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