Starring George Newbern, Jerry O'Connell and Arnold Vosloo
Written by Michael Jelenic
Directed by Joachim Dos Santos
Unlike other DC Animated DVD releases, "Superman / Shazam: The Return of Black Adam" is not a full-length feature. The disc is, instead, a collection of four DC Showcase shorts - "The Return of Black Adam," "The Spectre," "Green Arrow" and "Jonah Hex." Its a little odd, but the quality of the shorts makes up for it. I wasn't too impressed with some of the recent DC Animated films like "Superman / Batman: Apocalypse" and "Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths," but these shorts are a bit of a different beast.
In the first short, the longest of the bunch, young Billy Batson (Zach Callison) meets a reporter named Clark Kent (George Newbern), who is doing a story on orphans. On his way to meet Kent, Batson tries to defend a hobo named Talky Tawny (Kevin Michael Richardson) from some street hoods. He gets beat up, but stands his ground. When he meets Kent, the reporter asks Batson how he was injured, and Batson says he was "being good," and that he's always been good and never been rewarded for it. Kent replies, "Evil is always easier."
Just then, the two are attacked by Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo), a powerful villain whose powers are based on magic. Black Adam reveals that he has returned to Earth after 5,000 years in exile to kill Batson and get his revenge on the wizard, Shazam. Batson, of course, has no idea what Black Adam is talking about. Thinking Kent dead, Batson runs for his life and is saved by Kent's alter ego - Superman. Superman and Black Adam duke it out while Batson tries to find safe refuge. Instead, Batson is confronted by Shazam (James Garner) an ancient wizard and guardian of humanity. He tells Batson that he has been chosen to be Black Adam's successor, to gain the power of the gods and become Captain Marvel (Jerry O'Connell).
Whenever young Batson calls Shazam's name, a bolt of lightning from the heavens transforms him into Captain Marvel, a being of extreme power and speed, who can match even Superman. Now teamed up with Superman, the two take on Black Adam in a battle to save the Earth from a thousand years of torment and tyranny.
Now, you may be wondering why the short is called "Superman / Shazam" if the character's name is actually Captain Marvel. Well, that's because Marvel Comics managed to do some legal wrangling to make sure that character's name doesn't appear as the title. So someone settled on 'Shazam' - the name of the wizard and also the word Batson must say (out loud) in order to transform into the mighty Captain Marvel. It's weird, I know.
"The Return of Black Adam" is a lot of fun. I really dig the character design for Superman in this one, and the rest of the designs and animation in the short are quite good. These shorts are animated in different styles from the regular DC Animated films. Those usually resemble the Bruce Timm animated series from the 1990s and early 2000s, but there's more variety in these shorts. "Black Adam" in particular has a bit of a heavier anime influence than the others. It's great hearing George Newbern back as Superman, returning from the "Justice League" animated series when he took over for Tim Daly. Arnold Vosloo (y'know, "The Mummy") is good as Black Adam, but Jerry O'Connell gets very little to do as Captain Marvel. It's also good to see the producers working with Superman's lesser known weakness - magic. The action sequences are pretty cool, especially the mid-air fights with Superman and Captain Marvel working together to pound the snot out of Black Adam.
Next up is "The Spectre," which first appeared on disc with "Crisis on Two Earths". Spectre is a lesser-known DC character, a Los Angeles police detective Jim Corrigan (Gary Cole) who investigates the murder of an old friend, Hollywood heavyweight producer Brenner. But Cole's secret is that he's really dead, a spirit of vengeance who goes after wrong-doers. This short is styled after a 1970s noir, with scratches all over the film and a funky soundtrack. It's well made, but rather short and even a bit terrifying. Spectre, unlike many other DC characters, has no problems killing his enemies.
"Green Arrow" sees the titular character protecting a young princess of a foreign country at an airport. It's pretty simplistic, just straight-up action through and through. I don't know enough about the characters to really understand the history between them. I don't know who Merlyn (Malcolm McDowell) is, so when he appears at the end of the short, it doesn't really work for me. Still, the animation is good and the action sequences are well staged.
"Jonah Hex" (Thomas Jayne) is the final short, and it appeared on the "Batman: Under the Red Hood" disc. I haven't seen the live-action "Jonah Hex" film that this short was meant to help promote, but I'm sure it's far, far worse than this fine piece of animation. Hex arrives in town looking to pick up a large bounty, but discovers that the man he's tracking has been killed by some local prostitutes. He discovers that one of the prostitutes have been killing their customers and dumping them in a nearby mineshaft. This is a great, moody piece. Thomas Jayne plays Hex perfectly.
So this collection of shorts clocks in at just over an hour, but they're worth your time... if you don't already have them on the other DC Animated discs that most of them have appeared on. The only short here that hasn't been seen previously is "The Return of Black Adam." It's hard to recommend a purchase based only on that if you've already got the others, but it is available for streaming from Netflix.
Batman: Under the Red Hood
Superman / Batman: Apocalypse
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths