During the Great Depression in 1930s, an unprecedented hero appeared – a distinctively American, familiar yet of mysterious origin whose alter ego was an awkward, mild-mannered newspaper reporter.

Action Comics (No. 1, June 1938). Published by Detective Comics, Inc., New York. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com

Action Comics (No. 1, June 1938). Published by Detective Comics, Inc., New York. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com

Superman, a man of steel, driven by ideals and strong morals became instantly popular – his first appearance in Action Comics, No. 1 in 1938 sold out and was reprinted twice. Superman’s crime-fighting adventures became prototypes for the Gotham superheroes that followed – Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Iron Man, and others. Since then, radio programs, cartoons, film, and television series expanded their audience and turned the superhero comics into a global phenomenon.

Jerry Siegel purchased this typewriter to draft Superman scripts while commuting by train from Cleveland, Ohio to New York. Siegel recalled, “I typed numerous stories and plots while speeding along to my destination. I also wrote many stories on this…typewriter in hotel rooms during those years.” Collection of Steve Soboroff.

Jerry Siegel purchased this typewriter to draft Superman scripts while commuting by train from Cleveland, Ohio to New York. Siegel recalled, “I typed numerous stories and plots while speeding along to my destination. I also wrote many stories on this…typewriter in hotel rooms during those years.”
Collection of Steve Soboroff.

The New-York Historical Society’s exhibit, Superheroes in Gotham — currently open to public until Feb. 21, 2016 – shares the untold history of the cultural phenomenon and the role of New York City in shaping the stories of the American heroes.

Andrew Herman (Federal Art Project) Bowery Restaurant, 1940. The Museum of the City of New York.

Andrew Herman (Federal Art Project) Bowery Restaurant, 1940. The Museum of the City of New York.

Superheroes in Gotham includes three distinct galleries: “Born in New York,” exploring the influence of New York City – with the tall skyscrapers and elevated lines and all — on the creators. New York was also the heart of book and newspaper industries in the U.S., making it a logical place to produce a new and affordable form of American mythology.

Dean Haspiel, “The Red Hook,” Trip City, 2013. Courtesy & © Dean Haspiel.

Dean Haspiel, “The Red Hook,” Trip City, 2013. Courtesy & © Dean Haspiel.

Second, “A Wider Audience” looks at how media technology, like radio and TV, helped evolve and further popularize the superheroes through the 20th century. For example, one of the most exciting artifact on display is the Batmobile, created for the 1966 television series — a technologically advanced car that aided Batman in his pursuit of evildoers. The one on display at the New-York Historical Society is Batmobile No. 3, one of three copies of the famous vehicle.

Batmobile No. 3

Batmobile No. 3. Video by NYC-ARTS.

The third gallery looks at how the inspiration and influence of the early comic books rippled through generations of new artists and creators and still continues today.

Other notable items on display include a Superman costume from the 1950s TV show, a Catwoman costume that Julie Newmar wore on the 1966 Batman show and original comic book covers.

Left: Amazing Fantasy (No. 15, September 1962).  Published by Atlas Magazines, Inc. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. / Right: Bob Kane and Bill Finger Batman (No. 1, Spring 1940). Published by Detective Comics, Inc., New York. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Left: Amazing Fantasy (No. 15, September 1962). Published by Atlas Magazines, Inc. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C. / Right: Bob Kane and Bill Finger Batman (No. 1, Spring 1940). Published by Detective Comics, Inc., New York. Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Philip Pearlstein Superman, 1952.   Oil on canvas.  The Museum of Modern Art,  New York. Image © SCALA / Art Resource and Betty Cuningham Gallery

Philip Pearlstein Superman, 1952.
Oil on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art,
New York. Image © SCALA / Art Resource and Betty Cuningham Gallery

Gene Colan and Johnny Craig. Original cover art for Iron Man (no. 1, May 1968). Collection of David Mandel.

Gene Colan and Johnny Craig. Original cover art for Iron Man (no. 1, May 1968). Collection of David Mandel.

Darryl McDaniels (creator), Bob Wiacek (illustrator). DMC graphic novel. © 2014 Darryl Makes Comics, LLC.

Darryl McDaniels (creator), Bob Wiacek (illustrator). DMC graphic novel. © 2014 Darryl Makes Comics, LLC.

Leslie Thomas, Penguin’s Submarine [with the Joker], painting for Batman, ca. 1966-68. Acrylic on board.  James Branch Cabell Special Collections, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.

Leslie Thomas, Penguin’s Submarine [with the Joker], painting for Batman, ca. 1966-68. Acrylic on board. James Branch Cabell Special Collections, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.

New York Comic Con Poster, 2011.  Courtesy of New York Comic Con / ReedPOP.

New York Comic Con Poster, 2011.
Courtesy of New York Comic Con / ReedPOP.

Gene Colan and Johnny Craig. Original cover art for Iron Man (no. 1, May 1968). Collection of David Mandel.

Gene Colan and Johnny Craig. Original cover art for Iron Man (no. 1, May 1968). Collection of David Mandel.

Attendees at New York Comic Con.   Courtesy of New York Comic Con / ReedPOP.

Attendees at New York Comic Con.
Courtesy of New York Comic Con / ReedPOP.

H. G. Peter, Drawing of Wonder Woman in Costume, ca. 1941. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com.

H. G. Peter, Drawing of Wonder Woman in Costume, ca. 1941. Courtesy of Metropoliscomics.com.

To learn more about the exhibit, watch NYC-ARTS’ Curator’s Choice segment: “Superheroes in Gotham,” which airs on January 7, 2016.