Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle - Exclusive Interview With Filmmaker Michael Kantor

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Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle is a comprehensive documentary os the comic book industry, which will be released on DVD & Blu-ray and air on PBS on Tuesday, October 15, 2013. was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the DVD, so be sure to check out our Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle review. We felt that the documentary was "expertly crafted in a way that captivatingly tells the history of superheroes." Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle was directed by Michael Kantor and cowritten by Kantor and Laurence Maslon. recently interviewed Kantor about the documentary. Much of your past work seems to have centered around Broadway musicals and comedy, what led you to do a documentary on superheroes? Michael Kantor: I make historical documentaries on American culture -- among my projects I've worked with Quincy Jones on two profiles of his work, I've produced over seven hours on the Broadway musical, and I've served as Executive Producer on a film about the banjo with Steve Martin. It just seemed to me that superheroes are uniquely American, and the story of how they emerged from comic books and have taken over the world appealed to me.  These projects take years to make, so you had better be interested in the subject matter.  Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle took almost 5 years to complete! Do you currently read or have you read comic books in the past? If so, what are some of your favorite series? Michael Kantor: As a kid, I liked Spider-Man, but I was never a collector of comic books.  Over the past five years in working on this project, I've found that I am drawn to the older work, especially Joe Simon and Jack Kirby's work on Captain America. One of the things I found most fascinating about your documentary were the interviews with many of the legends in the comic book field. Sadly, some of them have passed away recently. What was it like talking to some of these legends? Is there anything else you can share from your interaction with them? Michael Kantor: It was a huge thrill to film the great titans of the comic book field.  It took me over a year to set up an interview with Jerry Robinson, and you realize that you are literally preserving history when you are filming stories from him or Joe Simon.  Filming Joe in his mid-town studio was a thrill because he was still set up to draw -- a portion of his apartment was cluttered with pens, brushes, ink, drawings (some finished, some partially so), and he was willing to demonstrate some of the tricks of the trade for us.  For me, interviewing Joe Simon or Jerry Robinson ranks up there with the time I interviewed President Clinton, or General Colin Powell -- these are all guys that have shaped our history. How much total footage did you shoot? Was there anything that got cut from final documentary that you wish had been included? Michael Kantor: I think we shot about 50 interviews, so likely about 80 or 90 hours of interview material.  At the very end of the project we interviewed producer Michael Uslan, and I wish we had started with him.  As an undergraduate in the 1970s, Michael taught the very first college course on comic books, and of course went on to help bring Batman to the screen.  He also attended the very first Comic Con.  We built a section about Comic Con around Michael's wonderful stories, but we ran out of time. Was there anybody that you really wanted to include in the documentary but weren't able to for whatever reason? Michael Kantor: As for wish fulfillment, I wish there were more recorded interviews with Jack Kirby... we started our project years after he had died.  Frank Miller was busy making a film while we were in production, but thankfully there were great interviews filmed of him in the 1980s and 90s, so we had plenty of material. It was great seeing some of the sixties and seventies TV stars like Adam West and Lynda Carter in the documentary. One big topic of recent conversation has been why Warner Bros. has yet to do a Wonder Woman movie. What are your thoughts on the fact that Wonder Woman has yet to get her own movie during this wave of new superhero movies? Michael Kantor: I think that studios today think about franchises, and they just don't want to make a mistake in creating the first film on WW, so caution rules.  That said, I would bet that within five years we'll see Wonder Woman on the screen in 3-D. Of all of the recent comic book movies, what is your personal favorite and why? Michael Kantor: I loved X-Men: First Class and had the privilege of interviewing writer Ashley Miller for my documentary.  I thought that the back stories of the major characters were handled so well, especially the dynamic between the young man who becomes Magneto and his Nazi tormenter, played by Kevin Bacon.  Great stuff. You're also releasing a book called Superheroes!: Capes, Cowls, and the Creation of Comic Book Culture. What's covered in the book that isn't in the documentary? Michael Kantor: The book, written by my cowriter Laurence Maslon, covers lots of characters and stories that, for brevity's sake, we had to cut from the film, including recent stories such as how Carol Danvers became Captain Marvel. With both print and digital comic sales rising, and superheroes becoming even more popular in movies and on television, where do you see things going from here? Do you think the current trend is a bubble that will eventually burst? Or do you see continued growth in the popularity of superheroes? Michael Kantor: Mark Waid points out in our film that superheroes flourish when the nation is worried.  We were desperate in the Great Depression, anxious about the atomic age, and now nervous about terrorism, so it makes sense that superheroes are hugely popular now.   I think that now that technology has caught up with the superhero narratives -- characters can realistically fly and stretch and stop trains and everything-- the possibilities are endless. With the popularity of superhero sequels, I've got to ask. Is there any chance that we might get a sequel to Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle? Like maybe a Part 4 in about twenty years that covers whatever happens over the next couple decades. Michael Kantor: I think that twenty years from now there will certainly be enough new stories to create a sequel to our documentary, but my guess is that by that time we'll be working in a new, multi-channel mode that allows for viewers/users to explore the story as they go.  I think that documentaries will inevitably get more interactive as the technology enables this to happen.  I'm eager to see what Captain America is doing in 20 years -- hopefully he's back frozen in ice and we don't need his help!