PBS has a three-part series on the American comic-book superhero running now — from Siegel & Shuster to the recent summer blockbusters. I watched (minus dozing) tonight while doing some bookkeeping. If you get your comics history largely from Wikipedia and YouTube, like me, you’d say it feels sketchy. At times, seems not much more than a long commercial for the Marvel and DC media shops. It may be the work of a Ken Burns alumnus, but it’s some way from doing what Ken Burns does for Americana.
The story detours a little from DC and Marvel to cover the start of Image, twenty-odd years ago. It’s a margin note on Marvel, in a way. Dark Horse doesn’t come up; Hellboy’s a no-show, despite the title’s popularity. But that isn’t so strange, is it, really? The subject’s enormous. How much are you going to try to fit into three hours? Still, it would’ve been fun to see any hint of something like my Hellboy-as-bookend-counterpart-to-Superman bit of thesis in evidence there.
If anything, anyhow, the weakness of the series as documentary is that it spreads the subject thin. It doesn’t seem to know, for example, whether it wants to be about the evolving superhero idea or the media & social history. I’d have appreciated a scheme that stuck to the former: just focused, say, on seminal characters — Superman, Batman, Captain America, Spiderman — while rounding out judiciously with some female figures (none of whom is seminal, I think I’d maintain) and the emergence of team stories. That’d be plenty, and you’d still have a nice share of screen time for Stan Lee.