We first heard about it almost two years ago as Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle debuted at the 2011 New York Comic Con. But what we saw then focused only on the years 1938 to 1954. On October 15th 2013, PBS will be running the full documentary over a three hour block (8pm to 10pm) that they are calling "Superhero Night".
The documentary is broken into three parts (including the one shown at the convention) and is narrated by Liev Schrieber (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ray Donovan) and is produced/directed by Michael Kantor (Broadway: The American Musical; Make 'Em Laugh: The Funny Business Of America) and includes interviews from interviews from Stan Lee; actors Adam West (Batman) and Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman); Geoff Johns (Chief Creative Officer, DC Comics), Jeph Loeb (Head of Television for Marvel Entertainment); Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay) and cartoonist/author Jules Feiffer (the long-running strip Feiffer), as well as appearances by the late comic book icons Joe Simon (co-creator of Captain America) and Jerry Robinson (who helped create the Joker).
The show is broken into three one-hour segments covering different eras of comics and are described as follows:
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.
Also interviewed for the documentary: artist Neal Adams, Ed Catto (Bonfire Agency), writer Chris Claremont, writer Gerry Conway, writer Paul Dini, writer Mark Evanier, writer and editor Danny Fingeroth, historian William Foster, artist Ramona Fradon, artist Irwin Hasen, the late artist Carmine Infantino, writer and artist Phil Jiminez, writer Gerard Jones, publisher Jenette Kahn, the late artist Joe Kubert, artist and co-publisher of DC Comics Jim Lee, former comic store owner Mike Malve, artist/writer Todd McFarlane, screenwriter Ashley Miller, writer Grant Morrison, writer Gary Phillips, writer/editor Denny O'Neil, writer Trina Robbins, chief creative officer of Marvel Entertainment Joe Quesada, casting director Andrea Romano, artist/designer Arlen Schumer, writer Louise Simonson, writer/artist Walt Simonson, Man of Steel director Zack Snyder, artist/writer Jim Steranko, writer J. Michael Straczynski, colorist Christina Strain, writer/editor Mark Waid, writer/editor Len Wein, writer Marv Wolfman and author Bradford Wright.
There will also be a new book hitting stands on October 1st called Superheroes!; Capes, Cowls And The Creation Of The Comic Book Culture written by the documentary co-writers Kantor and Laurence Maslon. The companion volume tells the story of the superhero in American pop culture, with interviews, character biographies and more than 500 illustrations.
It will be interesting to see what changes were made to the initial segment that debuted in New York to the one that airs this October. If nothing else, it gained 4 years of coverage in the two years since it was scene.