Warner Home Entertainment and DC Comics premiered their new documentary film “Secret Origin: The Story of DC Comics” at Comic-Con International in San Diego. The film, which will be released this November straight to DVD, chronicles the 75-year history of DC Comics.
The moderator who introduced the movie and later ran a discussion panel was DC’s Senior VP – Creative Affairs Gregory Noveck, who has produced several of the publisher’s animated features as well as the new documentary. He called the film “a movie that’s been 75 years in the making!” He also revealed the movie will be on DVD, Blu-Ray and also downloadable on November 9th, 2010.
Noveck told the packed room that this version of the film will not have final sound or edits in place. With that, the lights dimmed and the feature started.
The movie started with the very beginning of DC history in the 1930s and went all the way up to the modern era. It features interviews with people from every angle of DC’s history including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Neil Adams, Paul Pope, Joe Kubert, Gerrard Jones, Chip Kidd, Louise Simonson, Denny O’Neill, Neil Gaiman and many more.
The film was narrated by Green Lantern star Ryan Reynolds.
The film featured a lot about the origins of Superman from creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and how the hero came to be at DC, as well as how Bob Kane and Bill Finger came up with Batman as a response. It also went in to Wonder Woman’s creation and how she became a feminist icon.
The film also tended to focus a lot on DC heroes in other media, especially Batman and Superman. In particular the movie craze eras of both 1979 “Superman” film and 1989’s “Batman” received significant attention. The Comics Code Authority struggle of the 1950s is also heavily featured as well as Denny O’Neill’s classic “Green Lantern / Green Arrow” run.
One of the most touching moments in the film comes when discussing the “Death of Superman” storyline from the early ’90s. Louise Simonson, who wrote part of the event, was interviewed and asked about the motivations behind the story. She was so moved by the thought of a world with out Superman that she burst in to tears. Her emotional attachment to Superman was so great that she couldn’t even bring herself to think about when they had to kill the heroic icon.
This attachment to DC characters proved to be the heart and soul of the film, and not, surprisingly, the comic books themselves, as the film tried to show how these characters transcend mediums.
After the film a brief panel took place with many of people interviewed in the film, as well as the director of the film, Mac Carter. The full panel included Mac Carter, Len Wein, Denny O’Neill, Gerrard Jones, and Karen Berger.
Noveck asked the crowd who knew everything that they saw and was glad that everyone seemed to learn something new about the history of DC Comics.
Asked about how the movie changed as it developed, Carter said “it was talking to these people and seeing how they brought this stuff to life.”
Wein said, “I’m going home and burning all my old photographs!” referring to many of the dated and slightly embarrassing hairstyles seen in the film. They didn’t have much interaction with the Time Warner parent company when he started out, he said, and they were pretty much left alone. He also said, however, that “when we started, certainly, it really was a suit and tie business.”
Asked what he felt the movie missed, Jones said that he wished the movie featured the controversial legal battle for the rights of Superman that DC has been going through for years, but understands why it couldn’t be used. “It is such a fascinating part of the story,” Jones said.
Noveck asked Berger what it was like to be asked to start the Vertigo imprint for DC Comics. She said that she wasn’t surprised since similar imprints, such as Epic Comics, had already happened. “[Epic Comics] was a great inspiration for creator owned projects and new ideas and trying different comics,” she said.
At this point, Noveck acknowledged that Paul Levitz was in the audience, calling him a “spiritual force behind DC for many, many, many, many well maybe not that many ‘many’ years.”
A Q+A session with the panel then began.
One fan thanked Denny O’Neill for shaping Roy Harper, aka Speedy, and the man he became. He then asked if O’Neill knew at the time how important those early “GA/GL” issues would be.
“Not really, we were aware that we were pushing the envelope and all of a sudden we were getting all sorts of attention,” O’Neill replied. “When they reprinted it in hardcovers and a slipcase edition a few years ago, I could not in my wildest fantasies have imagined it would even be remembered.”
Another fan then also praised O’Neill for his run on the ‘The Question.” He asked O’Neill what drove him to tackle so many dark, political issues in the book.
O’Neill said it was partly due to an “astonishing amount of freedom” he was given in crafting the book. The impetus for the book was a conversation with Paul Levitz who told O’Neill, “Why don’t you forget about being commercial? Why don’t you push the envelope again?”
Noveck then asked Carter what his favorite scene in the movie that got cut was, and Carter joked “I wish there was more bondage,” referring to a section of the movie talking about Wonder Woman’s early flirtation with being tied up every issue.
A fan wearing a black full-length cape asked if a sequel will be made to address things that were left out in the movie, and Noveck said that there would be if enough people went out on November 9th and purchased the movie.
The same fan asked Berger what it was like to break in to the industry as a woman.
Berger said “it was always pretty easy for me to be a woman in comics because I think most men are really scared of women, so they would just listen to me.”
A fan asked O’Neill why he killed off the character Jean-Paul Valley at the end of the “Azrael” series. As the series was ending, editor Mike Carlin told O’Neill “let’s kill him! And [O’Neill] said ‘yeah alright, I’m cool with that.'”
“At that point as I was working on the last arc, I dropped dead on a restroom floor in the Hudson Valley and I have it on good authority that I was lying a corpse for two minutes until a defibrillator got my heart started and by that time the paramedics had arrived.
“So I was recovering from this heart surgery and Mike Carlin called my wife Mary and said ‘tell him he doesn’t have to kill Azrael, maybe that’s cutting it a little close,” O’Neill said.
“I wish I had written a different ending, it didn’t work, it was too ambiguous. We were just gonna flat out put the son of a bitch in the ground. And Mike Carlin’s compassion prevented that from happening.”
Noveck told Wein “you are one of the few people that Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore hold in awe.” He asked him what it was like to hand off a character to a new person. Wein said that he couldn’t feel bad about it because the characters he handed off were once worked on before him, too. “We were all passing through,”he said. “You have to live with there are people who will do better work than you and who will do poorer work than you.”
Berger remembered when she first got a pitch from Neil Gaiman for the “Black Orchid” series and she had no idea what he meant. “I thought he said ‘black hawk kid’ because of his accent!” she said.
One rambling fan went on to give his thoughts on Vertigo to Berger, half insulting the creators when he said he “begrudgingly” came to like Vertigo and how he was pissed that Swamp Thing became a mature title with Alan Moore. After being told by Noveck to please ask a question, the fan gave huge praise to the current crop of Vertigo titles, such as “Madame Xanadu” and “Sweet Tooth”.
Finally, a fan asked if DC Comic’s could print more of the classic material seen in the film. Noveck said that of course, they would want to but “you’d be shocked at how difficult it is to actually find the stuff.” He then described a new Warner Home Video program that makes DVDs of classic material as people requested it and said that you may end up seeing that in other media, like comics, in the future.
The panel then concluded and people filed out of the room.
After the screening, CBR asked Mac Carter why there wasn’t much modern material from the last ten years in the film. He said that, in his eyes, the last important work that he can say, definitively, that people will still look back on in 15 or 20 years is “Kingdom Come” by Mark Waid and Alex Ross. He said that there may be more classic stuff but it’s too soon to tell what will be remembered.
Carter had his own opinions, though, and said that, to him, the two works of the last decade that he thinks are classics are “Batman: Year 100” by Paul Pope and “All-Star Superman” by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely.