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Superheroes documentary debuts Tuesday night on PBS

by Matthew Price Published: October 14, 2013

Tuesday, October 15, 2013, is “Superheroes Night” on PBS.

The three-hour block documentary SUPERHEROES: A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE is the newest film from Emmy Award-winning producer/director Michael Kantor (BROADWAY: THE AMERICAN MUSICAL; MAKE ‘EM LAUGH: THE FUNNY BUSINESS OF AMERICA).

The show will premiere at 8 p.m. ET (7 p.m. Central here in Oklahoma). Interviews include “Spider-Man” co-creator and Marvel Comics icon Stan Lee; DC Comics’ chief creative officer Geoff Johns; actors Adam West (“Batman”) and Lynda Carter (“Wonder Woman”) among many others.

The program was cowritten by Kantor and Laurence Maslon and is narrated and hosted by Liev Schreiber (pictured), who played Sabretooth in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”

The documentary looks at 75 years of comics history through the lens of the superhero, and looks at journeys those characters have made to TV and movie screens, among other media.

Comics fans will absolutely want to check out the documentary, and may find some interesting parallels with superheroes’ beginning and the surge of popularity they’ve undergone in today’s world.

A tie in book, “Superheroes! Capes Cowls and the Creation of Comic Book Culture,” was written by Maslon and Kantor and was released Oct. 1.

Here’s how PBS describes each part of the series:

PART ONE, 8 PM: “Truth, Justice, and the American Way” (1938-1958)

During the Depression, the popularity of dozens of superhero characters opens the door for a new generation of artists and writers. World War II creates a patriotic fervor for star-spangled adventurers to represent the American spirit at war and on the home front, but in the 1950s, superheroes are caught in the fire of government scrutiny and regulation. When the thrilling “Adventures of Superman” is broadcast on the new medium of television, America’s first and greatest superhero leads the entire comic book industry to renewed strength.

PART TWO, 9 PM: “Great Power, Great Responsibility” (1959-1977)

In the 1960s, a new breed of superhero emerges in the pages of Marvel Comics, inspired by the age of atomic energy and space travel and, in turn, inspiring the pop culture and pop artists of the time. Spider-Man, the Hulk and others are the first to have “problems” with which an adult audience can identify, and contemporary social issues make their way into comic books. Black powerhouses such as the Black Panther and Luke Cage appear on the scene, and the pages of “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” explode with relevant storylines as comic books are forced to confront the reality of an increasingly complex world.

PART THREE, 10 PM “A Hero Can Be Anyone” (1978-Present)

Modern enthusiasm for superheroes has been embraced in all forms of media and by all demographics, beginning with the historic Superman movie featuring Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel. In 1986, Batman is overhauled as The Dark Knight to reflect the nocturnal underside of his character, and Watchmen bring new sophistication to comic book narratives, illuminating a violent and politicized world. In the burgeoning new millennium, superheroes have taken over popular culture with feature films, television shows and video games complementing a new generation of web-based comics that bring superhero adventures to every corner of the world.

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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