A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 476 – Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics

Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics – June 19th, 2011

The other night I found out something fascinating about my mother: She is a Green Lantern fan. This, from the woman who used to frown on comic books as beneath me. I’d known that her brother had a huge collection of Superman comics that were thrown away by my grandmother when he went off to college. And I’d known that my father collected comics when he was a kid (and also lost much of his collection when his stuff was cleaned out when he went to college). But I never really pictured my mother as a comic fan. Then when we were out to dinner with her and my father the other night we mentioned we were going to see the new Green Lantern movie and immediately she lit up, raising her fist like she had the ring on and excitedly talking about Hal Jordan. I always knew I was raised by geeks (and consider myself very lucky because of that) but I hadn’t realized I was raised by two comics geeks.

And yes, we did see Green Lantern today. I was led to believe it would suck a lot and I admit I came out of the theater smiling. Not a great movie, but I was entertained. Of course, as Andy pointed out, we have seen a lot of bad movies. A lot of bad comic book movies. Our standards have, perhaps, been affected by this project. That being said, I should also admit that I’m not much of a DC gal. Oh, I’ve got a few things I love. DC puts out some really interesting stuff and Batman holds a special place in my heart. I love Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and Watchmen is, in my opinion, a work of sheer genius. But if you asked me to pick between Marvel and DC I’d have to go Marvel. I just know more Marvel characters and I know more of the Marvel universes. I blame my fascination with X-Men. Still, coming out of this documentary I was seized with an urge to pull out every DC book we own, stay up all night and re-read them.

I bought this on a whim, mostly because I really do like comic books and I thought it would be cool to see something talking about the history of an incredibly influential comic book publisher. I hadn’t heard of it before and it’s fairly recent and likely made as a promotional piece (since it’s got Ryan Reynolds narrating) so I really had no idea what to expect. What I got was a shallow but broad picture of the history of DC Comics, along with lots of interview clips, art stills and movie and tv clips. It’s nothing fancy, and it’s not going in depth into any one period in the history of the company, but it does cover a whole lot of time and a whole lot of bits and pieces of the history.

The focus here is mainly on Superman and Batman, which makes sense since they’re very much the most iconic characters DC has. Not only have they both been in the comics for decades upon decades, but they’ve both had numerous spinoffs and shows and movies. Wonder Woman gets a decent amount of time, but let’s face it, aside from the very recent failed series? Wonder Woman hasn’t had as much of a presence as the boys have. Which I might just be a tiny bit irked by, but that’s not this documentary’s fault. And I’ve got to say, I do like seeing how the two characters have evolved through the various time periods they’ve existed through. The documentary shows a lot of other characters too, but in each segment there’s something about Superman and something about Batman and I like how enduring those characters are.

We start out with the founding of the company and a quick look at comic books as a medium in their early days. I will give this movie credit for putting DC’s comics and characters in a historical context. There’s a lot of talk about the economic and political climate of the United States at the times when the various eras happened. It covers things like the Comics Code, but it also covers a lot of more subtle things, or things that in retrospect, thinking logically, make sense, but aren’t necessarily things one might consider when thinking about comic books. Deciding to make the characters more family friendly, giving the characters more sci-fi type origin stories, things like that. And I appreciate the context. It’s certainly more interesting to know where it all exists in history than to hear about it in a vacuum. And some of the people interviewed do admit to making mistakes, which I like. PR piece, yes, but still admitting to moments when the company wasn’t keeping up with the times or adjusting in the way they needed to.

I have this great book, The Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Comics, which has a whole pile of early comic books reprinted along with information about the writers and artists. I find comic books to be a fascinating and wonderful medium and I love seeing how they’ve changed and yet not changed over the years. Watching this movie I saw bits I was familiar with from that book, but hearing the artists and writers and various people involved with DC from various time periods, it’s all a little more engaging. Then too, the movie eventually passes through the Bronze Age of comics and into the Modern Age. We see all the things I’m currently familiar with. Books I’ve read and loved. Neil Gaiman shows up and I think he says something I love about comic books: They’re not a genre, they’re a medium.

The whole point of this documentary is to show DC in all its glory over the years. The low points and failures are there to highlight how well DC recovered from them and what brilliant idea got them going again. But I don’t really mind. There’s a whole lot of talk from the interviewees about the nature of comic books as a medium and superheroes as a trope and I think it’s an important thing to realize about the surge in comic books as an industry. It doesn’t go too much in depth into either concept, but it touches on both the nature of the medium and human nature. I would love to see something deeper and more supported not necessarily by people involved with DC but with literary critics and pop culture historians and sociologists, but this isn’t that movie. It’s about Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman and everything that came after them and it’s pretty transparent but I don’t mind. It’s still a fun little look at the history of the company and people who gave us those characters.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics

June 19, 2011

Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics

A while back Amanda and I bought a big pile of movies from the husband of one of her co-workers, who buys lots of movies on e-bay and craigslist and breaks them up. Amongst the flotsam we found this title, a documentary I have never heard of before but which intrigued me. We had to have it in our collection, of course, because comic book movies are so prevalent in the movies I’ve gathered over the years. Until tonight, however, we didn’t really have any reason to watch it. Today we went to go see the new Green Lantern movie (which I didn’t hate, and which we’ll review when we buy it later this year) and so we figured that a documentary about DC would be perfect. Even better? It’s narrated by Ryan Reynolds – the star of Green Lantern.

I’m curious about where this documentary comes from. It seems clear to me that it’s part of the PR machine for DC and Warner Brothers – intended to help promote their many animated and live action movies as well as the comic books. Who was it intended for though? I never saw any mention of the movie before we came across it and I don’t think it was ever in theaters or in video stores. Perhaps it was shown on television? I honestly don’t know. The director and writer of the documentary, Mac Carter, doesn’t seem to exist as far as the internet is concerned. And yet the documentary itself is very nicely produced with some great archival footage and a bunch of interviews with current DC writers and editors, including such big names as Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison. They don’t just show panels from classic comic books, they have the common documentary technique of making the panels appear to have depth by cutting out the foreground elements and moving them in parallax. So some money got spent on this doc, I just can’t figure out why.

My personal experience with DC comics comes in near the end of this narrative. This movie covers everything from the very start of Superman with Action Comics #1 and goes through 2010. It covers the creation of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and many other DC characters as well as placing them in a historical context. It talks about how these characters took cues from what was going on in the world around them (particularly World War II) and it looks at how the comic books in turn influenced the world.

I consider myself a casual comic book fan, so most of the factoids presented here are familiar to me. Certainly things like the Comics Code Authority and the nadir of comic book quality is something every comic book fan should know about. So what I found most fun here were all the interviews, including archived interviews with Bob Kane, Alan Moore, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. It’s just cool to get some of the thought process behind the writing process.

When it gets to The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and all of the books in the Vertigo imprint I felt most at home. Those are all books I’m familiar with (and I own many of them.) I also really enjoyed seeing screen tests for Christopher Reeve and a couple behind the scenes shots.

I’m not sure what else to say about this movie. It’s a documentary by DC about DC intended (i suspect) to promote DC. Possibly as a tie in to Green Lantern, I’m just not sure. I had fun watching it, and it was cool to put faces to some of the names I’m so familiar with, but I’m not quite sure why it exists and why we own it. I guess as a very quick history of Detective Comics as a company it’s pretty cool. And it did make me wonder, as I often do, why there’s no big-budget Wonder Woman movie.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment