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Holy history Batman! Superheroes take over the New-York Historical Society
Dean Haspiel, “The Red Hook,” Trip City, 2013. Courtesy & © Dean Haspiel.


NEW YORK, NY.- This fall, the New-York Historical Society is sharing the untold history of comic books, a cultural phenomenon born in 1930s New York City that has since taken the world by storm. On view October 9, 2015 through February 21, 2016, Superheroes in Gotham focuses on our culture’s most legendary superheroes – Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man and Iron Man – as well as more recent characters inspired by the contemporary city. Beyond the characters, Superheroes in Gotham considers the importance of New York as a creative force behind a uniquely American mythology.

Among the range of materials on display are: a rare comic book featuring Superman’s first appearance (Action Comics No. 1, June 1938), clips from early radio and film adaptations, Philip Pearlstein’s Superman painting (1952), original drawings by Steve Ditko of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy (No. 15, 1962), a Batmobile made for the Batman television series (1966), a costume from Broadway’s Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark (2011), hip-hip pioneer Darryl McDaniels’ DMC comic book (2014), and his signature fedora.

“Comics are a huge cultural force, but few remember their New York roots,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Superheroes in Gotham will immerse visitors in the early days of comics and their evolution, so they can learn more about the genesis of their favorite characters, encounter new voices that continue the creative tradition today, and perhaps see aspects of their own neighborhoods imaginatively captured on the page.”

The exhibition is curated by the New-York Historical Society’s Debra Schmidt Bach, Associate Curator of Decorative Arts, and Nina Nazionale, Director of Library Operations.

Upon entering the New-York Historical Society’s Central Park West entrance, visitors are greeted by an original working Batmobile (1966), one of three cars created for the 1966-68 Batman television series.

The first gallery traces each character’s origins within the context of their creators and period events. A range of first-issue comic books are being displayed, including Superman’s Action Comics No. 1 and Batman (No. 1, Spring 1940). During World War II, many superhero stories channeled American concerns about the conflict. In addition, several of their creators also enlisted. Wartime issues of Captain America (1942) and an original drawing (ca. 2000) by Joe Simon—who served in the U.S. Coast Guard— present Captain America as the ultimate patriotic warrior. Superman was also enlisted, and lent his support in a range of U.S. Army and Navy training materials (ca. 1942-43). A drawing of Wonder Woman in an early version of her patriotic costume by H.G. Peter (ca. 1941) is being shown alongside a “Wonder Woman for President” issue (No. 7, Winter 1943).

Two of Steve Ditko’s original drawings of Spider-Man’s first appearance in Amazing Fantasy (No. 15, September 1962) are being displayed alongside a copy of the published issue. Considered Spider-Man’s “birth certificate”, these drawings are on public view for the first time outside of the Library of Congress. Other Cold War-era artifacts include original cover art for The Invincible Iron Man (No. 1, 1968).

The second gallery explores how superheroes flew from page to screen decades before they became blockbuster movie franchises. Scripts, audio recordings, animation cels, and cartoon clips illuminate Superman’s multimedia adaptation less than two years after his comic book debut. One particular clip from the Superman cartoon (1941) depicts the character flying for the first time, rather than leaping as he did in print. After appearing in two film serials in the 1940s, Batman was reimagined in a popular television series (1966-68) and full length film (released in 1966). In addition to an original Batmobile (1966), the exhibition features three Batman set paintings by art director Leslie Thomas (ca. 1966-68) and a Catwoman costume (ca. 1966). Clips from the Wonder Woman television series (1975-79), as well as a copy of Ms. magazine’s first issue depicting her at the helm (1972), illuminate Wonder Woman’s development as a second-wave feminist icon.

The third and final gallery examines the enduring influence of superheroes on a wide range of New York-based artists, cartoonists, contemporary comic book creators, and fans. Known today for his hyperreal nude portraits, the exhibition features Philip Pearlstein’s Superman (1952), a proto-pop art painting from his early career. Also featured is cartoonist Mort Gerberg’s original illustration art for The New Yorker (“Do you have any references besides Batman?”, July 1997) alongside Batman drawings he doodled inside a childhood Hebrew School book (circa 1940). A costume from Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark (2011), the most-expensive production in Broadway history, is also being exhibited.

Superheroes in Gotham also explores contemporary New York- based superhero comics. A copy of DMC (2014)—which follows the comic book alter-ego of musician Darryl McDaniels in 1980s New York—is being displayed alongside the hip-hop pioneer’s trademark fedora, glasses and Adidas sneakers (worn by the fictional superhero DMC as well) . Also on view is art from Dean Haspiel’s independent web-based comic books, including the Brooklyn-based Red Hook and a comic book set, in part, during the 2003 blackout. The exhibition concludes with ephemera from the United States’ first comic convention, which took place in New York in 1964, as well as photographs and posters from recent years.





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