Showing posts with label WETA. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WETA. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle part 3 (airing tonight)

Thanks to WETA, I've gotten an advance look at the new 3-part documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle directed by Michael Kantor who co-wrote it with Laurence Maslon.

Part 3, “A Hero Can Be Anyone” (1978-Present), is largely about how superheroes have moved from being entertainment for children to being popular culture for adults. It opens with highlights from the Avengers movie, noting that it was the third highest grossing movie of all time. The San Diego Comic-Con is visited next, showing plenty of quick interviews with adult cosplayers rather than comic book fans.

The documentary then steps back to the 1970s and the lack of trust in government due to Richard Nixon. In this telling, the release of Superman: The Movie in 1978 inspired people, especially with its tagline "You'll believe a man can fly." Several comic book writers point out that Christopher Reeves' great dual performance as Clark Kent and Superman, and the use of romantic situations were the thing that made the movie work more than the special effects. Superman: The Movie also led to a campaign to compensate and credit Siegel and Shuster for their creation, and Kantor covers this in some detail.

Meanwhile comic book sales continued to drop (and as noted in my second review, the creation of the direct market is not mentioned here either). Marvel pulled one of the early stunts by having Spider-Man get married, although former Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada notes that once you've started time passing, when does it end? Should Spider-Man grow old? It's not mentioned in the film, but Quesada believes not, and retconned Spider-Man's marriage out of existence with a literal deal with the devil.

Frank Miller's tour-de force Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986) is the next highlight, and is held up as the first adult superhero comic book. Comic book and television writer J. Michael Straczynski called the comic book about an aging Batman "the most seminal work in the field today" and I agree. Mark Waid then notes that 1986 saw another seminal work, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon's Watchmen. Watchmen took the opposite approach to B:TDKR, and looked at the issues of vigilante justice and fascism inherent in superheroes.

Marvel's new X-Men pre-dated these two comics, but are introduced next. The multicultural and multiracial cast is held up as a model in which anyone could find a character or situation to relate to. Gay comics artist Phil Jiminez explicitly states the comic was "a most amazing metaphor for young gay people." The similar success of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's New Teen Titans is not mentioned at all however.

The film segues into the reworking of Spider-Man by artist Todd McFarlane and the subsequent formation of Image Comics by hotshot young enegade artists. McFarlane's interview segments are among the most entertaining in this segment. The Death of Superman is then examined as another highlight drawing media attention, but also as beginning of the bursting of the collectible bubble as people bought multiple copies as investments.

Kantor argues that the "grim and gritty era was ending" by this point, which I disagree with, and the film says that 9-11 ended that type of comic story which began in Dark Knight Returns fifteen years earlier. Marvel's 9-11 comic book is shown (although DC's is not), and then the Civil War story line is featured. This long and wide story put superheroes led by Captain America and Iron Man on opposite sides of a government-sponsored initiative to keep track of superheroes. DC's Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan are also cited as a response to America's post-9-11 angst - convincingly I believe.

The film then circles back to fun and 'sexy' movies such as Spider-Man. Zach Snyder states that such movies are keeping superheroes alive when comic books can't, and Grant Morrison claims that videogames will be the future. The film ends optimistically of course - it's about superheroes.

All 3 parts of the documentary air locally on WETA at 8 pm tonight.   Previews and outtakes can be seen on Youtube.

Images courtesy of Grand Comics Database.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thoughts on Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle part 1

Thanks to WETA, I've gotten an advance look at the new 3-part documentary Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle directed by Michael Kantor who co-wrote it with Laurence Maslon.

Part one, Truth, Justice and The American Way covers 1938 through 1958. The film opens with comic book dealer Vincent Zurzolo locking a copy of Action Comics #1 in a vault. Action #1 famously was the first appearance of Superman, and now is generally thought to be worth millions of dollars (I believe issues tend to be traded, and not paid for in cash).

Kantor does a good job showing how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster started a new genre and jumpstarted an industry with Superman. As with many documentaries, commentators are talking heads in studio settings, but Kantor got a great bunch of cartoonists - Joe Kubert, Jerry Robinson, Carmine Infantino, Neal Adams, former DC publisher Jeanette Kahn, Stan Lee, Joe Simon, Jim Steranko, Ramon Fradon (a rare woman in the early superhero industry, she now appears regularly at the annual Baltimore Comic-Con), Denny O'Neil and others. Poignantly, several of these have passed on within the past few years including Kubert, Robinson, Infantino and Simon. Deceased creators such as Jack Kirby and Bill Gaines are shown in film clips, although Kirby is given short shrift in this episode, presumably because he will feature so largely in the second episode on Marvel Comics.

Most of the commentary is edited down to reflect a standard history of superhero comic books, but highlights emerge such as Fradon's talking about hiding behind her drawing board as ethnic jokes flared, or when Simon talks about drawing a big explosion in a Captain America comic book just to fill up the page faster. Irwin Hasen, who began in comic books, but made it big in the strips with Dondi, says the work "... was like a shirt factory."

The film moves onto Batman, whom Jerry Robinson clearly says Bill Finger co-created with Bob Kane, lingers on Robin and the problem of sidekicks, and then moves on to the largely-forgotten Captain Marvel (aka Shazam). Grant Morrison interestingly points out Marvel's appeal as a non-realistic based character who fought dragons and tossed comets into the sun.

A brief look at merchandising, still so very central to the success of comic books, focuses on Superman's radio and tv show. Kantor then moves onto World War II, Captain America and the wild success of patriotic heroes. Wonder Woman is lumped in this group, due to her star-spangled outfit and December 1941 publication date. She's also discussed as "the superheroine American had been waiting for" which may be also be on a foundation that's a bit shaky.

The film wraps up with the post-war bust in superheroes, the emergence of crime and horror comics (and briefly-mentioned westerns and romance), and the campaign against comic books spurred by Fredric Wertham and his book The Seduction of the Innocent.

All 3-parts of the documentary air locally on WETA at 8 pm on October 15th. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Some surprising local publications

I went to a couple of booksales this weekend and found some cartoon publications with local ties that surprised me.

The New Yorker isn't based here of course, but they do specialty books on demand. Here's a local one that was probably a fund-raising premium for the local public radio and tv station:

New Yorker WETA Book of Cartoons

The New Yorker Book Of WETA Cartoons
New Yorker Magazine
New York: Cartoon Bank, 2004

The University of Maryland's Terrapin Anime Society (TAS) produced at least 10 issues of this Tsunami fanzine:

Tsnunami fanzine 1-9

Tsunami fanzine 1-10

This Fandom Directory out of Springfield, VA was a complete surprise to me. The online version lives at FANDATA:

Fandom Directory 2001 directory

Fandom Directory Number 19 2000-2001 Edition
Hopkins, Harry and Mariane S.
Springfield, VA: FANDATA Publications, 2000

When I finally get all of my local books and comics arranged in one place, it will probably be at least a bookshelf and not the Six Feet of Local Comics I had expected. I bought about eight signed Herblock books this weekend too which will take up most of a shelf by themselves.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Steve Brodner on WETA tonight

Richard Thompson sent this in (locally it's on WETA at 9 pm tonight, and probably the other PBS stations as well):

Need to Know
by Steve Brodner

Friday night ... marks our first appearance on PBS' new weekly news magazine show, Need to Know. Director Gail Levin and I have been working with the same great crew from the Naked Campaign films in '08: Asterisk Studios (Richard O'Connor, Brian O'Connell, Christina Capozzi Riley), Ben Shapiro, DP.

This week: Hamid Karzai and his visit to DC. He's not easy to pin down, but we're here to do the tough ones. Here's hoping this adds some color and content to the show. And that it perhaps gives TV some ideas about how to use narrative art.

Monday, March 08, 2010

March 13: A true comic opera

This weekend is The Metropolitan Opera's staging of Shostakovich's The Nose. And why should we care? Because it's being directed by South African fine art animator William Kentridge and carried on WETA 90.9FM at 1 pm on March 13. The NY Times reviewed it today.