If you’re looking for a quick primer on the back story of DC Comics, this is probably a good place to start. Those looking for a deep investigation into the past of DC Comics may need to search elsewhere. Attempting to cover the publisher’s entire history in the span of 90 minutes, Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics moves like the Flash, barreling forth and never looking back. Given the incredibly complex nature of the publisher’s history, there’s plenty glossed over. With the current attempts by DC Comics to acknowledge and celebrate its 75 years in publishing, most of which have been excellent, fans may be a little disappointed that this barely scratches the surface on one of the most prolific publishers in history.
An expansive documentary exploring the 75 years of DC Comics, the memorable characters of its universe and the talented artists and writers who brought them to life. This original DC Comics documentary is the first of its kind: a compelling look at the company that created the modern super hero, produced with unprecedented access to the archives of Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Both a celebration of the best writers and artists in comics and a thoughtful exploration of seventy-five years of DC Comics history, Secret Origin combines insights from respected historians; interviews with some of the most influential comic book creators in history and experts from comics, films and televisions shows to bring the story of DC Comics to life in vivid and unexpected ways.
This documentary is best described as a Coles Notes-version of the last 75 years of DC Comics publishing history. Now, that’s not entirely bad to be honest, but it does leave plenty on floor. It’s harmless, fluffy and actually interesting, but we’re obviously not getting the whole story. Given the 90 minute running time, well, that can be forgiven to an extent.
Secret Origins: The Story of DC Comics pretty much follows DC Comics from inception to the present-day, hitting upon key moments from each “age” depicted. We get the creation of Batman and Superman in the 1930s, the revitalization of the super-hero in the 1960s, the influx of media projects and The Dark Knight Returns in the 1970s and 1980s, before the documentary works into the Death and Superman (Including a touching moment with writer Louise Simonson) and its subsequent fall-out, leading up to the company’s modern day publishing ventures. Everything moves so fast that the documentary is over before you know it. And, to be honest, the documentary, even for the most die-hard and knowledgeable DC Comics fan, is pretty engrossing to watch. The narration work by actor Ryan Reynolds, very subdued and even soothing, perfectly counter balances many of the lively personalities interviewed, such as Neal Adams and Dennis O’Neil.
Still, as watchable as it is, this documentary feels more like a PR piece than an actual investigation into the publishing history of this iconic company. The documentary doesn’t go as deep as it should, even when touching upon some of the most important moments in the publisher’s history. Sure, plenty of the marks this documentary hits are well-known to even the most casual of comic readers, so I can understand the light dusting they receive, but the time restraints become pretty evident the further the documentary moves through the 75 years of DC Comics.
The film also ignores pretty much that could throw a bad light on DC Comics or its parent company. Whether it’s the ongoing “Superman” lawsuits, the validity of Bob Kane’s contribution to early Batman tales, the many squabbles over proper compensations for DC Comics artists/writers, etc., anything that of that nature is completely disregarded. That should be of little surprise though, given this a documentary about DC Comics released by their corporate brethren. The documentary really has no teeth, though, as I said, I still found it be interesting. The content may be a bit vanilla, but the presentation is colored up enough to make it an enjoyable watch.
To thankfully counter-act some of the negatives listed above, the amount of archival footage featured in this documentary is pretty wealthy. Whether it is pictures, clips of past projects, old interviews, etc., there’s plenty of footage that will make comic historians drool. I’m a sucker for that stuff, personally, and that was a major draw to me. In addition, there are some fascinating interview subjects here, such as the aforementioned Adams and the likes of Mark Waid, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. Everyone interviewed has played a crucial role in the history DC Comics and/or also has encyclopedic knowledge of the company. I could honestly watch a 90 minute movie of Neal Adams just talking about his time on DC Comics. I found his candor and insight to be particularly interesting. Waid also provides a good chunk of the talking head segments, filling in gaps, providing some keen details and providing his own take on some of DC’s key moments.
Even with some pretty big strikes against it – the brief overviews and the toothlessness of it all – I still found Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics enjoyable watch. While there may be one or two new bits of information for the well-versed comic fan, it’s more of a nice primer for those wishing to learn more about the house that publishes some of the biggest characters in comics. Actually, this documentary would make for a great bonus feature in a future DC Comics television or movie home video release (and actually will be included with the forthcoming Batman Beyond: The Complete Series collection), given it feels more like a PR push than an actual news investigation. That being said, I could see this being a worthy addition to any hardcore DC Comics fan, but casual viewers can just give it a Rental.
Shockingly, Warner Home Video has released a bare-bones DVD for Secret Origins. No trailers to plug any live-action, animated or graphic novel projects. No deleted scenes or additional interviews. Just the main feature and that’s it. The audio and video is also pretty standard. Nothing amazing, to be honest. The audio is primarily front-centered with barely any use of the 5.1 surround audio track given. The video transfer is fine as well, with no noticeable dips or leaps in quality.
And…that’s it. Overall, Secret Origins: The Origin of DC Comics is worth a rental for sure, though I imagine some die-hard DC Comics followers will want to add it to their libraries, and they should. Despite it being fluffy and light, it’s still an engaging documentary looking back at the past 75 years of DC Comics. Sure, it’s incredibly light, glossing over anything that will make the company look bad, but there’s plenty of interesting archival material to watch. It may only scratch the surface, but it is a fine way to pass the time. As I said, the more devoted DC Comics fan may want to add this title to their collection, but everyone else can just make the Rental or legally download it.
Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics is now available to own on DVD and Digital Download.
Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics Feature/DVD Talkback (Spoilers)