New York Comic Con Report: PBS’s Great-Looking Upcoming Superhero Documentary

New York Comic Con has apparently not cottoned to the idea that if you want journalists to file lots of frantic reports about how awesome your events are, it would be good to provide free wifi to journalists, and to make sure that it works in the press room. So I will have more extensive interviews and thoughts up on Monday.

But I just got out of a preview screening of an upcoming PBS documentary about superheroes, The Never-Ending Battle, which though it’s not done and won’t air until 2013 , looks like it’ll be just terrific. The first thing that struck me about it is that it’s very, very funny. As one member of the audience pointed out, movies about superheroes and superhero culture can be pretty self-righteous. So it’s pretty funny to see Joe Simon reading the dialogue describing Steve Rogers’ transformation from mouse to all-American hunk of man and cracking up at how ridiculous it is, or seeing his notes about how Steve needs a sidekick because otherwise he’ll end up talking to himself and sounding crazy.

And it’s also got some interesting demographic information about comics readership. During World War II, literally half the population, 70 million people, were reading comic books. I’d knew the numbers were high, but I didn’t know they had that kind of penetration, most of which I’d have to guess were due to the fact that superheroes were fighting the same war Americans were, and it was a war where people could feel unironically good about seeing mayhem perpetrated on the bad guys. Michael Chabon suggests in the documentary that G.I.s, in particular, wanted to read comics, but not superhero comics, because the superheroes didn’t seem relevant without a world war.

The other thing that surprised me, and which is directly relevant to a lot of the debates we have about comics today. In 1940, when Robin was created, 90 percent of American girls had read a comic book. Given that the dominant assumption of the mainstream comics industry today seems to be that women are not a viable major audience, this is an especially sad comedown. And it makes the tremendous vitriol that’s being spewed at women like Comics Alliance editor-in-chief Laura Hudson, a primary advocate for better representations of women in comics, even sadder. The violent reaction to the idea that the comics industry might want to produce comics women might actually want to read speaks to an infantile fear of women that represents the worst of comics fans, not the best.

Joe Simon reading the dialogue

He was our connection to that action

70 million americans read comics during world war II. Outsold the Saturday evening post.