A Salute to Comic Books

In the new Superman Returns movie, Bryan Singer has reinvented the Superman mythology.  As as this post, I haven’t seen it, but I plan to as I have always been a Superman fan.  The timing of the movie must have prompted the History Channel to put on a couple of shows that I became enamored with last week.  The two shows, Look, Up in the Sky – The Amazing Story of Superman , and Time Machine – Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, were very interesting, as I used to collect comics as a kid.

I want to review a bit of what I saw in the shows before I get to my much more brief salute!  The History Channel original was the Time Machine show.  I learned a lot that I did not know (and I have done some background reading before).  Particularly, that the comics were fairly provocative (regarding sexuality and violence) from the ’30s to the ’50s.  A series of congressional hearings in the early ’50s (around the same time as the McCarthy hearings on Communists in our country) almost killed the industry.  Interestingly, the whole inquiry was based on the testimony of a psychologist named Fredric Wertham.  He had written a book called The Seduction of the Innocent, in which he posited that young people were seeing such negative messages and stereotypes in the comics that they were more given to violence, etc., as a result.  The whole story around World War II and the stories in the comics (characters fighting Hitler and the Nazis, etc.) was fascinating as well.  The industry also had to deal with the fallout from speculating “investors” in the ’90s; when the selloff of comics began, circulations were drastically cut.  The comics also returned to the sex and violence themes again in a big way.  They also began telling extremely complex stories (e.g., Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, The Watchmen series, et al) that really do not translate well to the big screen.  All in all, I was captivated.  

As for the Look, Up in the Sky show, it was produced by Bryan Singer (director of the new film) and narrated by Kevin Spacey.  It overlapped some with the above, but comes all the way up to now.  The discussion about Smallville was very interesting.  By the way, there are Judeo-Christian allegories that can be drawn to some extent.  The parallels are not always clear cut, nor across the board.  But, you can see some of the story of Moses, Jesus, and God in general in some recent interpretations of Superman.  Of particular note here are Smallville and the new film.  How much of this was behind the original Superman idea by Siegel and Shuster, I don’t know.  Maybe writers have taken liberties with the material along the way.  One great line from one of the shows was that one writer figured out that, when it comes to Batman and Superman, you are really a custodian of the mythology.  Translation: when you do something that fans do not expect, then you will have a negative backlash — even from OTHER writers!!

All of this, along with rumaging through my old comic books the other day, caused me to reflect on the enjoyment that I got from reading them.  The above discussed documentaries went into a whole lot of behind the scenes things, the business aspects, the stories and the characters.  This provided an even bigger backdrop to see the comics against.  Incidentally, I must say that I am happy that Hollywood is making superhero movies that I always wanted to see.  I am particularly pleased when the stories are fairly faithful to early themes / stories, etc., while creating new ones.  So, here’s to comic books — they were (and are) the inspiration for a lot of tremendous entertainment from radio to TV to movies to toys and collectibles!  They had (and still have) good, bad, and ugly, but I remember a lot of good in the ones I read.

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Published in: on July 10, 2006 at 3:45 am  Leave a Comment  

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