Fanboy zeal was on full display on Wednesday during a panel for the new PBS docu-series “Superheroes: The Never-Ending Battle” at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Beverly Hills.
The three-part series, narrated by tough guy and comic book actor Liev Schreiber, will air Oct. 8. It was directed by Michael Kantor, and features interviews with a who’s-who of modern comic book character creators including Stan Lee, Joe Simon and Neal Adams.
Todd MacFarlane (Spawn), Len Wein (Wolverine) and Gerry Conway (the Punisher) are also featured in the film, and appeared onstage alongside Kantor, fielding questions that included the light and easy (What superhero film really got it right?); the personal (How much money does the creator of Wolverine see now that Wolverine is a big-screen superstar?); and the confrontational (Why are comic books dominated by white men? Don’t they have a responsibility to society to be more inclusive?”).
The documentary was designed to answer all of these questions, said Kantor, explaining that the series contextualizes comics through the prism of history.
“Superheroes” examines “How comic book heroes came into creation and what they reflect about us as a society,” said Kantor, adding that he was the kind of kid who got beat up twice at recess.
Being a fanboy no longer makes you a nerd, though. Especially now that big and small screens alike are filled with an ever-increasing variety of comic book characters.
“When I first got started in film in the 1980s, I had to hide the fact that I had been working in comic books,” Conway said. “Now most people in decision-making positions grew up reading comics. Like President Obama -- he grew up reading Spiderman.”
As to why there are so few women and minorities represented in comic books, the answer is more complex.
“I think our series reflects the evolution of our culture. And women and minorities have been marginalized throughout history, so they were marginalized in comics,” Kantor said.
Conway added, “I think the bigger question is why readers are not interested in those characters. Comics follow society. They don’t lead society, they reflect it.”
A lighter note was brought to the room via the disembodied speakerphone voice of Adam West who famously brought “Batman” to life for ABC in the 1960s.
“I watch the new films occasionally and I try to stay aware and up to date with the new comic books, and new magazines,” he said, his voice sounding as if it were echoing up from a secret Batcave below the Beverly Hilton. “Mattel is making all kinds of new toys. As a matter of fact they’re doing an Adam West doll. You’ve caught me playing with my doll.”