Saturday, June 15, 2013

Seen It: Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010)

Generally, I tend to avoid animated comic book movies; not because I dislike them, but rather because they are frequently produced for younger/newer audiences who lack experience with characters, thus requiring drawn-out, modern and gritty origin stories. I was pleasantly surprised to stumble onto an animated movie, while "bagging-and-boarding" my own comic books, that avoids many of the pitfalls of other productions, both animated and live-action.

Consisting of four short films cumulatively referred to as the DC Showcase Original Shorts Collection, Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010) is a true DC Showcase compilation, giving C-listers The Spectre, Green Arrow, and Jonah Hex 12 minutes each of well-deserved exposure using top animation and voice talent. All directed by Joaquim Dos Santos, each of the four shorts possess elements to recommend them individually.Taken as a singular viewing experience, the movie offers a broad sampler of DC Comics superheroes. While some may suggest that the title and cover of the DVD are misleading, as DC Comics most recognizable superhero, it makes sense that this release promotes the presence of Superman. While theirs is the longest segment, the DVD is much more than a Supes and Shazam show.

The featured short gives the viewer DC Comics mightiest heroes, Superman and Shazam (still called "Captain Marvel" when in superhero form here--a code name no longer used in the most recent comic book appearances) as they team up to battle the Wizard's greatest enemy, Black Adam. Serving as an introduction of Captain Marvel Shazam to modern fans, Clark Kent/Superman is used as a plot device to shepherd the updated origin, while allowing the short to maintain some of Shazam's more quirky character elements (such as Mister Tawky Tawney!).

An underutilized reality regarding the Superman character is that, given its near archetypal presence in our culture and the audience's familiarity with the him, there is a comfort in having the known "commodity" introduce us to the new guy. Superman's strong presence and It is established at the onset that protagonist (and future Shazam) Billy Batson has a deep appreciation and admiration of Superman, an appreciation that in many ways mirrors that of the viewer: he knows Supes is the good guy, and so do we, so there is no need for unnecessary back story. Clark/Superman serves as an excellent counterpoint to the newbie super hero that Billy becomes by invoking the Wizard's name.

A Freddy Krueger-esque "hero," the Spectre is NOT playing!
In all four shorts, the story jumps right into the action, wasting no time with back story: what you need to know about each is revealed through their actions and dialogue--as well as the occasional narration. This is a fine example of a filmmaker using a limited amount of time to maximize development of each character, even these as unfamiliar to the audience as the three included here. DC Showcase shorts respect the viewer's ability to figure out that which is important to understanding the important character flaws and strengths without being spoon-fed them. In many ways, these shorts suggest a wiser way for superhero films to be scripted by avoiding the redundant origins and understanding that in most cases, origin stories as formal introductions offer little that is new.

Visually, each short possess a slightly different tone or mood, often expressed in the music or, as is the case with the standout short featuring the Spectre, an aesthetic: where Superman/Shazam and Green Arrow are crisp clean and sharp in their presentation, the Spectre (reflecting the 1950s noir vibe) is grainy and washed out. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay DC Showcase is that previously, though I knew who each was I had minimal interest in The Spectre or Green Arrow ( I am a Hex fanboy), but came away from this movie with a renewed interest in at the very least exploring their monthly adventures in the comic books.

Superman/Shazam!: The Return of Black Adam (2010) is available for streaming on Netflix.

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