Superpowered: The DC Story (2023): Season 1, Episode 2 - Coming of Age - full transcript

DC makes a daring decision to also take a chance on a new Superman movie during a time of dwindling comic book sales, which completely resets DC's whole universe. With the aim of developing comic books into an enduring adult art f...

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[soft dramatic music]

♪ ♪

- Throughout history,

there have been
universal characters

that we told stories about

as a way of demonstrating morals

or challenges that you face.

There were religious characters,

mythic characters,
kings and queens.

Superheroes are
what they are now,

and it's why I believe
in them as much as I do.

[dramatic music]

- Heroism is just very simple.

♪ ♪

Anytime somebody uses courage

when they're afraid

in the name of something good.

- In the movies,

superheroes are icons of virtue,

symbols of our highest ideals.

- I got really obsessed
with the comics,

obviously, once I started
doing the research.

And I love them.

- Oh, I still play with
action figures, man,

all the time.

- There isn't a day that goes by

when you don't walk past
someone in a Batman T-shirt.

- But the leap
from page to screen

took decades and a
lot of persuasion.

- A huge part of why

there were so few
comic book adaptations

in the '80s and '90s
is you had a lot

of people in Hollywood
that didn't believe

in the source material.

- Studio execs, they
looked down their nose

at the creators and said
comic book characters

didn't have much value.

- As Hollywood learned
to make superheroes fly,

passionate creators

transformed comics
from child's play

to sophisticated
entertainment for grown-ups.

- People who are too
precious about the characters

are never going to
stretch the boundaries.

- There was something about
the writing and the art.

It was just so smart and daring.

- That rebellious spirit

plus the devotion
of lifelong fans,

pushed superheroes to the center

of popular culture

and our collective imagination.

- What would it be like
if I could be a hero,

if I could change the world?

That's at the core of
the superhero stories.

There's something
in our moral compass

that tells us it's OK to want
to fight for what's right.

That's really the power.
That's really being super.

♪ ♪

- The first superhero to
get a screen adaptation

was not the one you might think.

Captain Marvel had all
of Superman's powers

and outsold him in the 1940s.

The comic told
the story of a boy

who could turn into a superhero

with a single word.

- Shazam!

- And in 1941, Captain
Marvel starred in his own

12-part movie serial

that transfixed young audiences

at Saturday matinees.

But it would take 78 years, a
name change, and a short run

at TV before Captain Marvel
made it to the multiplex

in 2019 as "Shazam."

The film revived
the timeless tale

of a powerless child who becomes

a superpowered adult.

- Shazam!

♪ ♪

- In everyone's
life at some point,

we had dreams of becoming
something like a superhero.

Stronger or faster or
more heroic in the world.

- All hands on deck.

[together] Shazam!

- This movie's touching
base with that inner child

in all of us.

♪ ♪

- Roll, please! Rolling!

[indistinct chatter]

- All right, fam-jam,
you know what time it is.

Let's jump in. Let's jump in.

So going into the second movie,

this was one of my favorite
sets I've ever been on,

of any project I've
ever worked on.

- Mary, why do you
even have a job?

You think Wonder
Woman has a job?

- Stop.
- No, no, seriously.

Do you think she
wears a ponytail

and glasses and, like,
nobody recognizes her

and she's, like, an
accountant or something?

- Just stop.

- It's a really fun
role to play because

I just get to keep being a kid.

[all screaming]
- Who are you people?

- I said don't freak
out! Look at me.

And video games kind of keeps me

in that childish play
mode, and I think

that when your job is
to play as a child,

then you want to kind of
stay in that playful place.


This shouldn't feel like work.

We're playing dress
up and make believe,

and we're getting paid for it.

That was one of
the greatest things

about the first movie
was hearing people

walk out of the theater

and they just felt
better about life.

They just felt lighter.

There's so much that is wrong

with this world right now,
and we have opportunities

as artists and as creators
and as entertainers

to help lift that burden

just a little bit,
man, just a little bit.

We need to 'cause it's
dark out right now.

♪ ♪

- 50 years before Shazam
made it to the big screen,

the world stood at a
different precipice.

♪ ♪

[crowd chanting]

- As a young person,
it just felt like

there was no answer anywhere.

What do you do in the world

when there is a
prevailing culture

where the enemy is
sometimes faceless?

How do you fight that fight?

- And that's when I was
beginning to feel like

I was outgrowing my comic books.

And just at that time,

the Marvel age
really truly erupted.

- As Marvel launched its
first Black superhero

and took on pressing
social problems,

the campy shenanigans
of Adam West's "Batman"

felt out of step and
painfully square.

- At that moment in
time in the mid '60s,

except to the few of us who
were real comic book readers,

the world perception of what
Batman was was this show.

And that was what
was so disturbing

to me about it,

and I made a vow,
somehow, someday,

some way I am going to show

the world the true Batman.

- Young fans like Uslan,
driven by their deep love

of the characters and
devotion to the medium,

would start a new age
in American comics.

- Every generation
deserves to have characters

that fit within
their generation.

So being kids of the '60s,
we had wanted very much

to do some important stories.

- It wasn't like
we were the future

Young Turks plotting
a revolution,

but on the other hand,
we were the Young Turks

plotting the revolution.

We were looking to what

the future of the
field could be.

- Writer Denny O'Neil
and artist Neal Adams

set out to change
the comics landscape

by putting the real
world in their panels.

- They took two superheroes
who were really failing.

[rock music]

Green Arrow representing
a liberal outlook,

and Green Lantern with
a conservative outlook

get in a pickup truck
and hit the road

to try to discover America.

- Over 14 installments,
Green Lantern and Green Arrow

come face to face with
big national issues,

like overpopulation,

pollution, and drug addiction.

- We both grew up at the
time that we grew up,

and we were very
angry at society.

That was a time of
change, remember the '60s,

big changes in America,
and that was right there

in that comic book.
Bam, right in your face.

- That was a turning
point for DC Comics

that began to be reflected

in other comics and other heroes

and being daring and being bold.

- Legendary Marvel
artist Jack Kirby

came to DC in 1970

to write his spiritual
saga "New Gods."

[dramatic music]

- It was basically his epic,
his retelling of the Bible.

This is how everything began.

This is how it's
all going to end.

This is what good is.
This is what evil is.

Every page has 1,000 concepts

that could launch
1,000 story ships.

It's the most inspiring
piece of art ever.

- In 1972, Len Wein
and Bernie Wrightson

grafted the soul of a hero
to the body of a monster,

with "Swamp Thing."

- Wrightson's art
was just emotional

and weird and beautiful
all at the same time.

And Len's writing had what
I call a pulp poetry to it.

It's a classic that,
for me, still stands

as one of the very
best things that's come

out of DC in all these years.

- But in a shortsighted
attempt to modernize

a member of the DC
pantheon, male editors

stripped Wonder Woman
of her superpowers

and trained her in Kung Fu.

- They had made her
give up her costume,

and she was gonna be
Groovy Diana Prince.

She's like a spy.
She's modern.

She's groovy.

And I was like, "I don't want
to read this comic book."

- What do you want?
- ERA!

- When do you want it?
- Now!

- DC's blunder
caught the attention

of a rising leader in
the feminist movement,

Gloria Steinem.

- Wonder Woman was
very feminist and ruled

with strength and
justice and love

and was meant to be an
antidote to the violence

in male-dominated comics.

And we decided it
would be interesting

to run her for president.

So it says "Peace
and justice in '72."

- Since you brought it up,
wave it in that camera.

- The debut issue
of "Ms." Magazine

featured an essay
about Wonder Woman

as a model of strength
and self-sufficiency.

DC got the memo.

Wonder Woman got her mojo back,

and a few years later,
ABC started looking

for the perfect actress
to bring the mythic figure

to life on TV.

- I really got to
create my character.

There was nothing before me.

And I had no idea
what I was doing.

So there was a certain naivete.

I did a lot of exploration
on the mythology

and what I could bring
to this character.

And it wasn't
really on the page.

It was people like
Betty Friedan,

Gloria Steinem, and
the suffragists.

I am woman, hear me
roar kind of feminism,

that was Wonder Woman.


[upbeat music]

- ♪ Wonder Woman ♪

- In the fall of 1975,
Carter's iconic "Wonder Woman"

blazed onto TV screens,
setting young hearts

across the nation on fire.

- There had not
been a role model

that you could emulate.

And I was right at the age where

pretending to be someone
on the playground yard

was a huge deal.

All of the kids would run out,
and they would be Superman

or they'd be He-Man

or they'd be
something like that.

And when "Wonder
Woman" came out,

it was such a revelation.

♪ ♪


That suddenly, you
were desperate to be

the one that claimed that
you were Wonder Woman.

I got a chance to experience

exactly what the boys
were experiencing,

not in a boy-like way.

I was having my own
absolute wish fulfillment.

- You can all be what
you truly want to be.

You're all very special.

And you're all different.

- Lynda was like the every woman

that you wished you could be.

- I never played Wonder Woman.

I only played Diana.

The key to Wonder Woman

is that she, as
Diana, was relatable.

[phone ringing]

- Lynda Carter is
famous for inventing

the spin where she
turned from Diana Prince

to Wonder Woman on the TV show.

With the explosion of light
and the transformation

from one sort of neat character

to this powerful superhero,

I was reminded of the power

to become something
bigger than yourself.

And I think even at a young age,

it was something
that spoke to me.

It was something that
resonated with me.

[soft dramatic music]

- It isn't just putting a woman

in a superhero costume.

It's about somehow
convincing the world

that there is a better way.

- You really do believe
that people can learn

to change for the better?

- Yes.

Where I was raised,
we were taught

that good must triumph over evil

and that women
and men can learn.

♪ ♪

- "Wonder Woman's"
message of equality

reverberated around the world.

While back at home,
another popular show

fielded a whole
squad of superheroes

whose adventures taught
the value of teamwork.

- In the Great Hall
of the Justice League,

there are assembled

the world's four
greatest heroes.

- "Super Friends" was
TV's first team up

of all of these characters.

It was the first time
that I'm not just

going to get a Superman
story, and I'm not just

going to get a
Wonder Woman story,

and I'm not just going
to get a Batman story.

I'm gonna get all of
these characters together.

It's kind of
obvious that, right,

that we would all
grow up and want to do

comic book shows and movies.

- But to many comics
readers, the fourth member

of this superhero dream team
still felt like a fifth wheel.

- If my aquatic telepathy

works on these
strange Exxorian fish,

I should be able to
stop Darkon's men.

- Aquaman was considered
a joke of a character,

and I remember when I started
writing the "Aquaman" book,

and people told me,

"Why are you wasting
your time on Aquaman?"

But as a writer, it's
just much more fun to me

to take an obscure character
and crack them open

and look at them and
really get inside them

because it hadn't been done.

If I look at Aquaman and say
if his world and his stories

are as rich and deep
as Batman and Superman

and everyone else,
what are they?

- Geoff Johns' 2011 retelling
of the Aquaman story

filled in the
under-loved hero's world

on land and beneath the sea.

John's book would
become the blueprint

for a 2018 screen adaptation

with a star who bore
little resemblance

to the title character,
at least on the surface.

- And I'm like, "Who? You
want me to play what?"

All I can just think
is "White, white

blonde hair, shaved. Not me."

And they tell me
the whole pitch.

And I was like,
"Wow, hell yeah."

- His father is a
lighthouse keeper,

and his mother is the
queen of Atlantis.

And there's a lot of tension
between these two worlds.

- I mean, that resonated
with me instantly,

being born in Hawaii
and raised in Iowa,

being split between my parents.

- On the land, he
feels like an outsider,

but in Atlantis, he's
the heir to the throne.

- And the only one that
can walk between those two

is myself, and it's the guy
that doesn't want to do it.

- How many times do
I have to tell you?

I don't want to be king.

- And he's gotta learn to become

the bridge between
these two worlds

to save the world from
going to war with Atlantis.

♪ ♪

- Aquaman needed to get
a little bit of a boost,

and so I played it
completely different.

- Here we go. And action.

[dramatic music]

- Bang. I hope we
can get it all.

- [grunts]

He's a brawler.

He's someone that just headbutts

and gets in bar fights.

He's blue collar. They're
drinkers, you know?

Not one to talk
about their emotions.

And I resonated with that.

- Your mother always
knew you'd be the one

to unite our two worlds.
- Just stop.

- But also that
weakness, his humanity

is what's going to
make him a king.

- A king fights
only for his nation.

You fight for everyone.

[cheers and applause]

- "Aquaman," directed
by James Wan,

became the highest-grossing
film in DC's history,

netting over a billion dollars
at the box office worldwide.

The victory of this
once-belittled superhero

showed hit comic book movies

start with the source material.

And strong stories were the
priority for a new leader

who came to DC in 1976.

28-year-old Jenette Kahn
had no comic book experience

when Warner hired her to
replace Carmine Infantino

as publisher.

- There was a lot
of fear and loathing

that I had been hired.

How did she come here?

And she's not a
comic book person,

and she's young,
and she's a woman.

- This was a company that was
completely inbred and insular.

It had never had an outsider
in a management position.

It had never had a woman
in a management position.

Except for the fact that
she was smart and Jewish,

she had pretty much nothing

in common with all of the people

she was inheriting as her team.

- In fact, DC corporate
hired Kahn because

of her successful track record
with children's magazines,

a clear indicator
of who they thought

their product was for.

- Comics were
considered a disposable,

ephemeral medium,
simply for kids.

And there was a real sense
of shame about working

in the comic book industry.

But I came to DC with a
very important feeling

that comics were an art form.

We're in the business
of telling stories

in pictures and words,

and if we think of
comics that way,

we can tell any kind of story.

- One untold story
was long overdue.

To script its first ever series

featuring an African-American
superhero in the title role,

DC hired writer Tony Isabella.

- I wanted to do, basically,
my ultimate Black superhero.

I wanted someone who
would be a role model,

someone kids could relate to.

He was an Olympic athlete

who gave the Black Power salute

at the Olympics.

Those guys had their
athletic careers ruined.

So he became a schoolteacher,

fighting crime in
the inner city.

That was Jefferson
Pierce, Black Lightning.

- "Black Lightning"
struck the stands in 1977.

- I remember opening that bag,

and inside was the first
issue of "Black Lightning."

And I felt something that
I had never felt before.

I think, for the first
time, I felt invested.

I could relate to
almost everything

that was on the page.

This was a very human story,

and it was a very
immediate story.

It was very sociopolitical.

It was all of those things.

- DC had caught up, but
not even a new superhero

could turn the failing
comics market around.

♪ ♪

- The newsstands of
America were drying up

as a place to sell magazines.

Comic book sales
were plummeting.

- Americans were
moving to the suburbs

where chain stores refused
to give floor space

to spinner racks.

Comics were returned unsold

and DC's investments wasted.

Fighting to regain market share,

Khan doubled down.

The company churned out
new comics in a campaign

they dubbed The DC Explosion.

- Let's really try to co-opt
as much newsstand space

as we can by putting out
as many comics as we can.

We trumpeted quantity
over quality.

- In the winter of
1978, a blizzard

of historic proportions
knocked out deliveries,

while skyrocketing inflation
drove DC's staggering sales

into the ground.

Overnight, the DC Explosion
became the DC implosion.

The company laid off
much of its staff

and abruptly canceled
17 comic book series,

including "Black Lightning."

- Nobody who was working
at DC in the mid '70s

thought the industry was
going to be around very long.

Something had to be done.
Answers had to be found.

- With DC's future
hanging in the balance,

Warner gambled big on a
movie about the superhero

who started it all.

- Nobody thought
that this would make

a very good picture.

Everybody, I guess,
had the memory

of the "Batman"
television series,

and they thought "It's
just gonna be campy,

and we can't have two and
a half hours of camp."

- Even with famed "Godfather"
writer Mario Puzo attached,

the movie had trouble
getting off the ground.

Untested flying technology

and a director change midstream

pushed the schedule behind
and the budget into the red.

When the new director
Richard Donner came on,

he began to course
correct, starting with

the tone of the script.

- They had a different approach

to Superman than I did.

Their approach was kind
of a parody on a parody.

I said, "This is Superman.
This is apple pie.

This is Americana."

It was a part of
American history,

and to me, it had its
own sense of reality.

The mission was to
keep it straight.

- With the screenplay
in surgery,

an intensive search
began for the actor

who would embody
the Man of Steel.

- Robert Redford, Paul Newman,
and every major American star.

My problem was, I would have

a very difficult
time seeing them fly.

If you didn't believe
Superman could fly,

then you didn't believe
Superman was real,

and I felt we should
go for an unknown.

- Thank you very much
for finding the time

for this interview.

I realize there must
be many questions

about me the world would
like to know the answers to.

- Christopher Reeve was known
mainly for his work on stage

and in soap operas,
but his earnest take

on Superman aligned perfectly
with Donner's grounded vision.

- What sets Superman
apart is that he's

got the kind of maturity

or he's got the
innocence, really,

to look at the world
very, very simply.

When he says, "I'm here
to fight for truth..."

"For justice, and
the American way."

- Everybody goes...

You know? But
he's not kidding.

- The way to make this movie

was to treat it like
it was important,

like it was an important
piece of American mythology.

- By the way, real doesn't
mean grim and gritty.

Real just means
emotionally real.

And with "Superman," it's
normal people reacting

to something extraordinary.

- [screaming]

- Look up there!

- What the hell is that?

- Easy, miss. I've got you.

- You've got me?
Who's got you?

[triumphant music]

♪ ♪

- "Superman" swept up $300
million in ticket sales,

won an Academy Award
for special effects,

and launched a chain
of blockbuster sequels.

- On January 26, 1979,

I went to see
"Superman," the movie.

And I went in aimless
and not knowing

what the future is and
being afraid of the future.

When I was a kid, I
didn't have any friends

because I was changing
schools all the time.

I went into that movie theater

just feeling like no one
cared about me, no one saw me,

no one heard me. Superman
cares about everybody.

[tender music]

He doesn't care whether
you're rich or poor

or where you come from.

And I came out of that
movie convinced that

whatever I was going to do
with the rest of my life,

it was going to have to have
something to do with Superman.

- If the Chris Reeve,
Dick Donner movie

hadn't succeeded that year,

DC might have ended up

with a very, very minimal
publishing schedule,

and the company that you think
of might not have survived.

- Riding high on
"Superman's" success,

DC embraced a new
way to reach readers.

[rock music]

♪ ♪

The comic shop
started in the 1970s

as a spot for teenage fans
to buy, trade, and argue

about old back issues.

By the early 1980s,

driven by demand
from older readers,

new shops were opening
across the country.

- That really became
the whole new face

of comic book distribution.

It's really what saved
comics from oblivion.

- Comics were hot.

But for many, DC's
tangled continuity

was a barrier to entry.

- The problem was a
lot of the Marvel fans

did not understand
what DC was about

because they didn't understand
why they had so many

multiple characters
that were all the same.

We were dealing with
things like the multiverse.

Words that are
very common today,

but back then were not.

And it suddenly hits me,
we need to change this.

Let's begin the
universe fresh today.

It had to be revolutionary.

It had to be something
that everyone would go,

"Oh, my God, they're serious?

They're going to do
that? That's impossible."

- In the most cataclysmic
crossover of DC's history,

Marv Wolfman and
artist George Perez

ended the DC multiverse

with a 12-issue standalone event

that killed off
characters and worlds

until a single Earth was left.

- They took the
unprecedented step

of deciding we're gonna wipe
all of the baggage away.

We're gonna restart
and unify them

into a DC Universe
for the first time.

- "Crisis on Infinite
Earths" happened,

and the Flash died
at the end of it.

[dramatic music]

And that was the first time
I ever cried in a comic book.

And I remember
realizing at that time,

like, I'm so connected
to this character.

And now I have to go back and
learn everything about them.

And in a way, his
end was my beginning

- Wolfman's decision to
burn down the multiverse

gave other creators
a clean slate

to breathe new
life and new depth

into classic DC characters.

- So coming out of "Crisis
on Infinite Earths,"

we have a brand new Earth.

Well, let's reintroduce
the characters

as if they had not
existed before.

So DC brought John
Byrne over from Marvel.

He was the biggest talent
in comics at the time.

Let's give him "Superman." Do
it completely from scratch.

And think about
what is your life

really like if those
are your abilities,

if those have your powers,

if that's how you
perceive the world

with your superpowers.

Same with "Wonder Woman,"

let's give her to George Perez.

- George Perez's "Wonder Woman"

was my everything.

His run on "Wonder Woman"
is ultimately what drove me

to apply to art school.

To this day, I can't get over
the amount of information

he put on a page.

I'd never seen comic pages

that were so dense with panels.

But what really struck me
about the George Perez stuff

is he was a really good actor.

By that I mean, his characters
who are different sizes

and shapes, look
differently, and they stood

and they dressed and they acted

and they behaved and
they fought in ways

that were unique to them.

And to me, that was the
magic of George Perez.

It was a way of thinking.

It was a sensibility where
each character was unique.

And he was gonna bring out
that uniqueness with the art.

- One of the most
important decisions

I think I made at
DC was to commission

the people who turned comics
into a sophisticated art form,

and that began with bringing
Frank Miller over to DC.

[soft dramatic music]

- Frank Miller's "The
Dark Knight Returns"

is a sharply modern take
on the Batman legend,

set against the harsh
reality of the Reagan regime

and filled with the
fury of the times.

- Most of the basic
assumptions of comics,

up until the past
two years, were all

pretty much set in the '40s.

And everything had to happen
in a very benevolent world

where you can always
trust the cops,

you can always trust
your elected officials,

you can always
trust your parents.

It's unfortunate that
for so many years,

the basic idea of superheroes

was made impossible by
putting it in a world

where it didn't need any.

- Miller reinvents Batman
as a middle-aged loner,

angry at corrupt officials
and willing to use

any means necessary
to expose them.

- I felt that there was
no way to really do Batman

without addressing the fact
that, at least at the start

of the story, he's
an anachronism.

There's something
very antiquated

about the whole notion,

and the effort of "Dark Knight"

was to revive it, to
make the idea work

in a modern context.

- When Batman's war on gangs
becomes an embarrassment

to Washington, he finds himself

up against an unlikely
foe, Superman,

drawn as an enforcer

for the Reagan
government police state.

- It's a book that defied
all the conventions

of what we had done previously.

It was political, social
commentary driven.

It was further off
any model sheet

for what Batman had been,
the look of the character.

Each individual decision
there was pretty courageous.

And there's no
question, Jenette and I

spent lots of years
debating back and forth

on individual choices,

I would have been more careful,
and she was more daring.

- It was the generation
of creators coming in

who had grown up
reading comic books,

and now they were able to
do their expressions of it.

These are kind of
political works

that had a point of view
that were not in step

with what was going
on at the time.

- "Watchmen" was
a disruptive look

at superheroes themselves

by a young English
writer named Alan Moore.

- What we want to do
is to actually examine

the implications
of the superhero,

if these absurd
characters were real,

just what they'd
do to the world.

If you've got a character of
Superman's level and power

working for the Americans,

what would American
foreign policy be like?

Perhaps be a little
bit more adventurous,

and I should imagine that
Russian foreign policy

would be a little
less adventurous.

- Moore sets the story
in an alternate 1985,

under the looming
threat of nuclear war.

The only super being
and America's protector,

Dr. Manhattan, has
abandoned Earth

to a handful of
costumed vigilantes,

one of whom annihilates the city

of New York in the name
of uniting the world.

- "Watchmen" is not
written by someone

who loves superhero
comics. [chuckles]

Watchmen is written by someone
who knows superhero comics

deeply and respects them,

but it's from someone who can
look at them at a distance

and say here are the
great noble themes

that you've actually
been looking at.

- To me, Alan Moore's
"Watchmen" is up there

with any other
work of literature.

Like, I love it. I've
read it 100 times.

The deconstruction
of the superhero

is something that
was very influenced

by what he did.

- In 2005, Time Magazine
ranked "Watchmen"

one of the best 100 novels
of the 20th century.

It has never been out of print.

Moore's book would ignite
a literary explosion at DC

under the leadership
of Karen Berger.

- I was sort of carving a path
a little bit under the radar.

I had started
scouting out writers

in England, particularly.

- The British comic
industry was a step ahead

of us in mature comics.

Karen saw that and was like,

"Why don't we just turn
that into an entire brand?"

And so it was a
British invasion.

She brought in that
generation of British writers,

and they created adult comics.

- By the time DC
started looking,

there was a whole
generation of us

who were just ready to go

and had been reading
comics all our lives.

To have the hand of Superman
reach down from the clouds

and to know that DC
Comics was on the phone,

it just felt like winning
a billion dollars.

- One of the writers Berger met

in her search for new talent

was a persistent young man
by the name of Neil Gaiman.

Gaiman pitched a story based
on an obscure character

from the company's
archives, the Sandman,

ruler of the realm of dreams.

- OK, you've got this character

who was gonna be Lord of Dreams.

Then why haven't
we ever seen him

all through the DC Universe?

Because at that point,
everything you were doing

was in the DC universe.

So I thought, "Well,
we'd never seen him."

I thought, "Well, maybe he's
been locked up somewhere."

And suddenly I had the shape
of a beginning of something.

I had the idea of
this sort of naked man

in a glass box just
prepared to wait

until all the people
who kept him prisoner

were long dead and forgotten.

♪ ♪

And of course, I started
"Sandman" in a state

of absolute delirious terror

because I'd never had to do
was write one story a month.

The reason why the
first storyline,

"Preludes and Nocturnes,"
was eight issues long

was I was convinced I would
get the phone call from Karen

saying, you know, "It's
really not selling,

we're gonna stop
it at number 12."

Only when we got
to number eight,

we were selling more
than anything comparable

had ever sold, and
suddenly, I thought,

"OK, I can actually
let myself now believe,

"Let myself dream that I'm gonna

get to the end of the story."

- Finally free, the Sandman
takes revenge on his captors

and discovers he must
answer for his own sins too.

- There was nothing
like "Sandman"

when "Sandman" came out.

It was emotional, but fantastic.

Cerebral, but dark.

It drew female readers

who didn't realize
that there were comics

that they would enjoy.

- Neal was playing against type

for a character named Death

and making her a young,
attractive woman,

a Goth, which was
also very much in sync

with the times.

- When you were in high school,

you could give a
copy of "Sandman"

and look cool still, you know?

You could still wear your jacket

and smoke your cigarettes
and read "Sandman."

Like, that was legitimate.
Comics were cool again.

They were rebellious.
They were dangerous.

They weren't childlike.

They were a sign that you
were on the edge of art,

rather than in the middle of it.

- The series ran for 75 issues

and sold over 7 million copies,

but it was only one
of a growing list

of titles edited by Karen Berger

that veered further off
page of traditional comics.

- My goal was to
really do stories

that just kind of
shook things up,

that broke with the status quo,

that challenged
people's perceptions

of what a comic story could be.

- One of the things that
Karen brought to comics

was the fact that she wasn't
a hardcore comic book fan.

She had her unique
perspective on story

that wasn't bound by
anybody's tradition.

- And Jenette was a
real role model for me.

She set the tone
and set the stage

and was fearless and brave,
in terms of the risk taking.

- And it was at that moment
I said, "You should really

be editor of your own line."

- And I'm like, in a
heartbeat, I said yes.

- And that's when
Vertigo was born.

[dramatic music]

- I liked the feeling that
you get from that word.

You're uncomfortable.

It's associated with
fear of heights.

And the whole
thing about Vertigo

is overcoming those fears,
going into those dark places,

and taking chances and
taking creative risks.

- There was a feeling in the air

that it was a special place

where you got to stretch
yourself creatively

and push boundaries.

- It was a great way of working.

I think just giving
people the opportunity

to tell that one story.

What is the thing you've
always... what's the thing

that's most expressive of you?

- "The Invisibles"
changed history in comics.

I mean, it created the
first drag queen superhero.

To have this sort of character,

this kind of visibility
in the mid '90s,

that's really extraordinary.

- I think if there's any thread

that fits through what
a Vertigo title is,

what a Vertigo comic is,

they all deal with...


in all its facets.

And genre is really
used as a backdrop

to tell stories about
the uncomfortable side

of life, disturbing
parts of life,

about people on the fringes.

You know, stories
about all of us.

- You really have
to hand it to Karen.

It's her editorial
vision for comics

to be taken as seriously
as a storytelling medium

as any other.

That comics can do anything
and have to be allowed

to do anything, to go
into whatever territory

any writer or artist
deems appropriate.

- Vertigo's
boundary-breaking stories

claim new cultural cachet
and market potential

and needed a format to match.

- We said to each
other, "Why should we

"just let a comic book come
out and then disappear?

"How can comic books
stay on a shelf?

How can comic books actually
even go on a shelf?"

- To get comics into bookstores,

the company seized on
a brand new genre...

The graphic novel.

With longer stories
published in one volume,

it was a move that would pay
dividends for years to come.

- Between the trade paperbacks
and the graphic novels,

we turned publishing around
to be a profit center.

We made comics permanent.

- By the mid '90s, comic
books had grown up,

but comic book movies
were stalled in the past.

One young fan made it
his personal mission

to change that.

- Now, if I tell you today
that as a kid in my 20s,

I waltzed in, and
I bought the rights

to Batman from DC
Comics, you're gonna go,

"Well, that's impossible."

And they're right. Today,
could never happen.

But at that moment in time,
nobody else understood

the value of these characters.

- In 1979, Uslan had teamed
up with experienced producer

Ben Melniker and
bought the film rights

to the caped crusader from DC.

It would take nearly a
decade for cameras to roll.

- I was turned down by every
single studio in Hollywood.

They said, "You're
out of your mind.

"You can't do serious
comic book movies.

You can't do dark

- But then Frank Miller
comes along and does

"The Dark Knight Returns."

And that reset Batman
in people's imaginations

from Adam West to the
modern, dark, complex

avenger that we know this day.

- The whole key was Tim Burton.

- Director Tim Burton was
known for off-kilter hits

like "Pee-wee's Big Adventure,"

not action movies,

but his empathetic take
on Batman sold Uslan.

- It was Tim who said,
"If we're gonna make

"a serious Batman movie,

this movie cannot
be about Batman."

This movie must be
about Bruce Wayne.

- We were interested
in not exploring,

you know, the cliched
aspects of a comic book,

but trying to get a
little bit more out of it.

What we were interested in doing

was showing a hero
who has problems.

It does make it more human.

- But when Burton
cast Michael Keaton

in the title role, Uslan's
confidence wobbled.

- I said "That's great."
That's a great joke.

I said I could see the poster
now, "Mr. Mom" is "Batman."

There's a dark and
serious Batman.

And Tim had the explanation.

I've worked with Michael
Keaton on Beetlejuice.

We can create a
portrayal of Bruce Wayne

so driven, so obsessed to the
point of being psychotic...

- Now what do you think?
You think I'm qualified?

- That audiences will go,
"Yes, that guy would work.

That guy would do that."

- 67, take one.
- Action.

- Burton and his design
team conjured a brooding,

broken Gotham,
swirling with menace.

- "Batman" '89 was
really a master class

from mood to darkness.

The first time you see
Batman in that film,

what are you seeing?

You're seeing the silhouette
of a bat come down

on two guys that
just robbed someone.

And those two should
be very, very fearful.

♪ ♪

- What are you?
- I'm Batman.

- They took Batman to his
dark comic book roots.

The story of a very damaged man.

If you're going to dress
up as a bat at night

and put fear into the
hearts of criminals,

what type of person is that?
What makes him be that way?

- Bruce Wayne,
his tendency to be

a rather internal guy

who just kind of
flips occasionally,

you know, the lid kind of comes
off every once in a while.

- Now you want to
get nuts? Come on!

Let's get nuts.

Until he's Batman,
in which case,

it weirdly becomes controlled.

- Excuse me.

Have you ever danced with the
devil in the pale moonlight?

- It was an incredible,
incredible moment in time.

For a comic book fan who
had grown up ridiculed,

seeing this being elevated

to global blockbuster status.

- The crowd started
gathering over the weekend

in anticipation of
a movie premiere

so big it had to be
held in two theaters.

- And I said, "I think
what I've learned here

"is if you don't believe them
when they tell you how bad

"you are, just believe in
yourself and your work,

you'll do great."

- I think Michael Keaton far
surpassed what you expect.

He's gonna be the new Batman,

the new wave Batman of the '90s.

- "Batman" in 1989
is not only just

the most successful
movie of that year,

but that bat symbol
is everywhere.

You can't buy blank
T-shirts to print on

because every black
blank T-shirt has already

been committed somewhere.

- Fans of Philadelphia can
line up for Batman dos.

- A whole catalog of
Batman memorabilia.

In fact, there is even a
1-800-BATMAN number in here

to get your merchandise
to you faster.

- The adventures of
the caped crusader

are fueling a $400 million
industry that's growing

by 25% each year.

[electronic music]

- Bat mania catapulted
comics into the new decade,

where it found a
whole new kind of fan.

- '90s was a very bloated
time in comic book history,

a period of interest
solely from collectors.

And how much is this comic
book going to be worth?

Do you have the issue
with the special bag

and the card inside?

- And at the 27th annual
international comic convention

in San Diego, a comic
book sold for $180,000.

- It doesn't really
matter about the comic.

It matters of how
much money it costs

and how much money it's worth.

- They buy them for investment.
The fun is out of it.

- Feeding the frenzy,

publishers hype
their top artists

and pumped out
collectible one-offs.

- Oh, I have such a soft
spot for '90s comics.

It seemed really
exciting at the time

because the artists seemed
to be the rock star.

A lot of them, I
never even read,

I just pored over the artwork.

- Jim Lee was one of
Marvel's superstar artists.

His "X-Men" number one
sold 8 million copies,

a Guinness World Record.

- Because the artists were
so hot, some of the artists

felt like we don't need writers.

Why are we sharing our
profits with writers

when we could come up with
these same kind of stories?

- Early in 1992, Lee and
Marvel's other top artists

quit and joined forces
to form Image Comics.

- We were six, seven artists,
depending on which version

you go with, a bunch
of headstrong kids,

really, in our mid-twenties.

And we were just going around
telling these corporations,

"Screw you guys, we're not
going to work for you."

- In its first four
months of operation,

the upstart company
pushed DC into third place

for the first time.

With its reputation on the line,

America's oldest
comics outfit needed

to grab back the spotlight.

- We had an emergency meeting
where we got everybody in.

All the writers, all the artists

on four titles of Superman,

all working towards
a common goal.

It's not about you.

It's about Superman
and what we think

is best for Superman.

Every meeting that we ever
had when we would get stuck,

Jerry Ordway would holler
out, "Let's just kill him."

Well, he said it that day.

And I said, "OK, wise
guys, if we kill him,

what happens then?"

[ominous music]

♪ ♪

- Teasers began to appear
across all the Superman titles

in the summer of 1992.

Someone or something was coming

for the Man of Steel.

- Has the Man of
Steel met his match?

An editor at DC Comics says
Superman will die November 18.

Mike Carlin says the
November comic book will show

the demise of the
costumed crime fighter

during a fight to
save Metropolis.

- Oh, good. I'm an
anti-Superman fan.

I don't like him.

He's like a boy scout
compared to other superheroes.

- This from a guy
who wears a tattoo

of a bad guy, the Joker.

Teenagers these days

prefer more violent characters,

ones like the Punisher,

Wolverine, the Infinity War.

- With everybody out
there being antiheroes,

and Superman being the boy scout

and the cornball,

we basically said,

"Let's show the world
what it would be like

if we took him away."

- Leaving a trail of destruction

and mangled Justice League
characters in its wake,

Superman's nemesis
bore down on Metropolis

for the final contest.

- Every week a new Superman
comic book hits the stores.

For the last five weeks,
the story of Doomsday

has been building.

- By far the bestselling
book right now.

- It sold out in
just a couple hours.

- Newspapers wrote editorials.
Fans wrote letters.

- They were all saying,
"How can you kill Superman?

How can you kill Superman?"

And I said, "When
was the last time

you bought a Superman comic?"

"Oh, it's been 20, 30 years."

I said, "You killed Superman."

If you're not gonna water
the flower, it's gonna die.

- Well, today is the
day that Superman meets

an unsuper fate, as DC Comics
releases 3 million copies

of the Doomsday issue.

- It's definitely surprising.

I would never guess
they would kill him.

- I think it's long
overdue, actually.

Because he's not in touch
with the real world.

[soft dramatic music]

- I'm gonna cry.

I'm sad. I don't
want the guy to go.

- The Man of Steel has
proven to be as vulnerable

as the mere mortals
who looked up to him

for more than half a century.

Superman died Wednesday.

- DC sold over 6 million
copies of issue number 75,

including a poly-wrapped
platinum collector's edition

and several deluxe variants.

For the next four months,

all four Superman
titles went dark.

- Not soon after that, they say,

"Hey, what can we
do with Batman?

"Let's break his back.

"Let's bring Bane in,
soup him up with venom."

Just kind of like,
LeBron James, just boom.

- As the collector's
market boiled hotter,

DC, Marvel, and Image
ramped up the sex

and violence in a
fevered competition

for eyeballs and dollars.

- There wasn't a whole
lot of good versus evil.

It was more like every
comic was a wrestling match,

and how can we make each
issue more outrageous

than the previous one?

This didn't sit great
with me, personally,

nor did it with Alex Ross.

- Artist Alex Ross
and writer Mark Waid

came to DC with
complementary talents

and a shared belief in
what superheroes stood for.

♪ ♪

- From about the
age of four or five

is when I first became
introduced to superheroes.

I liked the embodiment

of what Superman was
supposed to be...

All things good and
all things strong

in equal measure.

Every other character

was less powerful than this guy

who could effectively
make his will action.

- Alex and I were not interested

in cynical characters
and cynical, dark comics.

I was interested
in these characters

as hopeful.

I was interested in these
characters as positive.

I was interested
in these characters

as something you
could look up to.

And let's take a new
look and a fresh look

at what these characters
bring to the table.

[dramatic music]

- In the summer of
1996, Ross and Wade

released the first
issue of "Kingdom Come,"

a resetting of the Superman myth

in which the Man of
Steel never died,

but went into voluntary exile,

leaving America in
the care of a younger,

more violent breed of superhero.

When their infighting
brings chaos,

Superman must return
to restore order.

- And at that moment,

all the comic
industry collapsed.

I got a note saying
every single contact

I have at Marvel is fired.

Marvel has declared bankruptcy.

- People realized they couldn't
keep flipping these books

to nonexistent customers,

and the industry
really collapsed,

and a lot of smaller
companies went away.

- When the bottom dropped out
of the collector's market,

Vertigo was still standing

because people were
not collecting them.

They were actually reading them.

- With the industry reeling,

Ross and Wade worked to finish
a tale that drew inspiration

from their own lives.

- Honestly, the first
intent of "Kingdom Come"

is I wanted to
paint a comic series

with the DC characters
hanging out with my father.

- Norman McCay, who is
the narrator of our story,

that's Alex's dad.
- My father was a minister.

And there's kind of
a humanitarian aspect

to that job that I
wanted to incorporate.

- Ross's father
serves as a stand-in

for ordinary people
and a moral compass

to the superhumans.

When Superman's plan to contain

the rogue superheroes fails,

the US Army launches
a nuclear strike

to eliminate them.


♪ ♪

Furious, Superman retaliates.

♪ ♪

But McCay stops
him with a rebuke.

Ordinary humans need a
say in their own lives

and will distrust superpower
unless it is matched

with equal restraint and wisdom.

♪ ♪

McCay's words touch Superman,
and he makes a promise.

"The problems we
face still exist.

"We're not going to
solve them for you.

We're going to solve
them with you."

- That's what makes
Superman Superman.

Superman's greatest superpower
is not that he can fly

or that he can lift a car.

It's that with the
ability to do anything,

take anything, have
anything he wants,

he's selfless beyond reason.

He will never ever put
himself and his needs

and his wants before
anyone else's.

♪ ♪

That is an amazing superpower.

- Through all the
flaws of human beings,

we've actually
created characters

who are without flaws.

It kind of makes
humans better than God.

God could only make
a fallen humanity.

We made beings better than us.

That's kind of cool.

That shows an
imaginative facility

that we should be relying
on a little bit more

and trying to be more like that.

We have the capacity.
We built Superman.

We made Superman.

Superman can solve any problem,
however, we apply that.

- As the comics
business struggled

to rise from the ashes again,

salvation would come from
a chorus of unheard voices.

- When the characters
have been around

for 80-some-odd years,

you can go two ways.

One is to be very
traditional in your approach

or you could chart
a different path,

which is to really try

to revolutionize the universe.

To change things, bring
in different voices

behind the scenes
to create stories,

you have to constantly pump
new life into these characters.

Because like I keep saying,
it ain't the characters,

it's the creators.

- So we can reflect back
on those early stories

and breathe a different
kind of life into them.

And because of that,
it gives me hope.

It gives me hope that
the story can change.

- Comic books are the
dreams and aspirations

of human beings.

That's why we love comic books.

We think maybe if the conditions

present themselves,

we will be the
hero of the moment.