In the 20th century, no artistic medium in North America with so much potential for creative expression has had a more turbulent history plagued with less respect than comic books. Through animated montages, readings and interviews, this film guides us through the history of the medium from the late 1930s and 1940s with the first explosion of popularity with the superheroes created by great talents like Jack Kirby and hitting its first artistic zenith with Will Eisner's "Spirit". It then shifts to the post war comics world with the rising popularity of crime and horror comics, especially those published by EC Comics under the editorshiop of William B. Gaines until it came crashing down the rise of censorship with the imposition of the Comics Code. In its wake of the devastation of the medium's creative freedom, we also explore EC's defiant survival with the creation of the singular "Mad Magazine" by Harvey Kurtzman. We then move to the resurgence of the superheroes in the late 1950's ... Written by
Kenneth Chisholm <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Ninety minutes is not nearly enough time for a comprehensive history of an art form as complicated and often contested as sequential art. In response to this certainty a director would be wise to focus their attentions on a facet of the whole for reexamination. That isn't the case here. This isn't an in depth documentary about Fredric Wertham and the senate sub-comity hearings. It isn't a look at the underground evolution of Haight/Ashbury or the female comic forefront built largely in response to it. This isn't about the birth of the medium and superhero trends. What we have is a film that tries to do all of this in an hour and a half and winds up leaving each of these subjects wholly unfulfilling.
One could argue that this is a strength of the film and furthermore that films like "Comic Book Confidential" grant casual viewers/readers a "sampler plate" of subjects to pique their interests, but that doesn't prove it a success. Any casual viewer who came to this film expecting to be confronting with the heroes they recognized from child hood would find the flippant chapter headings insulting A thirty-second montages of Captain America covers entitled "Meanwhile in Super Hero Comics " is all they need to skip over the twenty or so years which separate movements they deem "relevant." The informed viewer, like myself, might find these titles smirk-worthy, but the odds are we aren't going to learn anything he hadn't read before.
With a little more focus the all star list of artists in this film (many of which no longer with us) really could've made something special but now this film is nothing more than a charming slice of perspective from the late eighties, before The Dark Night Returns and Maus changed the world and ushered in the inspirational drought of the mid-nineties. For all of it's flaws and omissions, it's still a great opportunity to watch Will Eisner laugh. And Wow! Frank Miller used to have some great hair, didn't he?
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