UPPER WEST SIDE — "You can't 'leap tall buildings' without tall buildings," is the tag line of a new exhibit focused on a cast of six superheroes whose launching pad was New York City.
"Superheroes in Gotham," which opens Friday at the New-York Historical Society, traces the origins of a handful of America's favorite and most iconic superheroes from their start in the Big Apple to becoming global phenomena.
In the 1930s and '40s, New York not only had new skyscrapers, but a population anxious about crime and hooked on pulp fiction, as well as a robust publishing industry — all of which contributed to the flourishing of superhero worship here, explained museum president Louise Mirrer.
In 1938, the first Superman comic was issued by Action Comics and sold 900,000 copies through three printings, creating a new obsession with the hero, whose backdrop was this "bustling metropolis," added co-curator Nina Nazionale.
Winding its way from these first early printings to when the superheroes moved to radio dramas, short cartoons and finally major motion pictures, the exhibit aims to interest anyone fascinated by this "uniquely American mythology," Mirrer said.
For super fans, there are plenty of rare artifacts to make the exhibit a "dazzling experience," she said.
The museum also hopes fans in town for New York Comic Con this weekend will also swing by the exhibit.
The original drawings for Spider-Man are on display, on rare loan from the Library of Congress, as well as a 1966 Catwoman costume, the first copy of Ms. Magazine featuring Wonder Woman on its cover and an early Superman animated cartoon from 1941, among other rarities.
But the object sure to knock everyone's socks off is in the museum's main lobby, before guests even get to the second-floor exhibit.
A 1966 Batmobile in mint condition used in the original TV series will sit in the lobby from now until the exhibit closes in February.
"It was quite a feat to install that Batmobile," Mirrer acknowledged.
The nearly 12-hour ordeal began at 4:30 a.m. Monday morning and involved the museum taking down several pieces of its glass entryway facade and creating a ramp for the vehicle to drive up, she explained.
Still, the undertaking was "totally worthwhile," Mirrer said, noting that while the "amazing" vehicle can still be driven, that won't happen at the museum.
The museum also added an interactive feature where visitors can take a photograph of themselves in superhero poses — like stopping a speeding train — and email it to themselves.
"Superheroes in Gotham" opens Oct. 9 and runs through Feb. 21. This weekend the museum is free for kids and will be open on Monday, when it's usually closed. On Friday nights from 6 to 8 p.m., visitors can pay what they wish.