Part of the point of these shorts is to shed light on DC characters who otherwise don’t get as much attention. It also seems to be about having fun with different stories and different styles, having the freedom to play a bit without having to commit to a full-length film. Honestly, I feel like everyone who worked on these shorts, from the directors to the writers to the animators to the actors, was having a great time. The enjoyment is palpable on the screen, and it helped me have a great time while watching. Seriously, all four of these shorts are so much fun.
I’ll admit, I was a little wary about the first one. I was excited, of course, to find that Constantine is voiced by Matt Ryan, who plays him in the Arrowverse; however, I didn’t know if that meant that this short—or perhaps all of them—would directly tie in with the Arrowverse, like they did with Vixen a few years ago. I’m woefully behind on all my CW shows, so I was worried I might be lost—or possibly spoiled once I finally do catch up.
Worry not, though. House of Mystery isn’t at all Arrowverse-adjacent. It is, however, apparently a follow-up to the recent DC Universe Animated Film, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, which I also haven’t seen. Still, everything you need to know is covered in the first couple of minutes. As for spoilers… Yeah, probably, but I’ll live.
Which is more than Constantine seems to be able to do. Cursed for certain spoilery acts in Apokolips War, he’s punished for his crimes by being trapped in the House of Mystery. There, he’s surrounded by family and friends—who proceed to turn into demons and murder him (then resurrect him) over and over and over again. It’s worth noting that the collection of shorts as a whole is rated R, and Constantine is the main reason why. Animated though they may be, the deaths get pretty gruesome. Still, it’s a great story, and one worthy of Constantine.
As a side note, apparently, House of Mystery comes from a horror anthology comic published by DC starting in the 1950s. It featured a house wherein all manner of strange and supernatural things would happen each issue. The events depicted here definitely qualify.
After Constantine, the next short is Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth. I wasn’t familiar with him previously (which, as I mentioned earlier, I believe is part of the point of these shorts), but he was evidently a creation of Jack Kirby in the early '70s. As such, the short is done in the style of a Jack Kirby comic from the 1970s. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the world is full of strange creatures and bizarre landscapes, and it’s clear the animators paid great attention to detail in creating this Kirby tribute.
After humanity is wiped out by some disaster, Kamandi is the last human left alive—but he's far from alone. The world is now populated by a wide and colorful variety of intelligent animals, who put Kamandi and his friends through a series of difficult and dangerous tests, to determine who among them is worthy of—well, you’ll just have to watch it for yourself.
Next up is The Losers. There was a Losers movie a few years ago. This is different, though. I’ve seen and enjoyed the movie, and was vaguely aware that it was based on a DC comic; however, what I didn’t realize is that the Vertigo comic on which it’s based was, in fact, a reboot of an earlier comic, set in World War II. This short is based on that original comic and done in an incredible 1940s animation style.
The story involves a rift in time and space which forces the Losers team to fight dinosaurs. It’s also a bit on the violent side, but still tremendous fun to watch. Plus, it features a character voiced by Ming-Na Wen, which scores automatic points in my book.
But without a doubt, my favorite of all the shorts is the final one: Blue Beetle. It’s done in the style of the cheesy 1960s cartoons, complete with cheesy '60s animation, cheesy '60s sound effects, cheesy '60s dialogue, and even a cheesy '60s theme song.
When a valuable diamond is stolen by a group of costumed criminals, detective/crimefighter the Blue Beetle has to track them down, with the help of insufferable know-it-all The Question. The whole thing is glorious. If they ever decide to expand this into a full Blue Beetle movie, I will be first in line to see it. (As a bonus, Blue Beetle is voiced by Matt Lanter, from the criminally underrated Timeless.)
It also helps, on Blue Beetle, that one of the writers is Jeremy Adams. If you look at some of the other DC Animated films that I’ve raved about in the past, from Batman: Soul of the Dragon to Teen Titans Go! Vs. Teen Titans to LEGO Shazam, Jeremy Adams was often one of the creative minds behind them. I’ve really come to enjoy and look forward to his work.
Sadly, the Blu-ray for this collection has only one special feature on it: a brief making-of featurette that encompasses all four shorts. It’s fascinating to watch, though. It includes interviews with various members of the production team, talking about where the inspiration for these shorts came from, as well as the care and effort that went into creating the unique visual style for each. I only wish there could have been more, to go into greater depth.
Four shorts, shedding light on four very different characters, and told in four very different ways. All of them are great and a ton of fun to watch. In several cases, I went from, “I’ve never heard of this character/title” to “I love and want to know more about this character and their comic immediately,” in the space of under 20 minutes. The ability of a film to do that is a perfect illustration of why #StoriesMatter.
Creative Team: Matt Peters (director, Constantine – The House of Mystery and Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth), Milo Neuman (director, The Losers and Blue Beetle), Jeremy Adams and Jennifer Keene (writers, Blue Beetle), Tim Sheridan (writer, The Losers), Paul Giacoppo (writer, Kamandi – The Last Boy on Earth), and Ernie Altbacker (writer, Constantine – The House of Mystery)
Released By: Warner Brothers Animation
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