(CNN) – Shang-Chi’s comics, titled “Master of Kung Fu”, were inspired by the movies and television of the 1970s, specifically, movie star Bruce Lee and the “Kung Fu” series. The arrival of “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings“To theaters is a clear illustration of how Marvel has changed the script in the pop culture equation.
In the 1970s, Marvel’s efforts to bring its characters to the screen were often stories of frustration. Today, comics have become the lifeblood of commercial movies and television, while Marvel emerges as the industry’s most trusted box office gambler, Warner Bros. invests resources in DC, and streaming services seemingly tailor a graphic novel after another.
Marvel introduced Shang-Chi as the son of the villain Fu Manchu, having tried to adapt “Kung Fu” in comic form. Unable to do so, the company moved on, and when artist Paul Gulacy boarded the train, he drew the central character with a striking resemblance to Lee, who died in 1973.
At the time, the late Marvel patriarch Stan Lee was facing regular setbacks and disappointments in his efforts to bring his characters to the screen, something he spoke freely about after Marvel had risen to the heights of the movie business.
As former Marvel Productions director Margaret Loesch told Inverse in 2018, Lee even met with Bruce Lee’s son Brandon Lee about the possibility of playing Shang-Chi, an idea that never took off. (Brandon Lee tragically died while taking off his acting career, in an accident on the set of the movie “The Crow” in 1993).
Marvel enjoyed occasional trailers, such as the Hulk and Spider-Man live-action television shows that premiered in 1978, but the company’s on-screen track record was spotty at best and terrible at worst.
On television, an animated version of Marvel’s flagship title “Fantastic Four” replaced the Human Torch (whose rights had been independently opted in) with a humorous robot named HERBIE. Ron Ely starred in an exaggerated version of the pulp character “Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze “. “Conan the Barbarian” launched Arnold Schwarzenegger as an action star in the 1980s, but a few years later “Howard the Duck” became synonymous with box office disaster.
As Stan Lee later noted, Marvel did not retain creative control over its properties in other media at the time, resulting in “fast, low-budget” products based on its titles, selling production options to “anyone with $ 1. , 98 for rights “.
Discussing the relationship between comics and Hollywood, Gerry Conway, a comic book writer turned television screenwriter who put his stamp on characters like Spider-Man and The Punisher, told the Los Angeles Times in 2003: “The people who were in decision-making positions they were generally ignorant as to what the material was, and there was an arrogance accompanying that ignorance. “
That dynamic began to change thanks to Tim Burton’s darker “Batman” in 1989, of Marvel’s rival DC, followed by “X-Men” (a Marvel title whose rights had been sold) in 2000. But many setbacks remained. and missteps.
Then, in 2008, Marvel Studios sought to take control of its cinematic destiny, producing “Iron Man,” kicking off a five-film plan (including “Captain America: The First Avenger” and “Thor”) that culminated with the superhero team “Avengers”.
The rest, as they say, is history. That doesn’t make the distance Marvel has traveled in that relatively short span of time, though, with “Eternals,” the esoteric creation of writer and artist Jack Kirby, below, any less remarkable, especially to comic book fans who lived through. the worst of the good old days of dysfunctional Hollywood superhero adventures.