The DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection, out this week, contains four cartoons:
And one new release, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam.
The New Cartoon
We’re introduced to Billy Batson, living in the worst area of town in an abandoned apartment with no money. But he still stands up to bad guys and is kind to hookers and rats. Batson and Clark Kent meet for breakfast together when Black Adam arrives to destroy the kid. Kent’s working on some kind of story about children in Batson’s situation (and plying him with food).
You’ve already guessed the plot of this new short (24 minutes), most likely: Big fight between Superman (George Newbern) and Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo) leads into an origin story, as Billy Batson (Zach Callison) becomes Captain Marvel (Jerry O’Connell) after encountering the ancient wizard Shazam! (surrounded by statues of the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man in a faithful portrayal). Batson becomes powerful, then teams up with Superman to defeat his attacker.
I liked it, more than I suspected I would. When Billy winds up underground after riding a ghost subway train, he comes out with a just-right “Holy Moley!” Plus, I adored hearing wise old James Garner as the inspirational wizard and teacher. It’s not a challenging story, but it’s a classic, well-told. The lightning and fight effects are impressive, as they should be, and I was touched when Billy was told why he was chosen:
In spite of enduring countless tragedies and hardships, you’ve somehow managed to protect your perfect heart.
The message of this movie, as stated by Kent early on during his meal with Batson, is equally inspiring: “Good is hard. Bad is always easy.” My absolute favorite part, I can’t mention to avoid spoiling the surprise. It was unexpected by me and a wonderful reveal. You can see some images and a video clip from the cartoon.
The previously released cartoons supposedly appear in extended versions, but I’m not familiar enough with their details to tell you how much and what changed. The extra footage is not much, about a minute per cartoon.
As is expected now, Warner also included previous cartoon versions of these characters in four “bonus episodes”:
- Jonah Hex in “Showdown” from Batman: The Animated Series
- The Spectre in “The Chill of the Night” from Batman: The Brave and the Bold
- Green Arrow in “Initiation” from Justice League Unlimited
- Shazam in “Clash” from Justice League Unlimited
Each cartoon gets a commentary done by the writer. For Superman/Shazam!, that’s Michael Jelenic, who previously wrote the Wonder Woman animated movie. I liked his work better here, since his tendency to go for the modern urban wisecrack isn’t as out of place, although his comparison of Captain Marvel to Little Orphan Annie seems a little stretched.
Steve Niles talks about The Spectre, after answering a question I’ve had for a while: The DC Showcase opening, zooming through a comic store, was filmed at his local shop, House of Secrets in Burbank, California. He also pointed out which of the customers was Bruce Timm.
Green Arrow (my favorite of the four, because of the relationship comedy) is discussed by Greg Weisman. I didn’t know he wrote an unpublished Black Canary miniseries. He’s also producing the upcoming Young Justice cartoon, which I’m looking forward to more now, having enjoyed this sample of his work.
Joe Lansdale reminisces at the start of Jonah Hex about shopping from a spinner rack in his Texas neighborhood back in the 70s. It’s fun listening to his accent, and he has more perspective on comics than some of the younger creators.
Should You Buy It?
Definitely, if you haven’t already seen these shorts. With their shorter running time, they often tell tighter, more gripping stories than their longer cousins in the DC Animated line. If you already own some of the cartoons on the previous movies’ special editions, you may want to pay the lower DVD price (although you won’t get the commentaries) or wait for a used or discount version.
I hope they do more of these variety collections in the future, with all-new cartoons exploring the depth of the DC universe.
Warning: There appear to be two Blu-ray versions available. Amazon only lists the Blu-ray by itself (and that’s the version I have), but the original cover release promoted a digital copy special edition. Some customers have reported seeing a version with a cardboard slipcase (like the other animated releases) that comes with DVD and digital copies at Walmart and Target. The digital version is Windows-only, though, not iTunes-compatible. (The studio provided a review copy.)
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