'DC Story' director emphasized past, present parallels

"Superpowered: The DC Story" covers the breadth of DC Comics characters. Photo courtesy of Max/Warner Bros.
1 of 6 | "Superpowered: The DC Story" covers the breadth of DC Comics characters. Photo courtesy of Max/Warner Bros.

LOS ANGELES, July 20 (UPI) -- The docuseries Superpowered: The DC Story, premiering Thursday on Max, chronicles the history of DC Comics. Co-director Leslie Iwerks, who directed with Mark Catalena, said it was important to show the connections between past and present comics.

"You were constantly in the past and flashing to the present," Iwerks told UPI in a Zoom interview. "You could see that these characters continue to live today."


In the first episode, the origin of Wonder Woman leads to an interview with current Wonder Girl artist Joëlle Jones. The second episode explores Aquaman, jumping to Jason Momoa's movie portrayal, and then back to DC editor Jenette Khan, who took over in 1976.

"It's for the people who don't know these characters very well to know that they have stood the test of time," Iwerks said. "[The characters] are now on the big screen, but they were inspired by these pages back in the '30s or '40s or '50s."


Superpowered includes interviews with comic book writers and artists like Jim Lee, Jill Thompson and Marv Wolfman -- filmmakers who have adapted those comics and actors who have portrayed those characters.

Lynda Carter, for example, played Wonder Woman on a TV show from 1975 to 1979, but shared she always saw the character as her alter ego.

"She played Diana Prince," Iwerks said of Carter's interview. "She didn't play Wonder Woman."

Greg Berlanti, who produced The CW's Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, Black Lightning and Batwoman, relates in Superpowered how the 1990 The Flash TV show in particular inspired him as a gay youth.

"He was a young gay boy watching The Flash and felt a connection to these characters who had a secret or who had a secret life," Iwerks said. "What inspired me and also surprised me, which infiltrated into these episodes, was just the personal connection."

DC comics began in 1934 as National Allied Publications, officially branding as Detective Comics in 1937. When Atlas Comics became Marvel in 1961, a rivalry was born.

"I think Marvel was inspired by DC, obviously from the very beginning, but then created their own way of doing things," Iwerks said. "The competition was there. I think at the end of the day, you'll see these artists saying it's all about great art and great story."


Iwerks also included some archival interviews with the late Superman actor Christopher Reeve and Batman director Tim Burton and star Michael Keaton. Superpowered also shows some screen tests of Superman auditions by unknown actors prior to Reeve.

Producer Michael Uslan speaks about the production of the 1989 Batman film in a new interview and director Matt Reeves addresses the latest film, The Batman.

Though The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan did not provide an interview, Iwerks said the success of each Batman interpretation reflected where society had evolved to at the time.

"Tim Burton got it," Iwerks said. "Nolan then took it to a whole new level of depth and reality -- not comic book, but grounded in gravitas and humanity."

James Gunn speaks in Superpowered about his The Suicide Squad movie and love of comics. However, production wrapped before Gunn and Peter Safran were appointed the new heads of DC Films for Warner Bros. Discovery.

"Hey, it's a conversation for a second season," Iwerks said.

Iwerks directed Superpowered and 100 Years of Warner Bros. simultaneously. Iwerks said the studio asked her to do both docuseries at the same meeting in 2020.


Iwerks previously worked with Catalena on The Imagineering Story, the Disney+ series about the developers of Disney theme park attractions. Iwerks said she is drawn to "stories of creativity mixed with innovation."

The first directing credit Iwerks had was on the 1999 documentary The Hand Behind the Mouse: The Ub Iwerks Story. Ub was Leslie's grandfather and the co-creator of Mickey Mouse.

Leslie's father, Don, founded the special effects company Iwerks Entertainment after working at Disney on films like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Tron. Leslie said DC reflects the same blend of creativity and innovation.

"It's about the creative spirit, it's about business, it's about always refreshing, innovating these characters to new audiences," Iwerks said.

"When the business declines and goes south, they'll find a new way to re-energize their brand or come up with new characters or a parallel universe or multiverse."

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