may have ended a few weeks ago in DC's comics, with every one of their costumed heroes booted out of their own books to make room for the bad guys, but they're not through with you yet. The documentary Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics premiered this past summer at
the San Diego Comic-Con and has now clawed its way onto Blu-ray.
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What's the point of a superhero comic without a good villain? I mean, no one wants to pick up a Superman book where the Man of Steel does nothing but rescue kitties stuck in trees or have some schlubby mugger's bullets bounce off his chest for the eight hojillionth time. The heroes in these comics don't make for much of a compelling read without the right villains to challenge and in large part define them; they're...well, a necessary evil. Don't mistake this feature-length documentary as some DC Fanboy Echo Chamber, though. The points discussed throughout Necessary Evil not only apply to comics from other publishers, but they're relevant to most any form of serialized storytelling with heroes: TV series, movie franchises, or...hell, even old radio serials. Without a proper villain, there's not much of a story to tell. Superheroes by their very nature are reactive; without a compelling crisis to be pitted against, they don't serve any real purpose, especially when DC's trying to sell you a new installment every four weeks. Part of the message of Necessary Evil is that the bad guys are ultimately the ones who make things happen.
Clocking in at 99 minutes, Necessary Evil casts a net far wider than the mechanics of superhero storytelling. The dozens of interviewees discuss what makes for a memorable villain, delving deep into DC's rogues galleries for cases-in-point. Brooding heroes -- kind of a mainstay in DC's comics anymore -- are contrasted with their charismatic, gleefully depraved supervillains. Necessary Evil is more interested in motivations than in origin stories, so don't expect this to play like an hour and a half of Who's Who?. Villains with their own codes of honor, those who turned towards the darkness for somewhat justifiable reasons, psychopaths who revel in chaos, mirror images of the heroes they battle, criminal masterminds, mad scientists, femme fatales, the combustible nature of supervillain team-ups: you name it, and chances are it's analyzed in here somewhere. Many of the points raised throughout Necessary Evil may not tell lifelong readers anything they didn't already know, but you may not have thought about things in quite this way before.
The documentary is propelled by a small army of interviewees, and I lost count somewhere around the fortieth one. Comic creators obviously make up the bulk of that list, among them Brian Azzarello, Geoff Johns, James Robinson, Jim Lee, and Scott Snyder. Also featured here are some of the actors who've brought DC's heroes and villains to life in movies and television, such as Clancy Brown, Phil Morris, Michael Shannon, and Kevin Conroy. A few directors who have adapted comics for the big screen -- Zack Snyder, Guillermo del Toro, and Richard Donner -- contribute their thoughts as well, as do a handful of celebrity fanatics and even
a couple of psychologists. As a rabid comic reader for more than three decades now, it's a thrill to hear Marv Wolfman speak about Deathstroke's sense of honor and obligation setting him apart from a garden variety badnik. My eyes can't help but widen as I watch Neal Adams and Len Wein discuss the creation of iconic villains like Man-Bat and Ra's al Ghul. Richard Donner paired with Zods new and old, narration by none other than Christopher Lee...Necessary Evil knows its target audience. It's also appreciated that the documentary looks beyond the marquee draws like the Joker and Lex Luthor, even giving some screentime to the likes of Starro, Dr. Sivana, and the Ultra-Humanite. I especially like the way Necessary Evil dissects the rogues' galleries of different heroes, even addressing the difficulty of pairing Wonder Woman with a worthy arch-nemesis.
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It really ought to be said how well Necessary Evil is put together. I appreciate the variety of creators interviewed, leaning towards more recent years but certainly still honoring DC's past. The skillful direction ensures that the documentary doesn't feel like an hour and a half of talking heads. The lighting and subtly fluid camerawork keep things from ever feeling stale or static, and its visual flair never distracts from what's most important. Intercut with the interviews are DC's villains in just about every conceivable form of media: live-action television, animation, movies, video game cutscenes, and, of course, comics. The art is rendered at a startlingly high resolution and is often lightly animated, and I can't get over how gorgeous it looks splashed across my HDTV.
Although I have to admit that Villains Month was actually my jumping-off point for DC -- I gave it a couple of years, but the New 52 just isn't for me -- Necessary Evil is a reminder how much the publisher's comics have meant to me for so much of my life. It's thoughtful, it's comprehensive, and there's a real drive to articulately analyze and discuss the role of villainy in superhero books rather than shamelessly plug a month-long comic event. Necessary Evil is a bit of a tough sell because longtime readers could argue that there's nothing here that they don't already know, and neophytes might scratch their heads and ask "what's a Larfleeze?" I don't think a documentary has to be revelatory to be engaging and entertaining, though, and that sort of familiarity sure didn't stop me from greatly enjoying Necessary Evil. Recommended.
Necessary Evil looks phenomenal in high definition. The dozens of interviewees are lit and photographed in a very cinematic style; this really does look like a movie and not just a feature-length DVD extra. The conversations are consistently crisp and richly detailed throughout, and the supplementary images -- comic art, animated snippets, live-action footage from various movies and TV series -- are almost always eye-popping as well. The quality obviously dips when Necessary Evil splices in footage from such standard-def sources as Batman: The Animated Series and Challenge of the Super-Friends, but that's pretty much unavoidable. I'm really impressed by Necessary Evil, and the presentation here is well worth the few extra bucks to be experienced in high-def.
A combo pack is also available, but the version of Necessary Evil reviewed here is a single disc set. The documentary arrives on a BD-25 disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
The flipside of the case mentions a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but Necessary Evil is instead presented in Dolby Digital stereo (192kbps). So, yeah, the audio is DVD quality but doesn't really suffer for it. The interviews are clean and clear, and that's really all that matters. The documentary does feature some original music, and it comes through as well as can be expected, seeing as how it's
not meant to take center stage. On one level, the lack of the advertised lossless audio is disappointing -- that really ought to be standard on Blu-ray -- but in practice, it's not really missed.
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There are no other soundtracks. The list of subtitles is pretty endless, though: English (SDH), French, German, Italian, Spanish (traditional and Castilian), Dutch, Korean, Portuguese, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Russian, and Swedish.
Nothing, unless you count the trailers that open before the main menu loads.
A code for an UltraViolet digital copy is tucked inside, and a separate combo pack is available if, for whatever reason, you decide you need a DVD copy too.
The Final Word
I picked up Necessary Evil expecting it to basically be a 99 minute speed-run through DC's most iconic supervillains. Instead, it's a detailed and very thoughtful discussion of the roles of villains in storytelling. I don't think it'll redefine the way you look at comics or anything, but I really enjoyed this discussion and would definitely recommend it to anyone who's interested, especially with such a reasonable sticker price. Recommended.