Documentary Review: Jack Kirby: Story Teller (2007)

Release Date: June 5th, 2007
Cast: Neal Adams, Jim Lee, Stan Lee, Jeph Loeb, John Romita Sr., Alex Ross, Tim Sale, Walter Simonson, Bruce Timm, Len Wein, Barry Windsor-Smith, Marv Wolfman

Marvel Studios, Sparkhill Production, 20th Century Fox, 64 Minutes

Review:

I’ve been watching through a lot of comic book documentaries on YouTube, lately. I came across this one that discusses the work and legacy of Jack Kirby.

I’m not sure if this was made as a special feature on a DVD, as it was produced by Marvel and 20th Century Fox. Maybe it was included on one of the Fantastic Four DVD releases a decade ago.

Anyway, if you appreciate and admire the great work of Jack Kirby, this is a really engaging documentary.

It is rather short, considering the long career of the man but it does cover a lot of ground. It also interviews a lot of other comic book greats that worked with Kirby or were inspired by him.

This feels like a quickly thrown together low budget fluff piece and if I’m being honest, Jack Kirby deserves a proper documentary or a real biopic. As much as this does talk about how much Jack did, I still don’t feel like it captures the real importance and scale of it all.

But this is still a worthwhile watch because there really isn’t anything better… yet.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other comic book industry biographical documentaries.

TV Review: The Comic Book Greats: Episode 6 – How to Create a Comic Book (1992)

Released: 1992
Created by: Stan Lee
Directed by: Rick Stawinski
Music by: Rick Stawinski, Rob Stawinski
Cast: Stan Lee (host), Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Jim Lee

Excelsior Productions, Stabur Home Video, 47 Minutes

Review:

Well, being that this came out in the second year of this home video series, a lot had changed since the first time we saw Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld in the first two episodes. By 1992, the two (and five others) had left Marvel and formed Image Comics. If you weren’t aware of the then new imprint, McFarlane mentions Image almost every five minutes in this video.

But it was cool to see these guys still come together with Stan Lee, the father of Marvel Comics. Granted, Stan Lee is barely in this episode as he is just there to kick it off and then pass it over to Todd and Rob. He also comes back to close out the show once other Image Comics founders Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio show up for short cameos.

When this video series was actually something new, this was the first one that I bought. At the time, I was making my own comics with friends, we had our own little imprint and were selling comics to kids at school and around South Florida. In fact, we were featured in the newspaper at the time for the buzz we created.

The reason I mention to above story is because my friends and I were inspired by Image and specifically the guys featured in this video. So when they all came together to teach aspiring comic book creators on how they actually create their own comics, this was something I had to own.

Even though times and methods have changed, Todd and Rob are pretty good teachers and a lot of what they teach here isn’t outdated and is still useful knowledge for this artistic medium.

This is one of the top episodes of the series because it goes beyond interviews and sketching and gets down to the nitty gritty. It gives real insight into the craft. Plus, in 1992, these were the best guys to use for a video like this.

This episode has aged well. Most of it is still relevant. My only complaint is this shouldn’t have been one 47 minute episode, it should have branched out into its own series where the Image guys actually go on to teach more than just the basics. It felt rushed and incomplete and more time and context would have been fantastic.

This is still worth a watch though, whether you want tips on how to make better comics or if you are just a fan of these creators.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: other episodes in The Comic Book Greats video series.

Documentary Review: So Much Damage: How Image Comics Changed the World (2017)

Original Run: November 20th, 2017
Directed by: Jon Erwin
Written by: Michael Avila
Music by: Paul Terry

Syfy, 5 Episodes, 15 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

This is the second documentary I have seen on Image Comics but this isn’t just a rehash of what was already covered in the slightly superior The Image Revolution.

This one was broken out into five 15 minute web episodes and put out by Syfy, who used to be the much cooler Sci-Fi Channel before they changed their channel’s spelling into something stupid.

Anyway, like The Image Revolution this documentary interviews all the key players and gets their stories. But what I like most about this is how it spends a good deal of time talking more about modern Image Comics and not just the revolution of 1991. As cool as that revolt was, modern Image has grown into something that I don’t feel any of the founding members could have fathomed back then.

It’s always fun to hear these guys talk about themselves, their experiences and the creation of Image, as it was a really exciting thing for me to experience as a fan in 1991. It was and still is the coolest thing that happened in the comic book industry in my lifetime.

So this certainly stirs up nostalgia but that doesn’t mean that this survives on that alone. It’s informative, has a good pace and is well organized and presented.

Younger comic book fans today will probably find some value in this, even though it’s made to attract the older fans who remember all of this like it was yesterday.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: The Image Revolution and Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

 

Documentary Review: Necessary Evil: The Super-Villains of DC Comics

Release Date: October 25th, 2013
Directed by: Scott Devine, J.M. Kenny
Written by: Scott Devine, Jack Mulligan
Music by: Kris Dirksen (as Methodic Doubt)
Cast: Christopher Lee (narrator), Neal Adams, Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Guillermo del Toro, Dan Didio, Paul Dini, Richard Donner, Marc Guggenheim, Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, CM Punk, Michael Shannon, Scott Snyder, Zack Snyder, Peter Tomasi, Marv Wolfman

DC Comics, mOcean, Warner Bros., 99 Minutes

Review:

This was just a really cool documentary accented by the narration of the legendary and superb Christopher Lee. It also had a fantastic cast of interviewees.

A great retrospective on the darker half of DC Comics’ long history, Necessary Evil was delightful. I enjoyed it so much and wish that it was actually a lot longer. The DC mythos and it’s rich history could easily fill up a season of a documentary series. I could sit through a Ken Burns’ Baseball length documentary on this subject and maintain the same level of excitement. Assuming its as well produced as this is.

You can’t have a great hero without a great villain and this does a fantastic job at making the audience understand how these characters truly are a “necessary evil” in how they make the heroes better and how they make these stories last for decades. Comic books are America’s mythology and a good villain with a good story is at the forefront of the most memorable moments in these epic tales.

This film analyzes a lot of key villains in the DC universe. Unfortunately, you can’t cover every villain in 99 minutes and frankly, this probably only touches on like one percent of them, as there have been so many in the 80 years since the first Superman comic was published. One of the interviewees mentioned that DC’s villain count was into the thousands and really, that doesn’t seem too far fetched in the grand scheme of things.

I really enjoyed hearing from Jim Lee, Geoff Johns and Scott Snyder. These guys have been at the forefront of many of the stories I’ve enjoyed since the ’90s. We also get to see movie directors Richard Donner, Zack Snyder and Guillermo del Toro chime in.

A lot of comic book documentaries are done on the cheap and can’t round up a very solid cast of people to interview. In the last few years, we’ve gotten some really good documentaries on the subject, though. This is one of the best out there and really, who doesn’t love the f’n villains?

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other recent comic book documentaries: The Image RevolutionChris Claremont’s X-Men and Neil Gaiman: Dream Dangerously.

 

Comic Review: X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda

Published: November, 1990 – January, 1991
Written by: Chris Claremont, Louise Simonson
Art by: Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Rob Liefeld, Jon Bogdanove, Rick Leonardi, Guang Yap

Marvel Comics, 299 Pages

Review:

I have wanted a collected version of this story for decades. I have a lot of the single issues but have always been missing a few and haven’t had much luck being able to complete the set over the years (mainly because of the highly sought after New Mutants issues). Plus, the trade paperback version was out of print for a really long time and good copies of it got pretty expensive. But, I was able to get this off of a sale on Comixology for around $5. I think the regular price, even for digital, was a whopping $25 or so.

Anyway, I’m glad that I got this version because it has a whole four issue prologue to the actual X-Tinction Agenda event. The first third of this book is a four issue story arc that happened in The Uncanny X-Men a few years before X-Tinction Agenda and it helps set the stage nicely. Plus, that story was heavy on using Wolverine and Rogue, which are two great characters from that era. You even get some Carol Danvers Ms. Marvel before anyone even really cared about the character.

The main part of this story deals with the X-Men, X-Force and the New Mutants returning to Genosha where mutant genocide is taking place. The villain of the story is Cameron Hodge, considered long dead since Archangel decapitated him with his wings several years earlier. Hodge is such a good villain and frankly, this is my favorite version of the character and the one I experienced first. He hasn’t had the staying power of Magneto, Apocalypse or Mister Sinister but he is, by far, one of the most formidable adversaries any X-team has ever faced.

This has been one of the all-time classic tales in X-Men lore. It was a huge event when I was a kid. And it may not be talked about as much in modern times but this was really where I jumped on to all the other X-books outside of the standard X-Men title. It also set the stage for a lot of major changes to all the books and teams going into the ’90s.

I could talk about the art and the artists that worked on this crossover event but just look at the credits I posted above. Look at those names. This book sells itself just on the merits of that talent level. Add the fact that this is written by both Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson is also pretty f’n incredible.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: Other major X-Men related events of the era: X-Cutioner’s Song, Mutant Massacre, Fall of the Mutants, Muir Island Saga, etc.

Documentary Review: Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle (2013)

Original Run: October 8th, 2013 – October 15th, 2013
Directed by: Michael Kantor
Written by: Michael Kantor, Laurence Maslon, J. David Spurlock
Music by: Christopher Rife
Cast: Liev Schreiber (host), Mark Waid, Stan Lee, Adam West, Joe Quesada, Grant Morrision, Lynda Carter, Jeph Loeb, J. Michael Straczynski, Geoff Johns, Zack Snyder, Chris Claremont, Larry Hama, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Tim Daly

Ghost Light Films, National Endowment for the Humanities, PBS, 3 Episodes, 55 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

A few years ago, PBS did this three part documentary series on the history of comic books. It was hosted by Liev Schreiber, which was really cool, and featured a ton of creators, as well as notable celebrities who have played some of the iconic comic book characters in television and film.

The history of comic books is incredibly vast. Narrowing down what to cover in three episodes, each of which ran just under an hour, couldn’t have been easy but the people behind this did a good job of focusing on the important stuff. I wish there was more time given to the challenges of the Comics Code Authority but that’s probably boring subject matter to most modern fans.

Superheroes spends a lot of time talking about the creation of Superman, Batman and the early heroes that would be at the forefront of DC Comics. They then spent some time talking about Stan Lee and his creations, which helped to put Marvel on the map. To my surprise, even though they didn’t spend much time on it, they covered some of the story that lead to the formation of Image Comics in the ’90s, which was the biggest thing in comic books during my most formative years as a comics fan.

I wish that this would have been bigger than it was. Three episodes just weren’t enough. This could have easily been one of those 10-part Ken Burns style documentaries with two hour episodes and they still wouldn’t have run out of material. I’m hoping that someone does do a comic industry documentary like that at some point; it’s long overdue.

But at least we live in a time where this wonderful medium isn’t considered low brow shit. It’s become a respected art form and format for storytelling. A lot of that has to do with the success of comic book movies the last few decades but at least fans don’t have to feel like they need to hide their fandom when out in public anymore.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics and recent comic book documentaries Chris Claremont’s X-Men and The Image Revolution.

 

Documentary Review: Chris Claremont’s X-Men (2018)

Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Directed by: Patrick Meaney

Respect Films, J2 Films, 71 Minutes

Review:

I saw this drop on Amazon Video for rent a few weeks back and added it to my queue because I loved Chris Claremont’s run on X-Men. I mean, if you like X-Men at all, it is probably because of what Claremont created. Also, this was directed by the same guy that did The Image Revolution, which I really enjoyed.

The story behind how X-Men was initially a failure and how it evolved into a mega franchise under the Marvel banner is an interesting one. This shows how all the major players involved came to work on the series and it isn’t just about Claremont’s sole contribution to X-Men.

The X-Men comics of the ’80s had some of the best comic stories of all-time. Claremont and others at Marvel gave us some of the most iconic moments that would also go on to inspire the animated series as well as the big live action motion pictures throughout the ’00s and ’10s. Claremont also gave us some of the most iconic characters to be associated with the franchise.

His storied run is pretty much unparalleled in an industry where writers, artists and other creators are swapped around like pogs in a ’90s middle school lunchroom.

I love that this documentary interviews so many of the key people who were there. We even get to see Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld chime in on some of the events that they were there to witness firsthand.

For fans of comics, especially from this era, you won’t be disappointed with this documentary. After seeing this and The Image Revolution, I want to check out some of the other comic industry documentaries that Patrick Meaney has done.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Another comic book documentary by Patrick Meaney, The Image Revolution. Also, flows well with Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics.