The summer of 2008 will probably go down as the most comic book-saturated in movie history. With films like Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Wanted, Hellboy 2 and The Dark Knight poised to dominate the box office, it’s clear Hollywood has gone full-tilt gaga over the comic book industry. Just in time, Starz peels back the cover on “Comic Books Unbound,” another one of the network’s movie genre documentaries--this one, a glossy airline magazine investigation into the world of comic books, movies and comic book movies.
“Comic Books Unbound” attempts to get a handle on this full-blown trend by doing what Starz Inside documentaries (“Fog City Mavericks: The Filmmakers of San Francisco,” “Anime: Drawing a Revolution,” “The Pixar Story”) do best: round up a handful of talking heads and give them a topic upon which to expound. As usual, “Comic Books Unbound” doesn’t cast its net very wide, rounding up a dozen or so folks from the movie and comic book industries. Comic books come off fairly well with artists like Paul Pope (Hellblazer), Jim Steranko (Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD) and Mike Mignola (Hellboy) to represent them. It’s also great to see Marvel Comics guru Stan Lee on board--then again, it’s never been hard to get him to open up his mouth and opine. On the movie side, we get directors Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Blade 2) and Richard Donner (Superman: The Movie), screenwriter Zak Penn (X-Men 2) and one of the guys who produced Tim Burton’s Batman. Not a bad selection, I suppose; but for a documentary that spends about half its running time talking about this summer, it might have been nice to nail down a few more current power players.
For those unfamiliar with this thing called “comic books,” the hour-long doc runs through a cursory history of the medium--from its explosion in the ’40s to the creation of the restrictive Comics Code Authority in the ’50s to the growth of underground comix in the ’60s and ’70s. Like the rest of the Starz Inside series (“Anime” especially), “Comic Books Unleashed” doesn’t contain any in-depth information that anyone actually attracted to the subject matter wouldn’t already know.
Instead, it’s mostly movie people talking about how much they deeply and personally respect the medium of comic books and comic book people talking about how much they enjoy comic book movies--so long as they don’t suck. With no deep social or artistic analysis to offer, the film plays out mostly like an extended promo video. At one point, for example, the nonstop narrator suggests that maybe Hollywood is destroying the legendary San Diego Comic-Con, but moves on without so much as a “discuss among yourselves.”
That said, if you like movies and comic books, “Comic Books Unbound” offers up plenty of both. It’ll only take an hour out of your life, and it’ll get you hyped to watch more movies. Or read more comics. Or both.