UO English prof helps decode superheroes in new documentary

English professor Ben Saunders

Superman, Batman and … Ben Saunders.

Indeed, the co-founder and director of the UO’s comic and cartoon studies program — the first of its kind in the country — will be part of “Superheroes Decoded,” a two-part, four-hour documentary airing this weekend exploring iconic characters in the world of comics.

The first part of the documentary will air on the History Channel at 9 p.m. Sunday; part two follows at 9 p.m. Monday.

“Superheroes Decoded” brings together the top creators from industry giants Marvel and DC, and uses film clips, vintage comic artwork and dozens of interviews to explore the characters’ origins and evolutions.

Part one of “Superheroes Decoded” looks at the creation of heroes such as Superman, Batman, Captain America and Wonder Woman, tracking their development from World War II to Vietnam to 9/11. Part two examines the idea of the superhero as the rebel or outsider.

Saunders, regarded as one of the foremost experts in American and British comics and cartoons, will share his insight into the formation of comic books’ biggest characters and how they reflect their eras.

In addition to Saunders, the show includes the legendary Stan Lee, creator of the Hulk, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four and many more, as well as George R. R. Martin, the author of “Game of Thrones”; Richard Donner, director of the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movies; Jon Favreau, the director of “Iron Man”; and others.  

“I confess I am slightly giddy at the thought of appearing in such company,” said Saunders, who joined the UO English department in 2000 with expertise in literature of the English Renaissance.

He has curated three comic-themed exhibits at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art. The overwhelmingly strong interest in his first showing, “Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Superhero,” in 2009, served as the impetus behind starting the comic and cartoon studies program.

By Jim Murez, College of Arts and Sciences