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Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam(2010)
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 villans like Merlyn the Magnificent and Count Vertigo place no value on human life.
For more about Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam and the Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray release, see the Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray Review
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray Review
Buyer beware: some of you already own three of the four shorts in this DC Showcase collection...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, November 10, 2010
Every Warner Bros. Animation DC Universe production seems to divide diehard comic geeks and casual fanboys alike. But a pattern has slowly emerged. The DCU films that most readily capture the imagination (Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight and Batman: Under the Red Hood, among others) are those that have a singular focus, an agile narrative and a manageable cast of icons, adversaries and second-stringers. Meanwhile, the films that never quite resonate (Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse) are those that bite off far more than they can chew. Stickier storylines, trickier subplots and waves of characters, all crammed into an inadequate 75-minute framework. Hardly the stuff of cinematic legend. Viewers like myself who are intimately familiar with the many heroes and villains, the comicbook runs on which each production is based, and the nuances of the DC Universe may be able to look past such shortcomings (at least more easily than others), but that shouldn't be used to excuse the ails of an underdeveloped film. Every great comicbook adaptation -- be it a two-and-a-half-hour blockbuster or a fifteen-minute animated short -- succeeds because it appeals to a wide variety of people, regardless of whether they're fledgling newcomers or veteran comic collectors. And that's precisely what makes the four animated shorts in this DC Showcase collection such tasty treats. Comic shop regulars will cheer. Wide-eyed beginners will have an absolute blast. And everyone in between will be left hungry for more, wondering why each excellent short wasn't granted a full, feature-length production.
DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam
First Appearance: Exclusive to this release
Cast of Characters: Superman (George Newbern), Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo), Billy Batson (Zach Callison), Captain Marvel (Jerry O'Connell), Shazam (James Garner), Sally (Danica McKellar), Tawky Tawny (Kevin Michael Richardson)
I can choose my own fate now.
Outside of Alex Ross and Mark Waid's four-issue "Kingdom Come" miniseries, I've never been a big fan of Captain Marvel or his mythos (magic-based characters and comicbooks aren't exactly my cup o' joe). But The Return of Black Adam is riveting; so much so that the most finicky fanboys will be able to put aside their preconceived notions and walk away chirping "Shazam!" At twenty-five minutes, it's the longest of the four shorts, but director Joaquim Dos Santos and writer Michael Jelenic use the additional time wisely. Part origin tale, part classic comicbook showdown, part iconic team-up, part character analysis, The Return of Black Adam drums up a worthy adversary for Superman and unearths some convincing conflict along the way, particularly in the heart and mind of young Billy Batson. Flawed heroes are always more intriguing than the alternative, and Batson, young and inexperienced in both life and superheroics, fits the bill nicely. The story isn't complex in any way -- Black Adam, a magic-powered baddie able to give Superman a run for his money, arrives on Earth to destroy the soon-to-be inheritor of the Captain Marvel mantle, only to inadvertently propel the chosen one directly toward his destiny -- but the lack of fringe subplots only heightens the drama and strengthens the emotional core of the short. Moreover, the voice cast is a remarkable one, the animation is stirring, Jelenic's dialogue is spot on and the characters involved have been realized magnificently. I'm not a Captain Marvel convert, at least not yet, but consider my curiosity piqued.
DC Showcase: The Spectre
First Appearance: Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Original Cut vs. Extended Version: 11:51 vs. 12:52
Cast of Characters: Jim Corrigan/The Spectre (Gary Cole), Aimee Brenner (Alyssa Milano), The Captain (John Polito)
You can't kill a dead man.
When a fat-cat film executive is murdered, the Spectre arrives in the guise of stiff-lipped Detective Jim Corrigan to investigate in this perfectly paced, sharply penned hybrid of '70s noir and grindhouse horror. Director Joaquim Dos Santos and writer Steve Niles cover a lot of ground in thirteen minutes, introducing Corrigan and his powers, deftly developing a three-tier mystery and referencing everything from classic supernatural thrillers to stoic detective capers along the way. And they do it all without pulling any punches. The Spectre earns its PG-13 stripes (and then some), bristling with all the enigmatic energy a pulpy period short in its vein might require. Between Santos and Niles' streamlined storytelling, the short's evocative lineart and fluid animation, Cole's sizzling performance, and Benjamin Wynn and Jeremy Zuckerman's genre score, it pushes past a number of high-profile DCU productions and stands shoulder to shoulder with Warner Bros. Animation's best.
DC Showcase: Jonah Hex
First Appearance: Batman: Under the Red Hood
Original Cut vs. Extended Version: 11:53 vs. 13:03
Cast of Characters: Jonah Hex (Thomas Jane), Red Doc (Michael Rooker), Madame Lorraine (Linda Hamilton)
You askin' cause I'm so handsome?
It's impossible to watch Santos and writer Joe Landsdale's DC Showcase without comparing it to filmmaker Jimmy Hayward's abysmal big-screen adaptation. The verdict? Even at thirteen minutes, Santos and Landsdale's blazing Western short outclasses, outshines and outmaneuvers Hayward's Hex in every conceivable way. Its story is as straight-forward as The Spectre's -- DC Comics' disfigured gunman rides into a sleepy boomtown looking for a bounty and encounters more trouble than he bargained for -- but it's also just as exciting to watch unfold. Landsdale's drunken-drawled screenplay is a genre gem in its own right, Santos' visuals employ every essential Western element fans could hope for, his team's animation is quick to the draw and light on its feet, and Jane, Rooker and Hamilton work wonders in a few, short lines. Anyone who doubts Jonah Hex's cinematic potential after watching Hayward's misfire would do well to watch this one. If nothing else, it hints at how magnificent a properly primed Silver Screen Hex could be.
DC Showcase: Green Arrow
First Appearance: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Original Cut vs. Extended Version: 11:14 vs. 12:13
Cast of Characters: Oliver Queen/Green Arrow (Neal McDonough), Merlyn the Magnificent (Malcolm McDowell), Count Vertigo (Steven Blum), Black Canary (Grey DeLisle), Princess Perdita (Ariel Winter)
I can't live without ya babe. Literally.
Green Arrow may be the least successful of the four shorts included in this collection, but only because the other three DC Showcases are so strong. Make no mistake, Santos and writer Greg Weisman's action-packed, arrow-slinging introduction to Oliver Queen is a fun and entertaining addition to The Return of Black Adam sure to win the affection of anyone who gives its quickfire wit and harrowing shootouts a chance. Again, the story itself doesn't waste any time -- while preparing to meet his girlfriend at the airport, the Green Arrow has to contend with an old enemy and protect a visiting Vlatavan princess -- and Weisman has done a fine job shedding any unnecessary baggage from his script. And once again, Santos stages the action that erupts with competence and confidence, lending palpable urgency to attacks, frightening speed to arrow strikes and devastating, jaw-breaking power to every bare-knuckle blow. By the time Black Canary arrives, I was grinning from ear to ear. McDonough, McDowell and their castmates are exceptional as well, endowing their characters with memorable charisma and piercing charm. Green Arrow ranks fourth in my book, but only in the extremely tight race held between it and its fellow DC Showcase shorts.
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray, Video Quality
Four animated shorts, four striking but somewhat problematic 1080p/VC-1 presentations. The Return of Black Adam, The Spectre, Jonah Hex and Green Arrow all suffer from the same issues -- intermittent banding, occasional aliasing and a number of other fleeting compression anomalies -- albeit to varying degrees. The Spectre tops the collection (possibly because the short's faux-70s grindhouse aesthetics help cloak any technical eyesores); Adam features one of the more proficient encodes (despite some brief underwater unsightliness, a few choppy shadows and some seemingly random blockiness); Arrow only struggles here and there (with a bit of banding more than anything else); and Hex is haunted by the collection's most noticeable issues and glaring macroblocking (thanks in large part to a string of fire-lit interiors and nighttime exteriors). However, those who are able to look past such arguably minor mishaps will find that the overall presentation still shines in high definition. Colors are brave and bold, contrast is strong and stable, blacks are dark and dastardly, detail is fantastic on the whole and each encode obliterates its DVD counterpart. Ultimately, your enjoyment will come down to expectation. If the recent rash of less-than-perfect DCU Blu-ray presentations have left a sour taste in your mouth, this one isn't going to inspire any sudden praise. But if you found yourself wondering why Superman/Batman: Apocalypse disappointed hardline videophiles, the BD release of Superman/Shazam will most likely satisfy you to no end.
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The Return of Black Adam, The Spectre, Green Arrow and Jonah Hex split the sonic heavens with four hard-hitting, knuckle-pounding DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround tracks; each one as rewarding and enveloping as the next. With the utmost conviction, the LFE channel anoints every Kryptonian punch, supernatural flurry, explosive-tipped arrow and six-shooter blast with sternum-rattling intensity and otherworldly heft. The rear speakers never hesitate for a moment either, rushing headlong into the fray with nimble sure-footedness. Directionality is precise and engaging, pans are eerie, and ambience is both aggressive and arresting. In fact, the shorts' lossless tracks rival their feature-length DCU brethren, making it incredibly easy to sink into each tale and accept it on its little slice of the DC Universe on its own terms. It only helps that dialogue is crisp, perfectly intelligible and smartly prioritized throughout, even amidst the chaos of the shorts' super heroics. (Hex struggles a bit, but even then, only when it comes a few slightly muffled lines). All things considered, I doubt the Superman/Shazam collection could sound any better than it does here. Fans will be thrilled with the results.
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Because three of the four shorts in this collection -- The Spectre, Jonah Hex and Green Arrow -- already appear on a trio of recent DCU releases, I was more than prepared to cry foul when reviewing The Return of Black Adam. But after digging through the disc, I had a slight change of heart. Slight. Don't misunderstand: Warner's decision to repackage old material still doesn't sit well with me. Many an eager DC fanboy will nab a copy of Superman/Shazam without reading the fine print, only to realize they paid full price for a new 25-minute short and three others they probably already own. That being said, the Blu-ray edition of The Return of Black Adam makes up for the apparent cash-grab, at least in some small part, by offering extended cuts of the previously released shorts and a solid suite of special features.
First up are four audio commentaries; one for each short. Superman/Shazam features the best track of the bunch, as writer Michael Jelenic does a fantastic job explaining the genesis of The Return of Black Adam, his approach to the story, his interpretation of iconic heroes and villains, and the various themes he explored in the framework of the film. As much an analysis of the original comic characters as it is an overview of his script and storytelling, his commentary is an excellent addition that shouldn't be missed. Writer Steve Niles delivers a smart track as well on The Spectre, touching on his background in the comic industry, the original character and his DC legacy, the elements of horror he infused in the narrative, and the short's tone, noir sensibilities, genre nods and chewy '70s dialogue. Green Arrow writer Greg Weisman isn't as detail-oriented as his fellow screenwriters, but soon sets his mind to the task at hand, outlining the development of his story, the use of classic characters and aspects of his short viewers might not notice at first glance. From there, writer Joel Landsdale closes out the collection with a chatty and engaging commentary for Jonah Hex, touching on anything and everything a fan might want to know about his take on the scarred gunslinger. He tends to compliment the animators' efforts more than he explains his decisions, but his track is well worth listening to nonetheless. Finally, Warner serves up four Bruce Timm-selected episodes from three different animated series (SD, 90 minutes) -- "Jonah Hex: Showdown" from Batman the Animated Series, "The Spectre: The Chill of the Night" from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, "Green Arrow: Initiation" from Justice League Unlimited and "Shazam: Clash," also from Justice League Unlimited -- and a trailer for Batman: The Brave and the Bold (SD, 1 minute).
Lingering complaints? (Other than the recycled content?) Each extended short is only a minute longer than its original version, the additional scenes aren't exactly game-changing, the original cuts aren't included and the disc's supplemental video content is only presented in standard definition. Consider yourself warned.
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Aside from the obvious complaint fans will rightfully have -- three of the four shorts in this collection have already appeared on previous DCU Blu-ray releases -- Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam is worth some serious consideration. Not only does each beautifully animated short represent a distinguished Warner Bros. Animation offering (complete with sharp writing and even sharper performances), their video transfers are quite good (minor technical problems notwithstanding), their DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are excellent and their accompanying special features are commendable. Don't get me wrong, I think it's contemptible to repackage shorts fans already own and charge full price for a single new short, new audio commentaries and four additional minutes of unseen footage. The extra content is certainly appreciated, but it doesn't take away the sting. All in all, Superman/Shazam is a good release marred by bad form. Approach with caution.
Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam Blu-ray, News and Updates
• DC Showcase Blu-ray Announced - August 9, 2010
Warner Home Video, in conjunction with DC entertainment has announced the introduction of the DC Showcase, a series of animated shorts featuring characters from the DC Comics vault. On November 9, 2010, WHV will release DC Showcase: Superman/Shazam!: The Return ...
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