Last month, between Las Cruces Comic Con and Bubonicon, my wife and I took our daughter back to college. A big part of the back-to-college ritual is the trip to the nearby big-box store to stock up on supplies for the school year. While doing that, I’ll inevitably pop into the video section to see if there’s a release I’ve missed. This year, I found Constantine: The House of Mystery. It featured Matt Ryan reprising his role of John Constantine, a character from DC and Vertigo comics. It also featured one of my other favorite DC characters, the magician Zatanna. I decided it would be worth picking up.
Upon closer inspection, I noticed the headline over the title, “DC Showcase Animated Shorts.” Sure enough, the disk proved to be an anthology of sorts, featuring a Constantine story, a Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth story, a Losers story, and a Blue Beetle story. My only complaint about this is that aside from the Constantine story, all the other stories had been released before. Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth had been released as a special feature on the Justice Society: World War II Blu-Ray I purchased a year ago. After a little digging, I found out the other two shorts included with House of Mystery had been previously released as well, but I hadn’t seen them. Still, I could imagine a fan of DC animation being disappointed that this disk contained mostly previously released material.
I like anthology movies and TV series. They provide an opportunity to sample many kinds of stories and tell tales that aren’t really suited to a full-length movie or TV series. I found many early favorite authors by watching the credits of The Twilight Zone and seeing whose stories inspired the episodes. So, given the fact that three of the four shorts on this disk were new to me, it was a nice treat. The Constantine story, House of Mystery, is set after Justice League Dark: Apokolips War. At the end of that movie, the heroes won, but Earth was left a wasteland. Sorcerer John Constantine sends the Flash on a mission to reset time so the world can be made right again. However, the godlike superhero Spectre pulls Constantine out of time and drops him into the House of Mystery. In the comics, the House of Mystery title was itself an anthology comic where people would go into the House and literally anything could and did happen. In this case, Constantine finds himself tormented by demons who take the forms of his closest friends. Constantine’s only hope is to find a way to break out of the house and break the cycle of torture and torment. His solution is well grounded in the comics. My only issue with the short is that they slightly redesigned Constantine from Apokolips War to House of Mystery and they use both versions, so it can be a little jarring when they swap back and forth.
Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth provided a good introduction to the character, which was good, since I’d never read the comic before. It opens on a post-apocalyptic Earth as our title character is trying to free his friend Prince Tuftan of the Tiger Kingdom from captivity. As they flee Tuftan’s original captives, they find themselves captured by the Gorilla Kingdom and forced to go on a quest to show which of them can earn the title of the Mighty One, a revered figure from the Gorillas’ past. The story has a nice twist ending, when the Mighty One’s identity is revealed.
Losers was a comic set during World War II. The Losers themselves are a unit of military outcasts sent on dangerous missions. In this story, they find themselves marooned on an island populated by dinosaurs. However, it turns out the dinosaurs aren’t the island’s biggest secret. Perhaps not surprisingly, the story had a lot in common with Jurassic Park. Still, there were some nice twists and turns and it made me interested in learning more about the original comic.
Aside from John Constantine, Blue Beetle was the character I knew best from his time as a member of the Justice League International, which ran in the 1980s. Blue Beetle himself is the millionaire Ted Kord who fights crime in a beetle suit and flies around in a beetle-shaped craft. In the DC universe, he’s effectively a more lighthearted version of Batman. To that end, the animated short was made to look and feel like animated cartoons of the 1960s and 70s. Blue Beetle tries to stop a diamond theft and learns that the villains plan to use the diamond in an emotion-controlling machine. It’s all a lot of fun and probably my favorite of the shorts on the disk.
All in all, I enjoyed the four shorts and would love to see more anthologies of short films from DC, but would prefer them to be all new material. If you’ve already seen the three shorts that have appeared on other disks, you may prefer to stream the Constantine short separately through your favorite service rather than buy the disk.