Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics
October 25, 2013

Out today is DC’s newest documentary. Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics stands out for being narrated by Christopher Lee, but he sounds muted. (Not surprising, since he’s currently 91 years old, and his voice just isn’t as menacing or powerful as it once was.)

The “feature-length documentary” (it runs an hour and 39 minutes) “examines the tortured psyches of your favorite animation, comic book, game, TV, and feature film baddies”. (Note the order there.) It’s a typically self-congratulatory, shallow overview with the usual talking heads. Participants include Dan DiDio, Bob Harras, Jim Lee, Marv Wolfman, Scott Snyder, Neal Adams, Len Wein, James Robinson, and Paul Levitz. Bigger names in other entertainment fields pop up briefly, including Zack Snyder, Guillermo del Toro, Entertainment Weekly writer Geoff Boucher, Paul Dini, CM Punk, some academics, and several voices from DC animated movies, including Kevin Conroy.

I’m not the audience, because I don’t agree with the premise, that, as Christopher Lee reads, “the villain is even more vital to the story than the just and moral hero, for without a proper adversary, we lack the very essence of story: conflict.” Geoff Johns asserts that, “the stronger your villains are, the stronger your hero is.” In contrast, I think the most important part of a superhero story is the heroing, while today’s creators seem more interested in seeing just how vile the actions they show can be. They wallow, and Johns’ approach is juvenile, the attitude of a kid throwing action figures at each other who hasn’t yet learned that winning involves a lot more than who can beat up whom.

I’m somewhat impressed (in a “I have to sit through HOW much more of this?” way) that they found enough to say about this premise that they managed to take up this much time. I suspect the motive stems from a comment voiced by Ames Kirshen, VP of Production – Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. He says, “in the DC universe, we have such rich villains,” and they made a movie to prove it, while running some very unattractive art. I wonder just who got pitched what with this as backup?

Necessary Evil villain group shot

There’s an implicit assumption that you already know who all these characters are. Vandal Savage, for instance, is referenced without much context, and the images aren’t credited at all. (Artists? What artists?) Almost all the comic images are modern, within the last decade. Movie clips are occasionally used, showing Bane and Sinestro, but we more often see animation footage. (I was surprised at how little live-action work was shown.) Speaking of Sinestro, since Geoff Johns is participating, there’s way too much information given about him, much more than most people care about.

Other characters covered include those they want (I’m guessing) to bring more attention to, such as Lobo, Deathstroke, and Amanda Waller (yes, she’s called a villain); the hero opposites (as shown in the clip below), including the Crime Syndicate, the Reverse Flash, Captain Cold, and Ocean Master; monsters such as the Ultra-Humanite; and female villains, including Poison Ivy and Cheetah. Bane and Doomsday are also praised. (I thought Doomsday wasn’t a character, but a plot device. Apparently, I was wrong.)

For me, this piece is the most obvious demonstration of how the decision-makers at DC have lost track of what they’re supposed to be working on, which should be stories that reaffirm justice and reassure readers that right will win out. I didn’t need an hour and a half of justification for how cool bad guys are. Instead of concluding with “can the villain be redeemed?”, I’d rather have seen an exploration of the question “how do you keep writing comics when you continue ramping up the atrocities to show how bad your favorite bad guy is?” The final segment addresses the new 52 and pitches how DC is more than just comics (plug that video game!), although they do talk about “Forever Evil”.

My favorite part was Mike Carlin talking about the “Death of Superman” story and how the important elements were what came afterwards, reactions and repercussions. Bad guys can’t win too often, he reminds us, in an approach that seems to have been forgotten by the current regime. In contrast, Jim Lee and Dan DiDio don’t think stories are any good unless the hero’s victory comes with a price. “They have to have something sacrificed… every time they win,” says DiDio. “They should be a little more broken because of what they’ve done.” That’s not a good way to shepherd 75-year-old properties, guys.

In addition to the Blu-ray-only version linked above, there’s a Blu-ray+DVD Combo Pack (for $5 more) or a DVD-only edition (for $5 less). There are no extras or special features. (The studio provided a review copy.)

9 Responses  
Pat writes:  

Well that just sounds depressing.
I am paraphrasing but if the hero must always lose a bit then after 75 years would there be anything left?

Johanna writes:  

I think this plays into their idea that a hero can’t be married, that he must sacrifice having a personal life. I think it misses the idea that sometimes having an exceptional ability can be joyful, that it doesn’t always have to be a mixed blessing.

Chris G writes:  

DC’s attitude is insulting not just to its characters but to every cop, firefighter, social worker, and volunteer who does her job without becoming a broken husk of a person for her troubles.

Johanna writes:  

I’m guessing they’d say that their characters aren’t intended to be comparable to real-life heroes. As we saw when creators nobly tried (but mostly, imo, failed) to acknowledge 9-11 with superhero stories, they don’t really match up very well.

Steven writes:  

I disagree that DC has lost track. Well, with regards to this video that is. This “documentary” clearly exists to promote their current “villains” thing they’re doing. As such, the villain is the star rather than a subject examined with objectivity. I’m pretty sure that they’re going to say whatever to make the subject look good. Saying that villains aren’t important to the narrative hardly accomplishes that. Not that I disagree with your observation. But it’s kind of like being tasked with promoting Twinkies and then telling everyone how unhealthy they are.

Johanna writes:  

True enough, I wasn’t expecting a lot of criticism from a promotional item. But it just really brought home for me how much of a difference there is between what I’m looking for and what DC’s management sees as their strengths.

James Schee writes:  

You can’t have it both ways as they seem to be striving for. One of their reasons for not allowing heroes to marry, or have relationships and the like, is that they feel it changes the hero too much in a negative way limiting story lines. Doesn’t chipping away at characters, taking bits and piece away from them over time do the same thing?

If in continuing narratives you can’t have a happy ending, I also think in the end you can never have an unhappy one either. There’s a reason these characters developed supporting casts, moral stances and the like. If you take that stuff away you break the characters.

That is why I think DC has to do so many freaking reboots, they take things places that no longer work, but are so trapped in their shared universe idea. That they don’t just do, as say Marvel does often, just ignore and change what they don’t like for the better. They just hit a big reset button.

Anyway, I used to think DCs villains were the best in comics, buy oddly their villains have become too bland and interchangeable. The majority act and even speak the same way, with the only exception usually being scale for their goal.

The diversity used to be such a great treasure, but now take Mr. Freeze for instance. Setting him apart from the rest of the Batman rogues, was that he was a tragic figure who just wanted to revive his wife. He went to monstrous
at times means to do so, but it was interesting and you could feel for him.

Snyder changed it to him just being obsessed with an actress that had been frozen. Taking out all the pathos and heart of the character, and thus making him yet another insane monster Batman has to capture. Snyder is a fine writer, but in my opinion that was a colossal screwup of the character, that pretty much broke it.

Heck the only DC bad guys that have my interest currently are the Rogues in the vastly unrecognized Flash title. To me under the creative team they’ve had since the reboot, which is sadly leaving the title. They have produced the best regular superhero DC has. It has supporting characters, villains that are varied (from big Gorillas, to petty thieves, to insane speedsters) and embraced its place as a superhero story with no shame.

Sorry to go on so long. Just sigh as I really want to like DC’s characters, but their missteps just make me shake my head.

Johanna writes:  

Wow, that’s some really thoughtful analysis.

James Schee writes:  

Yeah been stuck at home for a few days with a slight concussion and a sinus infection on top of it. Given me lots of time to think. Lol


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