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‘Superheroes Decoded’ (review)

Superheroes Decoded is a two-part documentary about the history of superheroes and comic books. Piggybacking on Brad Meltzer’s Decoded series title, this is in-depth look in to how American comic books and heroes have developed into a major money-maker for studios but also a reflection of over seventy-five years of pop culture.

Capped on each end by the creation of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster and the invention of a Pakistani Ms. Marvel in 2013 the just under three hour documentary has a lot packed in.

Interviews with creators Stan Lee, Iron Man director Jon Favreau, creators Brad Meltzer, Joe Quesada, Mark Waid, Dan DiDio, Nicola Scott, G. Willow Wilson, Sana Amanat are poised against non-comics people and celebrities George R.R. Martin, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Clark Gregg, Anthony Mackie, T.J. Miller and many more to paint a historical perspective on comics and heroes.

Focusing on obvious choices like Wonder Woman and Black Panther to tackle race and gender equality, the doc also talks about the subconscious undertones of the X-Men and Batman and Robin to serve as object lessons not only about race but about gender.

Fans of behind the scenes comic book documentaries and digital extras will be largely familiar with what you see here, but that doesn’t make for a bad time. On the contrary, there is not a limit to how many times I see Jack “King” Kirby get his due on the small screen. I can, and have, seen the retelling of Superman, Captain America and Batman’s origin story from Finger to Simon the maximum amount of times possible. Instead of hunting around on YouTube for these interviews and retellings, History has put this all together in a three hour chunk. This is easily digestible and good crib notes for the history of comics buffs and novices alike.

The movie is cut up with motion comic panels but it also dives deep into characters like The Thing by revealing their onscreen identities from major studio movies for better or for worse. In the case of Ben Grimm, that means both the 2005 and 2015 versions. Which one, dear reader, do you think Jack would have thought looked better?

In the modern age of comics, read: the past ten years or so, and with the movie’s success, there was also some time with T.J. Miller of Deadpool fame but also with one of his best writers, Gail Simone. It’s never too meta to talk about Deadpool now that he’s famous, but like so many things, he is the product of the time of his creation, the comic boom nineties, followed by a burst bubble.

Further back, we learn about Wonder Woman and her creation by William Moulton Marston but without the usual scandal involved in the telling of that story. But also, more importantly we get the story of how Gloria Steinem brought Diana Prince back from being a weaker, fashionista version of the character to the stronger, 2017 warrior icon that Gal Gadot is playing in the character’s first feature film out later this year.

There really is a lot to cover and is covered with this documentary. You might be tempted to record this and binge but if you watch on air dates, your attention may not fizzle toward the end.

The Good: this is very comprehensive, a fair view about the history of comics and superheroes with surprising experts and writers chiming in.

The Bad: Runtime. This ran a bit long for me, and I am a rabid fan soaking up this kind of knowledge like the Absorbing Man. Break it up over the two natural viewing two sessions or you might start feel like Chris Evans fighting a bully in a Depression-era alley.

“I can do this all day”!

Superheroes Decoded premieres Sunday, April 30
and Monday, May 1 at 9PM ET/PT.




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