At first glance an interesting idea -- examining the DC Comics universe through the lens of its villains, as opposed to the heroes -- the direct-to-DVD release "Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics" suffers from its blurry focus. Interviewing a range of comic-book creators, filmmakers and academics, the feature-length documentary flits about so promiscuously from character to character as to provide little cohesion or perspective. Niftily illustrated using images from comics, movies, TV and games, the result is a too-narrow take on the topic, skewed almost entirely toward those who don't need to consult Wikipedia to distinguish Deathstroke from Doomsday or Darkseid.

The one really inspired element, actually, came in choosing Christopher Lee (age 91, incidentally) to narrate the piece, and he sinks his teeth into the assignment with ghoulish gusto.

Alas, what he and the rest of the participants have to say after that is fairly ordinary, and the film (which played at New York Comic Con earlier this month) gets bogged down in minutia and trivia. Instead of a deep dive into the origins and evolution of characters like the Joker or Lex Luthor -- which would potentially be informative to more casual fans, at the risk of telling diehards a lot they already know -- there's a willy-nilly quality to the conversation, leaping (in a lot of disparate bounds) hither and yon to touch upon more obscure heavies. Even the half-hearted use of chapters to divide the extended running time can't bring much order to the proceedings.

That's not to say there aren't some intriguing insights strewn along the way, including the evolving nature of comic-book villainy in the 21st century, the subtle similarities between heroes and their criminal foes, and the suggestion heroes must experience some kind of loss to give the stories emotional heft. "A good villain, you have to believe that he can win," says comics writer James Robinson, among a list of luminaries that includes directors Zack Snyder and Guillermo del Toro, DC Entertainment's Geoff Johns, Jim Lee, Neal Adams, writers Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, and a few unlikely strays, such as actor Scott Porter.

To its credit, DC and Warner Bros. have been particularly adept at catering to hard-core comic fans through direct-to-DVD animated releases, which enjoy the freedom to be far more tailored to the Comic-Con crowd than the company's theatrical efforts. Yet if "Necessary Evil" is positioned as a companion to those productions, in the execution it too often feels like a glorified electronic press kit.

In that respect, chalk it up -- like more than a few super-villains -- as a good idea gone bad.


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