The bad guys get their time to shine in this DC Comics documentary narrated by Christopher Lee.
Why do comic book adventures resonate so much with the public? Is it due to an archetypal superhero saving us from unimaginable terrors and ourselves? Or is it the dastardly nemesis that gives our crusader a reason to exist, and gives us someone we love to hate? Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics attempts to get to the heart of this argument in a two-hour celebration of the company’s rogues. A documentary made for both long-time devotees and newcomers, it manages to ask intriguing questions about the complexities of our favourite baddies whilst being as comfortingly geeky as possible. This isn’t just for those who know their Mr. Freeze from their Mr. Mxyzptlk…
There are literally thousands of super-powered foes in DC’s long and fruitful history, and trying to shine a light on all of them would be foolhardy, so it might be no surprise to learn that heavies like Batman’s The Joker and Superman’s Lex Luthor gain much of the attention. The dichotomy between white hats and black hats is smartly addressed, though, even going so far as to suggest that the Dark Knight isn’t too far removed from the criminals he faces. They say a story is only as good as its villain, and the contributors here go to great lengths to convince us that these superheroes only work because of their enemies. Everyone is right in their own mind, and the film successfully makes us rethink the importance of these scoundrels.
Stylishly directed by Scott Devine and J.M. Kenny, Necessary Evil is undoubtedly just a “talking heads” affair with a host of luminaries, but it has style to burn as it teaches you about as many obscure villains as possible, from Reverse Flash to Captain Cold. Comic-inspired graphics reminiscent of cutscenes from Infamous nicely embellish the details and the clips (mostly from the DC Animated Universe) are the cherry on top. You’ll learn a great deal about minor adversaries and feel like checking out their stories as a result. That was perhaps the goal of Devine and Kenny, and while Necessary Evil inevitably feels stretched in the final reel, they succeed in making us curious about DC’s antagonists.
But what would a documentary of this sort be without some familiar faces? The interviewees are naturally impressive, ranging from DC powerhouses like Geoff Johns, Jim Lee and Len Wein to filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro (who may direct a “dark” Justice League one day) and Man of Steel‘s Zack Snyder. For me, though, it was a joy seeing those from the DCAU, including Paul Dini (writer and creator of Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series), Clancy Brown (voice of Luthor in Superman: The Animated Series), and the one and only Kevin Conroy (who has played the Caped Crusader longer than anyone else in history). Those who have immersed themselves in trade paperbacks and related media will surely be in heaven as these icons discuss titan-beating brutes like Doomsday and calculating crooks like The Riddler.
Making it even better is the unmistakable Christopher Lee, whose distinctive voice narrates the proceedings with a great deal of panache. This is a man who delighted in playing Hammer Horror monsters, and the former Dracula/Saruman grants this documentary a touch of class.
There’s a chance that DC’s most ardent readers may find Necessary Evil lacking in comprehensive trivia and mock it for covering “old ground,” but for those jumping on the comic book bandwagon in the wake of the genre’s success, it provides an entertaining breeze through the company’s vaults. It also confirms, if there was ever any doubt, that Batman has the greatest rogue’s gallery in superhero history…
Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics is currently available on disc in America, and Warner Bros. didn’t diminish it with lacklustre video. The 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks fantastic from beginning to end, with appropriately strong blacks and a high degree of detail (so much so that the archive clips really show their age). Despite some minor hiccups that most viewers won’t even notice, there’s little doubt that Necessary Evil could look better than it does here. Fanboys might be annoyed, though, by the surprisingly old-fashioned Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix. We’re not sure why they didn’t plump for a surround sound presentation, but then this is a perfectly adequate job for a documentary.
Sadly, there are no special features whatsoever. What the hell, Warners??!!