Batman Vs Superman
History sat down with Josh Mensch, writer, producer and showrunner of Superheroes Decoded, a new two-part documentary that examines the history of superheroes and their enduring cultural impact. In part one of our interview, we discuss the original superheroes, Batman and Superman.
At the start of the conversation, Josh posed two interesting questions:
‘Why is it that today in 2017 the biggest and most popular characters in movies around the world are these characters that were actually created 70 or 80 years ago?
Secondly, why have these unusual characters endured, and what is it about America that created this genre which has been so successful’?
These intriguing questions lie at the centre of Superheroes Decoded, and over the course of two episodes, they are largely answered with the help of original artwork, new animations and exclusive archival footage, plus interviews with fanboys including Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin and Iron Man director such as Jon Favreau.
What is the superhero origin story?
Superheroes were born in a time and place: the United States in the early to middle years of the 20th century, and every superhero that arrives we link to what's happening in society at that time. Of course, it all starts with Superman, the first real superhero.
We locate the creation of Superman during the 1930s depression when the country was suffering and there were a lot of people who were struggling, including these two children of immigrants, (Superman’s creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster).
They created this character which answered the country's great fears and dreams at that moment, where this saviour comes in and fights for the little guy to help people who are struggling.
The mix of this immigrant story with this desire to help people created this character.
Does Superman in some way represent the American Dream?
When you look at the Superman story, it is fundamentally the story of someone who comes from another place, and had to learn how to fit in and learn how to contribute to their new culture.
To arrive at a new home and become a hero is very much the story of the immigrant experience in America.
"Batman and Superman represent the Yin and Yang of the American psyche"
Batman appeared at around the same time of Superman but tonally the character couldn’t be more different. Do you agree?
Batman and Superman represent the Yin and Yang of the American psyche. Superman represents hope and optimism, and Batman represents the fear and the anxieties at the time.
We specifically locate Batman during the rise of the city in these urban American centres that were growing very very fast, and there were a whole array of challenges and problems associated with cities.
So we have to ask, are you Team Batman or Team Superman?
Team Superman. When I began this project I immediately thought we were team Batman, partly because of the most recent Batman trilogy films, but once you learn the history of Superman and where Superman comes from, you begin to appreciate the values that he represents.
Catch episode one of Superheroes Decoded Saturday 12th August 9pm.