Constantine: The House of Mystery – DC Showcase Animated Shorts is a bit like if the Marvel Cinematic Universe made a Blu-ray of just all the mid-credits scenes, plus one new short film. The shorts are often the best bonus features on DC’s direct-to-video animated movies, highlighting characters who almost never get featured outside of the comics. John Constantine is a bit of an exception; a second-tier antihero popular enough to briefly anchor one TV show, regularly appear on another, and be played by Keanu Reeves in a comics-unfaithful film that some people love. But he’s probably not getting a completely solo animated feature any time soon, and a Twilight Zone-style short arguably suits him better.
At 26 minutes, House of Mystery is more than just a short, but not a feature either. So it comes packed with three recent favorites. “The Losers” originally appeared on Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1. “Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth” came with Justice Society: World War II. And “Blue Beetle” contrasted markedly in tone with its main feature, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 2. Now, those actually aren’t skippable movies. Even for the casual DC animated movie collector, those are three of the absolute best. So how many will want to rebuy them again just for a new 26-minute Constantine cartoon, and a 16-minute behind-the-scenes featurette?
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Let’s put that question aside for the moment. For review purposes, the bottom line is that the Constantine short is fun. At first it seems to be trying a bit too hard for “mature” content, as DC animated films sometimes do, by having two children coughing themselves to death while vomiting blood. We get it. You’re hardcore! But then why make a big deal of a sex scene after that, and then ensure that both characters’ underwear firmly stays on? Nudity, which we’ve all seen in our lives at some point or another, remains taboo, while blood-barfing kids are no problem. Sure, this is an expected double-standard by now, but it’s still pretty silly.
That aside, however, the premise is sound. Following the events of Apokolips War, which effectively ended the DC animated universe’s New 52 continuity, John Constantine (Matt Ryan) finds himself in what seems to be Hell. Everywhere he turns in trying to escape from a haunted house operating under Scooby-Doo animated physics, he encounters scenes from his life. Scenes he initially enjoys, before everyone in them inevitably turns into a demon and murders him. And with each death, he wakes up again at square one.
The way the story plays out almost feels perfect, except that it doesn’t really have a solid ending. Like some of the other shorts on the disc, all involved clearly hope to make more, at the expense of a fully self-contained adventure. At least some clever plot twists come before the final cliffhanger.
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With the other three shorts all clocking in at just over quarter of an hour apiece, that’s not a ton of content. But let’s recap. “Blue Beetle” plays out as a parody of ’60s cartoons, with all the deliberate “mistakes” and limited animation tricks of Hanna Barbera. Plus some meta-humor at the expense of the Question and artist Steve Ditko’s love of Objectivism and conspiracies.
“Kamandi” does as close a job as anyone has to bringing the art of Jack Kirby to life, largely due to the ripped-from-the-comics backdrops as opposed to the animated characters. The color palette and heavy linework does its best, and even as it also ends on a note that makes it feel more like a TV pilot, it’s a remarkable translation from the page. “The Losers” adapts the World War II team rather than the modern version that spawned a live-action film. And it pits them against dinosaurs and mad scientists. The B-movie vibe hits that inner-child sweet spot pretty well, even for those who care nothing about these characters.
The content of the disc is all consistently good. The problem is that if you like this sort of stuff, you already own about 70% of it. Thus the question, in the end, is how much do you pay for a 26-minute short without a proper conclusion? And if the answer’s any higher than “clearance bin,” well, go for it. Otherwise, wait until you see it there. If the idea is to provide a gateway into DC DTV animated content, just go ahead and buy The Long Halloween and Justice Society: World War II. They’re great examples of it, and 3/4 of these excellent shorts come with them too.
Grade: 4.5/5 for content, but 1/5 for value.
Recommended Purchase: DC Showcase Shorts: Constantine – The House of Mystery