Watch & Learn: Comic Book Heroes Unmasked

What is this documentary about?

Comic Book Heroes Unmasked, a 2003 documentary directed by Steve Kroopnick, is all about comic book superhero characters, ranging from popular ones like Superman and Batman to lesser-known ones like Spawn. It gives the viewer an incredible insight into the inception of these universally-loved superheroes, the surrounding factors that enabled the authors to develop them and, most importantly, the impact comic books have had on the hoi polloi.

What stood out?

For an avid comic book fan, or even for someone hoping to learn more about superhero characters, this documentary covers every aspect of the industry. It keeps the viewer curious by mixing up the discussion of superhero characters over each decade, rather than focussing on just one character at a time.

The Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America characters are no longer the same as they were in the 1930s. The writers have changed, as have the stories. For example, this film depicts the change in the characterization of Batman since his very first appearance — he started off as a vengeful character seeking justice, went on to become more children-friendly and then returned to being a dark and fierce character, less liked by the people of Gotham.

The thing that stood out the most is the comic book characters’ synchronization with socio-political issues. The inclusion of stories on the wars, drug-related issues, and even homosexuality, shows how important comic books have been as a platform to communicate with the public.

The film is filled with classic images from DC and Marvel comic books and interviews with comic book icons including Stan Lee, Frank Miller and Jim Steranko. Their own personal journeys in revolutionizing comic books as art are unparalleled, as are their inputs on the transformation of superhero characters from perfect, all-American heroes into complicated, troubled ones.

Why should you watch it?

This documentary is definitely a must-watch, especially since the majority of twenty-first century fans are moviegoers, more star-struck by the actors than the superheroes themselves. It is a ninety-minute trip down the memory lane of comic book superheroes and will make you marvel (pun intended) at the characters as well as their creators.

Portrayed through the course of this film is the comic book industry’s shift from comic strips to movies, the constant revamping of superheroes to suit their readers’ needs (and sometimes government policies) and their determination to fight all odds and stand tall. While we found some parts that are slightly less interesting than the rest, overall, this documentary will turn you into a more educated and appreciative fan.

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