Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam – DVD Review

If you’ve been paying attention to the last few releases from DC Animation, you may have noticed the inclusion of new animated shorts from director Joaquim Dos Santos  (G.I. Joe: Resolute) that have accompanied feature length films such as Batman: Under the Red Hood and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. If you haven’t been able to check out those shorts before or simply would like to own all three of those adventures on one disc, then you may want to consider checking out the release of Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam, the newest DC Animation short-film, which has been packaged together with the previous three shorts to make one blockbuster hour of entertainment.

At nearly 30 minutes, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam manages to amass a ton of story into its short running time; telling the origin of Captain Marvel and then going on to have Superman and Marvel battle the evil Black Adam for the rest of the short’s running time in pretty epic fashion. If this short were live action, it would probably cost $300 million to film, with characters getting thrown through asphalt, mountains, and buildings and Superman having to deal with a mighty river before is it able to consume the innocent citizens of Fawcett City.

In addition to the large scope action, we get a wonderful character arc for Billy Batson/Captain Marvel, an orphan child who regularly gets bullied, who, after receiving the powers of a god, has to decide whether to use the powers for good or for his own gain. We see a wide range of emotions from the character (voiced by Jerry O’Connell), who initially reacts to his transformation with wonder, but then has to deal with whether the powers will change who he is, or whether the anger from a lifetime of hardship will control him. O’Connell is pretty much perfect casting for this, mixing a sort of wide-eyed optimism with an oncoming maturity in the role.

The rest of the cast is stellar as well, especially George Newbern, who gets to return to the role of Superman after voicing the character for both the original Justice League animated series and Justice League Unlimited. It’s also a ton of fun to hear Arnold Vosloo bring the same sort of menace he brought to the first two Mummy films as he voices the 5000-year old villain Black Adam,, and lastly, James Garner is a terrific choice for the wizard Shazam, adding wisdom and a touch of humor to the character that bestows Captain Marvel with his amazing powers. This is the sort of brilliant voice casting that DC Animation has been known for, and once again they haven’t let us down.

The best of the Dos Santos’ short-films presented by DC Animation, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam is so much fun that its nearly worth the cover price of the DVD all by itself, but fortunately the rest of the 63 minutes of running time on this disc is filled out with extended versions of the three other recent DC Showcase titles, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, and Green Arrow. Each of these three shorts manage to fill more entertainment into their ten minutes apiece than many of this past summer’s examples were able to at feature lengths and at costs of hundreds of millions of dollars (I’m looking at you Prince of Persia and The Last Airbender). This would go especially for Jonah Hex, which completely outshines its big screen namesake in terms of wit and creativity, with no Meagan Fox “acting” in sight.

Green Arrow is like a very short version of Die Hard 2, with Neal McDonough’s Oliver Queen standing in for John McClane, as our hero faces off against The League of Assassins in the middle of a busy airport. Jonah Hex has Thomas Jane voicing the ill-tempered bounty hunter, with Hex riding into a town where strangers tend to end up very broke and very dead. Lastly, The Spectre outshines them all with a murder mystery in which the Spirit of Vengeance, voiced by Gary Cole, faces off against a movie studio full of killers. Part The Long Goodbye and part Christine this grindhouse-esque adventure is shockingly good, and will make you wonder why someone hasn’t made a Spectre movie already.

These four shorts combined make for a terrific example of the great work being done by DC Animation, producer Bruce Timm, and director Joaquim Dos Santos. These are action packed, inspired tales that encapsulate just what is so amazing about the characters depicted and why they’ve managed to endure for so long. Personally, there’s no comparison between these short films and movies such as either of the last two X-Men films or the big screen Jonah Hex. None of those examples were created with the care or attention to detail as any of these shorts and frankly, don’t even come close to being able to hold my attention to the same degree.

The DVD print on this disc is as stellar as usual for these DC Animation releases. The colors are bright and the image is crisp, and nearly HD quality. The sound is also as superlative as usual.

Bruce Timm Presents Four Bonus Cartoons Featuring Green Arrow, Jonah Hex, Shazam! and The Spectre – These episodes by themselves are all wonderful. “Showdown” from Batman: TAS is an awesome way to introduce yourself to Jonah Hex. “Initiation” from Justice League Unlimited is actually the first episode of the series, and gives you an epic Green Arrow adventure. The JLU episode “Clash” pits Superman and Captain Marvel against each other in a giant battle with buses and bank vaults being used as weapons.

The very best of this lot though, is “The Chill” from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. If you’ve ever thought about checking this series out, but worried about it being too campy or cartoonish, check out the awesome contained in this episode as The Spectre makes a bet with The Phantom Stranger as to whether or not Batman will take vengeance once he learns the identity of his parents’ killer. Featuring the voices of Adam West as Thomas Wayne and Batman: TAS’s own Caped Crusader, Kevin Conroy, as The Phantom Stranger, this is as good as superhero TV gets.

As I said before, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam is almost worth your time and money alone, but throw in the other three amazing DC Showcase short films and four more excellent DC Universe episodes and you’ve got yourself a pretty winning package that’s easy to recommend.

Warner Home Video presents Superman/Shazam!: Return of Black Adam. Directed by: Joaquim Dos Santos. Starring: George Newbern, Jerry O’Connell, James Garner, and Arnold Vosloo. Written by: Michael Jelenic. Running time: 63 mins. Rating: PG-13. Released on DVD: November 9, 2010.

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