A sizable crowd gathered at Long Beach Comic-Con to be the first to watch”Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam.” Part of the “DC Showcase Animated Shorts Collection,” out November 9 and executive produced by Bruce Timm, “Black Adam” is the centerpiece of the collection.
Moderator Gary Miereanu warmed up the crowd by giving them a sneak peek at another short in the showcase, “Jonah Hex.” Actor Thomas Jane, who voiced Hex, came onstage to introduce the animation.
“There’re a few great characters out there, and [Jonah Hex] is one of them,” said Jane. “I’m honored to bring my version of Jonah Hex to life.”
“Jonah Hex” is an 11-minute short written by Joe Lansdale. It follows Hex as he rides into a dusty western town in order to stop a murdering Madame voiced by Linda Hamilton from preying on traveling cowboys. The animation’s dark tone tickled the audience’s fancy as they laughed at Hex’s terse exchanges and applauded while he took out the bad guys.
Miereanu then brought “Black Adam” writer Michael Jelenic onstage for a brief Q&A session prior to the short.
“What’s the genesis for this story?” asked Miereanu.
“When they decided to do these short showcases they needed one character who could almost support his own film,” answered Jelenic. “Captain Marvel was that character.”
Since Bruce Timm had already done a big Shazam showpiece on the animated Justice League series, Jelenic wanted to make sure “Black Adam” was not just a copy of that tale. “This is the story of Billy Batson getting his powers, and he has two choices to make. He can use that power, or he can use it wisely,” said Jelenic. “Superman represents the angel of good, Black Adam represents the abuse of power. We built the story around that.”
“Is it a battle for Billy’s soul?” asked Miereanu.
“That’s exactly what this movie is,” replied Jelenic. “It’s ultimately why the wizard Shazam chose Billy for these powers.”
Jelenic said his biggest challenge was writing the fight scenes between Superman, Captain Marvel and Black Adam as they all had similar powers. Miereanu and Jelenic also praised the voice cast. “To be able to say, I wrote something that [James Garner] performed is pretty cool!” said Jelenic.
“Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam” begins with the orphaned, yet cheerfully outgoing Billy Batson (Zach Callison) living by himself in the inner city. Billy possesses a strong sense of justice, though he is powerless to stop the mugging of a homeless man named Tawny (Kevin Michael Richardson). While meeting with Clark Kent (George Newbern) to do a story on foster children, they are interrupted by Black Adam (Arnold Vosloo), who is intent on harming Billy. Just as it seems Black Adam will succeed, Billy is transported to a magical cave where the wizard Shazam, voiced by James Garner, gives Billy superpowers.
The action takes off once Billy uses his power to transform into Captain Marvel (Jerry O’Connell) and Superman joins the fight. Ultimately, Billy must make a choice: will he throw away his humanity and embrace his power like Black Adam or become a force for good like Superman?
Funny and surprisingly sophisticated, “Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam” was clearly the audience’s favorite. While capturing the light tone of the original comic, Jelenic’s script successfully infused complicated moral questions into the 22-minute short. The audience appeared to love the film’s tongue-in-cheek humor, cracking up at moments such as when Billy innocently feeds the rats infesting his apartment. Richardson’s performance as Tawny had viewers in stitches, as did O’Connell’s turn as a childish Captain Marvel. Billy’s first transformation was met with ringing applause and the fight scenes, though simple, engaged the crowd with people audibly cheering or groaning as Captain Marvel, Superman and Back Adam traded punches.
The “DC Showcase Animated Shorts Collection” also includes “The Spectre” by Steve Niles and “Green Arrow” by Greg Weisman; it will be released by Warner Home Video November 9 on Blu-ray, DVD, On Demand, and for download.