There aren't too many shows that I'll watch as they air. No, I tend to wait for the inevitable home video release so I can watch it on my own terms. Instant gratification for the win! Unfortunately, most tend to exhibit patterns of decline, but I'm so invested in the plot and characters that I pull a Philip J. Fry, barking "Shut up and take my money!" anyway. While many major properties drop in quality, there are a few that manage to maintain a plateau of excellence, with even fewer managing to actually improve. Robot Chicken happens to fall in the latter category, which is pretty damn impressive considering its premiseâ€¦ which is to say there isn't one. Seth Green and Matthew Senreich have created a show that's little more than a senseless barrage of mini-sketches with stop-motion animation, yet I believe it's consistently been the best comedy on television. There are many who apparently feel the same way, because Stoopid Monkey (Seth and Matt's production company) has expanded into a mini-empire, a process that likely began when they formed a bond with Lucasfilm to produce a trio of Star Wars spoofs. Continuing their legacy of themed specials, the Robot Chicken crew have moved on to tackle the DC Universe with hilarious results.
By extension of its success with previous one-offs, Robot Chicken may appear to have transformed into a quick cash-in property, but only those who are unfamiliar with the show would be so dismissive. Although they've lovingly lampooned Star Wars on a regular basis, I wouldn't go as far to say that it's been their bread and b utter. I mean, the series has skewered at least half a century's worth of pop-culture since 2005, and there's virtually no end in sight. No, I'd argue the most consistent punching bag for Robot Chicken has been the superhero theme, and why not? There's a multitude of reasons why any number of them are ripe for parody, and let's be honest, some of the villains were already a borderline joke.
So, no, Robot Chicken didn't write the book on superhero parodies. Countless entertainment properties have been there and done that for decades now. Hell, some of the gags have actually come in the form of self-parody - some intentional, some not - so there's virtually no new ground to cover. Still, this collection of DC character skits are amongst the sharpest, funniest bits I've ever seen... but how did they pull it off?
Well, great comedy often comes from jokes that are relatable, and virtually everyone knows the ins and outs of superheroes, even if they've never read a single comic book. Even if you happen to be absolutely clueless about some of the obscure or less than popular characters - Mister Banjo and Aquaman immediately come to mind - Seth Green and his faithful crew of nostalgia nerds are typically wise enough to make material that's comic-noob friendly (not always, but close). That being said, there's little in this special that would leave anyone to scratch their head. For example, most of DC's 'top-billing' heroes relentlessly tease Aquaman for his near-useless power-set... because, you know, talking to tuna will only get you so far. And, you've seen The Dark Knight Rises, haven't you? Of course you have. With Batman's questionable ability to repair a broken back, Bane periodically appears to put that myth to the test... again, and again, and again... and again. Green Lantern puts himself out there as the guy you don't want coming to your funeral, Superman takes advantage of his 'kiss-and-forget' ability, and The Legion of Doom reveal themselves to be little more than a glorified Elks Club. The Stoopid Monkey crew might not be reinventing the wheel, but you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who's tackled the genre better than they have.
Of course, the best part of Robot Chicken has always been its rapid-fire delivery. Ideas are never given an opportunity to overstay their welcome, but the real genius is apparent the moment you stumble upon the rare joke that can't manage to land - Sure, you might be disappointed that your laughter has just transitioned into an awkward silence, but the next skit begins in just a few second and POOF! You've already forgotten about the prior dud. The DC Comics Special does produce a few moments of 'meh', but the rest of this extended episode is so golden, they're glossed over, if not completely forgotten when all is said and done.
Fact of the matter, is that this is Robot Chicken. The series has only shown signs of improving over the years, and those skills have been put to good use here - The DC Comics Special proves to be a strong package that's both what we expect from the show - that is, a pleasingly disjointed experience - while also tossing in some recurring jokes that only get better as the runtime dwindles. If you're a fan of the show, there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't get multiple viewings out of this release. If you haven't exposed yourself to Robot Chicken just yet - and I don't know why you wouldn't have - then this is the perfect showcase for you to see what all the hubbub's about. I can almost guarantee you'll enjoy Seth's endless supply of voices, while perhaps having even more fun by recognizing some of the big name stars that participate in this 'super' episode (Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, Alex Borstein, and Megan Fox just to name a few).
Robot Chicken is moving on up! The fifth season was presented at 1080i, but the DC Comics Special has been given a 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer (1.78:1). The difference between the previous season release and this one-off are pretty negligible however, but that's not a bad thing. Honestly, there's very few issues to speak - There are moments of banding and even some digital artifacting, but the offenses are few and far between enough that it's easily forgivable... especially considering you most likely would have had the same compression issues viewing through your choked digital cable box. It's also worth noting that once in a while there's some minor flickering, but that's most likely a result of the stop-motion animation process. Other than that, the details of the action figures, dolls, and models used are absolutely immaculate. Black levels are solid and contrast brilliantly allows the bold colors seen at any given moment to spring to life. Although this release isn't perfect, it's most certainly better than broadcast and any fan of Robot Chicken who doesn't have unrealistic expectations should walk away quite satisfied.
The 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track here isn't exactly an immersive experience, but let's be real here - This is a television show and to assume it would have been given some sort of theatrical Hollywood treatment would be silly. One word that can be used to describe what we have here, is 'faithful' in regards to the source elements. The sound is spaced out impressively enough throughout the front channels, with dialogue remaining easy to understand from beginning to end, although it can sound slightly on the harsh side from time to time. Again though, this is most likely a result of the source and not a fault of the encode. The LFE actually gives a better response than I expected it to at times, but for the most part it's kind of shallow unless the scene really calls for something 'big'. There's some low level environmental effects in the rears, but it's nothing that's going to help envelope you and make you feel like you're part of the wacky skits you'll be watching. That being said though, again, this is a faithful representation of the source and fans should be content with what's been offered.
Some people might want to balk over shelling money out for a single episode, but Robot Chicken has quickly gained a reputation for being worth the coin anyway. Why? Because they don't skimp on the supplements. For a measly 21 minute special, there's a lot that's being packed under this disc's cape, but don't take my word for it. Take a look at what's being offered:
-DC Entertainment Tour
-Stoopid alter Egos
Yes, you read correctly - There are two commentary tracks. The actors take on recording for the DC Comics Special is a blast, but the writers provide a more engaging experience, as they offer their experience growing up with DC comics. Watching Seth Green and Matt Seinreich go through DC Entertainment was fun, and to my surprise, quite a bit more than watching them joke around with George Lucas. Stoopid Alter Egos showcases the creators and cast at the premiere, as they had shown up in costume (as superheroes, duh). The outtakes and deleted sketches were really nothing special though, and I'm glad they didn't make the final cut. 5.2 Questions is really just Seth and Matt showing off their insane amount of DC Universe knowledge. Pretty impressive, no? Any fan of the series should be happy to fork over the dough for this stand-alone release.
For me, it's a nerve-wracking experience to continue watching a show that's only gotten better over the years. After all, it has to lose some steam at some point, right? Well, Robot Chicken - The DC Comics Special manages to proudly continue the uptick in quality that fans have come to expect. I think if I was able to handpick my favorite bits from the first 6 seasons, I'd probably be able to come up with a half-hour program that's stronger than this, but I'd have to think long and hard before being able to make up my mind. The series has always been at its best while picking on superheroes, so it's great to see Seth Green and Matthew Seinreich, amongst others, finally go all in for this memorable special. For those who are nervous about spending their hard earned money on a one-off release... don't be. The studio isn't accustomed to delivering their specials in the season releases. if that's not a good enough reason, just consider the more than marginal improvement in the A/V department, as well as the extensive list of extras on hand. I'd like to leave you with something wittier, but I just can't help myself - This is a 'super' release. Highly Recommended.