If there’s one thing critics are in agreement about regarding X-Men: First Class, it’s that the film makes an absolute triumph out of its unconventional 1960s setting, with a deft blend of Cold War intrigue and Bond-style espionage alongside the main storyline of mutant self-discovery.
It could well mark the beginning of a whole new subgenre of comic book film: the superhero period piece.
With that in mind, here’s a look at five other properties that could work surprisingly well if placed in decades past…
Although he didn’t show up until near the end of the decade, Superman is still very much a product of the 1930s, created by two sons of Jewish immigrants at the height of the Great Depression.
The character’s roots are still reflected today by the fact that even the modern-day movies and comics have found themselves unable to stray too far from the distinctive period stylings of the Metropolis backdrop and even details like Clark Kent’s hat and specs combo.
Putting the character in a 30s setting would allow for some utterly glorious Art Deco scenery, and although the more sci-fi elements later introduced in the Silver Age would have to go, there’s something appealing about the notion of taking the character back to his roots, leaping tall buildings in a single bound and apprehending crooks and gangsters.
Back in 2003, comics writer Mark Millar perpetrated a fantastic hoax on Internet fandom, claiming, with a variety of “concept images” to back him up, that in 1946, Orson Welles had plans to make a Batman movie starring Gregory Peck in the title role, Basil Rathbone as the Joker, James Cagney as the Riddler and Marlene Dietrich as Catwoman. And it’s not hard to see why so many people were taken in.
The 1940s would be a great era in which to set a Batman film, simply because the character would work so well in the setting of a moody, black-and-white film noir. Forget the superhero element, and instead focus on the detective, and you could have an absolutely outstanding Chandleresque thriller with Batman/Bruce Wayne at the centre of it.
Marvel Comics has already explored the notion of putting superheroes into such a setting with its range of Noir books, but it’s DC who has the character that would be most suited to it.
1950s: Fantastic Four
Despite first appearing in the 1960s, the Fantastic Four have their thematic roots in 50s-style science fiction, and such an approach would suit any future movie relaunch (since a resumption of the Tim Story series is at this point highly unlikely) down to the ground.
After all, a different angle from ‘family with superpowers in a 60s-style setting’ would need to be found, simply because of how perfectly Pixar’s The Incredibles covered that particular ground. Instead, a 50s-set Fantastic Four could ditch the trad-superhero elements (although not the costumes, of course) almost entirely, and focus more on themes of exploration and discovery.
If you wanted to play up the family element, meanwhile, you could combine the classic cheesy 50s American suburbia theme with all that lovely retro futurism for something truly distinctive.
“Say, gang, we need one more guy for the dance! How about Peter Parker over there?” “Are you kiddin’? That bookworm wouldn’t know a cha-cha from a waltz!” “Peter Parker? He’s Midtown High’s only professional wallflower!”
Yep, right from the very first page of his very first appearance, Spider-Man has always been the most quintessentially 60s-ish of comics characters. Although the upcoming The Amazing Spider-Man reboot has got one thing right by going back to his teenage years (the notion of a nerdy teenager being a superhero whom everyone believes to be an adult has always been one of the most interesting elements of the character), it’s a shame they haven’t gone further, and taken a cue from First Class by dumping the whole thing in the (web)swinging 60s. Particularly with Emma Stone’s Gwen Stacy rocking the distinctive skirt/fringe combo so well.
1970s: X-Men (sequel)
If the box office takings match the critical acclaim, a sequel to X-Men: First Class is as sure a thing as sure things get right now. But rather than picking up the story a couple of years or so down the line, we’d prefer to see things jump a good decade forward, with Xavier’s X-Men and Magneto’s Brotherhood more firmly established, not to mention Charles heading towards baldness and Erik going all flares ‘n’ sideburns.
There’d even be scope (just about) to introduce adolescent versions of Scott and Jean, if you fudged the timeline ever so slightly.
Although originally created in the 60s, it was in the mid-70s,with Wein, Claremont, Cockrum and Byrne’s relaunch, that the X-Men as we know them really came into their own, and it would be terrific to see a film that took its cues from that famous era.