Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013) s01e01 Episode Script

Truth, Justice and the American Way

1 MAN: Superheroes are American gods.
They're the American mythology.
Just like the Greeks had theirs, the Romans had theirs, these are the all-American heroes.
WOMAN: Superheroes are really just a personification of who we believe ourselves to be -- pioneers and heroes.
A lot of folks who came to this country had that feeling of I can become the hero to my family, I can be better, I can be bigger.
- Wow! - I know, right? MAN: Video games, television, animation, cinema -- none of this stuff would happen without the comic books.
It's American, sort of like jazz.
It's an American art form.
Hello, I'm Liev Schreiber.
Like millions of kids, I was mesmerized by the fantastic adventures of caped crusaders, men of steel, and their evil adversaries.
Eventually, I got to act out every kid's dream by playing one of those characters on screen.
Superheroes were first created by young men dreaming of an escape from the Great Depression.
Using only pen and ink, along with their extraordinary imaginations, these artists and writers created a brand new industry nearly overnight.
Their heroes burst forth out of disposable comic books, which could be had for one thin dime on newsstands and drugstores in every town in America.
Since then, they have exploded onto the radio, TV and movies, the Internet, and video games.
Superheroes have conquered the world.
Along the way, our costumed adventurers have come to the rescue of our nation in times of trouble, they have uplifted us, they've shown us how to be better versions of ourselves.
Ever since 1938, when the first great comic book character leapt onto the national scene, superheroes have been fighting a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.
MAN: The first appearance of Superman in Action Comics number 1 is quite possibly the most important comic book in all of comic history.
We recently sold a copy for $2,161,000.
This is it.
The holy grail of holy grails.
It's from June 1938.
It is such an incredibly important part of American pop culture.
It's hard to believe that, in the midst of the Great Depression, a copy could be bought for 10 cents.
Superman was, in some ways, the first character created by pop culture nerds.
Two young, Jewish boys from Cleveland, Ohio -- Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
And they were boys who were beaten up by bullies and teased mercilessly.
But they also got their revenge in Superman.
MAN: I think it was the year 1934.
It was a hot summer night, and Jerry Siegel, the teenage writer, couldn't sleep at night.
He was tossing and turning.
MAN: He had this dream in which he kept having these flashes of a character would become a combination of Samson and Hercules and a dozen other characters from the Bible to the comic strips to the serials and the movie theater.
Aaaah! SCHUMER: He wrote it all down.
The very next morning, he runs over to his friend, Joe Shuster's, house, his artist friend, and he tells him the story of this super heroic character.
And Joe Shuster starts making the original drawings.
JONES: Joe Shuster was a bodybuilder and fascinated with body building magazines, fascinated with images of acrobats.
Tights, cape -- you can see all that in Superman's costume.
Jerry Siegel's father died in a robbery when Jerry was a teenager, and the perpetrators were never caught, so he had this very immediate, visceral reason to hate crime.
And I think Superman, for him, was a character who could, in a fantasy way, prevent things like that from happening.
SCHREIBER: Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster came of age in the Great Depression, when newspaper syndication was at its peak.
In 1935, 130 syndicates offered almost 2,000 different comic strips to millions of readers.
For talents like Siegel and Shuster, this seemed like a golden opportunity, but their Superman strip was rejected again and again.
FINGEROTH: The guys who did the syndicated comics became identified, uh, with their characters, and in a way, they became as big stars as their characters.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Here, one of the comparative newcomers, who began his strip during the gangster era Chester Gould -- Dick Tracy, and Al Capp -- Li'l Abner NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: would understand these dream people of Al Capp's imagination.
FINGEROTH: these people were celebrities, very rich celebrities.
MAN: One was Hal Foster, who did Tarzan, and who eventually did Prince Valiant.
NEWSREEL ANNOUNCER: Educational romances of the days of old MAN: There was the man who did Flash Gordon, Alex Raymond.
Wonderful artist.
And Milton Caniff, who did Terry and the Pirates.
Everyone who started in my business held these artists as idols.
These were the guys that really knew what they were doing, that communicated the way that we wanted to try to do.
§ Sunday is Sunday to my family § § Sunday is not simply Sunday for me § § For Sunday's the one day when I love to see the funnies § MAN: My father conceived the idea of taking the Sunday pages, folding them over and folding them once again, and ending up with something roughly the size of today's comic book.
And one day, as the family legend goes, he conceived the idea of putting a 10-cent sticker on some of these and putting them on a newsstand and was delighted to find that they sold out rather quickly.
MAN: And that went on for a couple of years until they began to run out of suitable material to reprint from, of previously syndicated strips.
So they began to buy original material.
And that was the beginnings of the industry.
The publishers were really a pretty sleazy bunch, and some of them were unquestionably connected to the big mobs.
And a lot of them wanted to do something legitimate, but they wanted to go someplace where nobody was going to be checking the books too closely.
MAN: What they were putting out was porno books, in a way, in those days.
And then they -- this legitimate thing came along, and they jumped into it, you know.
SCHREIBER: One of the new publishers, Detective Comics, needed material for an action title and decided to take a chance on the hero that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had been shopping around for five years.
The creators earned a total of $130 for thirteen pages of Superman.
And then they had to take the newspaper strips and paste them together in the form of comic book pages, and it became the lead in Action Comics number 1 for what would become DC Comics.
The elements that Siegel and Shuster adopted into this comic strip set the pace for virtually everything to come afterward.
MAN: The 1930s was a time when the common man, he needed a champion because the forces aligned against them were so powerful.
So Superman may have begun as a fantasy imagination of a couple of teenagers, but he became a social crusader very quickly.
In his very first issue, he frees a wrongly convicted woman from death row.
"I have proof of her innocence, a signed confession.
" WRIGHT: He drops in on a wife-beater, throws him into the wall.
"You're not fighting a woman now.
" WRIGHT: He stops a conspiracy between a senator and a weapons manufacturer.
Pretty busy first day on the superhero job.
TV ANNOUNCER: Superman! To best be in a position to use his amazing powers in the never-ending battle for truth, justice, Superman has assumed the disguise of Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper.
MAN: He's not simply just this mighty Herculean kind of hero.
You know, he takes on this persona of all-American guy.
[Rings] - Kent speaking.
- Hello, Daily Planet? MAN: Superman is an alien.
He's an immigrant.
He comes from Krypton.
He immigrated to Earth, he left everything behind.
That world is gone.
He comes here, he changes his name to something that sounds, you know, really Gentile, Clark Kent.
This looks like a job for Superman.
CHABON: He transforms himself into the ultimate symbol of the American way of life.
That was a powerful expression of the American immigrant experience, not just the Jewish experience.
When you strip everything else away, what you're looking at is a stranger in a strange land, who wants to be part of a world and not an isolated alien.
And that's the backbone of America.
SCHREIBER: By 1939, Siegel and Shuster had realized their dream by creating a daily Superman newspaper strip with a color page on Sundays.
That same year, they were hired by DC Comics to produce something unprecedented -- an entire comic book devoted solely to a single character.
MAN: The kids in America, [Laughs] they went ape.
Within two years, these guys had changed the world.
The comic book publishers, every one of them said, make super heroes, give me some Green Lantern, the Atom, Zatara the Magician.
SCHREIBER: By the end of 1939, there were seven firms producing 50 comic book titles.
A year later, there were two dozen publishing houses, which put out 150 different comic books, most featuring superpowered heroes in colorful costumes with secret identities.
Rather like the Hollywood studios, each company had its own look and found its own bit of the readership.
SCHREIBER: Detective Comics -- also known as DC or National -- was the most prestigious line in the industry.
Among their roster of superheroes was the Sandman, who used a gun that dispensed a special gas, forcing criminals to tell the truth as it sedated them.
Timely Comics, which later became Marvel, featured outlandish, morally ambivalent characters.
The Human Torch was an android who used his fiery powers to help humanity, while Namor the Sub-Mariner, the first antihero in comics, had a blue-skinned mother who urged him to war on the earthmen above the sea.
Quality Comics was aptly named, with inventive characters.
Plastic Man was a former criminal whose accident in a chemical factory helped transform him into an elastic do-gooder.
Quality also published the comic book reprints of Will Eisner's superlative newspaper strip, The Spirit.
And then there was Fox.
Fox Publications was the poverty row of comic books.
Their superheroes all completely and utterly derivative.
I asked the creator of the Blue Beetle, their most important hero, what was it that inspired him to create this character named after a bug.
And he explained everything to me in two words.
Green Hornet.
[Laughs] SCHREIBER: The popularity of superhero comics opened the door for a new generation of artists and writers.
JONES: If you looked at a studio producing comics, it would look like a high school classroom in the Bronx -- largely Jewish, lots of Italians, lots of Hungarians, a fair number of Irish.
But for the most part, it was the Jewish kids who seemed most to connect with this idea of the superhero.
MAN: You know, most of these people that were doing the artwork were sons of immigrants.
Almost everybody I knew, including Jerry Siegel and Shuster, their parents were tailors.
"Schneiders," we used to call them, "sons of Schneiders.
" We had a guy named Whit Ellsworth.
He was the editor at DC Comics.
And, uh, he was known as the “company goy.
" They had to have a front who was not Jewish.
MAN: And women were very rare.
It was mostly a field for guys.
But at the time, I don't think anybody ever intended to stay in comic books.
Comic books were a way station.
INFANTINO: I wanted to be an architect, but I was a kid of the Depression.
They couldn't afford to send me to school for that.
And we came from the tenements, so you had to find a way to make a living.
The comic books were the only way for us.
I had a very sad, terrible angst.
When people were rich, we were rich -- car and chauffeur -- And we lost everything.
So I got out of it, and I got out of it by being a cartoonist.
WOMAN: And the bullpen happened to be right in the center of this building.
There were no windows.
It was pitch black except for all those lights, you know, where the artists were hunched over the tables.
And around 3:00, they'd all begin to sort of stir and wake up, and then the ethnic slurs would start going back and forth and the erasers would be flying.
And I would slink into the back and put the drawing board up as high as I could, you know, to draw so nobody would see me.
MAN: Comic books were not respected in those days.
I thought some day I would be a writer and I would write books, and I didn't want to use my name on these comics, this name that would one day appear on the great American novel.
So I just shortened my name, which had been Stanley Martin Lieber.
I shortened the first name, Stanley, to Stan Lee so I could save my name for these great things I would later write.
When I started, I was getting a total, I think, of something like $5 a page.
That means, to do a whole page, with whatever, how many? Four or five panels.
Panels are little boxes in the comic book business.
In order to make a quick buck, we'd have a big explosion on one page taking up several panels.
You did something for anybody at the time.
You understood that they'd take the copyright.
They had nothing to do with it except to pay you for the page rate.
SCHREIBER: Like other artists, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were contracted on a work-for-hire basis.
They no longer owned Superman.
When you did a character owned by the company, they owned it! Nothing, you don't get anything.
And we worked our asses off, pardon the expression.
Day and night.
It was like in a shirt factory, piecemeal.
Instead of a needle, instead of thread, pen and ink, pen and ink, pen and ink.
That's how we lived.
There'd be a line of artists and letterers and colorists working all at the same time.
I've heard them described as sweatshops.
Nothing like it.
Nothing like it at all.
I loved every minute of it.
SCHREIBER: Perhaps the biggest influence on the creators of comic books were the monthly magazines that were printed on cheap paper with ragged edges -- "the vulva" Pulp magazines offered a darker, more violent type of character.
Part crime-fighter, part criminal, these kind of heroes lurked in the shadows.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! The Shadow became the most prominent and most imitated figure in both pulps and comics.
He was almost supernatural because he could blend into the darkness and disappear.
SCHREIBER: The next great superhero to follow Superman would step out of these same shadows in the spring of 1939, when the editors at Detective Comics called on a young cartoonist named Bob Kane.
ROBINSON: One day, the editor came in, they were looking for somebody to do a new feature to compete with Superman.
And they asked Bob if he could come up with an idea for an adventure strip.
He immediately called Bill Finger and said, "I've got an opportunity to do a new feature, come on over.
" And the two of them concocted Batman ADAMS: Bob Kane created him with an innocence of the only kind of innocence you can have as a teenage boy -- to create something that seems different and borrow it from everything that you can borrow it from.
MAN: The Shadow was all dressed in black.
Batman is all dressed in black.
The Shadow was really playboy Lamont Cranston, wealthy man about town.
Batman is really Bruce Wayne, playboy and wealthy man about town.
Batman, he's the comics version of the Shadow.
TV ANNOUNCER: Yes, Batman, clad in a somber costume which has struck terror to the heart of many a swaggering denizen of the underworld.
Batman, who even now is pondering the plans of a new assault against the forces of crime.
ADAMS: Batman is Sherlock Holmes and one of the greatest athletes on earth all jammed together into one person, isn't he? That's pretty much what he is.
SCHREIBER: For the first year of his popular feature in Detective Comics, Batman was a loner with a violent streak.
He carried a gun and knew how to use it.
Editors eventually took away his lethal weapon, and if that made the Caped Crusader more vulnerable than the Man of Steel, it only helped his popularity.
Batman could do nothing.
He was a pulp hero, had a costume.
He had no super powers.
Still probably the greatest fictional superhero that has existed on earth since mankind has been doing literature.
I don't know who came up with the origin.
That was -- Five issues into it, they decided they had to give him an origin.
THOMAS WAYNE: Take it easy, take it easy.
Here you go.
It's fine, it's fine.
Now just take it and go.
- I said jewelry.
- Hey! [Gunshot] [Martha Wayne screaming] [Gunshot] [Gasps] "And I swear, by the spirits of my parents, to avenge their deaths by spending the rest of my life warring on all criminals.
Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot, so my disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts.
I shall become a bat!" [Bats screeching] O'NEIL: From then on, the lone, sad, obsessed crime fighter was implicit in the character.
LEE: A lot of superheroes, in their origin, death had something to do with it.
If somebody is killed, and you feel that should not have happened, that was a terrible thing, and I'm going to see that justice is done and make the killer pay, that's a great motivation for a hero.
Within two years, you had Superman, who was so powerful that he could move planets, and then you had Batman, who had no powers at all.
He was the opposite.
All the other characters fit in between these two characters.
SCHREIBER: A great champion needs a great adversary, and it fell to Bob Kane's young assistant, Jerry Robinson, to create the first super villain in comics.
ROBINSON: I wanted to create a villain that was worthy of Batman.
Once I thought of a villain with a sense of humor, I thought of the Joker.
There was always a deck of cards around the house, so I came on the image of the joker playing card.
It had a certain edginess to it.
O'NEIL: He was a serial killer from the very first iteration.
Well, a serial killer who's a clown, that's from pulp heaven.
A clown who's a maniac, any pulp writer can, go with that, we can work with that.
[Laughing] SCHREIBER: By the early 1940s, more than 90% of American boys from 7 to 17 and nearly 90% of American girls read some kind of comic book.
It was an industry built, as one critic said, on sticky dimes and lunch money.
With that audience in mind, Batman's creators introduced a new element to superhero comics -- the sidekick.
ROBINSON: It enlarged the demographics of the strip.
The younger readers could relate to Robin, and the older readers with Batman.
FRADON: Somebody said it's because the superheroes had to have somebody to talk to.
Nobody else would talk to them, probably.
They're getting away in their car.
LEE: I always felt, if I were a superhero, the last thing in the world I would want to do is pal around with some teenage kid! I mean, at the very least, people would talk! You got to have a sidekick.
You got to have a sidekick.
Unless you're doing something a little more serious and important where you want the total focus, as I normally do.
Damn! I never get the total focus.
There's always some damn sidekick.
SCHREIBER: There was one youngster in comics, however, who wasn't a sidekick at all, but an orphaned newsboy named Billy Batson, who, with just a word, could transform himself into the most powerful adult imaginable, Captain Marvel.
But who is Captain Marvel? You are, my son.
All that is necessary is to repeat my name, Shazam.
SCHREIBER: With a single word, summoning the power of seven immortal heroes, kids everywhere could emulate the Earth's mightiest mortal, whose stories were written by Bill Parker and drawn by C.
Captain Marvel was the first superhero comic to just throw out any pretense of realism.
Captain Marvel can fight dragons and meet, you know, women from the moon.
Anything you can think of, this guy can do it.
So of course that was an immense hit, because it was taking much more advantage of the form, I think.
Another thing Captain Marvel did is introduce a whole family of superheroes.
So you had Mary Marvel and Captain Marvel Jr.
and a whole bunch of other ones, right down to a little rabbit that dresses like Captain Marvel.
And that again, very appealing.
Shazam! SCHREIBER: Though Captain Marvel became, at one point, the single best-selling superhero in comics, Superman was a merchandising phenomenon.
From the World's Fair to the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Superman was everywhere.
MAN: The licensing of the early comic book heroes is really an essential part of the building of the whole mythology, so they would be launched in comic books but then also other ways too.
Apparel, collectibles, send-aways, giveaways.
They really stretch the gamut.
In many ways, propelled by the radio show.
RADIO ANNOUNCER: Faster than an airplane, more powerful than a locomotive, impervious to bullets! MAN: Up in the sky -- look! - It's a bird! - It's a plane! It's Superman! [Wind whistling] ANNOUNCER: And now, Superman, a being SCHREIBER: The Adventures of Superman was a daily, 15-minute radio show, usually aired just after kids got home from school.
ANNOUNCER: As our story begins, we ask you to come with us on a far journey.
SCHREIBER: The program introduced some innovations.
Superman was given his own teenaged sidekick named Jimmy Olsen, because on radio, he really needed someone to talk to.
ANNOUNCER: Does he intend to reveal his double identity to Jimmy Olsen? Don't forget to tune in next time and follow this exciting story with Superman! FRADON: The first notice I had of superheroes was when Superman came out.
I was about 12 and it was right when the Hitler-Stalin pact happened and Hitler was about to invade Poland and everybody was, you know, in despair really, 'cause we were weak and Britain was going under.
And then Superman came out suddenly, and it was -- I remember as just a kid thinking, "Maybe he's going to save us," you know.
FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: What started as a European war has developed, as the Nazis always intended it should develop, into a war for world domination.
SCHREIBER: By the spring of 1941, concern over German spies infiltrating America was one of the many issues confronting President Franklin Roosevelt.
CHABON: A lot of those people who were creating comic books at the time are American Jews who are a little more worried about what's happening over there, have a greater sense of urgency, maybe, than the country at large that something has to be done to stop this, you know, maniac Hitler.
SCHREIBER: Nine months before the United States would officially enter World War II, two Jewish cartoonists created a character who was ready to take on the Nazis.
MAN: Captain America, of course, was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
And because the war effort was so prominent and the flag -- red, white and blue -- was, you know, was such an iconic element, it was almost a natural that somebody, sooner or later, had to develop a patriotic character.
It was an important propaganda device, especially that first cover.
Captain America was throwing a right cross into Hitler's jaw.
SCHREIBER: As written by Joe Simon, Captain America was originally a scrawny recruit, injected with a secret serum.
SIMON: "It is working! There's power surging through these growing muscles.
Millions of cells forming at incredible speed.
" [Laughing] I remember these scenes, you know.
We had done this before in Blue Bolt, where Blue Bolt, the Lightning Man, is confronted by this scientist with a needle.
Does the same thing to him that we did to Captain America.
If it's a good idea, and if it's funny or thrilling or whatever it is, it's okay to do it at least eight times.
This was at a time when everybody was patriotic.
There wasn't a day passed by that, you know, we didn't get news from Europe in the newspapers.
And it was ridiculous not to do Captain America, because there was an idea that would have been bought by everybody, so Joe and I did that.
SIMON: This is the first sketch ever made of Captain America, and it says, "I think he should have a kid buddy, or he'll be talking to himself all the time.
" STERANKO: To many kids, including me, who had friends and family in the war, he was our connection to that action.
SIMON: He was a modern-day Uncle Sam.
The kind of a guy that should be your friend or your son or your father.
He was a symbol.
Here is one of the swastika things we did that were in -- all over our books.
SCHREIBER: Throughout the remainder of 1941, Cap and his inevitable sidekick, Bucky, fought saboteurs and Nazi sympathizers on the home front.
Artist Jack Kirby's imagination ran so wild that he raised the bar for the entire industry.
MAN: Jack Kirby's style was unique because Jack was unique.
He just would put his personality on the page.
When Captain America punched someone, that was Jack punching someone he wanted to punch.
SIMON: Kirby was outstanding.
He had a style that really changed the whole industry.
He had what we call a "heavy brush," a talent to do action that was unparalleled.
What Simon and Kirby did in Captain America, in the stories and, particularly, the art, was blow up the page.
Flying figures here and flying figures there.
Nobody ever stood quietly.
And they were the first guys to use steroidal-muscled characters.
These larger-than-life superheroes.
Bursting with muscles but also bursting with action.
CHABON: Comic book superheroes are now provided with the ultimate super villain, the ultimate enemy, one who is indeed worthy of their powers, much more so than some guy who's trying to rob a bank.
SCHREIBER: The red, yellow, blue, and green gloves were off.
With America officially at war, there was a battalion of superheroes ready to defend the country.
Even Uncle Sam himself.
WRIGHT: During World War ll, market research showed that 70 million Americans were reading comic books.
That's about half the population.
For servicemen overseas, comic books were outselling publications like Reader's Digest and Saturday Evening Post by ten to one.
One out of every four magazines sent overseas to GIs was a comic book during the war.
LEE: The troops, the soldiers, loved those comic books.
It's a shame all wars couldn't be done via comic books.
We'd always win, and nobody would ever be hurt.
[Speaking Japanese] WRIGHT: Of course, World War II created a problem for a character like Superman because Superman had the power to end the war in a single afternoon, if he chose to do so.
So, the way that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did this is they had Clark Kent go in to enlist, but in his enthusiasm and his excitement about serving his country, he relaxes concentration and he uses his x-ray vision to read the eye chart in the next room.
So, as a result, he's pronounced unfit for military service, and it's another reason for Lois Lane to get disgusted with Clark Kent -- "There you go again, Clark.
" But of course, Superman shrugs this off, says, you know, America's armed forces don't need a Superman to win this war.
SCHREIBER: Many of the artists and writers who created the superheroes did their part not only in the studio but in the armed services, as well.
Stan Lee, Jerry Siegel, Joe Simon, and Jack Kirby among them.
All served their country in the military.
Everyone did their bit for the war effort on the home front, as well.
WOMAN: My mother was one of the women that went to work while the GIs were overseas fighting World War ll.
That group of women realized how capable they were.
They were warriors in their own right and in their own way.
In the '40s, in most comics, the role of women was to be the girlfriend, who was either a pest or was always getting into trouble and had to be rescued, and in that case, was still a pest.
Lois Lane falling out of the window over and over again so Superman can swoop in and grab her.
They were just the girlfriend of the superhero.
Hawkman, Hawkgirl, you know? You had Doll Man, Doll Girl.
You had Bulletman, Bulletgirl.
They were the ladies auxiliary in the costume, but they were really more like cheerleaders.
The heroes were the men, and their girlfriends were the girls.
SCHREIBER: Before the war, there were a few female superheroes, including Olga Mesmer, the Girl with the X-Ray Eyes, Invisible Scarlet O'Neil, and Miss Fury.
But in December of 1941, the superheroine that America had been waiting for finally arrived.
Wonder Woman debuted in issue number 8 of All American's All Star Comics.
MAN: Wonder Woman is Diana, Princess of the Amazons of Paradise Island, an enclave of immortal women who had been living in seclusion on a tiny island in the Bermuda Triangle for the past 3,000 years.
SCHREIBER: The world's most famous female superhero was actually created by a man, an unconventional scientist who claimed to have invented the polygraph test.
JIMENEZ: William Moulton Marston was a psychologist.
He believed that women were inherently emotionally superior to men and that, one day, America would be a matriarchy.
SCHREIBER: While the male superheroes employed powerful fists and aggressive weapons, Marston outfitted Wonder Woman with more enlightened tools of the trade.
I think that the best tool that she had, besides her brains, was her golden lasso.
The lasso of truth is the ultimate polygraph.
JIMENEZ: Anyone caught in its confines were not simply forced to tell the truth.
They were actually forced to do whatever she wanted them to do.
Those stories were filled with very interesting ideas about sexual power, gender identity, political hierarchy.
JONES: What you find is a strange fetish-y quality in the early Wonder Womans.
You see a lot of characters in chains and manacled to the wall, with leashes, collars.
And really a lot.
Like, almost every page, someone manages to be tied up, spread-eagled, cuffed.
SCHREIBER: In 1942, Wonder Woman appeared on the list of books banned by the Catholic Church's National Organization for Decent Literature.
ROBBINS: There's been a lot of harping about the bondage in Wonder Woman.
Kids don't see that.
What they see is this fabulous, strong woman, and what they also see, by the way, is an island of women.
A whole island of strong women and no boys allowed.
JIMENEZ: Wonder Woman was created to promote the ideals of democracy, to teach children how to fight the forces of international tyranny.
You just look at her, and you see the American flag.
JONES: During the war fever, you have some appallingly racist portrayals of Japanese.
When the point was to show America destroying Japan in comic book, portrayals of these people as animals, as demons, is shocking.
FEIFFER: The thing that must be said, that's important to say about comic books, with all its good points, was one of its negative points -- how racist and stereotyped it was in terms of minorities.
That's what it was in those days, and I was doing it myself.
The Japanese were slant-eyed, they were frothing at the mouth.
Blacks ran from fights.
The Germans were blond hulks who, underneath it all, were terrible cowards.
And our heroes were never very smart.
"Might makes right.
" SCHREIBER: After victory in the Pacific and the surrender of the Japanese in 1945, Americans welcomed home its real-life heroes.
[Cheering] CHABON: Superheroes begin to seem less and less appealing after the war.
A lot of GIs came back from the war and wanted to keep reading comics but weren't so willing to keep reading comic books about guys wearing tights, flying around, you know, and wearing masks and driving Batmobiles.
They were looking for something a little more sophisticated, a little more grown-up.
And characters like Captain America, for example, no longer had a reason for being there.
He served his country well, he did what he needed to do, but his time was clearly over.
LEE: You know, I don't really remember what replaced superheroes after the war.
There were so many fields.
It might have been the Westerns, it might've been the teenage adventures, it might have been the crime stories.
SCHREIBER: An explosive trend in crime and horror comics overtook the industry at the beginning of the McCarthy era.
And in 1954, a Senate subcommittee on juvenile delinquency investigated the effect of comic books on children.
MAN: You think that's in good taste? SCHREIBER: The star witness was a German-born doctor named Frederick Wertham, who had taken aim at comics in his book, Seduction of the Innocent.
WERTHAM: Comic books are an important contributing factor in many cases of juvenile delinquency.
When that book, Seduction of the Innocent, came out in the 1950s, Wonder Woman was hit hard, as was Batman and Robin, as was Superman.
All of those fears about these characters -- promoting sexually deviant lifestyles, homosexual behavior.
WERTHAM: Bruce Wayne is described as a socialite and that Dick Grayson is Bruce's ward.
Batman is sometimes shown in a dressing gown.
It is like a wish dream of two homosexuals living together.
First of all, I'd never believed that he and Batman made it.
I think Batman had much too much taste.
WERTHAM: Superman, with the big "S" on his uniform -- we should, I suppose be thankful that it is not an "SS" -- has long been recognized as a symbol of violent race superiority.
FINGEROTH: This did not endear him to the mostly Jewish guys putting out the superhero comics who had, you know, just come back from fighting -- you know, and some did not come back from fighting World War II.
Actually, I was not unsympathetic to what Wertham was doing.
I just don't think kids should be exposed to gratuitous violence.
And yet, I don't think these people are violent who are readers, I really don't.
I think comic book fans are very gentle people mostly.
They seem to be.
And yet, there's just this fascination with blood and gore.
SCHREIBER: Superheroes took a beating, as churches and community groups organized boycotts.
School systems across the country held public burnings of comic books.
INFANTINO: Oh, they went after us pretty hot and heavy.
I tell you, to the point where I changed my name in the books.
I wouldn't use my name anymore, 'cause it was like it was a dirty word.
SCHREIBER: In the wake of the legislative hearings, the publishers established a Comics Code Authority to police the content of their books.
Crime had to be depicted as sordid and unpleasant Excessive violence was forbidden and ghouls, werewolves, and zombies were off-limits.
The remaining superheroes lost their punch and embraced the domestic lifestyle of the post-war era.
INFANTINO: They killed off practically all the books.
We were down to, from 52 books National was putting out, I think we were down to six books.
And I was one of the lucky few that kept working.
But we didn't do superheroes.
We did romance, science fiction, Western, a lot of Westerns.
WRIGHT: Made a lot of sense for DC to avoid the controversy and set themselves up as a very safe choice for parents, but they were selling fewer and fewer comic books every year to a shrinking audience.
SCHREIBER: If superhero comics were no longer as popular, children were now enjoying their favorite hero in a brand new medium -- television.
- Look, up in the sky! - It's a bird! - It's a plane! - It's Superman! ANNOUNCER: Yes, it's Superman, strange visitor from another planet SCHUMER: The Superman TV show in the 1950s so perfectly encapsulates the Eisenhower era, that America was right and good and just and morally correct.
ANNOUNCER: Fights a never-ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way! SCHUMER: George Reeves as Superman so perfectly embodies those ideals.
Obviously, none of you can be trusted with guns, so I'm going to take them away from you.
[Gunshots] Lois, look! SCHREIBER: If parents still had their doubts about superheroes, the weekly television show concentrated on winning back the loyalty of Superman's greatest fans -- kids.
Superman? Now, don't start treating me like a child.
There's no such person as Superman, and you know it.
As Superman? Of course not.
I figured all that out.
It's just publicity.
SCHREIBER: DC Comics even convinced the U.
Treasury Department to make the Man of Steel their spokesperson.
Superman was now officially fighting a never-ending battle for the American way.
All you have to do is just put away part of your allowance, or your odd job money, and put it in United States savings stamps at school.
SCHREIBER: After nearly a decade of trials and tribulations, America's first and greatest superhero regained his strength.
Enhanced by the medium of television, Superman made clear to the world that superheroes still embodied the values, hopes, and dreams of the greatest nation on earth.