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?
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.)