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‘The Avengers': A Uniquely New York TV Phenomenon

Marvel Studios Celebrates Release Of "Marvel's The Avengers" At The New York Stock Exchange

Special commentary by James H. Burns

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) –For decades, in Marvel Comics, The Avengers lived smack dab in the center of Manhattan, in a mansion donated by Tony Stark (Iron Man), on 70th Street, just down the block from Central Park. (In reality, you just might find the Frick Museum, in roughly the same locale!)

The super heroes have also lived in the hearts of some New Yorkers for a generation or two in a way that seems to have been overlooked by most of the mainstream media:

In fact, New Yorkers with a long memory well know that The Avengers movie is hardly the first time the super heroes have appeared on celluloid.

Over forty years ago, many of  The Avengers early comic book adventures were adapted as full half-hour cartoon episodes of THE MARVEL SUPER HEROES show (commencing in September, 1966).

For decades, in Marvel Comics, The Avengers lived smack dab in the center of Manhattan, in a mansion donated by Tony Stark (Iron Man), on 70th Street, just down the block from Central Park. (In reality, you just might find the Frick Museum, in roughly the same locale!)

The super heroes have also lived in the hearts of some New Yorkers for a generation or two in a way that seems to have been overlooked by most of the mainstream media:

In fact, New Yorkers with a long memory well know that The Avengers movie is hardly the first time the super heroes have appeared on celluloid.

Over forty years ago, many of The Avengers early comic book adventures were adapted as full half-hour cartoon episodes of The Marvel Superheroes show commencing in September, 1966.

Broadcast every night on Channel 9 at 7:30 (and syndicated nationally, the series featured Captain America on Mondays, Hulk on Tuesdays, Iron Man on Wednesdays, Thor on Thursdays, and Sub-Mariner on Fridays.

The show remained a New York staple, popping up on WPIX, through the early 1980s and well-into the decade, on cable outlets from around the country.

But then, The Avengers, and Marvel itself, was virtually entirely a New York product! The company’s offices–then, as now–were in Manhattan, and almost all of The Avengers‘ talent–for the first decade of its existence–lived in the City, or Long Island.

“The Marvel Age of Comics” began in 1961, when writer/editor Stan Lee and artist/writer Jack Kirby conceived The Fantastic 4. They quickly became the visionary mainstays behind the publishing line, collaborating on the origins of such characters as Nick Fury, The Silver Surfer and the X-Men.

Captain America was created in 1941 by Kirby and his first long-time partner, Joe Simon, back when Marvel was known as “Timely Comics.” The Sub-Mariner was introduced during that same golden era, by Bill Everett.

Spider-Man, the company’s flagship title, debuted in 1962, co-created by artist/writer Steve Ditko (who would later “father” Marvel’s Dr. Strange, The Master of the Mystic Arts, rumored to be on its way as another major movie. Ditko still works today at the age of 84, in the Times Square studio he’s called home for decades!

The Avengers, a Lee/Kirby opus, first appeared on newsstands in 1963.

Within a year, the artwork and co-plotting was taken over by Suffolk County’s Don Heck, perhaps Marvel’s most UNSUNG hero. Heck co-created Iron Man (with Lee, Kirby, and Lee’s brother, writer-artist Larry Lieber), as well as the film’s Hawkeye and Black Widow.

The TV series was actually a key aspect to Marvel’s entering the national conciousness, along with a major merchandising campaign, and the next season’s Saturday morning versions of The Fantastic 4 and Spider-Man on ABC.

The Marvel Superheroes was ultimately infamous for generally being primitively animated. But what made the series unique, and compelling, was that its sixty-five episodes were adapted directly from the comics issues that have now proved to be such landmark tales.

Often, the actual pages from the comics themselves would be XEROXED and then manipulated for the camera–making Marvel’s Jack Kirby, Don Heck, Steve Ditko (and associates) perhaps the first artists to ever participate in a multi-media presentation across a VARIETY of platforms!

(Far more jarring was when a cartoon would occasionally cut to an original, CRUDELY drawn figure, penned by an animation studio “artist,” that at times didn’t even match the previous shot! But at least a handful of the episodes were actually quite entertaining, and compare favorably, with the other limited animation TV shows of the
era.)

It’s also significant that millions –in New York, and around the world– were introduced to Marvel’s special brand of fantasy, via the series.

Intriguingly, many of the episodes had seemingly become scarce, save for a handful of select video releases in the 1980s and 1990s. (It was even more bizarre when some of the characters’ component series were collected on DVD for international markets…)

It’s unusal in any era for a company to forsake generating revenue by restricting product. Fans have long hoped that Marvel–and now its corporate parent, Walt Disney–would repackage the cartoons for the United States.

The series IS easily accessible, after all, as a bootleg and many installments can be seen on You Tube.

It was You Tube, in fact, that recently “rescued” what had legitimately been lost Marvel footage.

The program originally began each day with an extraordnarily fun–AND well produced– montage of animated action vignettes, as “The Marvel Superheroes” theme played.

The closing credits featured all the super heroes parading happily, seemingly dancing along to “The Merry Marvel Marching Society” song!

Presumably, Disney’s stockholders will be similarly joyful, if The Avengers‘ box office continues to prove as strong as the heroes–and longtime “New Yorkers”–it features.

The TV series actually featured a theme song for EACH of its super heroes. Here, for the benefit of our readers, are the catchy lyrics that helped make such an impact on a couple of generations of New Yorkers!
CAPTAIN AMERICA

When Captain America throws his mighty shield,

All those who chose to oppose his shield must yield.

If he’s led to a fight and a duel is due,

Then the red and white and the blue’ll come through,

When Captain America throws his mighty shield.
HULK

Doc Bruce Banner,

Belted by gamma rays,

Turns into the Hulk.

Ain’t he unglamorous!

Wrecking the town,

With the power of a bull,

Ain’t no monster clown,

Who is as lovable,

As ever-lovin’ Hulk! HULK!! HULK!!!
IRON MAN

Tony Stark makes you feel,

He’s a cool exec with a heart of steel.

As Iron Man, all jets ablaze,

He’s fighting and smiting with repulsor rays!

Amazing armor!

That’s Iron Man!

A blazing power!

That’s Iron Man!
THOR

Cross the Rainbow Bridge of Asgard,

Where the booming heavens roar,

You’ll behold in breathless wonder,

The God of Thunder, Mighty Thor!

______________________________

jim burns The Avengers: A Uniquely New York TV Phenomenon(James H. (Jim) Burns, a writer/actor living in Long Island, has written for such magazines as Gentleman’s Quarterly, Esquire, Twilight Zone and Heavy Metal. More recently, Jim has made several contributions to Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, become active in radio, and written Op-Eds or features for Newsday, The Village Voice, TheSportingNews.Com and The New York Times. You can read more of Jim’s articles at THE THUNDER CHILD.