Sunday, December 1, 2013

Every comic book documentary you must watch

Well, not all of them, but at least I have your attention now.

After watching PBS's wonderful "Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle" I was left with an itch for more documentaries like that. However, there were much fewer than I would have imagined. So, here are some of the best.

Comic Book Confidential

This documentary produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer features the whole picture of the comic-book phenomenon in the United States as of 1988. The origins of the medium, the evolution of superheroes and all the other genres as they born in different eras: horror, comedy, underground, etc. All of this clearly contextualized and documented with nice production values and lots of style. I'd say this is one is essential (thanks, Frank!).

I did not want to add the whole movie in this case, but by the time I posted these videos, the full movie was available at youtube. It has Spanish subtitles, though.

Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle   

Produced by PBS, this is basically a three-hours intensive "History of Superheroes 101".  It is split into three episodes.

The first part, "Truth Justice and the American Way", deals with the origins of the superhero genre, how they represent the American dream, and their ties to the World War II era.

"Great Power, Great Responsibility" is about the silver age resurrection of the genre after Frederick Wertham crippled the comic book industry. This part explains the influence of the atomic age and the cold war on superheroes, as well as their new troubled lives and the transition into the bronze age.

Finally, "A Hero Can Be Anyone" covers the modern era, showing their more mature tone and how popular culture has embraced superheroes in recent years.

If you want to see a better description of the special, here are their creators in their Comic-Con 2013 panel:

Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked

This is History Channel's take on the superhero tradition. Everything you need to know in an hour and a half.

Tales from the Crypt - From Comic Books to Television

After watching all those documentaries, we get the big picture of American comic book superheroes, but our understanding of American comics is still quite incomplete. A big missing piece would be the history of EC Comics and how its explicit content lead to the creation of the Comics Code Authority that censored content during the silver age. This 2004, CS Films documentary covers all the basics. 

Overstreet's World of Comic Books

This one is pretty funny. It was done in 1994 and apparently, back in those times the comic book industry was booming like it was during the golden age. I can't help but think about what was about to happen back then.
I think it's worth seeing not only because we get the perspective of a slightly different era, but also because it features a lot of guys we wouldn't be able to see in more recent documentaries.

Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines

Here we have some focus on the history of superheroines and their influence on feminist movements. Before watching this I had no idea women actually cared that much about Wonder Woman. Good for them.

Super Heroes United - The Complete History Of The Justice League

Among various extras in the Justice League: The New Frontier (2008) DVD, Super Heroes United presents the history of DC's premier team. As a Justice League documentary it rushes through all the eras, leaving out important stuff, like the roster of the satellite era, for instance. However, it does a good job presenting the DC transition from golden age to silver age, something that was missing in documentaries like Superheroes: A Never Ending Battle.

Comics Britannia

BBC's version of what was going on across the pound. Even though we love to adopt every brilliant idea the British ever have and make it par of our culture, and even though we are well aware that they somehow produce ridiculously talented giants like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman or Grant Morrison, we still don't really know what is going on there. This series is quite eye opening. We need that kind of comic book culture over here.

In Search of Steve Ditko

Jonathan Ross' attempt to track down Steve Ditko, one of the most influential, enigmatic and idiosyncratic creators in the American comic book industry (Spider-man, Dr. Strange, The Question, Blue Beetle). This documentary was produced for BBC Four.

The rest of the documentary is available on Youtube.

Moebius Redux

In order to fully understand the potential of comic book art, this documentary is a must. The way I see it, Moebius is the Michelangelo of comics, and this BBC Four documentary is a great introduction to his world. 

Jack Kirby, Storyteller

.Jack is the King. Without him, American comics and the entire superhero genre would have a completely different vibe. It has been said that he created half the characters of Marvel and DC. Half. If all you can think when you see his stuff is how chunky it is, you need to watch this video.


  • Please, let me know in the comments section if a link gets broken.
  • I'll continue adding videos to this post as they become available. I might take recommendations from the comments.
  • I don't know much about copyrights, so I'm just going by whatever Youtube allows. In any case, readers can always report them whatever they see here.
  • UPDATE: Following Frank's suggestion I added Comic Books Confidential