The Middle Georgia Comic Convention is Saturday, January 21st, and in anticipation of her guest appearance, we asked award-winning fiction & comics writer Nancy A. Collins for a superhero soundtrack!
Comic book superheroes and rock music have a long history, dating all the way back to the heyday of garage bands and the Adam West Batman TV series of the 1960s. As both a professional comic book writer and a long-time fan of both comics and rock music, I was asked to compile a Top Ten list of Superhero Rock Songs. While this list is nowhere near exhaustive, it should serve as a tasting flight for those interested in sampling the unique intersection of these two distinctive American art forms. The list is in chronological order.
1. “Captain Marvel Jones”, The Super Dupers (1966)
This is one of the earliest examples of rock/pop and comics colliding, as it was created to cash in on the insanely popular Batman TV series starring Adam West, which debuted in early 1966. The Captain Marvel of the title isn’t the female superhero from the Marvel Universe but instead the original Captain Marvel– now known as Shazam!– who was created in 1939 and first published by Fawcett Publications before being absorbed into the DC Universe in 1972. As for the Super Dupers, they were actually a studio band composed of the pre-fame Allman Brothers and Leon Russell, who also served as the producer.
2. “Nobody Loves The Hulk”, The Traits (1969)
Back in the 1960s barely anyone outside of comic book fans knew who The Incredible Hulk was. However, The Traits– a teenage garage band out of New Rochelle, NY– did, and they recorded a 45 dedicated to the Jade Giant. The band was not affiliated with Marvel, but once Stan Lee heard the record he okayed the company to promote the 45 after its release.
3. “Mambo Sun”, T. Rex (1971)
This song might possibly be the first song by a popular recording artist to reference a contemporary superhero. In this, it was Marvel Comics’ sorcerer supreme, Dr. Strange. Lead singer Marc Bolan was a huge fan of Dr. Strange and even arranged to meet Stan Lee. The backing vocals on the recording are by Howard Kaylan & Mark Volman, aka Flo & Eddie of the Turtles and The Mothers of Invention. Both are old friends of mine who I know for a fact are huge comic book fans.
4. “Magneto and Titanium Man”, Paul McCartney and Wings (1975)
This song by Paul McCartney (a long-time comics fan) name checks old school Marvel bad guys Magneto, Titanium Man, and the Crimson Dynamo about a superhero bemoaning his girlfriend’s slide into supervillain-y. There’s no mention of who the lovestruck superhero is, but judging from the lyrics “We swung all over that long tall bank on the main street” my bet is on either Spiderman or Daredevil, both of whom had shady girlfriends at the time (Black Cat and Black Widow, respectively).
5. “Flash”, Queen (1980)
This operatic ode to interplanetary adventurer Flash Gordon was composed by the British rock band Queen for the incredibly gaudy, campy, and fun 1980 fantasy film of the same name, starring Sam Jones and the late Max Von Sydow. He’ll save every one of us!
6. “Superman”, R.E.M. (1986)
Superman is the father of every superhero. Created in 1938, he was a genuine all-American pop culture phenomenon whose influence persists to this day. This alt-rock classic by Georgia’s R.E.M. is actually a cover. The song was originally recorded by the Texas garage band The Clique in 1969 and charted at 22 on the Top 40.
7. “Swamp Thing”, David Vanian and the Phantom Chords (1990)
This song by the lead singer of The Damned pays tribute to DC Comics’ Swamp Thing– a man turned muck monster turned elemental god– as he roams the Louisiana bayou. I have a personal attachment to the song as I am the first woman to write the character, having worked on the book from 1991-1993. I’m also a fan of The Damned.
8. “Spider-Man”, The Ramones (1995)
You don’t get more American than punk rock and comic books. And since lead singer Joey Ramone (RIP) was an avowed comic book geek, the band doing a blistering cover of the theme song of the 1960s Spiderman cartoon was a natural. Listen, bud; he’s got radioactive blood!
9. “Goodbye, Dr. Fate”, by Trusty (1995)
Thanks to the 2022 film Black Adam the character of Dr. Fate is no longer the obscure DC comics character he was when this song– and the album of the same name– was released 28 years ago. As for Trusty, they were one of many punk/grunge bands that emerged in the wake of Nirvana. Originating from my home state of Arkansas, their drummer– the late Michael “Bircho” Birch– was a childhood friend and hardcore comic book fan.
10. “Wonder Woman”, Jonathan Segel (2000)
This song by a former member of Camper Van Beethoven details the delights and tribulations of dating America’s most iconic female superhero. And, yes, the golden lasso is a part of that relationship.