According to Box Office Mojo, comic book movies dominated 2012, with Marvel's 'The Avengers' coming in at #1 ($1.5 B / $623.4 M), 'The Dark Knight Rises' at #2 ($1.08 B / $448.1 M) and 'The Amazing Spider-Man' at #6 ($752.2 M / $262.0 M). It's no surprise studios want to achieve similar results. That's why next year's calendar is filled with releases featuring similar content: 'Iron Man 3', 'Man of Steel', 'The Wolverine', 'Thor: The Dark Worlds', 'Sin City A Dame to Kill For', and 'Kick Ass 2.'
This isn’t a new phenomenon, as the past 10 years have seen a slew of comic book movies hit theaters, including appearances at the top of the chart by Spider-Man and Batman. Your friendly neighborhood hero did it in 2002 and 2007 with the first and third parts of Sam Raimi's trilogy while 2008 was the year of Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight.' But this is only a chapter in the history of comic books. Ron Mann's 'Comic Book Confidential' reveals a time when comic books weren't part of mainstream entertainment the way they are today. Released in Canada in 1988, a year before Tim Burton's 'Batman,' this four-years-late 20th Anniversary Edition is a wonderful trip down memory lane told by many who lived and created the industry's rich history.
William M. Gaines' father started what is considered the first modern comic book with "Famous Funnies", but he states Siegel and Shuster's Superman is what helped launch the industry, stating the character did for comics what Milton Berle did for television and Babe Ruth did for baseball. After WWII, superheroes went on the decline, and readers focused on horror and crime comics in the '50s. Some people seemed troubled by the stories and artwork children were reading. In stepped Dr. Fredric Werthman, who wrote the "Seduction of the Innocent" and testified to the Senate in 1954. This led to the creation of the now-defunct Comics Code Authority by the Comics Magazine Association of America to keep the government out of censoring comics, but some, like Gaines, rebelled against it.
The beginning of the '60s saw the return of superheroes and the rise of Marvel Comics, who published The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man. By the end of the decade, counterculture artists like Robert Crumb began to use the medium to tell their own stories. The documentary then focuses on the creators/cult heroes of the alternative comic world, including American Splendor's Harvey Pekar, Zippy's Bill Griffith, and Love and Rockets' Jaime Hernandez. All had different, but no less interesting, approaches to the stories they wanted to tell.
'Comic Book Confidential' closes out with Frank Miller talking about Batman from his "The Dark Knight Returns," one of the two comics alongside Moore and Gibbons' 'Watchmen' credited with changing what was possible in mainstream comics. As of 2012, both have been adapted into films, the former an animated home video release and the latter theatrical live-action.
Mann's brief history of comics up to the mid-'80s is as engaging as some classic comic books. He features 22 notable artists from Jack Kirby to Lynda Barry, and they each have something to offer.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Released by Strand Releasing, ' Comic Book Confidential' is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at 1.78:1. The artist interviews have a very soft focus and a good bit of grain, especially during Harvey Kurtzman's in terms of the latter. In combination with what appears to be a very limited budget, I believe the film may have been shot on 16mm and then blown up to 35mm.
The image looks clean and free from damage and artifacts. The shots of artwork stand out on contrast to the interviews. They appear with vibrant colors, a sharper focus, and well-defined edges.
Small dots in the newspaper images occasionally create a flicker during pans and zooms. Limited depth can be seen in the interviews and while comics are two-dimensional, the best example of depth may be the layered paper cutouts used during the Crumb segment.
The audio is available in DTS-HD Master 2.0 Stereo.
Interview subjects are clear in their responses. There are songs on the soundtrack, including old records whose flaws can be heard as they offer hiss and crackle along with the music. There's a limited amount of bass as well as dynamic range, which is not surprising since the subjects don't raise their voice above a conversational tone.
As a reader of comics for most of my life and a person fascinated by history, Mann's documentary was tailored-made for me. I wasn't surprised I enjoyed it and I expect those with similar interests will like it as well. Non-comics fans may find it interesting because it's a story about people more than it is about comic books. The Blu-ray offers adequate video and a great extra with the inclusion of the deleted interviews. Recommended.