Comic Book Superheros Unmasked (CBSU) is a History Channel documentary that has aired numerous times over the last few months. Released in 2003, the film was directed by Steve Kroopnick and he takes us on a tour of the comic book industry from its Depression Era-beginnings through its modern-day multi-million dollar enterprises. Our guides are some of the industries greatest legends, and current innovators, names like Stan Lee, Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, Neil Gaiman, and Will Eisner.
I’ve seen CBSU three times, and I’d watch it a fourth time if it were playing right now.
What struck me the most is the consistent relevance of comic books over the decades. Many of the greatest stories in comics meant something, had a soul to them. Comics in many ways have served as modern-day parables. Look at what’s on the stands today. Captain America fighting terrorism at home and overseas. Superman contemplating his role in an alien world. Countless other books are juxtaposing real-life conflict into the fictitious world of comics.
Some of the most memorable story lines from the past were no different. I’m paraphrasing, but Stan Lee said, “We [Marvel] were fighting Hitler, way before the U.S. got involved in the war.” Another story that comes to mind is one in which Harry Osborne, Peter Parker’s best friend, overdoses on drugs. If I’m not mistaken that story was written during the height of 60s drug craze. Countless social phenomena have been explored in comics over the years, from the media’s influence on society to civil rights.
The stories we still talk about today all have something in common. The authors of those stories created something more than a 20-page propaganda pamphlet. They created a story that resonated within us. They made us look at a situation in our current world through different eyes. And by doing so, they may have made things a little clearer for us to see.