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Monday, October 21, 2013 

Will there ever be a documentary about co-stars?

I thought about this while reading a DVD review of Necessary Evil: Supervillains of DC Comics, which asks:
What's the point of a superhero comic without a good villain? I mean, no one wants to pick up a Superman book where the Man of Steel does nothing but rescue kitties stuck in trees or have some schlubby mugger's bullets bounce off his chest for the eight hojillionth time. The heroes in these comics don't make for much of a compelling read without the right villains to challenge and in large part define them; they're...well, a necessary evil.
First off, of course nobody wants to read a Superman story where he just saves kittens stuck in trees. But they do also want to read stories where he battles bank and jewelry thieves, terrorists, mad scientists and technologists. It's not just supervillains who make the superhero comics compelling reads. Even villains without costumes can make for great adversaries. Stan Lee proved this with the Kingpin in the mid-60s, who debuted in Spider-Man and went on to become a formidable foe for Daredevil as well. Strong as he was, he was far from a supervillain in the usual sense, but he could carry dangerous weapons like lasers hidden in items like canes. IIRC, Cary Bates wrote a Superman tale in 1970 where the Man of Steel was pitted against a mafia calling themselves "The Anti-Superman Gang", and they had technological weapons too. Why must only costumed crooks define the heroes?

And, a good - or, shall we say, effective - villain can only be that way provided there's a talented enough writer to provide them with either the right kind of powers, both internal and external, or cunning, or who at least knows how to give the hero a hard time before finally being defeated. Without the best of writers, you can't possibly expect a supervillain to impress upon the readers.

Most important, however, is that the tale be enjoyable, and that itself is even more crucial than the villains per se. And that's not something DC's staff are doing right today.

The documentary must also boast more modern writers than veterans:
Comic creators obviously make up the bulk of that list, among them Brian Azzarello, Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Jim Lee, and Scott Snyder.
All the people we've long come to realize are not on our level. There are some good veterans interviewed too, but even that may call for some hard questions:
...it's a thrill to hear Marv Wolfman speak about Deathstroke's sense of honor and obligation setting him apart from a garden variety badnik. My eyes can't help but widen as I watch Neal Adams and Len Wein discuss the creation of iconic villains like Man-Bat and Ra's al Ghul.
I'm sure it's great to hear Wolfman talk about Deathstroke, but, what does he think of the alarming mockery Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis made of his creation - who went from honorable villain to mostly reforming and strengthening his honor code after the Judas Contract - by turning him into a sadist who put a bag over Black Canary's head in one of the most horrific moments from issue 3 of the miniseries? If he reformed, there's no way he'd just defend a villain who committed a crime far worse than his, which was sleeping with an underaged teen nutcase (Terra).

Interestingly, towards the end, the reviewer says:
Although I have to admit that Villains Month was actually my jumping-off point for DC -- I gave it a couple of years, but the New 52 just isn't for me[...]
Well that's definitely saying something. He did the right thing, and I hope he recognizes that several of the interviewees in the documentary are responsible for discouraging him from reading their modern output.

Which brings us now to the question I thought of after reading all this: why are the villains so important for a documentary, but not the co-stars of the superheroes who don't have superpowers? Don't they play an important part in a superhero's life too? I'm sure there's a lot you could get out of telling the history of Lois Lane's evolution, along with third-tiers like Sapphire Stagg-Mason, wife of Metamorpho. Since artist Ramona Fradon is still around, maybe she could be interviewed about how she and the late Bob Haney came up with their ideas for how to create Rex Mason and his girl Friday, Sapphire. A documentarian could interview various writers and artists about the ups and downs of the cast's characterizations, and how any flaws would or could be fixed.

Unfortunately, there's little chance we'll ever see a documentary about co-stars, and little or no chance the DC editors/writers today would care to discuss them, seeing how they've already been going to such distances to marginalize both the major and minor ones. Exactly why superhero comics today have become so hollowed out.

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Seems like a lot of people are jumping off the New 52 bandwagon.. thank God.

Why did Deathstroke get a free pass after the Judas Contract was over? He caused half the problems in that storyline, so why should Terra take all the blame?

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