Sunday, October 27, 2013

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle

Well this is a rather appropriate review to remind folks that in November my schedule changes up a bit so I can talk just about manga which means that Friday and Saturday's normal reviews will be on Wednesday and Thursday this week and these will be the last tv/movie/anime/book reviews until December. I'll have more details up for any newcomers and long time readers on Friday.

In any case, this was shown on PBS recently and it's also streaming on their site but I don't know for how long so I'm advising anyone whose even a bit interested in this in going here and checking it out. It's three hours long but split into three, one hour long blocks so you can easily split up up over a few days, but then again this is coming from the person who finds watching documentaries fun anyway.

Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle

Summary: The history of superheroes in America, from their conceptualization in the 1930s to the movie blockbusters of today, is discussed.

The Good: I really liked how this documentary was centered around how superheroes have changed as America has changed, it was suddenly quite clear why Superman is the way he is and I could even see where comics started getting "dark and edgy" and what those were a reaction against in some ways (the answer is the 90s and wanting to shock people by doing things "the big two" wouldn't let people do for those interested, not a terribly shocking reveal). I thought this was a pretty great way to structure it and now I understand more about past American culture in general.

The Bad: Well, given that this was only 3 hours to cover nearly 80 years of history it stands to reason that a lot of things seemed to be left out. I wish they had talked more about the female characters or women involved in comics, the story seemed to focus on the biggest, mostly male, characters for time's sake, although they did make sure to touch on that, the gay allegory with the X-Men, and minorities a bit. I was also a bit confused how they found everyone to interview, the creators and historians obviously made sense, and since they talked a bit about the superhero movies it also made some sense that they had screenwriters talking, but then they had some people who I believe were just the actors or had other minor roles in making the comics (like a colorist) and I wondered if they had run out of people to talk to or if they were bringing an important viewpoint that I just didn't realize. There are so many other things I wish they had also covered, superheroes in other countries now, webcomics, etc,)  but I do understand why they kept their focus as narrow as it was in most cases, although a bit less focus on just Marvel and DC's main characters (and really, it was mostly DC since they have Batman and Superman) would have been nice. 

The Production Values: I am happy to say this documentary looks perfectly fine, honestly if PBS had messed up "people sitting in front of a camera giving interviews" then I would have been rather alarmed. I was a little curious at their choice to show some scenes from comics while adding in some animation and having actors read the lines. I know why they did it, showing just text on screen while knowing the audience is going to read at varying speeds isn't a great idea, but the actors just sounded a bit off to me so I'm not sure that this was a much better idea.

So I'm giving this a hearty recommendation and a suggestion. To anyone out there on the internet who knows a lot about superheroes I have a proposal for you, make a series (blog posts, tumblr, youtube, whatever!) where each installment focuses on a different, more minor character from DC/Marvel and just talk about who they are, what stories they've been in, recommendations for a newcomer, and where the character currently stands. This documentary also showed to me just how much variety there is when you look at the extended universes of both of them but I have no idea where to start or even how to start and I can't be alone in that. And, given the number of nerds out there now, there must be someone who could pull off, or at least organize (a la Golden Ani), a project like this right?


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