The 6 Saddest Attempts to Follow Up Pop Culture Classics
Just because you've created one masterpiece doesn't mean everything you touch is going to be gold (we're looking at you, seasons 2,3 and 4 of Heroes). For further proof, just take a look at the real and grossly ill-conceived follow-ups to some of these beloved classics.
After Captain America: Fighting American
Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were true visionaries: They created Captain America in late 1940, a full year before the U.S. got involved in World War II, and they had him punching Hitler in the face as early as March 1941. When Marvel Comics put out the first issue of Captain America, the character became an overnight sensation. Simon and Kirby were immediately flooded by fan mail and even death threats from Nazi sympathizers.
So when Marvel relaunched the character in 1953 without Simon or Kirby's involvement, they called bullshit. Similar to the creators of Superman, they felt they had been swindled and decided to do something about it. Unlike Superman's creators, they didn't even try to come up with a new character - they simply did a Captain America rip-off at another company. This time Simon and Kirby owned the copyright, so by their own admission, they "were determined to make the public forget about Captain America." Here's what they came up with:
Fighting American's origin story reads a lot like an extended sketch for The Colbert Report: a brave newscaster volunteers for a government experiment after his war hero brother is murdered by communists. The story plots were literally inspired by Senator McCarthy's anti-communist agenda:
Remember, kids: If you don't feed Freedom at least twice a day it could die, and we're not buying you a new one.
Communists weren't just criminals for Fighting American, they barely classified as human. In one issue, Simon and Kirby had the hero trapped between commies and actual demons, but you could hardly tell the difference between both sides.
Fighting American greets everyone by hoisting them over his head.
Simon and Kirby had previously found success by making Nazi-bashing comics, so they figured they could do the same thing with the Reds. The problem was that around this same time, Senator McCarthy's dubious methods were starting to raise some eyebrows in the American public. One Jack Kirby biography states that "public opinion veered so violently against McCarthy, Jack and Joe had to rush to change the direction of Fighting American's next issue."
So, from one issue to the next, the comic went from a dead-serious tale of Communist-bashing patriotism and political intrigue to a wacky parody of the exact same type of rhetoric, using the old "it was a joke all along!" excuse. Some sections seemed taken straight out of Mad Magazine:
Borscht jokes never get old.
During this period, Fighting American's villains became more culturally diverse. Now he also battled the monstrous Japanese...
...resulting in what might very well be the most xenophobic comic ever. Another troubling aspect of the series was the main character's problematic tendency to be depicted in bedroom scenes with his young sidekick.
Sales remained low and the comic was canceled after seven issues, but the character's undignified story continued decades later, when he was bought by a company paradoxically called Awesome Comics.
Who'd want to buy the rights to an obscure character that was the clear product of self-plagiarism? Another plagiarist, of course. In the 90s, Marvel Comics sued a former artist for infringing Captain America's copyright by "creating" a thinly veiled rip-off called Agent: America. As a way to justify the resemblance, the artist bought the rights to Fighting American and fused him with the other guy. The court fell for it, and Awesome Comics continued inflicting the character upon modern audiences, officially establishing the most pathetic reasons behind a character revival ever.
After Quake: Daikatana
After the release of the PC game Quake--itself a follow up to the industry-changing Doom--game designer John Romero was on top of the world. In 1996, Romero left the company he had helped found, id Software, to set up a new one called ION Storm, located on the lavish penthouse floor of a Dallas skyscraper. The man was already living like a rock star when his publisher paid him a $13 million advance for his highly anticipated next game.
Like Samson, he lost his power if he cut his hair.
When Time Magazine did a profile on Romero, he described the new game like it was the greatest advance to gaming since the invention of hands. He explained how the game's advanced AI technology would allow them to create believable supporting characters that would "boost emotional involvement and, eventually, help turn mere games into immersive dramas." He envisioned a future where instead of watching TV, audiences would "tune into" ION's website to catch the latest installment of a game called ...
The hype surrounding Daikatana was unlike anything else in the history of ever. Ever. New gaming websites were being created for the sole purpose of keeping up with the latest info on Romero's upcoming masterpiece. And then, amidst the enormous expectation of the crescent online community, ION published this ad:
"Suck It Down" was a slogan that Gatorade also briefly considered.
Now, where we come from, if you promise someone you're gonna turn them into your bitch, you should buy a few lotions, put out some candles and keep that Isaac Hayes record spinning until the needle catches fire. John Romero did not do any of that. John Romero brought some Doritos and a Billy Ocean cassette.
This marks the first Billy Ocean reference in Cracked history.
The ad wasn't just douchey, it also proved to be a disastrous mistake that seriously damaged the company. It was the product of ION's arrogance: They were so sure they'd have the game ready by Christmas that they bought a shitload of ad space in advance, so when the time came around and Daikatana still wasn't anywhere near ready, they had to do SOMETHING with it, right? They couldn't just print an ad with Romero and his partner Tom Hall looking stupid and- actually, that would have been preferable.
We'll never know, because Daikatana finally came out in 2000, three years after its announced release date. And, in a shocking twist no one could have anticipated, it sucked. The highly advanced AI technology Romero had praised? It turned out to involve enemies running towards the player and getting trapped helplessly behind random objects. Other bad guys walked around completely ignoring you, even if you attacked them repeatedly.
But the suckiest part of the game was the part that was supposed to make us all wet our pants in amazement: the infamous sidekick system.
Also known as the "Jar Jar" effect.
The player was forced to collaborate with two annoying computer controlled characters, losing the game if they were killed or left behind. Watch this video where a player tries to get his sidekicks to pick up a necessary item, which causes them to chase each other in circles:
The thing is, Daikatana would have been bad even if they'd met their release date. But by getting delayed until 2000, it would wind up coming out after a little game called Half Life completely redefined the genre. It'd be like if you went to a concert where Elvis was the opening act, and the next act that took the stage did The Aristocrats.
After Zorro: The Crimson Clown
When pulp writer Johnston McCulley published a story called The Curse of Capistrano in 1919 and included the character Zorro, he had no idea he'd be writing about the masked swordsman until he dropped dead in 1958. But in the mid 1920s McCulley wanted to break out from Zorro and focus on a new creation, a modern day Robin Hood he called ...
The cover would seem to suggest that The Crimson Clown was the codename for some sort of voyeuristic pervert. The truth was even more disturbing: He was an actual clown.
What's scarier than a clown pointing a gun at you? A clown pointing a gun at you while drunk.
A clown who fights crime. Or is a criminal, we're not sure. We're going to level with you here: We're way out of our depth on this one. This shit is just too bizarre for us, so we'll let the back cover of a recent re-edition explain what it's about:
"'s back with more insane adventures involving his red clown outfit, his handy syringe full of a knockout potion and his penchant for stealing from the rich and giving half to charity."
Wait, why only half? Read on:
"The other half he keeps for himself to pay for clown outfits and syringes."
We'd like to think that anyone who spends large amounts of money on clown outfits and syringes MUST be on some kind of government watch list ...
"Take a close look at this picture. I am going to rape you."
But sadly that's not so, because the Crimson Clown always managed to keep his secret identity of millionaire playboy Delton Prouse hidden from his nemesis, Police Detective Donler. Most stories involved the Clown knocking himself out with his own sleeping drug to make it look like he was just another victim, and apparently Detective Donler didn't think it was too strange that the same millionaire playboy was getting mugged and tied up all over town. Perhaps he noticed the 30 needle marks in his arm and figured the guy was just a junkie (which would actually explain a lot).
"See you in your nightmares."
The Crimson Clown's saga reached its bizarre climax in 1931. McCulley retired the character the same year, and wouldn't write another story featuring him until 1944. Thankfully, mid-40s audiences with their swing music, women's shoulder pads and concentration camps proved to be far too sophisticated for the Crimson Clown, so the revival only lasted for one story. McCulley mostly stuck to Zorro from then on... as he probably should have done from the beginning.
After Frankenstein: The Last Man
Mary Shelley was just 19-years old when she published Frankenstein, which came out in 1818 to great popular success and, of course, today the book is recognized as a landmark work of gothic romanticism, horror and science fiction. But in 1826, Shelley returned to the genre with an even more ambitious project. She wrote a new novel more than twice the length of her first work. It told an epic tale set in the apocalyptic future of 2075, and was titled...
Let's see what the reviewer had to say:
"A sickening repetition of horrors..."
"The offspring of a diseased imagination..."
"Mrs. Shelly's abortion..."
Holy shit, guys.
The book quickly went out of print and stayed that way for more than 130 years - a fact a recent reprinting proudly advertised on its dust jacket:
"The Last Man: So good, it'll make you wanna drop it in a cave in the past."
Scholars have theorized that the novel may have flopped because it was too gruesome for contemporary readers, or simply because of bad timing. Whatever the case, Mary Shelley was directly affected by the situation: She would never write another science fiction novel. Since being reprinted in the 1960s, the novel has gained some accolades. But where, for instance, Shelley's first creation has inspired hundreds of other works, including several faithful film adaptations, The Last Man gets this:
That appears to have been shot by five dudes on their cell phone. You can watch the rest of this low budget 2008 film when it gets to Netflix on October, 2143.
After Grease: Can't Stop The Music
Say what you will about the film Grease: It still made more money than you'll see in your entire miserable life. It also has an 83 percent tomatometer rating, which means that it's objectively better than Fight Club.
The man behind the film's success was Allan Carr, who bought the rights to the original Broadway musical, wrote the adapted screenplay (adding new and ultimately more popular songs), cast Olivia Newton-John and produced the film for only six million dollars. Carr had also been involved in other successful musical films, like The Who's Tommy and Saturday Night Fever featuring the Bee Gees.
Only one year after Grease made 25 times its budget on the box office, Carr recruited another popular band of the 70s for a $20,000,000 disco musical called ...
As we said, the Village People were highly popular in the 70s, as was disco music in general. Too bad this film was released in 1980, when the worms that feasted on disco's corpse were already being devoured by other, smaller worms.
And those worms were wearing unsettlingly tight pants.
Can't Stop The Music's total domestic gross was two million dollars, meaning it made exactly 10 percent of its budget. Maybe it's because we put too much stock in the human race, but we want to believe that even if the timing hadn't been wrong, the film still would have bombed. We need to believe this, because otherwise what would be the point of living?
Do we exist only to suffer?
Besides the members the Village People, the film starred Olympic medalist Bruce Jenner, model Valerie Perrine (Ms. Teschmacher from the Superman films) and as the closest thing to a real actor, a young Steve Guttenberg. Yes, the sardonic and philandering Officer Mahoney not only appeared in a gay musical, he was its lead character:
Although to be fair, the film wasn't technically gay. It was merely in the closet. The movie was loosely based on the history of the Village People, but its script intentionally avoided making any references to homosexuality. That's like writing a biography of Hitler and neglecting to mention that he had a little thing against Jews.
The Village People themselves were presented as non-sexual or heterosexual--the construction worker even had a not very convincing musical number about how much he loves pussy. Another number was set in the YMCA, and it included various shots of muscular men working out, doing synchronized swimming and also showering together. This last part gave Can't Stop The Music the dubious distinction of being one of the few PG films ever to display full frontal male nudity. The scene was later removed from the VHS, which you can still find in the Gay and Lesbian section of your nearest video store.
Hey, remember video stores?
One of the tie-in products for the film was a special ice cream flavor by Baskin-Robins called, and we're not shitting you here, " Can't Stop The Nuts." Nope, no innuendo there.
You can't stop the nuts, no matter how much you may want to.
And it's not like the dairy products connection came out of nowhere. After all, the film's climatic song was about milkshakes.
The career of the Village People went into decline after their half-assed musical biography bombed, and its director never made another film. Neither would Bruce Jenner, although he is still popular within the gay community for having a prominent role in Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Allan Carr would go on to produce Grease 2 which flopped, too. The most enduring legacy of this film is the fact that it unwittingly inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards, which incidentally was the only place where it won anything (though Wikipedia informs us that it did pretty well in the 2008 London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival).
After Superman: Funnyman
For more than 70 years, Superman has been generating piles of money in about every form of mass media invented. So it's understandable that his creators felt they deserved more than what they got--especially since what they got was a check for $130. After quitting DC Comics over a dispute for Superman's ownership, creators Siegel and Shuster figured they could simply start over and create another hit character. After all, if they did it once they could do it again, right? Well...
Yeah, take a good look at it.
Funnyman was a fake television personality who allegedly fought crime with hilarity. Although he's usually referred to as a superhero, his only superpower was ... being funny. That was how he was sold, anyway. In reality, the Lex Luthor Funnyman was out to take down your ability to ever smile again.
We, here at Cracked appreciate a good pun, but sweet Jesus.
In the comic, Funnyman was the secret identity of TV comedian Larry Davis, who looked like the unholy offspring of Conan O'Brien and Jay Leno.
By the way, if you thought Clark Kent's glasses were the flimsiest disguise in comics, you don't know shit:
That's right, even though the guy's face was on TV all the time, the only thing protecting his identity was a fake penis-like nose. What's even more appalling is that it worked.
But then again, Funnyman's villains weren't a particularly competent bunch. Even his most menacing enemies could be defeated through the use of third grade playground tactics.
That's a surprising demonstration of dignity coming from a man wearing a cape.
So, basically, Funnyman's modus operandi consisted of annoying his enemies until they laid down on the floor and died. It could almost work, if the goal was to skewer superhero tropes a la The Tick. The problem was that he annoyed the shit out of his readers, too. A big part of it was that he talked like Jerry Lewis after four cans of Red Bull.
"Mine's I'm gonna beat the shit out of you if you don't stop talking like that."
"The Intrepid Imbecile" hardly has the same ring as "The Man of Steel" or "The Dark Knight."
Maxwell Yezpitelok lives in Chile, and when he's not being harassed by earthquakes he likes to waste his time writing back to scammers or making stupid comics. He has published a few comics in his home country, and he'll write some for you if you pay him.
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Now learn which of your favorite characters rose from the shit, in9 Toys That Prepare Children for a Life of Menial Labor. Or check out some knock-offs that we wish were the real thing, in 9 Foreign Rip-Offs Cooler Than The Hollywood Originals.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 07.07.10) to see David Wong's follow up to JDatE: Care Bears Meet the Smurfs.