Superheroes: A Never-ending Battle Review
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a three part documentary covering the colorful history of the comic book industry, specifically focused on superhero comics. Each segment covers a different point in time and breaks up the history into three significant periods in the industry’s history. It feels as though it’s split into a life cycle of infancy, adolescence, and adulthood to its current maturation with the story of its twilight years yet to be told, if they even come to pass.
The first episode goes over the birth of the industry as an idea of pulp compilation of comics provided on news stands and progressed into the early versions of characters that are easily recognizable by a majority of the world’s population. It discusses the significant events of the time and how comics reacted and gave comic fans a way to relate and deal with difficult times. In that way, comics were both influenced by events and in return, helped mold perspectives on those events.
The second installment actually had a bunch of good content to it, taking the line from Spider-Man “With Great Power, Comes Great Responsibility” and translating that to the social impact that comics were having. While I think they give themselves a bit more credit than they deserve, it does concentrate on a good point of what the responsibility is to content providers who are targeting products to children as well as adults. This is something that continues to be a concern and talking point in almost every media industry from music to movies to video games.
The final episode covers the adaptation and changes these figures have needed to go through to be relevant to the times, in both a cultural respect and as a medium as comics are trending to movies, video games, and digital – and away from their news stand beginnings. Sometimes those cultural changes were met with audience acceptance, and other times with backlash. Either way, it showed how much this industry was willing to try new things and adapt, which has allowed it to succeed over the decades.
The stories themselves were told by the artists and writers who created them, the characters who played them on tv and the movies, as well as comic authority figures and fans. The diverse selection of sources helps give the film a well rounded perspective. One of the things I enjoyed is others discussing important figures that helped mold the comics, even when those figures were involved in the film. It was nice getting both an outside perspective as well as from the figures themselves.
I have very few complaints of this retrospective. The things I think it fell short on were areas that I think would have been interesting to get a bit more attention. I think the coverage of the Comic Code Authority which heavy handedly governed the industry could have played a bigger role in this movie. Along with that, I was hoping to see some mention of the underground pulp comics and their influence on the mainstream. Even though they aren’t “superheroes” and don’t belong as a main point of this type of film with its focus, I think it would have brought in some interesting artists and their perspectives. While I can see why these didn’t get bigger roles in the film as it already lumbers in at almost 3 hours long in total, I think a couple of the often repeated segments of the same heroes over and over could have been dropped to make room.
Those gripes are only minor and I think comic book fans will find the 3 hours an easy watch. Even those who aren’t will find it enjoyable since, after all, who hasn’t been touched or is familiar with these characters? I am not a big comic book person. The fact that I recognized ninety percent of the characters and several of the figures in the industry point out just how entrenched comics have become in our pop culture. This movie has a lot going for it and is a solid film that tells the history many of us aren’t aware of, even though they are so familiar to us all.
SUPERHEROES: A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE is premiering tomorrow night, October 15th at 8pm ET, on PBS.