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When the DC Universe animated films were first announced, hardcore fanboys dreamed of their favorite obscure hero getting the focus. At last, that full-length film adaptation of Brother Power, the Geek was in sight. But the truth would be - and reasonably so - that Warner would instead commit to projects that they believed would sell to a wideaudience.

So we would get lesser-known heroes as they appeared in better-known storylines, such as Justice League: The New Frontier and the Superman/Batman adaptations. Luckily, either Sam Register or Bruce Timm had a revelation: do shorter cartoons to give the spotlight to cool ideas that might not leap off the shelf on their own. DC even had a good historical name for such a project: DC Showcase.

For the past three DC Universe releases, DC Showcase has been a welcome addition, nine or ten minute shorts giving fans a taste of The Spectre, Green Arrow and Jonah Hex, that last being far superior to the actual live-action film. Now Warner has combined those shorts into one package, adding extra scenes and one longer featurette -- Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam.

Summing up the origin of both Captain Marvel and including Superman for marketing purposes, it's a brisk cartoon that only slightly brushes up against its PG-13 rating. Sure, there's a lot of superhero brawling, and among Billy Batson's neighbors is a prostitute, even if he doesn't know that.

But it focuses on the decency of Billy Batson, his worthiness of becoming a hero, and how it reflects alongside a more established hero like Superman. The advantage of the shorter format means it doesn't ever sag or stretch for time. Instead, it leaves the viewer wanting a little more.

As usual, a lot of that comes from great voice casting. The enthusiastic Jerry O'Connell gives Captain Marvel a child-like demeanor, earnest but thrilled to suddenly be powerful. As Black Adam, Arnold Vosloo is limited, but rightfully so; the script by Michael Jelenic doesn't have time to explore the grey areas of the character. Of course, George Newbern has already earned his Superman chops through the Justice League animated series.

In the Blu-ray package, it's a reasonable price to get a lot of fun shorts. The added material to the previously released Showcases is negligible, though watching them again shows off what gems they are. Each one also has commentary from the writers, which for the fans, as always, is a plus. Bruce Timm allegedly selects four thematically connected cartoons from previous television series, but whether he does or not, they're no-brainers here.

However, for a change, one of these cartoons has not yet been released elsewhere on DVD, and isn't from the vaults of Executive Producer Timm's own work. Instead, it's an episode of the great (and still running) Batman: Brave and the Bold, guest-starring The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger. I hadn't caught this one on broadcast, so this was a treat - and though I think Gary Cole makes the ultimate Spectre, Mark Hamill offers a reminder that he's a pretty versatile voice artist.

Hopefully, this can be considered Volume One, and Warner will continue producing these shorts. We will get our Brother Power, the Geek... someday.

Just as a precautionary note for parents: while Superman/Shazam! is a soft PG-13, and Green Arrow might be okay, too, for younger viewers whose parents are fanboys, The Spectre and Jonah Hex earn their ratings. It's easy to gloss over hooking in Fawcett City, but those aren't schoolmarms in the saloon.

Derek McCaw


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