Comic books have always been a pretty important part of my life. Before DVDs, that's where most of my disposable income went. Although I don't have any stories of going to the local drugstore with a dime in both hands and an eager smile on my face, it's safe to say that I love comics and really appreciate their important place in pop culture.
I first really got into comics about 10 or 11 years ago, right around the time that Image Comics was formed. More or less, Image was founded by a group of young artists and writers who had recently left their jobs at the big leagues to form their own 'independent' comic book company. Although independent comics had been around for decades, this was a bold step for the industry and a major turning point for the future of comics. Now, more than ever, kids who dreamed of writing or drawing comics realized that they didn't need a job with Marvel or DC…only a dollar and a dream. I even self-published a few comics in high school and college with my brother Dan, and we experienced first-hand how difficult and challenging it was. But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a blast to do, and I still dream of being able to do it for a living. In short, getting into comics during the self-publishing boom of the 90's really changed my view of the industry in general.
Needless to say, I missed the Golden Age of Comics. I missed the 30's and 40's, the births of now-legendary characters, but that's what makes the history so fascinating to me. There were so many wonderful creations and ideas: Superman, Batman, Commander Courage, The Fantastic Four, and…
…wait a minute.
Imagine This Is Spinal Tap, but replace 'music' with 'comics' and you'll end up with the premise of Mark Hamill's Comic Book: The Movie. Hosted by longtime comic geek Donald Swann (Hamill), this new 'documentary' shows the unfortunate evolution of legendary character Commander Courage. Originally a 1940s-era Nazi-fighting patriot, Courage has evolved into a post-9/11 terrorist-fighting vigilante, and Swann is against this evolution every step of the way. A new movie starring the revamped character (Codename: Courage) is in the works, and Swann is lobbying to bring the once-classic hero back to his original roots. With the help of some friends, he just might pull it off.
Obviously, this is all very tongue-in-cheek. There is no Commander Courage, there is no Donald Swann, and there is no 'Codename: Courage' movie, but it's hard not to be entertained along the way. While Comic Book: The Movie doesn't break any new ground that was covered in earlier films like Spinal Tap, it's a great effort by Mark Hamill (who will forever be known as only one pop-culture icon: Luke Skywalker). He's a longtime fan of comics who's even written a few himself, and he dreamed of working in the comics industry long before he picked up a light saber. Heck, he even appeared as a very 'unique' villain in Kevin Smith's Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back and voiced the Joker in Batman: The Animated Series, but perhaps he's found his middle-ground behind the camera. It's obvious that he has a real appreciation for the comics industry, so it's no surprise that Comic Book: The Movie is a genuine labor of love.
Most of the footage was shot in just 4 days, during the recent San Diego Comic Convention. It must have been quite a challenge to put everything together amidst the chaos, but the spontaneous nature of the movie really works to its advantage. It almost seems as if everyone who's anyone shows up here, from Hugh Hefner (a long-time fan of comics and once-aspiring cartoonist), to Ray Harryhausen (pioneer of stop-motion animation), to Bruce Campbell (cult movie icon), to the Godfather of Comics himself, Stan "The Man" Lee. In fact, most of the supporting characters are noteworthy voice actors from the wonderful world of animation, including Billy West (Ren & Stimpy, Futurama), Jess Harnell and Robert Paulson (Animaniacs), the legendary Gary Owens (Space Ghost), and many more! In short, Comic Book: The Movie is a treasure trove of pop culture comedy gold, and it's a winning effort from start to finish.
Overall, it's hard not to be entertained by the antics of the cast. While by no means a perfect film (or 'mockumentary'), Comic Book: The Movie is more of a love letter to die-hard fans than a serious statement about the industry. It's a wild ride through the sometimes-embarrassing, sometimes-funny, always-entertaining world of comics and the fans that love 'em.
Now available on DVD, this new 2-disc set almost overshadows the movie itself! It's literally jammed with tons of great stuff that not only stands on its own, but really does an excellent job of supporting the movie itself. There's an enormous amount of cast & crew participation and a ton of other guest stars on the DVD, so it's obvious that Comic Book: The Movie was a group effort. This new release is truly a stellar package…so let's not waste any more time, and get to the good stuff!
Quality Control Department
It's no secret that Comic Book: The Movie was a low-budget documentary filmed in a very short period of time, so the technical presentation isn't the star of the show. With that said, both the Video and Audio quality are still very good, and should not be compared pound-for-pound to most other DVD releases. Here are the details:
Presented in the typical documentary aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full screen, Comic Book: The Movie looks very good. There's no real "look" to the bulk of the footage, as it's very natural and straightforward. Colors are handled well, and look especially sharp during the brightly colored menus and scene transitions, as seen above. Blacks are also solid, only drifting into dark gray during convention footage with low lighting (is there any other kind?). All in all, everything is about as good as it needs to be, and won't disappoint fans in the least. This is a movie that centers around a visual medium, so it's good that the video quality delivers here.
The audio also gets the job done well. Surprisingly, we're given a full 5.1 Surround Sound mix, although it's not of the same design as your typical action movie. This is a dialogue-driven movie, so you won't get tons of surround activity (though it occasionally comes into play during group dialogue and the convention footage). Musical cues are very full and surprisingly aggressive. Once again, another nice job in the technical department.
This is where the disc really shines! The bonus features are spread out nicely over this 2-disc set, and really do a great job supporting the main feature. This release is absolutely packed with good quality stuff, so let's get right down to business!
Disc One contains a number of great extras. To start things of, we're treated to an Audio Commentary with Mark Hamill and co-stars/producers Jess Hornell, Billy West, and Roger Rose. Also present are co-producers Scott Zakarin and Eric Mittleman, making this quite a rowdy listen. This is easily on par with the antics of any Kevin Smith commentary, if not more madcap. All of the participants are completely off-the-wall, and revert to their cartoon personas on many occasions. There are some great stories and experiences shared here too, making it one of the most entertaining commentaries of recent memory. Next, we have an informative Cameo Guide, which lists all of the guest appearances made during the movie...a really nice touch! After that, we're treated to an awesome Art Gallery, showcasing much of the art used in the movie itself, plus a few new sketches and designs. Next up are no less than 13 Deleted Scenes, as well as list of Cast & Crew Bios and Sneak Peeks for two other Miramax releases (My Boss' Daughter and Spy Kids 3D). If that isn't enough, we've still got the entire second disc to go through!
Disc Two keeps the ball rolling nicely. The main feature is the 50 minute Behind the Voices featurette, a Q&A session held at the San Diego Comic Con (presumably after the shooting was finished). The majority of the voice talent from the movie is accounted for, as well as Mark Hamill, writer Peter David, and more! This is a lively presentation, and all of the participants are in good spirits (almost too good!). Naturally, there are many moments where the actors do the voices that helped make them famous, so it's also a great trip for any animation fan in general. Overall, this was a real highlight! Next up, we have a series of Interviews, the majority of which are extended versions of the ones in the film. Interviewees include Kevin Smith (20 minutes), Stan Lee (9 minutes), Bruce Campbell (17 minutes), and Hugh Hefner (41 minutes). Also on board here is Four Color Frenzy, a short making-of featurette on the movie itself (18 minutes). Another highlight is the Commander Courage Radio Show (7 minutes), a mock presentation of the hero's first adventure done old-time radio style. Performed by several of the voice actors from 'Behind the Voices', this was a very thoughtful inclusion. Rounding out the second disc are Promotions for the ACTOR Comic Fund and the San Diego Comic Convention (links to their respective websites can be found below). Overall, this was a jam-packed release, and really makes this set worth your money!
Menu Design & Packaging:
As expected, the menus were fun and eye-catching. The main menus feature slight animation and music, while the many sub-menus also look great too. Navigation was also a breeze, and really help round out this highly-polished release. The packaging itself was also nice, with a very appropriate comic-styled front cover and fun layout. Unfortunately, there was no insert, although the discs themselves have plenty of information. It's funny, though...you'd think a medium that relied so heavily on printed material would have a cool booklet or something. Anyway, the discs themselves are also fun and colorful...it's really a nice change from the typical Miramax 'dull gray' DVD label. Overall, this was a really nice presentation job that will hopefully catch some eyes on the shelf.
Should anything else have been included?
For comic fans everywhere, this is hands-down the best overall love-letter currently available on DVD. The movie was fun, and everything else is the icing on the cake! Once again, the bulk of the footage was shot in just four days, and that fact in itself is a testament to the nature of this movie...its raw, improvisational nature makes it a highly entertaining experience. In my opinion, it's more true to the spirit of comic fandom than a million X-Men or Daredevil DVDs, and that's the best compliment I can give it. Here's hoping to more great efforts from Mark Hamill and company, as this DVD release is everything comic book fans fave been waiting for! Overall, Comic Book: The Movie is Highly Recommended for all lovers of funnybooks, young and old alike. It's a top-notch effort that belongs on the shelf of any self-respecting super-geek!
Other Links of Interest
The Official Site for Comic Book: The Movie
The Official Site of the ACTOR Comic Fund
The Official Site of the San Diego Comic Convention
Randy Miller III is an art instructor and gallery assistant based in Harrisburg, PA, who also enjoys freelance graphic design and illustration. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.