New PBS Film and Book Survey Superhero Comic Books

By Calvin Reid | Pub­lish­ers Week­ly

This fall PBS will offer its own ver­sion of Com­ic-Con when it airs the three-part doc­u­men­tary Super­heroes: The Nev­er End­ing-Bat­tle by film­mak­er Michael Kan­tor. The film will be accom­pa­nied by a com­pan­ion vol­ume, Super­heroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Cre­ation of Com­ic Book Cul­ture, writ­ten by Lau­rence Maslon and Kan­tor, to be released in Octo­ber from Ran­dom House’s Crown Arche­type imprint.

It’s the first real­ly com­pre­hen­sive illus­trat­ed his­to­ry of com­ic books,” Maslon told PW in an inter­view at the San Diego Con­ven­tion Cen­ter not far from the exhi­bi­tion floor of the San Diego Com­ic-con Inter­na­tion­al. “It’s not just a look at DC Comics or at Mar­vel, it looks at them both and at the cul­ture in a com­pre­hen­sive way.” Clips from the doc­u­men­tary film were screened here at Com­ic-con.

PBS Superheroes

Maslon said the film and book will pro­vide a his­to­ry of the com­ic book indus­try and the super­hero genre that launched it, but it will also exam­ine the influ­ence of super­hero comics on soci­ety and the media. It will look at the rise of black super­heroes like the Black Pan­ther and Luke Cage and “the inter­sec­tion of pop cul­ture and Amer­i­can his­to­ry and its influ­ence on media and the cul­ture; how the ear­ly 1960s Bat­man TV show influ­enced the growth of Col­or TV. It was per­fect for sell­ing TV sets. Kids had stopped watch­ing TV and the net­works want­ed to cre­ate a fam­i­ly audi­ence by broad­cast­ing a show they could watch togeth­er at 7:30pm.”

The book will be based on the doc­u­men­tary film and cov­ers the com­ic book indus­try from its birth dur­ing the depres­sion, the rein­ven­tion of the super­hero genre and the pub­lish­ers dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s and the cur­rent era of block­buster movies and mega-con­ven­tion cul­ture we see today. The film will air in three parts (and will over­lap New York Com­ic-con Oct. 10–13) begin­ning with “Truth, Jus­tice, and the Amer­i­can Way” (1938–1958) on Octo­ber 8, 2013 at 9:00 p.m. EST; “Great Pow­er, Great Respon­si­bil­i­ty” (1959–1977) on Octo­ber 15, and “A Hero Can Be Any­one” (1978-Present) on Octo­ber 22.

Maslon said the book will fea­ture new inter­views with more 50 comics cre­ators, among them Stan Lee, Joe Kubert, Joe Simon, Jules Feif­fer as well as com­ic book admir­ers like author Michael Chabon. Actor Liev Schreiber (who played Saber­tooth in the recent X-Men film) will be the host. “We’ve got great com­ments from peo­ple like comics writer Grant Mor­ri­son and Mark Waid and Adam West” he said, “and hav­ing this on PBS says that comics are part of Amer­i­can his­to­ry and cul­ture. Whether you were a com­ic book col­lec­tor or not, it doesn’t mat­ter, every­one knows who Super­man, Bat­man and Spi­der-man are.”

He empha­sized the films sub­ti­tle, “the nev­er-end­ing bat­tle,” and said it doesn’t just refer to “the Red Skull bat­tling it out with Cap­tain Amer­i­ca. Remem­ber this is an indus­try that was inves­ti­gat­ed by a sen­ate sub­com­mit­tee [dur­ing the 1950s anti-comics hys­te­ria], this is about the com­ic book industry’s con­tin­u­al need to bat­tle for respect.”

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Author: Rhonda 2.0

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