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.
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.”