Written by: Sam Rhodes, Special to CC2K
Fanboy Comics Creative Director Sam Rhodes reviews another DCU animated movie – this one an anthology of shorts.
The most recent DC animated release is a series of shorts featuring staple DC Universe characters that are slightly less known. Designed to give us a glimpse and maybe pique our interest in these second-tier characters, the showcase succeeds brilliantly. It delivers four animated shorts, clocking in at around 20 minutes each, which are well-crafted and fun introductory pieces to Captain Marvel, The Spectre, Green Arrow, and Jonah Hex.
The story of Captain Marvel, a young boy who can change into a superhero and back with the uttering of the word “Shazam,” is in itself geared toward children. This animated short from the DC Universe still manages to be engaging for the adult crowd. There are certainly a few lines that are so saturated in old, dried-out moral au jus that Superman might as well just break the fourth wall, bend his advice into the shape of a crowbar, and start beating us over the head with it. Instead, he, as Clark Ken” to young, orphaned Billy Batson, and later as Superman to the newly empowered Captain Marvel, assumes the role of mentor to this wide-eyed do-good-er. There are clearly many parallels between young Billy Batson and Clark Kent, and you can understand the bond between them. Batson, orphaned at a young age and then transferred from an orphanage, to a troubled youth home, to a nice-looking-then-savagely-evilfoster parents, to the street, where he currently spends his time contemplating how to be more like Superman (including unsuccessfully calling out three thugs who are robbing a homeless man). Afterward, Kent’s message to the bruised youngster that doing bad is always easier than doing good, seems a little naive, but we definitely get the good intention.
The second short is “The Spectre.” It is done as a modern day film noir, complete with the hard-boiled Detective Jim Corrigan, the Hollywood mogul murder mystery, and the beautiful femme fatal, but with a supernatural twist that seems like it would be more at home among Romero’s Tales from the Darkside than amongst DC superhero shorts. Yes, in this story the Detective that otherwise would be the star plays a back seat role to the Spectre, who seems to be the embodiment of evil from somewhere other than “the world of the living.” Dressed like an otherworldly Dr. Doom, The Spectre somehow finds all of the people who are responsible for the murder and spends the rest of the movie brutally murdering them. Slightly less kid friendly than “Shazam,” but still a lot of fun!
The third film in the series is “Green Arrow,” who wears a suit, has a blue tooth, and drives a hybrid. Well, his alter ego, Queen, does anyway. It’s the story of a warrior stumbling into a protection job for a young princess who is targeted by a usurper. It’s a cool modernization of an old story, and, since“Green Arrow is a throwback character anyway, it all fits together quite nicely. The fight sequences are engaging and interesting, and they highlight the fact that he, Green Arrow, is not superhuman. When he takes a punch he feels it. The short is faithfully delivered by a great cast including John Dimaggio and Malcolm MacDowel. Overall, the short is great, but I have to mention my favorite moment. Green Arrow and the princess are running across a tarmac, using a bus for cover and, as they step out past the bus, the Green Arrow reacts, catlike, drawing both himself and his charge back behind the safety of the bus just as a plane charges past. A plane. Somehow, they failed to hear the two or more jet engines that are propelling it, and only just avoided, by Green Arrow’s cunning, being run over by a plane. What kind of hunter/woodsman cannot hear a plane? Anyway, that kind of silly oversight is not indicative of the rest of the short, which ends up being a fun and thoughtful telling of a great old story.
Lastly, there was “Jonah Hex,” the short I most anticipated. I haven’t read any of the comics and I skipped the movie, but I love Westerns. And, I know when the first clear voice I hear is Michael Rooker’s raspy drawl that I’m in for a treat. What starts as a gritty western cliche turns into a tense western thriller as Jonah Hex wanders into the town looking for one dead man and finds an entire bordello of blood. It seems that Jonah Hex is one of those honorable bounty hunters gunning for justice rather than cold, hard cash, and he finds quite a pile of injustice to sort out before he reaches the brutal end to this story. Chock full of all of the western goodies, but not falling into the trap of cheap western imitation, this gem of a short really gets me wanting to read some Jonah Hex comics.
All told, this collection has a run time of around 80 minutes. The art is quality, the pacing and direction are superb, and the voice acting is top notch. It’s a great collection that can be enjoyed by young and old alike. Also, in the special features, they’ve included some extra stories about these characters from the different DC animated series that have aired in the past, just in case the shorts whet your appetite. A fun and intuitive DVD, I really recommend checking out Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam from the DC Showcase Animated Original Shorts.