DC and Warner Premiere’s newest animated release is a double-edged sword. “Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam” is the latest release from DC’s animated film stable, however it’s only the length of from one of their tv shows like “Justice League” or “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.” This is because it’s being released under their DC Showcase banner. If you haven’t been keeping up with my reviews of the animated films, the last three had ten minute animated shorts, starring lesser known heroes in short but amazingly well done adventures. This new release spotlights an extended adventure (at 25 minutes) as well as collecting the three previous shorts all on one disc, plus some pretty sweet extras to boot. But is it worth the price of admission? That all depends, and we’ll answer that at the end.
First, for the uninitiated, let me do a quick rundown on the new stuff. “Superman/Shazam” features the origin of the World’s Mightiest Mortal, Captain Marvel, affectionately known to fans as “The Big Red Cheese.” For those who only know the basic heroes like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman I’ll give a bit of history.
Back when Supes was just debuting and superheroes in general were still pretty new, Fawcett Comics debuted their own hero, Captain Marvel. Though he had many similarities to Superman (flight, strength, speed) he was very different in that his alter ego was that of child reporter Billy Batson. Superman and Captain Marvel’s sales were pretty close and DC didn’t like the competition so they took Fawcett to court for copyright infringement. Fawcett couldn’t afford the court fees, and waning sales finally did the company in. Years later DC bought the rights to the characters and has incorporated them into the DC Universe. Captain Marvel, mostly referred to as Shazam due to Marvel owning the rights to the name for their own character, has been a DC mainstay ever since.
The 25-minute short “Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam” is mostly just a huge slugfest between the two heroes and the main villain, Black Adam, the good Captain’s wayward predecessor, now returned from a 5,000 year exile. As you can probably guess, he’s pretty pissed. Though short in length the origin story of Captain Marvel doesn’t get glossed over, and is given just enough attention.
The voice acting is as usual top-notch. Andrea Romano wisely brought back Jerry O’Connell to reprise the voice of Captain Marvel from his one appearance on “Justice League Unlimited,” which I’m glad about as I didn’t like Corey Burton’s rendition in “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.” Also returning from “JLU” is George Newburn, who took over the role of Superman from Tim Daly for the show. As much as it was good to hear Daly back in the role in the two “Superman/Batman” films I must confess I really grew to like Newburn in the role a little bit better. Rounding out the cast is Arnold Vosloo as Black Adam, and James Garner as the Wizard Shazam. Vosloo’s Adam is truly terrifying as a villain. He’s just evil, and the character design looks it. I loved the accent Vosloo gave him. Garner seems off as the Wizard, but that’s probably because of seeing so many Wizards played by British actors. Blame Dumbledor and Gandalf. There’s also a special treat of a cameo for fans of the Marvel Family at the end of the short.
But Dedpool, what about the rest of the disc? I was getting to that. I’ve already done reviews of the other shorts, but I’ll do really quick ones here, as after “The Spectre” I grouped them in with the DVD/Blu-Ray they came with.
“The Spectre” starring Gary Cole, and Alyssa Milano, is a 70’s noir blended with horror. Imagine something like “Chinatown” and then mix it with “Carrie” and you get the idea. With great homages to classic horror films like “Excorcist,” “Friday the 13th,” and even “King Kong” this short follows the DC’s spirit of vengeance on a murder mystery showing the shady side of sunny Hollywood.
“Jonah Hex” starring Thomas Jane as the scarred bounty hunter, is a straight up spaghetti western. Hex is on the hunt for Red Doc (Michael Rooker) who unfortunately ran afoul of opportunistic and murdering Madame Lorraine. With a tip from a saloon girl (Michelle Trachtenberg) Hex must try to survive long enough to find the answers he needs to get his bounty.
“Green Arrow” starring Neil McDonough as Oliver Queen, finds the Emerald Archer in a “Die Hard” like situation. All he wanted to do was to pick his girlfriend up at the airport, and propose to her. Instead he’s stopping the assassination attempt on a child princess, and fighting his morally corrupt counter-part Merlyn (Malcolm McDowell). Right guy, wrong place.
All the shorts have been extended by about a minute, and usually amounts to just extra action, but not much. If that wasn’t enough the special features are great. Commentaries on all the shorts by their directors, as well as the obligatory sneak peek at the next film, in this case “All-Star Superman.” Finally the coup de gras of this set are Bruce Timm’s picks of some WB cartoons spotlighting the characters in the shorts. This is the best bunch yet. From “JLU” we get “Initiation,” which was the first episode and introduced Green Arrow to the team and firmly set him as a favorite of mine on the show, and “Clash” which featured Jerry O’Connell first voicing Cap, and a brawl with Superman. We get “Showdown” from “Batman: The Animated Series,” featuring the first animated appearance of Jonah Hex, and was my actual introduction to the character. And last but certainly not least we get the first inclusion of a “Brave and the Bold” episode in the form of “Chill” featuring the Spectre (Mark Hamill) as well as a few other Bat-centric voice actors in the form of Adam West and Julie Newmar (60’s Batman) as Thomas and Martha Wayne, and Kevin Conroy as the Phantom Stranger.
This is a great set even if you already have the shorts on the other films in my opinion. Why have to switch out discs to watch all the shorts when you can have them all in one place PLUS the “Superman/Shazam” one, PLUS the great Bruce Timm selections. If you’re of a mind to wait til it gets cheaper that works too, but don’t skip it altogether. Definitely see this film, for the new short and the old toons at least. I hope DC keeps the Showcase brand alive and we get a second volume of shorts and another 25 minute one as well.
Joaquim Dos Santos (director)
CAST: Zach Callison … Billy Batson (voice)
James Garner … Shazam (voice)
Josh Keaton … Punk (voice)
George Newbern … Superman / Clark Kent (voice)
Jerry O’Connell … Captain Marvel (voice)
Arnold Vosloo … Black Adam (voice)