If you’ve followed our reviews of recent DC Universe animated features like Batman: Under The Red Hood or Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, then you’re already familiar with the animated shorts that have been released under the “DC Showcase” banner – mini-features which have highlighted second-tier DC Comics superheros in their own adventures.
With the release of Superman/Shazam: Return of Black Adam (DC Showcase) fans of the DCU will get a brand new animated short to revel in, along with three of the previously released DC Showcase animated shorts, four bonus episodes collected from various DC animated shows, and commentary from the DC Showcase writers on how they do justice to lesser-known DC characters in animated short format.
Joaquim Dos Santos (Justice League Unlimited, Avatar: The Last Airbender) has been the man in charge of putting out the animated short films under the DC Showcase banner. Santos has done a wonderful job each and every time, taking non-mainstream characters of the DC universe and transforming them into heroes of interest (and potential stars of upcoming feature films?) in the space of approximately fifteen minutes.
Besides Captain Marvel, who is the star of Return of Black Adam, the heroes featured in the DC Showcase shorts are:
- The Spectre
- Green Arrow
- Jonah Hex
Below you’ll find a review of every one of the DC Showcase shorts, along with a brief review of the special features offered on the Return of Black Adam DVD/Blu-ray.
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam
In this extended animated short, Billy Batson (Zach Callison) is a scrappy young kid barely getting by on the streets of Fawcett City. Despite his own bleak situation, Billy has a good heart, plenty of courage and tries to help others however and whenever he can. One day, while being interviewed about his life of poverty by renowned reporter Clark Kent (George Newbern) from Metropolis, Billy is attacked by Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo), a magically-empowered supervillain who has traveled back from his banishment in the far reaches of the universe in order to kill Billy Batson, whom he recognizes as the next “chosen one.”
Of course Billy has no idea what Adam is talking about and is seconds away from being fried into a corpse until Superman just so happens to intervene . But even The Man of Steel’s formidable powers can’t overcome Black Adam’s magic – only a fabled hero powered by the ancient wizard Shazam (James Garner) can save the day, and little does Billy Batson know that he is about to become that hero…the new Captain Marvel (Jerry O’Connell).
The Return of Black Adam runs about twenty minutes or so and is basically a drag-out grudge match between Black Adam, Superman and Captain Marvel – truly a great combination. Aside from the obvious awesomeness of watching three of the DC Universe’s strongest characters battle it out, there’s also the humor of watching Billy Batson literally stumble through his first turn as a superhero. It’s also rare that you witness Superman getting his butt whipped, so seeing Black Adam slap him around is pretty refreshing (fanboys know all about Supes’ vulnerability to magic).
All in all, Santos does a great job yet again, and I certainly came away from this particular animated short fully convinced that a Shazam! movie could work as a live-action feature, if the filmmakers simply follow blueprint laid out by Santos (a spirited kid is given the powers of Superman, action and humor ensue).
Check out a clip from Return of Black Adam below:
DC Showcase: The Spectre
In this animated short, we get a look at the seedy underbelly of Tinseltown. When a popular director is murdered in his gorgeous Hollywood hills mansion, his daughter Aimee (Alyssa Milano) calls on her old flame, detective Jim Corrigan (Gary Cole), to personally investigate the case. Corrigan’s search eventually turns up a list of likely suspects – but before the police can cuff the men responsible the crime, each perpetrator is haunted in the night by a deadly Spectre wearing a green cape and cowl, who claims to be the spirit of vengeance itself.
As the guilty are punished in the most nightmarish ways they can imagine, detective Corrigan’s search leads him closer and closer to an ugly revelation, while the mastermind behind the murder plot learns that Jim Corrigan is a man who is keeping a startling secret of his own.
This animated short captures the character of The Spectre perfectly, by not shying away from the fact that he is a scary and violent force of the DC universe. Besides the highly-successful Blade franchise, I have yet to see a comic book movie that combines the elements of the horror genre with the superhero genre (nice try Ghost Rider). If ever there was a movie that could tell you a ghost story about a ghost you both root for and fear at the same time, The Spectre would be it. (Not to mention, the character would (literally) open up a whole new dimension of the DC Movie Universe.)
DC Showcase: Green Arrow
Oliver Queen (Neal McDonough) is on his way to the airport to pickup his girlfriend Black Canary, who he hopes to make his wife. Queen doesn’t want to make his lady angry by being late, but when he arrives at the airport he recognizes a villainous rival archer, Merlyn (Malcolm McDowell), and realizes there’s evil afoot. Queen dons his Green Arrow outfit, jumps in to save the day, and quickly finds himself caught up in assassination plot involving a tweenage queen and a classic DC villain.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if Santos ever wants a crack at directing one of these full-lenght DCU animated features, he’s welcome to it as far as I’m concerned. Along with writer Greg Weisman, Santos perfectly captures what makes Green Arrow great: like Batman he has no super powers, isn’t as smart or as well-trained as Batman, but he’s great with a bow, brave, dashing, witty, and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. It’s really hard to hate Green Arrow, and this animated short certainly captures that sentiment.
DC Showcase: Jonah Hex
What’s sad about this particular short is that the DC Showcase team manage to do in ten minutes what the entire Jonah Hex movie couldn’t do at all: Introduce Jonah Hex in a way that generates fan interest and makes you want to follow further adventures of the character onscreen. Thomas Jane (The Punisher) voices Hex, a scarred-face bounty hunter who comes to town in pursuit of his latest bounty, Red Doc (Michael Rooker). Problem is, Red Doc has already been done in by a murderous gang led by a ruthless prostitute (Linda Hamilton). When Hex comes asking questions, the gang set their sights on him next.
This cartoon is everything that the Jonah Hex movie should’ve been and was not: A western that features a badass anti-hero character – none of that supernatural powers crap. If DCU wants to do an entire Hex animated feature in the future, I’m all in.
[SIDE NOTE: Thomas Jane definitely should've played Jonah Hex in the live-action movie. Jane even did a makeup test as Hex to audition for the part and still didn't get it - yet another comic book movie missed opportunity...]
You can find the following special features included on the Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam (DC Showcase) DVD/Blu-ray:
- Includes four shorts: Superman/Shazam The Return of Black Adam, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Green Arrow
- Commentaries by writers Steve Niles, Joe Lansdale, Greg Weisman, and Michael Jelenic (BLU-RAY ONLY)
- Four bonus TV episodes picked by Bruce Timm from DCU’s Justice League Unlimited, Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The four episodes each feature a character from the collected DC Showcase shorts (Shazam, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, Green Arrow)
Captain Marvel Header Image by Amrock @ DeviantArt