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Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics (2010)

by on 2011/05/01

Secret Origin is a “deep dive” piece of marketing collateral strong enough to call a documentary. Produced to commemorate their 75th anniversary, it chronicles the history of DC Comics. Narrated by Green Lantern’s Ryan Reynolds, it combines new and vintage interviews, archival photos, motion comics, and many other sources.

Out of practical necessity, it focuses mostly on the Big Three — Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman — with secondary attention paid to the rest, including Captain Marvel, the Flash, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, the Swamp Thing, the Sandman, and others. It follows them through the four major ages, from their beginnings to the present.

The survey of comic books branches off into cartoons, serials, TV shows, and movies, as much a reflection of each era as an influence in turn. The conceptual tug-of-war includes the expected ups and downs of business, even some embarrassing missteps. Sociopolitical issues are explored, including feminism, juvenile delinquency, racism, substance abuse, and more.

While it’s a lot to cover in a limited time, Secret Origin does an excellent job. I’m sure every hardcore comic fan will find something was missed, like Fawcett Comics, Martian Manhunter, the Question, Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Charlton Comics, the various Crises, Superman’s reboot, and the vote for Robin’s death…

…and yet that’s all academic. It covered in admirable detail things no mainstream viewer would expect. For every absent John Byrne, there are appearances by alternative icons like Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison, reclusive eccentrics like Frank Miller and Alan Moore, and footage of those creators long gone, like Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, and William Moulton Marston.

Surprisingly, less conventional properties are recognized: Constantine (Hellblazer), A History of Violence, Human Target, The Losers, Road to Perdition, V for Vendetta, and Watchmen. Even Marvel Comics and Mad magazine are mentioned, not ignored for being competitors to DC. It may not be exhaustive, but it’s reasonably inclusive all the same.

Should it have been an extra, included with another set? That’s the most common issue I’ve found associated with this video. Although it certainly would have made another collection better, I won’t judge it poorly for a freestanding release. On its own merits, Secret Origin was as fun as it was revealing. If it isn’t quite perfect, then it’s near enough for now.

Now let’s see a similar piece from the Marvel family.

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Rated 14A for adult situations and language

90 minutes

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