Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I’ve never bought a comic book in my life. But yet I grew up addicted to the damn things because my brother brought the books and other kind people bought the books and allowed me to read them. In fact I can say that one of the reasons I learned read as a five year old is because I desired to do more with the comic books than simply look at the pretty pictures. I was the only kid at the Montessori who knew how to read, and it’s all because of my mom the educator and comics. This brings us to the documentary ‘Secret Origin: the Story of DC Comics’ which is a documentary in the sense that it does document the history of DC Comics, but being as this is a Warner Brothers / DC Comics production it’s not… how would you say… the most challenging of documentaries out there. Nonetheless it is still entertaining, probably made more so the less you know about comics since a lot of the information presented here is general in nature and long time comic book readers are probably well aware of the majority of what’s being presented.

Ryan Reynolds will narrate our story, who simply by happenstance will be assuming the role of Hal Jordan in the upcoming ‘Green Lantern’ live action feature film. Ryan takes us all the way back to the 1930’s where a couple of hard working young Jewish businessmen in Harry Donnefeld and Jack Liebowitz played off of each other strengths, Leibowitz and his gift for numbers, Donnefeld and his gift of charm, leveraged these skills of theirs into a publishing company that would eventually become Detective Comics, better known to us as DC comics. One of the first titles for this fledgling company was Action Comics where a pair of young men named Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster created a character known as Superman, with the rest being history. Now if this were a ‘hard hitting’ documentary it would’ve gotten into the alleged shoddy treatment of Siegel and Schuster, how the management of DC had their names removed from the Superman bylines as if they had nothing to do with the creation of the characters and how they were almost dead before DC Comics gave them a 20,000 dollar a year pension, and only did that under the immense weight of negative publicity. But it’s not that kind of story.

Naturally the story delves into Bob Kane and his creation of Batman, and how with the creation of Batman and Superman the golden age of comics had been born. Another interesting tidbit centered on William Marston who created the Lie Detector who eventually went on to create Wonder Woman. Absolutely fascinating. And how William Marston seemed to dig bondage since Wonder Woman spent an awful long time being tied up and even spanked on occasion.

The doc also touches a lot on how the current times ruled what the comics had to do. World War II brought in a lot Hitler smashing and Japanese bashing while urging its readers to do what they could to support the troops. The McCarthy paranoid fifties almost destroyed the industry as the stories became watered down and self-censored. Wonder Woman and Lois Lane became less independent and acquired ironing boards, everybody got a cute kid sidekick and if there were a few minorities in the books before this time, the fifties brought those numbers down to zero.

The sixties gave us Marvel Comics, and they changed the game by giving the readers stories filled with the type of conflict that they wanted to read, forcing DC to take note and change with the times or die a painful death.

The film also gets into comic books and media, specifically films and how ‘Superman: The Motion Picture’ showed that there was a market for superhero movies. Ryan Reynolds goes on to tell us that Superman would create five feature films, and if this were a hard hitting documentary… but it’s not so we’re not going get into ‘Superman III’ and ‘Superman IV’. They also laud themselves on Batman, but we’re not going to get into ‘Batman Forever’ and ‘Batman and Robin’… not going to do that. But to their benefit, they could’ve spent a lot of time patting themselves on the back in regards to ‘The Dark Knight’, the movie that is, but they didn’t do that. Plenty of self congratulation on Frank Miller and the comic perhaps, but not the movie.

In fact, if there’s a problem with ‘Secret Origins’ it is that there is just too much to cover in regards to DC Comics and the history of DC comics. Writer / Director Mac Carter does the best he can to squeeze as much information as humanly possible within the ninety minute running time of this film that covers seventy five years of comic book history. Needless to say, covering that wide a span of time in this miniscule amount of time is going to make it difficult to focus on any single thing, but to director’s credit, he didn’t try to. ‘Secret Origins’ is a Cliff Notes overview of DC Comics, and the history of comics in general touching on all subjects from sexism to racism, the Gold, Silver and Bronze ages of comics, politics, the new breed of graphic novels, and the future.

That’s a lot to cover in ninety minutes, and while ‘Secret Origins: The Story of DC Comics’ isn’t the kind of challenging documentary that we’d prefer, we’d be lying if we told you we didn’t enjoy it at least a little.

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