Somewhat of a controversial release among fans, the new DC Showcase Animated Shorts Collection title features a compilation of previously-released animated shorts anchored by an all-new exclusive 24-minute adventure starring Superman and Captain Marvel. Understandable, some fans are upset that the only way to watch the Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam short is to get this disc. Thankfully, fans can breathe a sigh of relief. The exclusive short is, in my opinion, worth the price of admission thanks to a little help from some surprisingly welcome bonus content.
Make your stand against evil with this exciting collection of four DC Showcase Animated Shorts starring favorite DC Comics super heroes! Chosen the world’s protector against the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man – pride, envy, greed, hatred, selfishness, laziness and injustice – young Billy Batson accepts his destiny as Captain Marvel. Battling alongside Superman against nefarious Black Adam, Billy soon discovers the challenge super heroes ultimately face: is it revenge or justice? For bounty hunter Jonah Hex and hard-boiled cop turned vengeance ghost The Spectre, getting their hands dirty is part of the job – maybe even the fun part. But Superman, Green Arrow and Black Canary follow an internal moral code to guide their actions. They know it’s easy to get lost in the darkness of the fight, especially when villains like Merlyn the Magnificent and Count Vertigo place no value on human life.
After finishing up the anchor short, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam, my first thought was how nice it was to hear George Newbern reprise his role as Superman for this new short. After a shaky start on the beloved Justice League animated series, he quickly found his legs and ended up becoming one of the definitive voices behind the Man of Steel. Thankfully none of that is lost here, even if his role could be considered somewhat secondary behind the Big Red Cheese and his evil counterpart. While Superman may get top-billing here, this short is really all about the origin of Captain Marvel.
Quite honestly, there’s not much to discuss concerning Superman/Shazam: Return of Black Adam. It’s a fun, action-packed origin story for Captain Marvel, plain and simple. Fans will undoubtedly enjoy it. The 24-minute running time does give the story some room to breathe, and it does play out more like a mini-movie than just a regular episode, and what we get a fun, zippy story. Writer Michael Jelenic once again shows his skills in fusing a story with a fine balance of action, heart and smarts. Paired with the always-excellent and kinetic directing styles of Joaquim Dos Santos and, as to what should be no surprise, you get a great final product.
And this is an engaging story, don’t get me wrong. Captain Marvel’s origin is probably the best wish fulfillment origin out there. However, the version we get here is somewhat light, with about two-thirds of this short is just pure action, but I’m not complaining. Every second looks gorgeous, sold with a smart script, great delivery and at least one genuine surprise appearance. The character design work is second to none, delivery what is easily one of my favorite animated designs for Superman yet. Sure, the actual Captain Marvel origin story does get pushed to the side a teeny bit, but there’s just enough substance, and a pretty deep underlying theme, that keeps this short from feeling like just an unbalanced, extended smackdown.
The other shorts included, all extended editions of the previously-released material – DC Showcase: The Spectre, DC: Jonah Hex and DC: Green Arrow – are all pretty aces too. However, the additional material in each is barely noticeable. In fact, if you only watched these shorts once or twice before, I doubt you’ll notice the new material. If you watch the original and these new extended editions, only then will you likely notice the additions, which actually amounts to a few seconds of new material for each. Disappointing yes, but since the majority of consumers will be buying this for the anchor feature I doubt that really matters.
If you’re a die-hard DC Comics fan, I think this DC Showcase Animated Shorts Collection is worth adding to your home library. Yes, the main feature is pretty brief with bonus content that easily dwarfs it time-wise (more on that below), but you can’t discount the quality here. The animation in Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam is pretty stunning to behold, saddled with plenty of action and a witty script. It’s just fun – plain and simple. Plus, the three other shorts aren’t anything to scoff at either. If I had to base this on just the Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam short, which runs just over 24 minutes, I would still mark this release down as Recommended, though casual viewers may want to consider just a rental.
Warner tosses Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam onto Blu-ray with a standard Elite Blu-ray case housed underneath a reflective foil/embossed slipcover. Inside the case is the usual assortment: a Blu-ray for the film and additional DVD/Digital Copy disc with an activation code insert.
Looking at the audio and visual components, Warner Home Video has again thankfully included a DTS-HD Master Audio track for the main feature, and it sounds excellent. The slugfests between Superman, Captain Marvel and Black Adam in Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam just sound thunderous at times (pun somewhat intended). The additional shorts all sound superb as well, especially the more action-driven DC Showcase: Green Arrow. However, DC Showcase: The Spectre gets a nice, eerie ambient mix and the quick bursts of violence sound sharp in DC Showcase: Jonah Hex. In terms of video, save for some pretty typical color banding, there’s little to complain about concerning the quality.
Digging in, the bonus content here is actually pretty pleasing. While we get the standard bonus episodes, which a couple welcome surprises, we get some excellent audio commentaries for each of the animated shorts. With Warner Home Video failing to provide commentaries or behind-the-scenes featurettes on their recent DC Universe Animated Original Movie releases, this is a welcome, welcome surprise. And, blessedly, each commentary is worth listening to. The writers of each touch upon various influences and their choices of style, discussing their respective backgrounds and creative processes. Each is enjoyable, as I said, though the casual fans may find them a shade dry. Personally, I rather enjoyed them.
The bonus episodes are a mix of the usual, such as the Justice League Unlimited episodes, with some surprises, here with the Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode “Chill of the Night” and the vastly underrated Batman: The Animated Series episode “Showdown.” Each episode here focuses on the highlighted characters from each short, and each are immensely enjoyable. In addition, we get our first Batman: The Brave and The Bold episode on Blu-ray…though in standard definition.
Overall, the Blu-ray edition of Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam is undoubtedly the way to go when picking up this title on home video. The DVD release pales in comparison to the Blu-ray, with the high-definition release featuring more overall bonus content and just plain increased quality. Much like with my decision on the main feature coming as Recommended, I’m going to give the actual Blu-ray home video release the same stamp. While the casual viewer may want to consider just a rental, fans will want to add this to their super-hero library. Whether it’s the main feature, the commentaries or bonus episodes, there’s something worth checking out here.
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on November 9th, 2010.