If you’ve ever dreamed of exploring the DC Universe, then the new collection of DC animated shorts, DC Showcase: Constantine – The House of Mystery, will blow you away. This disparate batch of tales takes you through multiple time periods and genres, from the dystopian world of Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, to the candy-colored 1960’s of Blue Beetle, to the wartime mash-up of The Losers, to the unimaginable horror offered by the collection’s all-new short, Constantine – The House of Mystery.
“All these shorts ended up inhabiting these different time periods and places within the DC Universe,” supervising producer Rick Morales noted. “The powers that be asked me if I would be interested in doing a few shorts. I said yes and began talking to writer Jim Krieg about it. He already had the idea to do this Constantine short, and it became clear very quickly that this would be the lynchpin short.”
Constantine – The House of Mystery picks up where the magician’s last appearance, in Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, left off, as John Constantine deals with the consequences of messing with reality.
“Krieg came up with the idea to bridge the James Tucker animated movie universe with what comes next,” says Morales. ”I didn’t work on Apokolips War, but that’s one of the reasons I brought in Matt Peters to direct. He co-directed that film, so it felt like he’s the guy the who needs to be involved.”
“I had just finished working on the Apokolips War, we thought we were all done, and then Rick approached me and asked me if I wanted to direct some Showcase shorts,” recalls the director. “One of them was John Constantine, which worked as an epilogue to the movie I just worked on.”
It’s a dark and twisted sort of epilogue, as the titular House of Mystery throws everything it has at John in what feels like a modern-day attempt at a classic sci-fi/horror tale. As Morales states, “The thing that interested me most about doing this was that it felt very much like a Twilight Zone episode. It was a contained mystery that got violent and gory.”
We won’t give away the ending, of course, but the short offers viewers a new understanding of what drives the enigmatic John Constantine.
“Constantine would never accept a reward,” says Peters. “He could never accept being happy, and the House of Mystery punishes him for it. It’s a great character study. We got an opportunity to explore the darker side and throw in some humor with that.”
Matt Peters also directed Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth, which acts as a love letter to the original Jack Kirby series.
“We tried to take stuff directly from the comic books for that one,” Morales recalls. “It took a lot of work because Kirby has a very specific way that he breaks down anatomy, that he deals with forms, and that he renders backgrounds. I wanted to have all of that present, right down to the color choices.”
As such, the creative team immersed themselves in the character’s classic comics.
“When we got to work on this film, we brought in a bunch of the old comics and laid them out,” shared Peters. “The designers were able to look at it, and the storyboard artists were able to look at it. I really got a chance to study the comic itself.”
Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth follows its title character as he goes through a series of trials in a dystopian future.
“The thing that gets me is that he’s this hopeful character in a hopeless world,” muses Peters. “There is something tragic but also uplifting about that. These characters can inspire us to focus on the better things in life, and that’s what makes them so heroic.”
The Losers, meanwhile, features a team of military outcasts battling dinosaurs on a South Pacific island—a throwback to Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier, the comic that introduced many of today’s comic readers to the team.
“It’s every little boy’s dream to make something with dinosaurs,” Morales enthuses. “In my head, when I think of the Losers, I think of New Frontier and Darwyn Cooke. I decided to go back to the Kirby look, and I had one of my favorite comic book artists, Dan Panosian, do the initial designs. It was a great pleasure to work with him on this stuff.”
The Losers was directed by Milo Neuman, who also directed the Blue Beetle short, and the two couldn’t be more different in tone. Blue Beetle is a fun send-up of 1960’s superhero cartoons, particularly one about a marvelous arachnid.
“I had a team of talented creators and had to more or less tell them, ‘Everything you’re good at, don’t do that,’” laughs Neuman. “We would turn in sequences and take out drawings anywhere we could make a weird cut. We would take organic mistakes from old cartoons and do it deliberately.”
The whole idea was conceived during a conversation, once again with writer and DC Showcase producer Jim Krieg.
“Jim Krieg said it might be fun to do a Charlton tribute,” says Neuman. “I thought if we were going to do that, since we were doing Kirby with Kamandi, we should do Steve Ditko with Blue Beetle and the Charlton characters. Then I realized if we’re going to do that, we should do it as an homage to Ralph Bakshi’s Spider-Man cartoon.”
Matt Lanter, who voices Blue Beetle, loved the bombastic homage.
“The script was really great on paper,” he shares. “I understood the tone of where we were going from that. I’ve been a fan of parody stuff my whole life. A lot of the line delivery is big and bold. Every single line is almost an announcement. I had a blast with it.”
The short pairs Blue Beetle up with the Question, who quickly gets on Beetle’s nerves.
“The Question is way too smart for him,” admits Lanter. “Blue Beetle’s intentions are in the right place, but he’s aloof. You have kind of a Watson and Sherlock Holmes thing, if Sherlock Holmes was just sort of aloof. He just doesn’t understand the Question’s intelligent thought process.”
It’s an approach to the character and material that almost certainly wouldn’t have been taken had Blue Beetle been a full-length movie rather than a short. But that’s always been the great thing about DC Showcase. The creative teams are free to experiment and take risks, with the results almost always speaking for themselves.
“We tried to make something that looks like it was done in the sixties as a pilot, then put on the shelf and lost to time,” Morales says of Blue Beetle. “It was one of the most fun projects I’ve ever done.”
DC Showcase – Constantine: The House of Mystery is now available on Blu-ray and Digital 4K.