Ideal Images

Like most of you, I have a platonic ideal of certain characters that I carry around in my head. And a lot of times, it has to do with who I saw play a particular part when I was at an impressionable age. I’ve had a few of them bouncing around in my head this week, so I thought I’d share.

Although I love many of the folks who’ve played the role like Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing, and Benedict Cumberbatch, my personal ideal Sherlock Holmes is Jeremy Brett. It happened even before I started watching him as Holmes on the Granada series in the 80s and 90s. I saw his picture in a TV Guide article, and he just immediately seemed right to me.

Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes Atomic Junk Shop

Brett has a piercing gaze and unusual features, both of which I feel are absolutely essential for Holmes. He’s not classically handsome, but you can’t look away from him. Just as Holmes stands apart from the rest of us, Brett has a face that stands out in a crowd. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone else with a nose like Brett’s.

Jeremy Brett David Burke Sherlock Holmes WatsonAnd David Burke is the guy I picture when I think of Watson. Nondescript enough to blend into a crowd and be our everyman POV into Holmes, but still young and handsome enough to be the ladies man that Arthur Conan Doyle described. As I’ve talked about here before, it takes a lot to bring Watson to the screen and make him interesting and capable in his own right, but Burke made it look easy. He’s probably my favorite interpreter of the part.

For James Bond, Sean Connery is my guy. Specifically, 1964 Sean Connery in Goldfinger.

Sean Connery James Bond Goldfinger Atomic Junk ShopI feel like Connery was the perfect age for Bond in that film, old enough to have some experience under his belt but still at the peak of his attractiveness (It also helps that Connery hadn’t grown bored with the part yet). He’s a handsome guy, but he’s also got a bit of roughneck quality, and you just know he could beat up anyone else in the room if he put his mind to it. It’s the same quality I like about Daniel Craig’s Bond.

But sometimes, when I’m imagining the Book Bond, the guy from Ian Fleming’s novels, I picture the guy that Mike Grell drew in Permission To Die, who’s also the guy that Ian Fleming described Bond as looking like a few times: Hoagy Carmichael.

While Grell clearly took some inspiration from Carmichael’s face, he still injected a bit of Connery into his Bond. And Grell also made sure to add in the cheek scar and comma of hair hanging down that Fleming always described.

My ideal Tarzan is Joe Kubert’s. Kubert’s raw and spontaneous style was just perfect for the jungle man, and that’s still who I picture in my head when I’m thinking about Lord Greystoke.

Joe Kubert Tarzan Atomic Junk ShopKubert’s Tarzan was tough and athletic without looking like a musclebound bodybuilder, and I think that’s essential to the character. And the sloping brow and melancholy eyes that Kubert gave him always reminded you that the ape man was half-civilized and half-savage, a product of two worlds who was fully at home in neither. You can keep your Burne Hogarths and your Russ Mannings. Too slick and too pretty. For my money, Kubert’s Tarzan is the definitive version of the character (although I’ll definitely give an honorable mention to Neal Adams’ Tarzan, which shares a lot in common with Kubert’s version).

Christopher Lambert from 1984’s Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes looks enough like the Joe Kubert Tarzan that he’s the live-action actor who looks the most like the character to my eyes. With that brow and those almond-shaped eyes, Lambert looks like a Joe Kubert drawing come to life.

For the Lone Ranger, there’s really only one choice: Clayton Moore.

Lone Ranger Clayton Moore Atomic Junk ShopMoore was one of those actors who just utterly embodied his role, doing his best to live up to the ideals of the Ranger in his real life. He was The Lone Ranger from the 1950s onward, so much so that when the producers of 1981’s The Legend of the Lone Ranger sued him to prevent him from wearing the Lone Ranger mask in public, fans revolted and ensured the movie flopped. No one who’s played the Ranger since Moore has really been accepted by the general public, not John Hart, not Klinton Spilsbury, not Chad Michael Murray, not Armie Hammer. And considering that it’s been 60+ years since Moore last played the part, that’s pretty damned impressive.

Moore was a great choice for a western hero, good looking but just rugged enough that you believed he could handle himself on the frontier. And looked great in the mask. Some people just have the types of faces that look really good in masks, and Moore was one of those people. It’s no wonder he spent decades wearing it outside the part.

Lone Ranger Green Hornet Tonto Kato Atomic Junk Shop
And as long as we’re on the Reid family, my Green Hornet looks like Van Williams and my Kato looks like Bruce Lee.

My ideal Zorro is a bit of an odd choice, considering that I’ve only seen a few episodes of the 1957 Zorro series from Disney, but Guy Williams is the person who looks the most like my conception of the Fox.

Williams had a classically handsome face, which is appropriate for a charmer like Don Diego de la Vega. And like Clayton Moore before him, Williams just had one of those faces that looks really good in a mask. I also like the cut of his costume: Simple, direct, and no frills, not decorated with gold trim everywhere the way Antonio Banderas’s Zorro costume was.

My next choice is another classic swashbuckler: Errol Flynn as Robin Hood.

Errol Flynn Robin Hood Atomic Junk ShopErrol Flynn Robin Hood Atomic Junk ShopFlynn’s Robin Hood just had the sort of zest you want from that character. He had a flair for action scenes, and swagger for days. When Flynn’s Robin Hood went up against the throne of England, you actually thought he had a shot at winning. And even though he had a serious cause, Flynn’s Robin Hood never took himself too seriously. He was always ready to laugh, even when the joke was on him. Look at how good-naturedly he takes getting knocked into the water when he first meets Little John.

And yeah, I know that Flynn played an extremely romanticized version of Robin Hood, but Robin Hood is a romantic character at heart. That’s what I want to see. Flynn is perfect as an idealized and larger-than-life hero.

My ideal Count Dracula looks like Gene Colan’s version from the 1970s comic series The Tomb of Dracula.Gene Colan Tomb of Dracula Atomic Junk ShopI love that odd face. Colan’s Dracula looks like no one else, and that’s important, because Dracula should be like no one else. Between Gene Colan and Tom Palmer’s visuals and Marv Wolfman’s compelling dialogue, the Count had presence. You could totally see people falling under his spell even in a static medium like comics. Colan modeled his version of the Count after Jack Palance, who oddly enough ended up playing the part in a TV-movie in 1973, the year after Tomb of Dracula debuted. It makes you wonder if Palance was ever aware that he inspired another interpretation of Dracula in the four-color medium.

Jack Palance Dracula Gene Colan Bob McCleod Atomic Junk Shop
Sadly, Palance didn’t go with the bitchin’ collar and facial hair of Colan’s Dracula.

My next choice is someone who never played his part, but should have: Basil Rathbone as the Shadow.Basil rathbone The Shadow Atomic Junk ShopIf ever there was an actor tailor-made for a part, it was Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes. But there’s another part that he was just as a great a match for, and it’s a shame that he never got the chance to play it: The Shadow. Lamont Cranston could’ve been a perfect transitional part between Rathbone’s earlier villainous roles and his heroic Sherlock Holmes years, and the Shadow would’ve been well-served by a big budget movie made in the 30s or 40s instead of the forgettable serials they actually made. And who knows? Maybe playing the Shadow could’ve helped Rathbone avoid the typecasting that plagued him in his later years.

With Superman, while the guy I picture isn’t 100% Christopher Reeve, his face is certainly close enough to work for me. My Superman is classically handsome, square jawed with an All-American look, somewhere between Christopher Reeve and Alex Ross’ version facially. Mostly, I imagine Superman moving the way Reeve did, with his relaxed yet confident posture and easygoing nature. And he definitely has the same sort of grace in flight that Reeve had.

Superman Christopher Reeve Atomic Junk Shop

And for the Earth-Two Superman, it’s an older George Reeves.

George Reeves Superman Atomic Junk ShopWhile Christopher Reeve came off as your cool older brother, George Reeves was like your dad. He had a natural paternal quality that gave his Superman an automatic authority in any situation, and I can’t think of anything more appropriate for the first superhero of the DC Universe. While Superman’s first live-action portrayer Kirk Alyn played Superman on the cocky side, George Reeves was eternally self-assured. Reeves’ Superman never seemed too flustered, and never had to sweat too much to get the job done. Why would he? He was Superman, after all.

George Pérez always used to differentiate the Earth-One and Earth-Two Supermen beautifully, and that’s gotten fused into my brain.

George Perez Superman Crisis Atomic Junk ShopWhile most other artists just drew the Earth-Two Superman as the Earth-One Superman with grey at his temples, Pérez always made him a little older, a little stouter, and a bit more wrinkled. He even introduced subtle differences into their costumes, with the E-2 Supes having a different emblem, a slightly shorter cape, a higher waistline, and different cuffs at the wrists. You can see in the picture above that Kal-L was also a little less graceful when flying. It was the perfect approach for an older Superman, and it totally fits George Reeves’ no-nonsense approach to the Man of Steel.

It’s easy to imagine George Reeves’ Superman settling down to a life of quiet domesticity with his Lois Lane and evolving into something like we saw in the old “Mr. and Mrs. Superman” feature in Superman Family.

And my Earth-2 Lois Lane looks like Phyllis Coates. Sorry, Noel Neill fans.

I’ve got a few other choices, but this is getting a little long and I’ve run out of photos for now, so what say we continue this next week, where I’ll talk about my ideal images of Batman, Spider-Man, Captain America, Green Lantern, and others. See you then.

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Who are your ideal images of the characters near & dear to you? Let me know in the comments!

17 Comments

  1. Good list, though for me Robin Hood will always be Richard Greene, the guy I grew up with (“Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the dell …”).
    I finally Netflixed Douglas Wilmer’s turn as Sherlock Holmes (BBC 1960s series) and he was completely wrong. His plummy upper-class voice and manner reeks of complacency and that’s very un-Holmesian.

  2. Edo Bosnar

    Well, for me the ideal Tarzan in the comics is the one drawn by John Buscema (and then by kid brother Sal). The guy I pictured when reading the books looked mainly like the images on the Neal Adams covers (who is, I think, more similar to Buscema’s version than Kubert’s).
    My ideal Superman is the one drawn by John Byrne, who was, at least in part, modeled after Christopher Reeve.

    1. I very nearly mentioned my liking for Byrne’s Superman in the column, Edo, and I even downloaded a pic or two to illustrate my point. I’ll probably expand on this thought a bit next week.

      Buscema’s Tarzan is perfectly fine, IMO, but it just doesn’t have the same oomph that Kubert’s Tarzan does for me.

  3. Andrew Collins

    Y’know, Tarzan is my favorite fictional character of all-time and yet, I don’t think I have a definitive “version” of him I always picture first. Johnny Weissmuller’s version was my introduction to the character via Saturday afternoon reruns of his old movies, but his “Me Tarzan, You Jane” way of speaking sets him too far apart from the character as written by ERB. I have a hard time reconciling the visual of Johnny with the smarter, more talkative Tarzan of the novels and other media.

    “Greystoke” was more faithful to the source material in comparison but in my opinion, went too far the other way in trying to be “realistic.” Their Tarzan was like a jungle version of “Nell” and still didn’t feel quite right to me either.

    Artistically speaking, I prefer the Joe Jusko version from his many paintings he’s done of the character. He’s as muscular as Tarzan would need to be to fight off giant apes and lions but still lithe enough to freely swing from tree to tree. Jusko also imbues him with an intelligence in the eyes that hints at Tarzan’s mental sharpness, something ERB always wrote him as having. His Tarzan was always brains AND brawn.

    With James Bond, I always picture *bear with me here* George Lazenby. At least that was who kept coming to mind when reading the original Fleming novels a few years back. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is a fine enough film, but Lazenby is just such an odd footnote in the franchise’s history that I could get why someone would look askance at me for saying that. But Lazenby wasn’t terrible by any means in the role and if you read Fleming’s stories, his James Bond comes across as simultaneously tougher and more vulnerable than the way Connery or Moore played him. Fleming’s Bond could be downright sociopathic at times, with the same kind of intensity that Daniel Craig has brought to the role. However, Fleming’s Bond also was prone to bouts of feeling sorry for himself, brought on by the loneliness and world-weariness of the job. Part of him wanted nothing more than to settle down with a wife in a cottage in the country somewhere. But the rest of him knew he would never be suitable for that role. And Lazenby, to me, does a good job of embodying that conflicting dynamic. He also fits Fleming’s physical description of Bond. Better than most, anyway.

    For my generation, Christopher Reeve IS Superman. I like your comparison of the E1 and E2 Supermen in relation to the Reeve/Reeves characterization. But Reeve is so much the embodiment of the character, I feel sorry for all the otherwise qualified actors who have tried to play the part since him. When Reeve passed away, I openly wept, which is something I have done for very few celebrities. Because, what’s sadder than Superman dying?

    Rathbone as The Shadow is very inspired! He has that perfect aquiline nose and I can hear his voice delivering that wonderful warning to criminals everywhere.

    I just picked up the I.A. Watson Robin Hood novels from Airship 27, and the depiction of Robin in the cover art intrigues me. I can’t recall seeing him portrayed as having long blonde hair before (or Maid Marian as a feisty redhead for that matter.) The Errol Flynn version is great, but slightly ruined for me by Mel Brooks’ Men In Tights. Other versions of Robin have gone for the grittier, look-how-much-we-are-not-Errol-Flynn look and I can’t recall any being that memorable or entertaining. I LOVED Watson’s two Blackthorn novels so I am excited to see his take on the character. Maybe it will become my definitive version!

    For the other characters on your list, I’m sorry to say I don’t have any strong opinions on their appearance. I’ve seen some Zorro, Lone Ranger and Green Hornet over the years but never followed them very closely. For Zorro and Lone Ranger, I mostly am reminded of the late 70’s/early 80’s Saturday morning cartoon I remember watching as a kid. I did see the 1981 Lone Ranger movie just a few years ago and it wasn’t as bad as I feared, but I can also see why no one has see or heard from Klinton Spilsbury since…

  4. Oddly enough, Disney’s Tarzan probably caught more of the Burroughs books than any other film version. There’s a great episode of the ‘toon spinoff TV series (the only one I’ve caught) which involves a writer named “Ed” looking to see if this ape-man would be worth writing a book about (“I need something to follow up my first novel, A Princess of Mars.”).

  5. I think it might be a stretch to suggest that the 1981 Lone Ranger tanked because of fan revolt over the injustice done to Clayton Moore. It tanked for the same reason the Armie Hammer one tanked. Because it sucked out loud and was a pain to watch.

    But now you’ve given me an idea for a post.

    1. Oh, yeah. I didn’t mean to suggest that the Clayton Moore thing was the only reason LOTLR tanked, just that it was in the mix of reasons that movie didn’t do well. Can you imagine the public outcry if the producers of Superman the Movie treated a still-living George Reeves as shabbily as the producers of LOTLR treated Moore?

      And yeah, there’s definitely a post in how all the various attempts at a live-action Lone Ranger revival have missed the mark. The Chad Michael Murray pilot was pretty painful.

  6. heyman

    I actually kind of liked the 1981 Lone Ranger, but of course I was 8 years old, and loved the Lone Ranger. I might have to give it another watch and see if it’s as bad as I am hearing, but I don’t know if I want to ruin it. As far as ideal versions of characters go, I always think of Sam J. Jones as Flash Gordon (from another movie I loved as a kid, but am afraid to watch as I think it was pretty awful). My ideal version of Conan has to be from the Frank Frazetta book covers. John Buscema’s version would probably be a close second.

    1. I like bits of the LOTLR movie. There are definitely some good ideas in there. The main handicaps are that they picked the wrong leading man (one so bad he had to be redubbed throughout the entire movie) and that stupid Merle Haggard narration, which makes the movie seem like a really weird Dukes of Hazzard episode.

    2. Le Messor

      I still love the Flash Gordon movie, but I’m one who doesn’t need his movies to be all dour and serious and depressing, like 90% of directors these days say 100% of audiences are.

      I don’t know where you are on all this.

      (Bias alert: My favourite band is Queen.)

  7. Le Messor

    the Shadow would’ve been well-served by a big budget movie made in the 30s or 40s instead of the forgettable serials they actually made. And who knows?

    Well, the Shadow does, for starters…
    (And if you did that on purpose, I’m embarrassed. :))

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