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Review: SUPERHEROES! by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor, published by Crown Archetype; in connection with ‘Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle’ on PBS


“Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture” is a 304 page full color hardcover, published by Crown Archetype, with a lot to say about comic books. As has always been my experience, a companion book to a PBS series is worth getting. This book is attached to the upcoming feature-length documentary on PBS, “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle,” originally slated to air on three separate nights, now scheduled to air all on October 15, 2013. It’s a smart choice since viewers, much like readers, appreciate it when they can dive into a subject all in one go.

The story of the comic book superhero industry lends itself well to being observed in an uninterrupted panorama. At 75-years-old, this is still a young industry and what is happening today can’t help but remain a story in flux. You might think that, after 75 years, things have settled down. But you would be wrong. That is a relatively short blip of time, ask any historian. Furthermore, this is an industry inextricably linked to far more than commerce, far more than it ever bargained for.


But say what you will, superhero comics remain embedded in the culture. And there are artists within the industry who continue to push the superhero comic forward. Along the way, we get work that is transcendent and rises to the level of art. Just considering all the examples can make your head spin. There is a reason your head might spin. Superhero comics have tapped into something as deep as any literature or art and resonate on a primal level. So, who truly owns today’s superheroes? People from all walks of life will lay claim to that. Cobbled together from the old salty pulp magazines and Sunday funnies, superhero comics have always run into conflict with their varied audiences. Kids and comics are a natural combination. But so are adults and comics.

What you will find in this book is a treasure trove beyond any extras on your DVD or Blu-ray. With the book, there is an even greater opportunity to fill in the gaps and extend discourse in well-thought-out words. For instance, while few would quibble on the quality and significance of “Watchmen” and “The Dark Night Returns,” two landmark works in superhero comics, it is fascinating to get this quote in the book by Len Wein, co-creator of DC Comics’ Swamp Thing and Marvel Comics’ Wolverine:

‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Night Returns’ were both very violent books. They were meant to be exceptions to the rule. They weren’t intended to be a blueprint for the industry to follow, they were intended to be something to show you here’s what could have happened–let’s not go do that. But they were hugely successful and so everybody started to do those books.

If anyone knows what he’s talking about, it would be Len Wein. What he is saying is that those two works had a purpose and served a purpose. If a marketing plan just calls for more of the same, it is already dead in the water. It may sell but readers will sniff it out and may not come back for yet more of the same product now four, five, ten times removed from the original.

What Laurence Maslon, a co-writer on the PBS documentary, and Michael Kantor, the filmmmaker, keep coming back to in both the film and in this book, is that superhero comics, by their very nature, will always be engaged in a never-ending battle in more ways than one: a battle to refine their purpose and remain relevant. And, in one way or another, even if the customer/fan may not fully realize it, they will have the final say, maybe not now but someday.

Readers will find this book to be exceptionally comprehensive and quite relevant. While the book was created prior to the uproar over the DC Comics decision not to allow Batwoman/Kate Kane to marry her girlfriend, Maggie Sawyer, the writers for this book were clearly sensitive to the significance of such a storyline and provide a fresh example of the never-ending battle.


“Superheroes! Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture” is available as of October 1, 2013, and is published by Crown Archetype, a division of Random House, which you can visit here. And don’t miss this very special PBS documentary, “Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle,” and you can learn more about that here.


Filed under Book Reviews, Books, Comics, DC Comics, Marvel Comics, PBS, Superheroes

Welcome to DC Comics: Harley Quinn, Naked and Suicidal, Subject of Contest


Step right up, boys (and girls, if you insist), step right up and try your hand at depicting Harley Quinn naked in a bathtub with a variety of devices aimed to electrocute her. All those young people eager to break into comics and this is what DC Comics has to offer? They offer up a contest where the aspiring artist draws four panels that depict Harely Quinn in four suicide attempts, the last depicting her naked about to be electrocuted.

This is what DC Comics wants to align itself with? If it wants to come across as your typical corporation, insensitive to humans, it has succeeded. Of course, they can claim it is all in jest. But this tiresome “boys will be boys” mentality is pretty weird.

It’s not like Warner Bros. Entertainment doesn’t care what you think of it. They have an ongoing media blitz to bring attention to their donations to the Horn of Africa. It is called, “We Can Be Heroes.” Check it out here.

Is too much being made of the current contest at DC Comics where aspiring talent are asked to make a devil’s bargain? The concern is genuine and it’s growing. It has already caught the attention of the Huffington Post. You can read that here.

No doubt, there is a huge disconnect at DC Comics right now. Maybe, many years down the road, this contest will be seen as utterly ridiculous…by DC Comics. Maybe, many years down the road, the latest clash between DC Comics editors and talent will be seen as unfortunate…by DC Comics. The decision from DC Comics top brass to kill the story of Batwoman’s marriage to her girlfriend led to the co-writers on the Batwoman story, J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman, quitting. Read more about it in this excellent piece by Rob Bricken, at io9, here.

If you want the official DC Comics response to this contest, look no further than DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee who got all Twittery. Check that out here. He claims that the writers of the contest script, longtime DC Comics employees, Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti, were just poking fun at themselves. Sadly, that makes no sense.

But people, here and now, understand that something is wrong and are not afraid to voice their opinion. There are exceptional voices of dissent, like the always eloquent Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress. Read her piece here. Or check out this awesome piece by Aja Romano, at The Daily Dot, here.

So, here’s the thing, I’m smart enough to not go completely Wertham Comics Code bonkers about this. You have to imagine that the boys at DC Comics want to stir things up. But the “boys will be boys” method is just so creepy and should off itself.

So, DC Comics, can we be heroes?


Filed under Batman, Comics, DC Comics, DC Entertainment, J.H. Williams III, Superheroes