The Lonely Man Theme from The Incredible Hulk (1978-1982): The existential superhero? For five seasons, Bill Bixby played old Green Jeans as if it were the Closet Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Scientist David Banner is a hitchhiking vagabond trying to find a cure for his temper tantrums and condemns himself to the status of social outcast because he is unable to rid himself of part of his identity.
Prelude and Main Title March from Superman (1978): It’s hard to remember that there was a time when comic book film adaptations were an unknown commodity. But film history is indeed demarcated by the picture where Richard Donner made audiences believe Christopher Reeve could fly. As a picture it stands above many contemporary contenders still. Musically, John Williams created one of his most memorable anthems and brought a level of grandeur to the proceedings that continues to define the terrain of engagement after more than 40 years.
Theme Song from X-Men (1992): Released at the dawn of the Clinton era on Halloween 1992, three and a half months after Pat Buchanan ranted like some absurd super villain about the dawn of a Culture War, this show was a barely-veiled parable about reviled, hated superheros, loathed for being different, and the plots took on everything from AIDS to the Nazi holocaust. Pretty heady stuff for Saturday morning Cocoa Pops if you ask me…
Main Title from Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993): In the hindsight of nearly thirty years with the Christopher Nolan trilogy of pictures in the rearview mirror, it might seem a bit steep to claim this cartoon is the best film starring the Caped Crusader. I beg to differ. A big screen adaptation of the popular 1990s television show, the film’s design is indebted to the silent cinema German Expressionists. Kevin Conroy brings a gravity to his portrayal of Batman/Bruce Wayne that has pathos and a psychology that is far darker than Christian Bale’s neoliberal paternalism. Mark Hamill voices the Joker with a manic glee that outshines both Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger. This is a film where the hero is a nut and the music is at times operatic, aspiring for Wagner in some moments.
And of course, no superhero theme song playlist would be complete without this one.
Angel of the Morning by Juice Newton from Deadpool (2016): The antihero protagonist of this film started off as a third-string villain, a throwaway character who resembled Spider Man far too much and didn’t do anything remotely interesting. As a result, the writers on the comic book decided to throw all caution to the wind and created a postmodern spoof of the entire genre. The two film adaptations, while imperfect, have followed suit with the gags and have been quite satisfying, particularly in contrast to the basically dreary Disney-produced Marvel films, such as The Avengers (though I readily admit enjoying Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy).