Thursday, November 4, 2010

Blu Ray Review: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam
25 minutes
rated PG-13
Available on DVD and Blu Ray from Warner Home Video on November 9th.

by Scott Mendelson

There's not too much to say about a 24 minute slugfest. The story is pretty simple: Black Adam shows up, Billy Batson becomes Captain Marvel, action and thematic elements occur. Most of the entire second and third acts of this extended short film is basically a smackdown between Captain Marvel and Black Adam, with the occasional assist from Superman. There is just enough substance (what makes a hero, the difference between being good and doing good, etc) between the fistcuffs to make it a worthwhile endeavor. The animation is bright and gorgeous, and the vocals are solid per usual. James Garner brings the same warm authority as Shazam that he did in Battle For Terra. Arnold Vosloo makes a fine Black Adam, and he works well off of Jerry O'Connell's virtuous but questioning Captain Marvel. But the best part of this little mini-movie is the return of George Newbern as Superman.

As you likely recall, when the Justice League animated series went into production, Tim Daly (who had voiced Clark Kent for Superman: The Animated Series) was tied up with the revamp of The Fugitive. Newborn, a sound-alike (and, oddly, look-alike for Tim Daly) took some getting used to, but he eventually made the role his own. In fact, George Newbern actually has more animated Superman appearances under his belt that Tim Daly, as he was featured in 62 of the 91 Justice League episodes. What's noteworthy about this performance is that it may be the first time that Newbern has had the opportunity to play Clark Kent for more than a moment or two in a few Justice League episodes. Since Justice League deemphasized the secret identities of their heroes, Newbern was pretty much all-Superman all the time. And the expanded role for Clark Kent, as a mentor and a moral compass for young Billy Batson (Zach Callison) is what makes this short piece stand out more than anything else.

The film looks and sounds gorgeous, to the surprise of absolutely no one. The disc comes packaged not just with this 25 minute short film, but with slightly extended versions of the three previous 'DC Showcase' short films. The Spectre remains a moody and surprisingly gruesome 1970s film noir, while Jonah Hex is still a too-brisk little western. Green Arrow is still the best of the shorts. Like I said a month ago, it's a rousingly exciting and laugh-out-loud funny action story. The plot nvolves a distracted Green Arrow having to perform unplanned heroics at an airport when terrorists attempt to murder a young princess. The action is terrific and the dialogue between Green Arrow and the wise-beyond her years princess is witty and droll.

Extras are pretty slim this time around. There is the standard digital copy. There is a commentary for each of the four short films, and four cartoons highlighting each of the main characters. We get the Batman: The Animated Series episode that had Jonah Hex facing off against Ra's Al Ghul. We get the Green Arrow introduction from Justice League. We get a Superman Vs. Captain Marvel episode of Justice League, which is smack-dab in the middle of an ongoing story arc, so it might be a little confusing as a stand-alone episode. We also get, a first for these DVDs, the inclusion of an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. And it's a doozy. "Chill of the Night" is a shockingly dark retelling of how Batman found and confronted the man who murdered his parents (Adam West and Julie Newmar). It's basically the Joe Chill/Lew Moxon story, with the added element of the Spectre (Mark Hamill) and the Phantom Stranger (Kevin Conroy) wrestling over Batman's soul, as he debates whether to exact justice of vengeance. In an odd irony, this 'lighter, more kid-friendly' Batman show has always been far more violent than even Batman: the Animated Series and Batman Beyond. Batman: The Brave and the Bold has been a smart and fun look at the gee-wiz side of Batman from the start, but in its second season, it's occasionally ventured to some very dark places while becoming a sharper, better show in the bargain. This episode is a prime example.

Considering there are only 66 minutes worth of DC shorts, along with about 88 minutes of previously-televised cartoons, it's tough to recommend buying the Blu Ray. For $20 on Amazon, it's not the world's worst bargain, and every bit of content on this disc is worth sampling. For the casually curious, this is purely a rental.

Superman/Shazam: B+
The Spectre: A-
Jonah Hex: B-
Green Arrow: A

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