Wednesday, September 10, 2014

'Return of Black Adam' animated DVD review (flashback)

It's flashback time at Cary's Comics Craze! Since Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made it official he'll be playing the very nasty Black Adam in the upcoming "Shazam" film, I realized I had reviewed a related DC Comics animated film back on Dec. 23, 2011 for the NORWALK REFLECTOR newspaper. Keep in mind, I refer to the character Shazam as Captain Marvel, as he had been known for decades until legal action with Marvel Comics meant DC needs to refer to him as Shazam from now on.

The following review also includes my thoughts on the animated shorts included on the same DVD.

Without further ado…

I know exactly why Warner Bros. is intent on slapping Superman’s name on every other DC Universe Animated Original Movie release. It’s simple really: The name alone generates interest and therefore, drives sales.

But honestly, there’s almost no need for Supes to be in “Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam,” which was released Nov. 9 (2011) on DVD and Blu-ray.

Sure, the Man of Steel is there to help Captain Marvel pound the evil Black Adam, but this is the story of the wizard Shazam and his champion chosen to replace Black Adam, his “greatest mistake” — and should be all about Captain Marvel. Even on second viewing this week, I wished there was more of the Big Red Cheese (Cap) and a lot less of the Big Blue Boy Scout (Superman).

 “The Return of Black Adam” stays true to orphan Billy Batson’s/Cap’s comic book origins. Shazam dies after he tells the boy he is Earth’s rightful protector. As Black Adam points out, Batson hasn’t been given the knowledge of what it means to be the adult Captain Marvel by uttering the wizard’s name.

I wanted to see more of the man-child hero struggling with his newfound identity and his innocent joy at discovering his super powers. I also yearned to know more about the homeless man, Mister Tawky Tawny, Shazam’s disguised “superhero talent scout” who was chosen to be the “kid’s guardian angel” and Tawky Tawny’s relationship with Batson and Captain Marvel.

These are but a few of the reasons Cap deserves a truly solo animated feature — not to mention a live-action feature film. Grade: C

The best part of this release is not the 22-minute “Return of Black Adam,” but the special features. Included are the three “DC Showcase” animated shorts, all of which were packaged with previous DC animated movies: “The Spectre,” “Jonah Hex” and “Green Arrow.” I know I sound like a commercial, but the additional animated episodes featuring those same characters (and Captain Marvel) chosen by executive producer Bruce Timm are nothing short of phenomenal.

“The Spectre”: I can’t say I’ve ever been much of a fan of this bloodthirsty dark angel of wrath. But choosing a C-list character as the spotlight of DC’s first mini-feature is promising in that it sets the precedent for fans to see other lesser-known characters get some animated love. Aside from that, the film noir atmosphere here is appropriate, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again. Grade: C 

The much more intriguing characterization of The Spectre is the magnificent episode from the always entertaining “Batman: The Brave and the Bold” series on Cartoon Network. There are enough voice castings and guest appearances to blow any Dark Knight fan’s mind when Batman deals with learning the identity of his parents’ murderer. Grade: A+ 
Green Arrow protects the princess.

“Jonah Hex”: Again, a bit too much of a revenge-seeker for my tastes. Sure, “Hex” has many Western clich├ęs, but it’s well told for what it is. Without ruining the ending, let’s just say I love the bounty hunter’s macabre sense of justice. Grade: B-

The “Batman: The Animated Series” episode remains odd and has always seemed like Timm’s way of awkwardly forcing Hex into the animated world. Grade: D (For my review of the live-action film, click here.)

“Green Arrow” is every bit as fun and entertaining the third time as it was the first time. Grade: A

The “Justice League Unlimited” episode nails Arrow’s reluctance to be a team-player and reveals how truly heroic the mouthy archer is. Grade: A

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