed Black Widow TV series. The rights to the characters were procured by model-actress and Widow fan Angela Bowie (David Bowie’s wife at the time, and mother of Moon director Duncan Jones). Daredevil and Black Widow were romantically entangled in the comic books, and she saw the potential in them as a passionate crime-fighting TV couple. Despite an elaborate photo shoot to help sell the visuals of the series (with her as spy Natasha Romanoff and Ben Carruthers as Daredevil), Bowie could never get it off the ground within the one-year licensing agreement she had.
Elton John or Mick Jagger As Spider-Man
How long have fans been complaining about casting? Since at least 1975, as a memo from movie producer Steve Krantz backed up his off-the-wall choices for Peter Parker in a live-action Spider-Man film — Elton John or Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger. “We will undoubtedly have the most orthodox complain bitterly about the casting, even if we played it as a straight action adventure,” Krantz predicted. Based on the letter Sean Howe procured, Krantz seemed to be trying to talk Stan Lee into the idea, which at least shows that Lee thought it was as bonkers as we do.
While no casting was announced for it, we’ve also covered the Silver Surfer movie that never happened, another piece of interest from Howe’s fantastic book. Whether you’re a die-hard comic collector or just a fan of Marvel through their films, there’s all kinds of information like this to be learned from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Why just impress your friends with your knowledge of the Marvel Universe when you can also impress them with an understanding of the real-life backstory that built that universe? Excelsior!
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