ISTANBUL - Turkish Daily News
It is hard to imagine cinema without Tarzan, James Bond and American superheroes as epitomized by Superman. However, it is time for audiences to get ready for something new: Turkish action films. Superheroes and comic book adaptations have graced Turkish cinema for about three decades as part of a remarkable era. These B-films, with homemade special effects and the most bizarre story lines, are now a treasure for pop culture aficionados in Turkey and even for some filmgoers abroad.
Turkish pop culture gurus Giovanni Scognamillo and Metin Demirhan's book "Fantastik Türk Sinemasi" (Fantastic Turkish Cinema) reveals that the debut of the first Western fictional hero in Turkish cinema goes back to 1952, with "Tarzan Istanbul'da" (Tarzan in Istanbul). Edgar Rice Burroughs's classic, a favorite in Hollywood for almost a century, proved to be a favorite with Turkish audiences as well, opening the way for the country to offer its own superheroes and comic book heroes as well. Another Tarzan movie came two decades later with "Tarzan Korkusuz Adam" (Tarzan the Fearless).
The popularity of superheroes in Hollywood and, to a certain extent, in Hong Kong cinema had a direct impact on Turkish cinema from the 1960s to the 1980s. The first of the popular superheroes to be adapted to the big screen in Turkey was Fantoma. Not to be confused with Lee Falk's The Phantom (which was later to find its way to the screen as well), the crime-master Fantoma was inspired by the fictional arch-villain created by French writers Souvestre and Allain nearly a century ago.
Authentic Turkish superheroes
Turkish cinema allowed Fantoma to move to Istanbul, and even had him fighting Batman and Superman at one point. That was how world-renowned American superheroes entered Turkish cinema. The structure was very much similar to the cult B movies of Hollywood. The villain had an evil plan to destroy a city, a country or “civilization as we know it.” The superhero entered the scene with his obligatory mask, cape and skintight outfit. Throw some stereotypical female characters into the formula -- the vulnerable victim or the evil seductress (preferably with minimal clothing) -- and one has the ultimate superhero movie.
These films were mostly inspired by American Marvel and DC comic books and by popular American TV series. However, Turkish filmmakers did not refrain from creating totally original superheroes -- well, even if they were not superheroes in the typical sense, they still wandered around in outrageous outfits and weird masks. These original heroes included Demir Pençe (Iron Paw), Kara Atmaca (Black Hawk), Maskeli Şeytan (Masked Devil) and Şimşek Hafiye (Thunder Detective).
There was no sense of time and place in most of these films. They were examples of postmodern art at its best. These superheroes got to fight the Vikings, mummies, Amazons, the Mafia, aliens, Byzantines and American Indians. Dominant images of popular culture were incorporated without any regard for historical accuracy, political correctness or simple common sense. If the filmmakers somehow got a hold of American Indian outfits, a couple of horses and a tent, there would be no reason not to fight American Indians just a few kilometers outside of Istanbul.
‘Kilink' me softly
One other item audiences could not miss in these pictures was the sexy women with long hair and barely any clothing wandering around throughout the films with no storylines. These women, of course, were the ultimate stereotypical seductresses, with names like – shockingly -- Marilyn.
Most popular among these fantastic heroes proved to be Kilink, inspired by the Italian sadomasochistic, erotic photo-novella character Killing, a villain who wears a tight black one-piece suit with a skeleton design on it. One Kilink movie followed another. The first two were "Kilink Istanbul'da" (Kilink in Istanbul) and "Kilink Uçan Adama Karşı" (Kilink vs. Superman). Kilink movies also created a chance for other superheroes to appear, as Kilink got to fight Mandrake the Magician, Superman, and Frankenstein.
Turkish cinema did not forget Zorro, the masked avenger, either. "Zorro Kamçılı Süvari" (Zorro the Whipped Rider), "Zorro'nun İntikamı" (Zorro's Vengeance) and "Zorro'nun Kara Kamçısı" (Zorro's Black Whip) were among the popular Zorro movies.
And then there were the Turkish superheroes inspired by superheroes from the West. "Binbaşı Tayfun" (Major Tayfun) was an obvious variation on Captain America, with only the American flag on the original costume altered. "Dişi Tarzan" (Female Tarzan) was inspired by Tiger Woman. And when Clark Kent, the alter ego of Superman, traveled to Istanbul, his name became Kent Clark. Far and away the best of the variations was Batman, who became Bedmen in Turkish cinema. Many cult groups in America and Europe have embraced these films in the last decade, before the Turkish audience has had a chance to re-discover them. This undiscovered B-film territory is a pop culture heaven, and everyone should see a Kilink film once in their lifetime or at least see Superman fight Bedmen.