As if this summer's dominating performance of "The Dark Knight" didn't make it painfully obvious, comic book movies are a big, big, big business. But they weren't always. It's easy to forget that not too terribly long ago, they were considered too risky and likely candidates for box-office poison, so it's fun to see that evolution chronicled in "Comic Books Unbound."
This hour-long documentary, which originally aired on the cable channel Starz, reminds us that comics used to be fodder only for disposable, on-the-job serials. It wasn't until the late 1970s, when "Superman: The Movie" soared to creative and commercial heights that Hollywood reversed its position on putting men in tights on the big screen.
However, it took more than another decade for them to be reassured of that, when Tim Burton's "Batman" became a phenomenon. Even then, the current explosion that sees several superhero movies in a single season wasn' t sparked until the minor character of "Blade" became a surprise hit in 1998. And then, the floodgates opened.
Through a few clips and lots of interviews, "Comic Books Unbound" makes its case for the genre, noting how several prestige films "? such as "Road to Perdition" and "A History of Violence" "? aren't widely known for having graphic novels as their source material. Among the talking heads are directors (Richard Donner) and actors (Ron Perlman), plus, thankfully not overlooked, talent from comics (Stan Lee, Paul Pope and Neal Adams). None embarrass themselves. It's not relevatory, but certainly entertaining.