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Robot Chicken DC Comics Special

(2012) *** Unrated
23 min. Cartoon Network. Director: Seth Green. Cast: Nathan Fillion, Abraham Benrubi, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Alfred Molina, Breckin Meyer, Megan Fox, Neil Patrick Harris, Paul Reubens, Tara Strong.

/content/films/4539/1.jpgLook, I have to be honest. I am a part of the target audience of Robot Chicken DC Comics Special. Robot Chicken creators Seth Green and Matthew Senreich were both born the same year I was, and our cultural touchstones are much the same. And if for Green and Senreich Star Wars was their main obsession as boys, for me it was Batman and the DC Universe. With Cartoon Network and DC Comics both being TimeWarner companies, this particular brand of synergy was inevitable. Though there are more modern references about, Robot Chicken DC Comics Special takes its cues mainly from the cartoon Challenge of the Super Friends, circa 1979, and Mego's "World's Greatest Superheroes!" 8-inch doll line available at the time.

Robot Chicken is "blackout comedy" for the Comic-Con set, the nerd's Laugh-In, stop-motion animated for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim. Most episodes run eleven to twelve minutes, so this twenty-three minute outing qualifies as a double-wide special. Everything about the RDDC shows a deep familiarity with DC's pop-culture history, from the Challenge of the Superfriends opening-title pastiche to the checkerboard pattern atop the home-video release's cover. The depth of DC knowledge also becomes a running joke within the special, with a series of "Real Characters from the DC Universe" that includes the obscure villain Mister Banjo (hilariously voiced by Alfred Molina). There's only one notable "screw-up," visible when Two-Face (Neil Patrick Harris) drops his pants in a bathroom stall to reveal an inexplicably scarred leg (look, I've already confessed I'm a nerd, okay?). Toilet humor like that sketch finds Robot Chicken at its worst, but blackout comedy tends to be, in its nature, hit and miss, and the special more often hits than misses.

There is a storyline woven through the special, involving Aquaman (Green) being the Rodney Dangerfield of the DCU. He gets no respect, to the point where he just may defect to the Legion of Doom. The half-hour incorporates a large cast of heroes and villains: Superman (Breckin Meyer), Batman (Green), Wonder Woman (Alex Borstein), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Flash (Senreich), Cyborg (Abraham Benrubi), Martian Manhunter (Green), Lex Luthor (Molina), Brainiac (Senreich), Black Manta (Harris), Captain Cold (Tom Root), Sinestro (Zeb Wells), Mr. Freeze (Fillion), Solomon Grundy (Benrubi), Toyman (Green), Two-Face (Harris), Giganta (Borstein), Scarecrow (Green), The Riddler (Paul Reubens), Mirror Master (Meyer), Catwoman (Borstein), Gorilla Grodd (Green) and the aforementioned Mister Banjo. Miscellaneous characters include sad-sack Legion of Doom intern Glenn (Aaron Paul) and Robot Chicken regular The Nerd (Green), who here acquires the power of the Green Lantern.

The best sketch rounds up Mister Freeze, Captain Cold, Icicle, and Chillblaine to have some fun with the plethora of cold-themed DC villains. That sketch riffs particularly on the '60s Batman show and the movie Batman and Robin in its gag about how any unveiling of a diamond will inevitably be followed by a cold-themed supervillain making a grand entrance. Another sketch cleverly pursues the logical conclusions of Superman II's goofy super-kiss (hint: Lex Luthor better break out the Chapstick), incorporating a jaw-dropping musical cameo. Then there's a tonally perfect deconstruction of the mostly forgotten '80s characters Captain Carrot and the Amazing Zoo Crew, cartoony heroes that don't seem to belong in the DCU. It's all in good fun, and buzzy to boot: Green just nabbed an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for the special, and the sequel—Robot Chicken DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise—was just announced at Comic-Con.

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1

Street date: 7/9/2013

Distributor: Warner Home Video

One tends to look askance at a home-video release with a feature that's only 23 minutes long, but for those who crave bonus features (and surely that must include most Robot Chicken fans), the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special home-video release will be worth every penny. And if you're a Blu-ray devotee/hi-def junkie, the Blu-ray is obviously the way to go. Picture quality is on par with other Warner animated releases: aside from a bit of inoffensive banding and aliasing that's hardly noticeable, the picture pleases, with its sharpness and lively color. Well-calibrated contrast and black level also contribute to an overall impression of rock-solidness. This is not a feature that demands a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround mix, but then again, why not? The presentation maximizes the source material, but that source material is designed to be almost entirely front and center: it's all about the talk, people. Still, that talk is, well, super-clear.

And now, the extras. The disc offers numerous enhanced ways to watch the special. As with previous releases, there's Chicken Nuggets (HD) mode, by which you can watch the episode and, when seeing an icon, click for access to sketch-specific video commentary. You can also elect to watch the episode with Writers' Commentary by Geoff Johns, Tom Root, Zeb Wells, Mike Fasolo, Matt Beans and Kevin Shinick or Actors' Commentary with Matthew Senreich, Abraham Benrubi, Alfred Molina, Tom Root and Seth Green. As the disc's packaging jokes, "Hear what the actors have to say about the show! You probably won't have time to listen to the writers..." Admittedly, it's more of a hoot to hear from Molina than anyone else here (and, amazingly, it's his first commentary!), but die-hard fans will want to listen to both tracks.

"The Making of the RCDC Special" (10:15, HD) resembles previous Robot Chicken behind-the-scenes featurettes. We hear plenty from the creators and writing staff, and see animators and voice talent at work.

"RCDC's Aquaman Origin Story" (1:27, HD) isn't a bonus short film (aww...). Rather, it allows DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns, head writer/executive producer Doug Goldstein and writer Zeb Wells to explain how Aquaman became the narrative focus of the special.

In "DC Entertainment Tour" (7:16, HD), Johns gives Green and Senreich a tour of DC's West Coast office. DC fans will be fascinated to see the offices, the archive of all DC comics publications (neat-o), and the product-line stash of toys and such, which Green and Senreich gleefully, shamelessly raid.

"Stoopid Alter Egos" (3:46, HD) is a montage of Robot Chicken employees creating their costumes for the show's wrap party, debuting them on Hollywood Blvd, and the party itself. Y'know, cosplay.

"Outtakes" (2:01, HD) gives a glimpse of the voice actors—specifically Nathan Fillion, Neil Patrick Harris, Alex Borstein, Molina, Benrubi, Root, Green, Breckin Meyer, Wells, and Tara Strong—flubbing lines and cutting up in the studio.

Fourteen "Cut Sketches" (15:15, HD)—with explanatory (or defensive or apologetic) intros from the writers—include "Deadman Waits for No One," "Teen Titans Prom," "Ice Cream Headache," "Booster Gold's Politics Are... Complex," "Joker Phone Call," "Black Manta Helmet," "Etrigan Orange Rhyme," "Hawkman Birdman Elevator," "Hourman Runner," "Red Tornado," "Captain Boomerang Gives Up," "Mister Terrific Golf" and "The Spectre Gets a Smartphone."

"5.2 Questions" (2:13, HD) is a DC web feature ported over to this home-video release. This installment finds Geoff Johns, Matthew Senreich and Seth Green answering the titular questions. In this case, they cover favorite hero, favorite villain, favorite thing about Aquaman, which power ring they would choose, which one graphic novel they would recommend, favorite midnight snack, and Thunderbirds or Gumby.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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