It’s hard to remember Marvel’s less than magnificent live-action past when the present and future are so grand, but thanks to an interview with Marvel hype-man and former creative steward Stan Lee from 1988, we can see the hope that existed for the kind of shared universe that wouldn’t come to fruition for two decades.
In the above interview — which was conducted by a man named Joe Field (who would later go on to create Free Comic Book Day) during the 1988 WonderCon in San Francisco — Lee talks enthusiastically about the merger between Thor and the Incredible Hulk in an upcoming Hulk TV movie, and the potential for more.
“If the show does well, NBC plans to spin Thor off into a series of his own and continue doing the Hulk as movies for television — a few every year.”
Lee also half-jokingly urged fans to “make a lot of noise” by making phone calls, writing letters, and sending telegrams to the network to make the Thor show a reality.
“It is important that the show be very favorably received because it could start a whole cycle of comic book hero shows. Everybody will be watching and seeing how it does.”
In the end, 1988’s The Return of The Incredible Hulk must have done reasonably well because two other Hulk TV movies — The Trial of the Incredible Hulk and The Death of the Incredible Hulk — followed it in 1989 an 1990 respectively, but Thor didn’t tag along and there was never any movement on a Thor live-action TV series. Which is probably for the best, considering the financial and technical limitations of the era. I can’t even imagine what Asgard would look like on a 1990 network TV show, but thankfully we don’t have to imagine what a Thor versus Hulk fight would have looked like back then thanks to the miracle of the moving picture.
Obviously that’s Lou Ferrigno as The Hulk and that’s a young Eric Allan Kramer as Thor. You may remember him from such roles as Little John in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Here’s a more modern take on a smash and bash fight between the two characters from The Avengers.
Oh sweet sweet modern era with your dazzling effects.
It’s also worth noting that while Lee’s ambitions for a Thor series didn’t come to pass in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the Hulk TV movies did introduce other comic book characters to the live-action realm. Specifically Matt Murdock/Daredevil (played by Rex Smith) and Wilton Fisk/Kingpin (played by Jonathan Rhys-Davies) in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk. As you surely know, those two characters will finally make it to television (after a widely panned stand-alone film) in the Daredevil live-action series for Netflix this year, one of many Marvel comic book characters to take to the small screen. So if you discount the amount of time and effort to get there, Stan Lee is basically a seer.