“Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” is a three part documentary that recently has been airing on PBS. If you hurry you can also watch it streaming on the PBS website right here.
On the surface this series seems to be a beautifully produced and thoughtful presentation about the history of superheroes and comic books in America and their influence throughout the world.
Most comic fans that grew up reading comics or enjoying superheroes in any era will wax nostalgic as they see the devotion that is poured into the process of documenting how the creators of superhero adventures were influenced by the world around them.
The highlight of the series for me were video interjections by legendary comic creators, many of whom have already passed away. Watching Joe Simon, Jack Kirby, Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, and Carmine Infantino speak about comics couldn’t help but choke me up.
The series also did a wonderful job of representing women in the industry with video commentary by Ramona Fradon, Jennette Kahn, Trina Robbins, Louise Simonson, and Christina Strain.
I would love to say that this was a benchmark documentary about the history of comics but I can’t because what I witnessed was more like propaganda mechanism for Marvel and DC. This series in all of its splendor effectively trivialized any accomplishments in the battle for creators rights. It completely ignored the influence of the Direct Market. It erased the impact of decades of Independent comics with the notable exception of Image. No mentions off the tremendous impact that European or Japanese comics had.
I realize that it is unrealistic to expect every last detail of a 75 year history into a three hour documentary. I also recognize now, more clearly than ever, why the word superhero and the derivatives of it should not be allowed to be used as a trademark jointly by Marvel and DC exclusively.
What this series did effectively accomplish was to blur the distinction between the history of Supeheroes™ and the history of Comic Books as a whole by defining the impression for the general public that Superheroes™ = Comic Books and that Comic Books = Marvel and DC with the tip of a hat to Image, apparently the only independent to successfully publish another unique superhero.
NEWS FLASH! There are many independent publishers that have made comic books that featured superheroes! Superheroes also exist in other media and in other countries. All characters represented in the superhero genre are NOT owned by only Marvel and DC as much as they would like you to think that. This was not represented at all in this documentary and I believe it is unfair to dismiss the accomplishments and struggles of so many who also had great superhero stories to tell.
“Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” is typical of the type of bullshit that big corporations do to gloss over the undesired truth. “Smear lipstick on that pig and everyone will be happy and buy into what we have to sell.” ” Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”
Truth be told, there could have been a three part series just on the battles that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster fought over their rights to Superman or the battles that Jack Kirby had with Marvel for compensation and to have his art returned.
There could be a three part series on the rise of the Direct Market and how the barrage of quality Independent publishing in the 1980’s had Marvel and DC on the ropes.
There could be a three part series on how the internet and digital delivery has changed how comics are created published and viewed.
They would all represent true and vital information for anyone interested in an accurate history of the never ending battle of creating superheroes and comics in a market dominated by corporate interests intent on squelching any potential competition to their mythic intellectual property that they gained from the exploitation of the imaginations of mostly young, impoverished children of immigrants searching for and expressing their own American Dream.
If you have watched the series and got that great warm and fuzzy superhero nostalgic rush, I want you to know that I had it too. I also have a tremendously deep appreciation for the medium of comics and a tremendous respect for the genre of superheroes and though it is wonderful to see the genre presented in such a positive light I think it would be great if audiences understood and valued the true history of superheroes and not the mythology of the mythology influenced only by two enormous corporations.
Next week I will begin a series of my own on this blog that will take a closer look at how “Superheroes: The Never Ending Battle” diluted the real history of superheroes.
Making Comics Because We Want to,