So this morning I was looking at the films I still had in my $1 Pawn America score from Memorial Day, deciding what to watch next. Frankly, that pile just made me kind of want to throw up:
My alternate option was to go ahead with an idea from earlier in the week and do a special FROM FAIRY-TALES TO FPS and review this year’s HANSEL AND GRETEL: WITCH HUNTERS. A friend and I had made a trade earlier in the week: I handed over MST3K’s MANOS THE HANDS OF FATE and I received…Jeremy Renner (a modern day Torgo in his own way). I put up a firm protest about how I can’t stand looking at Jeremy Renner’s face, let alone looking at him “act”, but the Blu was shoved in my hand with adamant glee, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Like a Modern Day BORING LYNDON, I gave it two shots and fell asleep almost immediately each time. Not wanting to complete the trifecta and giving it one more chance (that I’ll sleep until 4 in the afternoon instead of getting this done), I turned to my one last alternative: NETFLIX INSTANT STREAMING!!!
The first thing that popped to mind was Brandon Routh’s DYLAN DOG which has been in my queue for months being intentionally avoided. But knowing it clocked in at like 78 minutes made it appealing for a lazy Sunday morning. But before I found Routh Dog, I came across DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS: SUPERMAN/SHAZAM!: THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM. Since its release in 2010 I had mostly avoided watching it since—MISTAKENLY!—I had assumed DCSP:S/S:TROBA (Best Abbreviation Ever!) was, like my JUSTICE LEAGUE: THE NEW FRONTIER review from a while back: a direct adaption of a graphic novel or series run. But unlike my undying love for NEW FRONTIER in all forms, I hadn’t read or much cared about cared about a SUPERMAN meets CAPTAIN MARVEL (aka SHAZAM) crossover. So this animated viewing was low on my list of priorities—like “It’s OK if I never see this before I die” low on my priorities. HOWEVER!!! It clocked in at only ONE HOUR, the perfect length for Sunday morning. YAY! Let’s be 10 years old again!
Mistake numero uno I made was assuming this was an hour long SUPERMAN/CAPTAIN MARVEL story. While I find the concept cute considering the years of litigation that eventually DC won, shutting down FAWCETT COMICS insanely popular ‘CAPTAIN MARVEL’ series in 1952 in which the courts decreed CAPTAIN MARVEL was too close an infringement of DC’s SUPERMAN. DC bought the ‘MARVEL FAMILY’ of characters in 1972 and returned them to publication. But another lawsuit–this time by MARVEL COMICS– led to CAPTAIN MARVEL having to be referred to as “SHAZAM” on all covers/promotional material, leading to a longtime confusion over his name. It’s CAPTAIN MARVEL. “SHAZAM!” is just what he has to yell to mystically summon his powers. By the 1990’s the Marvel Family was fully integrated into the DC UNIVERSE and on the rise in popularity. They even kept his awesome giant eyebrow/squinty eyes look CAPTAIN MARVEL creator/brilliant cartoonist C.C.BECK originally created him to be.
But it was evident from the start this was not going to be an hour-long SUPES/SHAZAM adventure. Nay! In fact it opens with a fun TALES FROM THE CRYPT-esque trip thru a comic store that starts with a zooming pan past BRUCE TIMM ( DC ANIMATED UNIVERSE co-creator/producer/brilliant cartoonist) who is hiding full-faced behind a comic. The camera continues to zoom through this magical store that sustains itself entirely on selling selling DC COMICS (In THIS INDUSTRY’s impending financial reckoning?!) until it ends on a spinning old-fashioned rotating drug store “spinner rack” that slowly stops and reveals what story DC COMICS SHOWCASE will be presenting. It’s pretty neat!
So, the titular short SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: RETURN OF BLACK ADAM opens the proceedings by telling an updated version of BILLY BATSON aka CAPTIAN MARVEL’s origin: Billy, a homeless newsboy, is led by a mysterious stranger to a secret subway tunnel. An odd subway car with no visible driver takes them past Seven statues depicting the Seven Deadly Enemies of Man (Pride, Envy, Greed, Hatred, Selfishness, Laziness and Injustice) to the lair of the wizard Shazam, who grants Billy the power to become the adult superhero Captain Marvel. But in this tale, Billy is a orphan runaway from FAWCETT CITY (get it?!) who has made his way to METROPOLIS where he is squatting in a building full of rats, hookers, and drug addicts—who are all his friends. How touching!
Have I mentioned this cartoon is not for kids. PG-13 for sure. From the opening LINE where a couple of making-out teens at “MAKE-OUT POINT” see what they mistake as a comet. The feller wants to get back to the lovins’, but the woman quickly comments: “It’s getting BIGGER!” The guy looks down to his crotch, stammers, and then realizes she’s talking about the comet. THE COMET THAT TURNS OUT TO BE BLACK ADAM…RETURNING!!! As promised!!! So, yeah, anyway he kills all the making out teens. And yay, the tone was set for the rest of this hour and I was ready!
But back to Billy: As it happens he has also befriended a certain mild-mannered reporter for a major metropolitan newspaper who is writing an article about Billy. That’s right, Superman has been reduced to writing puff pieces. Lucky for Billy, Clark is slowly being pushed out of the Daily Planet writing staff, because BLACK ADAM attacks just then!!!
As Billy runs for his silly life, Clark goes full Kal-El-On and engages in a MAN OF STEEL-ish fight that makes up the rest of our “story”. Unlike MAN OF STEEL thought, as the violence and destruction in the streets of Downtown Metropolis escalates, nary a citizen is in sight. Good thing everyone chose that day to be on vacation!
In the midst of all this, Billy has his “transformative” encounter with the Wizard SHAZAM, who informs Billy BLACK ADAM is the OLD Captain Marvel, but he was evil so Shazam banished him 5,000 years away from earth. Why Shazam hadn’t bothered picking another Captain Marvel in those 5,000 is a mystery left best to scholars and Rafe Guttman.
Anyway, Billy finally enters the Black Adam/Superman slugfest and attacks Black Adam AS Billy. Its only after Billy is tossed thousands of feet into his air to his presumable death that he says, “Could use a little help here, Shazam!” that he is struck by the magical lightening of the Gods that transform Billy into Captain Marvel, which after a another cute scene of trial and error he figure out the keyword: SHAZAM!
Superman and Captain Marvel beat the snot out of Black Adam for a few more minutes, until he is defeated and threatened this time with a 10,000 year expulsion. Instead of that fate, BLACK ADAM revokes his powers by yelling SHAZAM! And his 5,000 year old body immediately turns to ash. Cheery, ain’t it, kids?!
I was a little let down with the voice work in this particular short, especially by JAMES GARNER as Shazam. I was hoping for the wizened, Gandolfian performance I knew his gruff old voice could give, instead he totally Krustyied it–“Hey, Hey! Look it’s SLIDEshow Mel. Again! SIDEshow Mel. Sideshow Mel.”—and collected his check. Surprisingly, ARNOLD VOSLOO as BLACK ADAM is the one actor to give it his all. Some fine voice work from a guy who really needed and earned that check!
SHORT 2: THE SPECTRE
I’ve never liked THE SPECTRE, or “got” him or cared about him at all really. So I was ready to zone out for 15 minutes. Instead, from the opening shot establishing GARY FREAKING COLE was going to be voicing DETECTIVE JIM CORRIGAN, whose suspects are brought to justice by his alter-ego the vengeful SPECTRE, I was brought to attention. Not only that, the tone of THE SPECTRE was immediately established and a total surprise and delight: THE SPECTRE was set in 1970’s Hollywood and played like a hard-boiled pulp adventure/cop tv show complete with JON POLITO as the “You’re a loose cannon, Corrigan!” Police Chief. From the character designs to the music, it was pure 70’s charm, and if they could have characters doing blow and gotten JAMES ELLROY to write it, I’m sure they would have.
The story in a nutshell: a BURT REYNOLDs looking film producer is blown up by a bomb underneath his diving board. The cops are called in, and while not assigned to the case, but because he’s “a friend” of the dead producers daughter, CORRIGAN and the SPECTRE take matters into their own hands. An interview with the dead producers Butler comes up with security camera footage of two masked men planting the footage and the names of two long-time associates cut from the producers latest picture and both very angry about it. (Too bad the cops on the case never bothered talking to the Butler. The MITCHELL is strong in this one.)
Using this minimal, if not potentially very flimsy in a court of law evidence, THE SPECTRE sets out to ‘Seek Vengence’. First it’s on a Tom Savini-like Special Effects man. THE SPECTRE brings Savini’s monsterous creations to life and uses them to kill Savini.
Next on the list is a Hollywood Stunt Driver, who THE SPECTRE uses his own stunt car against to kill. THE SPECTRE notices the Stunt Driver was fleeing town with a suitcase full of cash.
Putting 1 +7 together to equal 2, THE SPECTRE realizes the daughter is behind the whole thing (sure?) and uses the suitcase full of cash to create a tornado of money that literally slices her apart. THE END!!! You kids all tucked in and ready for bed? Ok, just two more cartoons.
SHORT 3: THE GREEN ARROW
Ultra-rich, bleeding heart, master of the bow and arrows of all Batman Utility Belt Manner, OLIVER QUEEN aka THE GREEN ARROW has also been another DC character I never bothered regularly reading growing up. Like Marvel’s HAWKEYE, he’s just got arrows (plus he’s Jeremy Renner. Gugckkk!!!). Who cares? NEXT!
Working within the limited time constraints of this short, the creators did manage to make a fun and exciting little bit of entertaining action. Ollie is late to arriving to the airport to meet his long suffering girlfriend/superheroine THE BLACK CANARY. He’s late because a Royal Princess for Madeupnamia is landing and security is crazy tight. Eventually Ollie finds himself in the airport, unable to find his ladyfriend, and finally finding himself in a DIE HARD scenario (well, DIE HARD 2: DIE HARDER. It is in an airport, after all) as assassins begin taking out the Princess’s guards—a 10 year old Princess, BTW—and only John McCla…err…THE GREEN ARROW can save her!
So he takes out some henchmen, but MERLYN, a bow and arrow assassin of equal measure to GREENIE is also there, so they have a big ol’ arrow shoot-out. MERYLN says about 3 lines and MALCOM McDOWELL took his check directly to PayDay America.
After a pretty rad final arrow duel on a baggage cart, MERLYN is defeated and the GREEN ARROW has saved the HOLY SHIT THERE’S LIKE A MONSTER CLOAKED EVIL GUY ALL OF A SUDDEN!!! Guess he’s the Princess’ uncle, but he’s killed the Princess’ dad making her Queen, so now he’s going to kill her and rule Madeupnameia with an iron fist as KING!!! Outta nowhere, The BLACK CANARY blasts him from behind. THE END!!!
SHORT 4: JONAH HEX
Oh, JONAH HEX….Oh, JONAH, JONAH, JONAH. Do we really want to go down this road again? I guess. TOMMY JANE is voicing Hex. There’s only a few minutes left on the clock. Why not?
JONAH HEX is as straight-forward as it is brief and entertaining, unlike the complicated mess that was the JONAH HEX feature film. Basically, in a small western town of ill-repute the local Madame of the towns watering hole has made a deal with some goons and the bartender and whenever a stranger enters flaunting riches, they are immediately invited by the Madame for sexy times, but instead are killed by the goons and everyone splits the spoils.
Enter JONAH HEX. Having heard about these series of disappearances he enters the bar and quickly figures out what is up. He flaunts some cash and is immediatley approached by the Madame. (“Is it my good looks you can’t resist?” quips HEX.) Once upstairs HEX takes out her goons and knocks her out.
The Madame awakes in a underground cave surrounded by all the corpses of men she’s killed. Before she can come to her senses HEX climbs out. She screams and insists he can’t just leave her there. “Why not?” asks Hex. “You’re surrounded by everyone you know.” The lantern in the cave slowly flickers out as the Madame takes in the gruesome scene around her and her fate until it finally goes out. THE END!!!
So yes, DC Showcase Presents: SUPERMAN/SHAZAM: THE RETURN OF BLACK ADAM is was surprise and highly entertaining! It’s streaming on Netflix, so give it a look next time you have a spare hour. There is also a CATWOMAN short you can catch on Youtube that is pretty fun–and it’s very SAUCY!!! (If you’re into that kinda thing. I’m not. Just sayin’,)
Until next time, Children!