Tuesday, November 16, 2010

DC SHOWCASE: SUPERMAN / SHAZAM! THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM

The latest DTV animated adventure from Warner Animation and DC Comics is DC SHOWCASE: SUPERMAN/SHAZAM! THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM (2010), but it's not a feature-length movie. Instead, it's an installment of their "DC Showcase" series of animated shorts, and headlines a new collection of those selfsame short films, which previously appeared as bonus features on other DC animated features.

The disc contains four "DC Showcase" short films, each running around twenty minutes in length. New to this disc is SUPERMAN/SHAZAM! THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM, which retells and retcons the origin of the original Captain Marvel to unimpressive effect, and further disappoints by not having the World's Mightiest Mortal actually battle Superman. Granted, maybe that's been done a few too many times already, but why have Superman in the adventure at all if they're not going to butt heads? It just indicates a lack of corporate confidence in Marvel's ability to stand on his own, and weakens the story (and character) if he needs the Man of Steel's help. The voice work is adequate (with Jerry O'Connell reprising the role of Captain Marvel from JUSTICE LEAGUE UNLIMITED), and the action scenes are extremely well designed and animated, but the story isn't much.

The second short features the supernatural avenger, THE SPECTRE, in a grim, 1970's-styled story written by Steve Niles, that portrays the grim spirit of vengeance's alter ego, police detective Jim Corrigan (portrayed excellently by Gary Cole), as a Dirty Harry-type cop investigating a Hollywood murder. The story is a bit simple, and there's not much mystery (not surprising, considering the length), but it's great - and surprisingly nasty. The short has been given a bit of a "grindhouse" look, with artificial print damage and faded colors, and it - along with the Lalo Schiffrin-tinged musical score - work magnificently. It's the best of the DC Showcase series so far. (This short originally appeared as a bonus feature on JUSTICE LEAGUE: CRISIS ON TWO EARTHS.)

Next is GREEN ARROW, a fairly entertaining action piece set in an airport, in which the Emerald Archer (voiced by Neal McDonough) must protect a young princess from assassins, including her uncle, Count Vertigo. Black Canary makes a late, welcome appearance as well. Again, not an earthshaking script, but it's very well paced, there's some good characterization, and it does its job as a showcase for the character. (This short originally appeared as a bonus feature on SUPERMAN/BATMAN: APOCALYPSE.)

Finally, there's JONAH HEX, which, in its brief running time, delivers everything that the box office bomb, live-action HEX feature should have, but didn't. A grim little Western vignette scripted by Joe Lansdale, and starring Thomas Jane as the scarred bounty hunter, this is, along with THE SPECTRE, the other highlight of the disc. (This short originally appeared as a bonus feature on BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD.)

All four shorts were directed by Joaquim Dos Santos and feature similar, anime-styled character designs and staging. The animation is relatively smooth and fluid, but still direct-to-video quality. Overall, they look great. All four shorts are presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and sport 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround soundtracks. For bonus features, Warners has included four television episodes featuring the stars of the shorts, culled from Batman the Animated Series, Batman: The Brave & The Bold and Justice League Unlimited. They're all really good shows.

Should you pick up this DVD? Well, if you really want the Superman/Shazam! short, or don't already have the others, or just want to have them all conveniently collected on one disc - sure. It's a good package, and the three previously-released shorts are slightly expanded on this collection. If you're only interested in the new short, well, I thought it was pretty disappointing, but your mileage - as they say - may vary. You might consider renting it first.

BUY: Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam (DC Showcase)