Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam (DVD)

Here’s what I assumed happened with the release of “The Return of Black Adam”: DC and Warner Bros. didn’t have enough creative material to turn the reunion of Superman and Shazam! in to a feature length film, and in spite of Shazam! playing a supporting role, Superman is much too iconic to be used as simple filler before a big animated feature from DC home video, so what they did was take the half hour movie featuring Superman and Shazam! and, knowing no sensible fan would spend twenty bucks on a half hour movie, filled the DVD with other short animated films starring DC third tier characters that were featured on prior DVD Releases. Deep down this feels like DC Comics testing the waters for a Captain Marvel animated movie, gauging public interest and we’re paying them to be a focus group.

The ultimate question many people will be asking is: Is this DVD even worth buying for a half hour movie for people catching on DC Comics ruse? Let’s face it, the fans who don’t want to shell out the money will download the short movie whether they like it or not, but “The Return of Black Adam” features all of the original shorts featuring Jonah Hex, The Spectre, and Green Arrow from prior DVD Releases but extended and with new footage. Is that incentive to buy the DVD? I leave that up to you, the consumer. Naturally being a hardcore Superman buff, I had to see if DC could rebound from the awful Supergirl animated movie, and it’s an experience they make about as entertaining as humanly possible. Superman voice George Newbern returns as Superman who meets with old friend Shazam! (returning voice actor Jerry O’Connell) after villainous alien Black Adam crash lands on planet Earth to wreak havoc on Shazam!

Apparently set before the events on “Justice League Unlimited” we meet young Billy Batson, a foster child and wide eyed optimist committed to doing good who bears a deep friendship with Clark Kent. After Black Adam attacks both men attempting to kill Billy, Superman is forced to step up and protect the young boy who Black Adam insists is set to become Shazam! After a hasty introduction in to the wizard holding the key to Billy’s powers (James Garner in a thankless voice cameo), the last half of the short film is just a spotlight for Captain Marvel who, in a coincidence during battle, becomes the hulking Captain Marvel. The animation is superb and just all around breathtaking with a hefty mixture of Michael Turner meets anime character models and swift action shots that work on many levels of excitement. Writer Michael Jelenic definitely knows how DC orchestrates their stories so, as is the norm, Superman is there to witness the birth of a new hero and help that individual fight for good against evil.

Superman is once again an instrument for defining purity and innocence, and it works to some degree. The voice work is top notch with Newbern and O’Connell reprising these great roles, and Arnold Vosloo doing a stand up job as Black Adam, I’m just trying to wrap my head around whether DC sold us a short film or a pitch for a feature film. I guess it’s up to the respective buyer. The DVD Features the extended (ooh!) shorts of “Jonah Hex,” “Green Arrow,” and “The Spectre” with new footage (ah!) for folks who wanted to see a few more minutes of the DC Showcase shorts featured on the respective DVD Releases. Admittedly, they’re all incredible bland mediocre short films for third tier characters, and not even Green Arrow (with the great Neal McDonough as Oliver Queen) could keep me from yawning through the shorts. They’re obviously just pitches for feature length films or animated series pretending to be short films, as has become the practice among studios.

Joaquim Dos Santos has very little time to work with and has to tell an epic story in a half hour only. So we have to meet these characters, be introduced to the villain, and witness the action in such a breakneck speed it’s almost disorienting at times. We even rush through the mythology of Captain Marvel learning the elements of the name of the hero, and the destiny in such a speedy dialogue exchange, it feels like breaking news before a big movie. Anyone who doesn’t know these characters will not feel a connection to either of them at any time, and even folks very familiar with these icons will have a tough time soaking in the conflicts and tension.

I’m still not sure how Black Adam figured out Superman had a vulnerability to magic, I found Billy’s meeting with his friend who happened to have a train token on him allowing Billy a quick getaway absolutely convenient, and there’s never a real indicator if this is set with JLU continuity. So we can never really be sure if this is a prequel to the fight between Shazam! and Superman on the series, or completely disconnected to the events. As for Black Adam, he’s a wicked villain, but is merely just a Sinestro clone in this film. He was once a protector for good, became corrupted, and is now committed to fighting his replacement. The diatribes he spews are pretty ho hum, and a waste of a genuinely entertaining menace. This new DVD release is a very tough sell. On the one hand it’s Superman and Shazam fighting against Black Adam, but on the other hand it’s only thirty minutes and could definitely have used more exposition and padding for new audiences. On the one hand the DVD features three previously released short films but extended, on the other hand, you know as much as I do you’ll just download them. I leave it up to you to decide if it’s worth the price tag, folks.