Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Series Champs

The recent release of The Avengers may have brought the number of movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe to six (the other entries include Iron Man (2008), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011), and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)), but there’s still room for growth if its ever going to the top list as the live-action comics-inspired film series with the most entries.

In 1970, Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima became a huge hit upon its release in Japan and spawned a series of six films. Tomisaobor Wakayama portrayed Ogami Ittō, a disgraced samurai who, along with his three-year-old son Daigorō, seeks venegeance on the clan that dishonored him.

 Long before wrapping up an impressive 54-year-run in 1984, Ham Fisher’s comic strip Joe Palooka found its way into radio, toys, and television. From 1946 to 1951, Monogram Pictures produced 11 films featuring Joe Kirkwood, Jr. as the boxing champ along with Elyse Knox as Joe’s girlfriend Ann Howe and Leon Errol as manager Knobby Walsh. 

 Created in 1934 by Flash Gordon artist Alex Raymond and pulp scribe Don Moore, Jungle Jim was developed into 16 movies by Columbia Pictures beginning in 1948. Olympic gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller, fresh from his starring role in a dozen Tarzan flicks, portrayed the intrepid hunter Jim Bradley on his treks into the wilds of Africa.

 Republic Pictures brought Stephen Slesinger and Fred Harman’s Western strip Red Ryder to the screen for 24 outings. Don “Red ” Barry saddled up for the lead role in the initial 1940 adventure. Wild Bill Elliott and Allan “Rocky” Lane both took the reins for the remainder of the series, which ran from 1944 to 1947. Robert Blake, star of the 1970s television crime drama Baretta star, appeared as Ryder’s sidekick Little Beaver in 23 of the films.

A comic strip homemaker beats out all other cartoon contenders when it comes racking up entries in a live-action film series. Between 1938 and 1950, Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake brought Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, based on the characters from Chic Young’s Blondie, to life in 28 comedies produced by Columbia.

(Image: theater lobby card for Joe Palooka in Humphrey Takes a Chance, 1950, Monogram Pictures)

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