Mar 4, 2009

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!


Armstrong Sabian said...

Three things:

1. Watchmen, good...really? I've been really nervous about it.

2. Does Kilink / Sadistik count? He's not really a spy, but a super criminal, but is still along the lines of Diabolik. I've always wanted to know more about the character.

3. In honor of your costumed adventurer week, I'm going to do my best to make "Deep Down," the theme from Danger: Diabolik, the Tuesday Tablature for next week.

Tanner said...

Thanks for the comment, Armstrong! To reply to your points individually:

1. I was very nervous too, but, yeah, I really liked it! Of COURSE I've got little nitpicks here and there, but overall, it's about the best adaptation we could hope for, I think. Sure, they cut things and change a few to streamline the story to a movie (you have to), but overall they make it work. They even improve on Moore in one instance involving the replacement of Captain Metropolis as leader of the ill-fated attempt to create a successor to the Minutemen. Still, I can't speak for everyone, of course. I'd love to hear your reaction when you see it. It's certainly a movie that will divide fans and critics, no matter what...

2. Well, I don't want to reveal all the titles I'll be covering (that would be telling!), but yes, I'd say Killing/Sadistik and his cousins Kilink and Kriminal do count, as would Fantomas and other masked super criminals in the Diabolik vein who embody the swinging Eurospy lifestyle! You might see some of them pop up here... I hope you enjoy the week to come!

3. Thanks! I appreciate the synergy! (And if I played guitar, I'd definitely want to know how to play Deep Down!)

johan077 said...

Great subject!!
One of my favourute sub genres. Been an avid collector of Eurospy dvd's/CD's/posters but have always enjoyed the superhero genre, especially the ones from Europe from the 60's. Several come to mind such as, Diabolik (the most famous), Kriminal (available on DVD), Flashman (Available on DVD), Mister X, Argoman, Superargo (available on DVD), Fantomas (available on DVD, Fantaboulos and Fenomenal Arriva Dorrelik (avaialable on DVD) was a take off on Diabolik but still rather entertaining. There are some soundtracks released for Diabolik, Fenomenal and Kriminal. look forward to see what will be covered. keep up the great work

David said...

I am looking forward to this...8-)

The Gambler said...

I suppose there isn't a R2 Argoman dvd, right? :(