DC has always had an interesting history when compared to Marvel. Celebrating their 75th anniversary this year, though they’ve kept it quite low key, is this new documentary from the producers of the excellent Spellbound doco. Written and directed by Mac Carter and narrated by Green Lantern actor Ryan Reynolds, this 90 minute look at the publisher’s past and present is entertaining. There are better books out there that offer more exhaustive examinations, including the recent mammoth tome written by Paul Levitz, but considering this is a film made by the very subject it’s about, it was always going to be a cheery look rather than a dirty expose.
It’s no surprise that it’s the best looking doco of its kind, with plenty of pretty pictures from comics new and old and interviewees in professionally lit environments. Speaking of interviewees, the producers have lined up some rather impressive names including the expected writers and artists such as Neil Gaiman, Mark Waid, Len Wein, Louise Simonson, Gerard Jones, Jim Lee, and Dwayne McDuffie, Vertigo editor Karen Berger, designer Chip Kidd fans, head honcho Dan DiDio and fans at San Diego Comic-Con.
Many would expect this to be a glowing account of the awesomeness of DC, but it’s surprisingly frank at times. It does skip over the legal battle between Superman and Captain Marvel, and dismisses Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s exit from the company he helped build, but it also has Neal Adams calling Jay Garrick, the original Flash “stupid” and stating that the DC offices in the ‘70s were filled with hippies “ whose hair was longer than their careers.” Classic.
Denny O’Neill, the writer whose output with Adams gave DC a more realistic edge in their ‘70s Green Lantern/Green Arrow tales admits that in the decade previous DC were floundering when compared to Marvel’s much more fresh titles, with Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four and more exploding from the shelves. While Batman and Superman were still having zany sci-fi adventures, a relic from the harsh Comics Code form the ‘50s, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and co. were creating a new age of superheroes.
I did chuckle at two Wonder Woman anecdotes when O’Neill admitted, “boy did I screw that up” when referring to the depowering/white suit karate phase of the Amazonian’s life and hearing that her TV series ‘ theme tune had lyrics such as, “in your satin tights, fightin’ for your rights.” Seeing all the mania that existed over the past few decades during the TV and film adventures of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman around the world is great too, as is some of the merchandise surrounding those characters. Plus footage of actual events such as comic book burning in the ‘50s and news footage of Superman’s death in 1992 never gets old, and this is also the first time I’ve seen actual interviews with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Superman’s creators.
Two other things I did learn however are that Frank Miller is 1 of 7 kids and Neil Gaiman almost gave up his dream of writing comics after a disbelieving career counsellor suggested accountancy instead. Yes, not revolutionary facts, but having read books on DC’s history before, most of the info that Secret Origin presents, I was already aware of. I did still enjoy it though as a well presented documentary on a fascinating few decades of DC Comics and newbies will find a lot of great trivia amongst all the great visuals.
Unfortunately there are no extras, not even trailers for DC’s existing animated films, which all the other DC films have, and the trailer below makes it seem like it’s mainly made up of TV and cartoon adaptations, which it isn’t.