Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the ultimate list of songs inspired by people with an unusual skill set. And capes. Let’s not forget those.
MEGADETH – Holy Wars… The Punishment Due (Rust In Peace, 1990)
An incongruous collision of real-world troubles and comic-book kicks; Holy Wars is about “killing for religion”, while The Punishment Due concerns Marvel’s gangster-wasting vigilante antihero. “I loved The Punisher! I’ve been reading The Punisher for years and years,” declared Dave Mustaine in 2009 (although in 1993 he complained the comic had been ‘commercialised’). It’s Megadeth’s second Punisher song after 1984’s debut title track, Killing Is My Business… And Business Is Good.
RAMONES—Spider-Man (¡Adios Amigos!, 1995)
The last (hidden) bonus track on the New York punk pioneers’ last album, this effervescent take on the irresistible 60s cartoon theme was a highlight of the oh-so-90s covers album Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits, a compilation of alt-rock groups performing kids’ TV theme tunes. Spider-Man found its way into the last ever Ramones setlist, and was accompanied by a fantastic video animated in the spirit of the original series.
RANCID — Side Kick (Let’s Go, 1994)
In this opaque narrative, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong apparently imagines himself as Tim Drake, the third incarnation of Batman’s sidekick Robin (“I had a dream I was a vigilante sidekick, my name is Tim, I’m a lesser known character”). However, the song boldly displaces the DC sidekick to the service of Marvel’s X-Man Wolverine, possibly avenging a SWAT team’s demolition of a soup kitchen… seemingly based on a genuine dream.
ANTHRAX – I Am The Law (Among The Living, 1987)
With a succession of appropriately imposing, armour-plated stomp riffs, the New York thrash kings offered this anthemic tribute to “a man so hard his veins bleed ice”, 2000AD’s scourge of the Mega-City One perps, street-judge Joseph Dredd. Anthrax were such a natural choice to hail the character in song, nobody better tell them that the Human League did the same thing – with the same – six years earlier. Drokk it!
HELMET – Gigantor (Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits, 1995)
New York jackhammer metal quartet Helmet contributed a cover of the theme to this ‘60s US cartoon, originally based on the anime version of Tetsujin 28-go. It begins as a playful rock homage before spiralling into what Helmet do best – jazz-infused syncopated riffage, anchored by John Stanier precise rhythms.
THE TRAITS – Nobody Loves The Hulk (single, 1969)
Sold through Marvel comic small ads in 1969, this breathless nugget of prime-era garage psych is way better than a high school band’s one-off novelty cash-in needs to be. A retelling of the incredible one’s origin story, emphasising the pathos and alienation experienced by the grumpy green giant, it’s even a sly allegory for racial prejudice in 60s America (“We don’t allow no green skin people in here!”).
SUICIDE – Ghost Rider (Suicide, 1977)
The adventures of Johnny Blaze – Marvel’s stunt biker who sold his soul to Satan and became flaming skull-headed Ghost Rider – had been running for five years in 1977, when the NYC electro-punks immortalised his deeds in eerie, kinetic song. “The most supernatural superhero of all” was in his prime that year, “looking so cute, riding around in his blue jumpsuit.”
WINGS – Magneto and Titanium Man (Venus and Mars/Rock Show single b-side, 1975)
Paul McCartney proved himself quite the Marvel superfan with this dreamlike narrative featuring three of Stan Lee’s arch-villains (Crimson Dynamo’s involved too, but the Soviet iron man didn’t get his name in the title), implicating the narrator’s girlfriend in a bank robbery. However, the lyrics are strange enough that some see it as a tortuous allegory for the break-up of the Beatles, with Ringo as the Crimson Dynamo for some reason.
QUEEN – Flash (Flash Gordon, 1980)
Although not technically a superhero – “just a man, with a man’s courage” – the athletic Yale graduate was nevertheless assuredly “king of the impossible”. Debuting in comic form in 1934, it took another 46 years for Flash (aaah-ah) to gain his perfect signature tune courtesy of rock royalty in their pomp. Although director Dino De Laurentiis was unaware of the stature of his soundtrack artists, reputedly asking, “Who are The Queens?” Sacrilege. Absolute sacrilege.
MONSTER MAGNET – Ego The Living Planet (Dopes To Infinity, 1995)
Thor’s world-sized enemy Ego, The Living Planet first appeared in a 1966 Marvel comic. Monster Magnet frontman Dave Wyndorf – a fan of ‘60s comic books and Ego… co-creator Jack Kirby in particular – leads the band through a series monolithic riffs befitting of the mouthy, hyper-intelligent mass with the sole lyric, ‘I talk to planets, baby’. ”The Marvel characters became metaphors for me because the songs are really about me, my life and my subconscious,” Wyndorf explains. “I called one song Ego, The Living Planet to see if anyone noticed — and to my disappointment nobody did — but what an incredible vision of huge ego itself, a mad planet with a face. That’s a metaphor.”
REM – Superman (Life’s Rich Pageant, 1986)
Although a cover of a 1969 b-side by Texan pop sweeties The Clique, REM made this Man Of Steel allegory their own in 1986. For whatever reason, Michael Stipe was never keen, hence bassist Mike Mills took lead vocal; at guitarist Peter Buck’s wedding in 2013, Mills, Buck and drummer Bill Berry performed the song as a trio (although Stipe was in attendance), carefully avoiding a full-on REM reunion.
ICED EARTH - The Dark Saga (Dark Saga, 1996)
Floridian power metal mastermind Jon Schaffer, hugely inspired by Todd McFarlane’s 90s indie comic phenomenon Spawn, originally approached the artist with a view to writing music for the Spawn film. That didn’t happen, but when McFarlane agreed to design a Spawn-based album cover, Schaffer decided to devote an entire concept album to the dark saga of the ex-CIA operative-turned-officer in Hell’s army.