Judge Jim Thomas' origin story only takes 30 seconds.
DC Comics has been churning out animated product for some time. Batman: The Animated Series was a critical and financial success, and they just kept going from there.
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam is a Captain Marvel origin story. While most origin stories take their time, this one clocks in at a frantic 25 minutes; as you might suspect, it's a tad rushed, even more so with Superman shoehorned into the story. The elements almost work—Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy) is suitably evil as Black Adam and Jerry McConnell (Scream 2) does a nice job as the Captain, but James Garner (Maverick) seems distracted as Shazam, the ancient wizard who confers the mantle of the World's Mightiest Mortal on the young Billy Batson. The basic structure is good—the idea that Billy/Marvel has to learn to use his powers wisely, or he'll become just as much of a monster as Black Adam. However, the story never gets time to breathe, bouncing from key plot point to key plot point. Also, because the plot is so simplified, I found myself disappointed that Vosloo never went "If you only knew the POWER of the Dark Side!!" Perhaps that's just me. The animation is OK, but doesn't have a real sense of style—unlike several of the other shorts on the disc.
The other three shorts are slightly extended versions of several DC Showcase shorts that were included on previous releases. Clocking in at 10 minutes each, these stories are roughly equivalent to the six-page stories they used to include in the back of comic books.
• The Spectre—Detective Jim Corrigan (Gary Cole, American Gothic) investigates the murder of a Hollywood exec, while The Spectre takes his own brand of vengeance.
• Jonah Hex—Jonah Hex (Thomas Jane, Deep Blue Sea) is on the trail of another bounty when he runs afoul of Madame Lorraine (Linda Hamilton, Terminator 2: Judgment Day), who has her own way of dealing with troublemakers.
• Green Arrow—Oliver Queen (Neal McDonough, Band of Brothers) is rushing to meet his lady love Dinah Lance at the airport when he stumbles upon an attempt to assassinate a visiting dignitary. Shocked, shocked I am that TSA allowed all those weapons into an airport!!
Of these, the first two are both substantially better than the feature presentation. It's mainly a matter of style: The Spectre looks and feels like a full-blown noir mystery, complete with hardboiled narration from Cole, who turns in yet another solid performance. Great animation design, music, and just to kick thinks over the top, flickering and "film damage" has been added to make it look even more like a '50s thriller. The fate of The Spectre's second victim is a little hokey, but the others—yeeesh!
Thomas Jane does a good job as Hex (he's talented, but that breakthrough role just keeps eluding him), and the animation reminds me of the animated opening from The Wild Wild West (The original TV series, not the abomination)—rough, but effective. Good use of shadows created by lamps and candles, The story is slight, but the point is to introduce Hex's character, which it does nicely, and the ending will give you a case of the screaming heebie-jeebies.
The Green Arrow short is the weakest of the three; McDonough does a good job as Green Arrow, but the plot itself is just an extended chase. Yes, this is a comic book, but it's hard-pressed to accept all of the fighting, jumping, kicking, and whatnot, given that he takes an arrow through the thigh early in the proceedings. And what's with all the fighting? That's what all the trick arrows are for, you know? Malcolm McDowell (Blue Thunder), though, is suitably oily as GA's nemesis Merlyn.
Animation is good, but unspectacular. The extras are four episodes culled from DC's animated series, each short featuring one of the four characters from the main features:
• Jonah Hex in "Showdown" from Batman: The Animated Series
Interesting observation: The Warner Bros./DC Comics intro is at the beginning of all four main features. It's about 55 seconds long, meaning that at 3 minutes, 40 seconds, it constitutes about 5 percent of the running time.
The extras are generally more interesting (and have a longer running time) than the features, so while it's an interesting disc, it's also seriously out of balance. The extras make it not guilty.
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