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Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked (2003)

A history of superheroes in comic books, from the first appearance of Superman in the 1930s to today's morally-conflicted, violent anti-heroes.


(as Stephen Kroopnick)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Denny O'Neil ...
Jim Steranko ...
Will Eisner ...
Bradford Wright ...
Narrator (voice)


Industry insiders like Stan Lee and Neil Gaiman (The Sandman) reflect on the way their colorful creations reflect society at large. They have spread from the pulpy pages of nickel comics to Saturday morning cartoons, the big screen and beyond. They have evolved from simple, All-American heroes to tortured, complicated characters reflecting the dreams, desires and fears of modern society. From Superman to The Sandman, Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked is a fascinating, feature-length look at the evolution of an art form that has proved remarkably adaptable and enduring. Filled with classic images from DC and Marvel Comics as well as extensive interviews with modern masters of the graphic novel like Neil Gaiman and Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns), this documentary, originally aired on the History Channel, goes far beyond the superficial escapist fantasies to probe the forces that shaped the characters who have become legend. In the adventures of The Incredible Hulk, Spider Man, The... Written by Yocke

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Release Date:

July 2003 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Kaos og kryptonit - superhelte gennem tidsmaskinen  »

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User Reviews

Faster than a speeding documentary...but as powerful as a locomotive (and not as outdated)
28 February 2010 | by (Palo Alto, CA, USA) – See all my reviews

Watched this recently with my wife and twin seven-year old boys. Comics, ummm excuse me graphic novels, have been a big part in raising the boys, certainly more than they were for me growing up. I do think that vocabulary and morals get introduced, not to mention as Neil Gaiman said the idea of ambiguity, which for me is crucial. And I'm not even a situational ethicist...nor a conspiracy theorist.

But I do have trace elements of both in me...

I will say that the sexuality gave my wife and myself a little pause, and to be truthful we sort of fast-forwarded over some of that. Really in the 50's-60's there was a crusade against the Caped Crusaders as being too "Ace and Gary?" Insert Seinfeld disclaimer...but for now, and for us sex is sort of limited to the idea of mating. Thank you, nature programs! And we've not touched on bonobos if you know what I mean... We'll get there...but somewhere between 3rd and 5th grade ideally.

Anyways, I thought the violence was going to be trickier. Especially as Vietnam and the Watchmen were included in the pictured pantheon. But that really was tastefully done, as was most of this fascinating, but faster-than-a-speeding-bullet documentary. They cover a LOT in a short time, it's mostly talking heads, so kids, like our "younger twin" might not be as engaged. But the history is well worth knowing in my mind, and this really covered a lot. The Cavalier and Klay beginnings of Siegel and Shuster, the introduction of the comics code, the collapse of the investors' market (but didn't the original Superman Action comic go for a cool $1M recently?).

I'm pretty sure the editors took David Keith's narration and sped it up, and sliced out some of the natural pauses between words to cover it all. I will say that finding out about Jim Steranko was alone fascinating for me. Also the Wonder Woman conception was something I did not know, much less that Gloria Steinem might have helped return Diana to form-fitting form.

I thought the "mogul" talking heads were the worst, and was a little bummed that the Dark Horse honcho did not stand out more. Perhaps that fell on the killing floor of the editing room. This would have been a nice DVD to include the omitted interviews as a bonus, but alas no. This was also made before the most recent Iron Man, which I think was quite a success at migrating (not translating) to the silver screen. Also even though they talk about online comics in the documentary, as usual the new technology never comes as quick as we might think.

Anyways, who might like this...*some* families (please prescreen if you are unsure). And I'm not sure most fanboys would like it, as it might be all old news, and not specialized enough for them. "What, no Flaming Carrot?" I'm the kind of guy who rolls into Lee's Comics and I think the guys suppress rolling their eyes as I look for something new by Alan Moore or lead my kids to the Marvel Zombies. My wife enjoyed it, but she took it to mean that comics are more and more not for kids...which to me is true, and not true.

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