For any fan of DC Comics, it’s clear that the company has a deep love and affection for the bad guy. Their lineup of villains is deep and impressive, varying from thugs to gods and offering a stark contrast to their collection of super powered heroes. In September, the company even halted production on all of their regular titles for Villains month. One-off issues about everyone from the Riddler to Darkseid offered the bad boys (and girls) of DC a chance to shine without being filtered through the lens of the goody two-shoes guys n’ gals they fight. The month long celebration also launched Geoff Johns’ new all-villains alt universe series Forever Evil, and the company commissioned a documentary about their long history of villainy. Told through the deep, dulcet tones of legendary bad guy specialist Christopher Lee, Necessary Evil: Villains Of DC Comics is an intriguing little overview for fans, but also something that feels curiously insubstantial and out of place as a standalone release on Blu-ray.
The doc is essentially a guide to being bad in the DC universe, delving into the origins, back-stories, and main events surrounding DC villains on all media platforms the company exploits. It’s mostly a collection of talking head interviews, but those talking heads are all of the big boys at DC and a few famous fans. We’re talking a list that includes the likes of Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Paul Dini, Len Wein, Neal Adams, Scott Snyder, Dan Didio, Brian Azzarello, Tony S. Daniel, Peter J. Tomasi, Zack Snyder (shudder), and Guillermo Del Toro. With that many legendary faces for the comic book crowd, it’s clearly a geekgasm of sorts and certainly not one without interest.
The writers, artists, and famous fans dive into what makes all of the major villains so fascinating. The Joker’s sense of anarchy and peculiar love/hate relationship with Batman. The Riddler’s fixture as a figure who challenges the great detective’s intellect. The way that Lex Luthor and Brainiac offer the ultimate foils to both the earthly and alien sides of Superman. Green Lantern’s time as the Spectre and the duality therein. The dark shadow the godly Darkseid casts over the entire universe. All of the essentials are there in broad strokes and discussed with healthy dollops of insight by those who created the characters, wrote the key stories, or have loved the material from afar. For someone who only occasionally peaks into the world of comics, it’s a wonderful introduction and overview of the universe told in a tight, fast, and visually expressive manner involving clips and artwork from decades of DC lore.
Broad themes of how “heroes are only as strong as their villains” or how villains represent primal fears of their heroes and society at large are also touched upon. It’s all interesting, relevant, and entertaining material. Here’s the problem though; there’s really nothing here that any serious comic book fan isn’t entirely aware of and hasn’t considered on their own. That’s an issue because the market for this doc is entirely the comic book fans that will learn little from the hundred minute celebration of comic book evil. The film is certainly slickly made and entertaining, but ultimately you can’t help but wonder what the point of putting this thing out was beyond self-promotion. The doc was clearly tied directly to villains month and Forever Evil, operating as an advertisement for both blockbuster DC events. The film is also filled with clips from DCU animated features and DC videogames like Injustice and Arkham Asylum/City/Origins. So beyond being a celebration of DC, it’s also a big ad for DC that you have to plop down $20 to experience. If it weren’t for the fact that so much A-list talent was involved and contributing interesting insights, Necessary Evil might even feel like an insulting bit of DC shilling.
Thankfully, the doc is just interesting enough to avoid that ugly labeling. However, why it was released as a solo documentary is somewhat of a mystery. The DCU animated films have been coming with documentaries like this delving into comic book lore and methodology for years now. Those special features are just as strong and well produced as Necessary Evil and in the case of the excellent Frank Miller doc included on the recent Dark Knight Returns Blu-ray, even better. Necessary Evil should have been a special feature and feels like one (it would have been an ideal doc on a Killing Joke DCU Animation disc for example… hint, hint, DC). Why it got a solo release is a mystery. Perhaps it was just considered to be a necessary part of the Villains Month media onslaught. Perhaps the DC brass produced it as a special feature and then felt it was good enough to deserve a solo release instead. Who knows? Regardless, it’s an interesting little doc for fanboys that’s well worth a look, just not something that demands a Blu-ray purchase. Sure, the transfer is nice, but seeing every pore on Dan Didio’s face is not really worth the $20 investment. Definitely seek it out, but wait till it’s on a streaming service or packaged with another disc. Even if DC had included some episodes from their various animated series highlighting villains, this might have been worthy of investment. Instead, it’s merely a weird curiosity piece given a major release for reasons best known to the folks in the fabled DC offices. Ah well, at least Justice League: War is still on the way and chances are the Necessary Evil sales will be low enough that the thousands of unsold copies end up being packaged with the highly anticipated animated feature.