Costumed Adventurer Week
Welcome to Costumed Adventurer Week on the Double O Section! I know, I know. “Costumed Adventurers?” you’re thinking (if I may be so bold as to presume). “What do superheroes have to do with spies?” You’re thinking you hit the wrong blog. However, in the Sixties there was a pretty close relationship between superheroes and spies. In 1966, James Bond and Batman were about the biggest things going in American pop culture. As all things popular did, that seeped into Italian pop culture, and specifically Italian knock-off culture. The Italians, you’ll recall, made a cottage industry out of cranking out budget imitations of whatever was big in Hollywood. Thus, the Eurospy genre and the Italian superhero genre (based on Italian comic books known as fumetti) were closely related. So closely, in fact, that were it not for the skintight costumes themselves, it would be hard to tell the difference between their spies and their superheroes. Masks brought no nobility to Italian heroes like Argoman or Flashman. They behaved just as badly as their secret agent counterparts–and were often played by the same actors. (Note the two different posters for The Fantastic Argoman–one marketing it as a fumetti and the other as a spy/caper picture retitled How to Steal the Crown of England.)
Italian superheroes of the time tended to be more antiheroes than superheroes, in fact... which in some ways makes them a bit more interesting than the American variety. They almost always operated outside the law, and often thought nothing of committing a little thievery on the side of their superheroics. I suspect that this anti-establishment tendency of Italian superheroes had more than a little to do with the country’s recent memory of life under Fascism. The very concept of masked vigilantes has the smack of Fascism about it, in fact–something Alan Moore famously plays up in his seminal superhero opus Watchmen. Italian audiences who still harbored memories of Mussolini didn't want government-endorsed supermen; they were more likely to identify with anti-establishment characters in their comics and movies.
Diabolik, of course, is the quintessential Italian costumed adventurer. And he was no hero at all; he was motivated by greed and ambition... and the thrill of the hunt. “Out for all he can take, caress or get away with,” blared the American movie posters for Mario Bava’s film version of Diabolik. Other Italian heroes often shared those ambitions, even if their motivations were more outright heroic. Argoman, for example, puts on tights to fight crime, promote world peace and save the world... but he’s not above claiming trophies for his services from the governments he aids. No, these guys aren’t exactly heroes. The best term for them is “costumed adventurers,” a term Moore uses in his graphic novel. Whether their aim is to uphold the law or tear it down, the reason they put on tights is to pursue adventure. In honor of the very faithful, rather fantastic movie version of Watchmen hitting theaters this week, I thought it was a good time to examine that curious subgenre of the Eurospy phenomenon: spies who wear tights! Check back each day over the coming week for a different example.
Yeah, I know, I know... Weeks usually start on Sunday or Monday. What’s this one doing starting on a Wednesday? Well, my last-minute trip to WonderCon this past weekend (and an exciting evening at the Watchmen premiere Monday night) delayed me a bit on getting my planned posts up. But I wanted to go ahead and do it this week anyway, no matter what day I started on. So this particular week starts on a Wednesday!