They're all the rage these days — on film, on TV, even on Broadway — but there was a time when America had no superheroes. So, just like with jazz and blue jeans, we had to invent them. The three-hour PBS documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (Tuesday, Oct. 15) will track their evolution from the birth of Superman in the Great Depression to the powerhouse dominance of Spider-Man and The Avengers in the 3D IMAX world of today.
"History shows that superheroes increase in popularity whenever we as a society are desperate for hope — whether it was during World War II or the political turmoil of the 1960s or in our current age of post-9/11 terrorism," says executive producer Michael Kantor. "And even when these characters fall out of favor, they are resilient. Their ability to reboot is staggering."
The concept of superheroes wasn't warmly received by publishers at first. In fact, it took Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster five years to get their Man of Steel into the comics. "They were two Jewish kids who were bullied in school and couldn't even make themselves talk to girls," says Kantor. "They were the classic outsiders who channeled their energies into the greatest superhero of all time — one who is recognized by every four or five-year-old kid in every corner of the globe."
Narrated by Liev Schreiber, Superheroes includes interviews with Marvel Comics mastermind Stan Lee, actors Adam West (Batman), Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman), DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns and legendary cartoonist Jules Feiffer, plus the final chats with the late icons Joe Simon (cocreator of Captain America) and Jerry Robinson (cocreator of The Joker).
"The movers and shakers of the comic-book world — led by Stan Lee — brought us great pop-culture entertainment but they also used the form to explore drug abuse, racism, homosexuality and lot of other social issues, sometimes to great resistance," Kantor notes. "We have some marvelous commentary on that, especially from Stan, as well as Phil Jimenez [Wonder Woman], who was one of the first, if not the first, comic-book creators to come out as gay," says Kantor. "The artists and writers behind the great superheroes are a wonderful array of nerds and nebbishes — and now they're ruling the world. This is like the greatest Comic-Con panel ever assembled!"
Superheroes is accompanied by the comprehensive book, Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture (Crown Archetype), written by Kantor and Laurence Maslan.
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