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It’s been a while since the announcement, and subsequent postponement, of Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, so it’s worth noting that the documentary will air tonight on PBS as part of a three-hour block of programming called simply “Superheroes Night.”
Hosted by X-Men Origins: Wolverine actor Liev Schreiber, the documentary by Michael Kantor feature interviews with the likes of Stan Lee, Adam West, Lynda Carter, Michael Chabon, Jules Feiffer and the late Joe Simon and Jerry Robinson, and chronicles how comic books “were subject to intense government scrutiny for their influence on American children and how they were created in large part by the children of immigrants whose fierce loyalty to a new homeland laid the foundation for a multibillion-dollar industry that is an influential part of our national identity.”
You can read a description of the three one-hour episodes below. Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle premieres tonight at 8 ET/PT on PBS.
“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.
“Great Power, Great Responsibility” (1959-1977)
A new breed of superhero emerges in the 1960s, inspired by the age of atomic energy and space travel and, in turn, inspiring artists of the time. The pop art movement draws heavily on comic books, with superhero images appearing in the works of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. Civil rights in America and other social issues make their way onto the page as black superheroes emerge with powerhouses such as the Black Panther and Luke Cage. The pages of “Green Lantern/Green Arrow” address social issues in their relevant storylines, and comic books are forced to confront the reality of an increasingly complex world.
“A Hero Can Be Anyone” (1978-Present)
This episode captures the enthusiasm for superheroes as they are 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 brings 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.