PBS is the last true bastion of worthwhile programming on television today. That includes both cable and non-cable networks. The once powerhouse networks that are History, Discovery, and TLC have been almost completely polluted by reality television in recent years. This has left them nonfactors to anyone looking for programming with any substance. And while it may not be the first network to present a special on the comic book industry, PBS has still proven with its new special, Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle, why it remains the last true bastion of quality programming. The special takes a look at the formative years of the comic book industry, and how some of the most beloved characters in the comic book industry went from the pages of newspapers to being their very own entity. It examines the impact of comic books on the war effort during World War II and vice versa, and the effect of television on the future of comic book characters, among so many other topics. Perhaps the only downside to the entire presentation would be the DVD’s box art. It’s pretty obvious that this is only the first of an ongoing series of specials on the comic industry. Keeping that in mind, it is a good start for anyone that has ever had any interest in the history of the comic book industry but didn’t know where to begin.
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a good starting point for anyone that has ever had any interest in the comic book industry, but did not know where to begin with their research. The first of what looks to be three hour long installments, it covers the comic book industry’s first twenty years, beginning with the advent of comic strips in newspapers. Audiences will be interested to discover that Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster didn’t gain immediate success with their Superman comic strip. Rather, it took five years before the pair’s strip was finally picked up by any newspaper. Because this first installment is painted with a broad brush, the controversy that would follow is largely omitted. There is a passing reference to it. But it is at least made. Perhaps that will be included in the second installment. The advent of Batman and Wonder Woman were just as interesting subjects about which to learn. Even the most well-rounded comic enthusiasts probably never gave much thought to how different Batman and Superman were both in terms of their characters and their how they rose to fame. And the controversy surrounding Wonder Woman (and the role of women in comic books) is just as intriguing. The discussion is raised on the presentation of Wonder Woman as a symbol of a strong woman in a very male dominated society versus that of a standard damsel in distress because she was always being caught and handcuffed, tied up, etc. The term “fetishy” is even thrown out in the discussion on her negative presentation to readers. It definitely makes for quite the discussion point for anyone regardless of whether one is a comic book fan or not.
The creation and controversy surrounding Wonder Woman is just one of the points in which audiences will take an interest during the first portion of this documentary. Also discussed is how the outbreak of WWII led to the creation of one Captain America, and even got Superman almost involved in the war. Those that might be novices in the world and history of comic books will take interest by connection just how popular comic books were among America’s armed forces during the days of the war. And that is likely thanks to the fact that both Marvel and DC offered Americans of every calling someone for whom they could cheer in the war against the Nazis. By direct contrast, it is even more interesting to note how the popularity of comic books actually declined after the war, and how the industry even came under fire thanks to the rise of the “Red Scare” brought on by Joseph McCarthy. That is one that even the most devout comic book enthusiasts might not know. Of course, it was the “Red Scare” that eventually led to the “comics code” that many readers know of today. The first of this three-part series ends up discussing not just the censorship that followed McCarthyism, but the rise of television as a new outlet to regain audiences that had been lost by that movement. It will be interesting to see where PBS takes viewers in the second and third installments of its comic book based documentary. The entire series will be released on DVD October 15th. It can be ordered direct from PBS’ online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=23148246&cp=&sr=1&kw=superheroes&origkw=Superheroes&parentPage=search. More information on this and other PBS programs is available online at http://www.pbs.org and http://www.facebook.com/pbs. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.