Synopsis: Set in the 1970s, the short follows young adult Jess as she joins her friends at a party in a dilapidated mansion hosted by the mysterious Seth. When odd things begin to happen to Jess and her friends, the Phantom Stranger intervenes to save her from a dreary fate. Peter Serafinowicz (The Tick) gives voice to The Phantom Stranger, and Michael Rosenbaum (Smallville, Justice League) provides the voice of Seth. Natalie Lander, Grey Griffin and Roger Craig Smith also lend their vocal talents to the short. The Phantom Stranger has Bruce Timm (Batman: The Killing Joke) at the helm as executive producer & director, and the short is written by Ernie Altbacker (Teen Titans: The Judas Contract).
Runtime: Appr. 15 minutes
Animation Studio: Not provided
While it might not hit the highs of Death, the 15-minute DC Showcase animated short The Phantom Stranger is a fun watch, even if it ends up being a little more style over substance. Taking place in the 1970s, it's a pretty simple story of some young stoners who, through no real fault of their own, end up getting over their heads in some mystical mischief. Despite attempting to steer them away from danger, The Phantom Stranger soon finds he might not be able to save them. As I said, the set-up and execution is fairly basic, there's nothing really surprising here, but the overall look and feel of the short, along with strong performances from the cast, elevates the material enough to make it a worthwhile watch.
Please note this mini-review will be as light on spoilers as possible.
While the story won't leave any real lasting impact, the visual work on this short is truly memorable. The animation for this short is mostly on point, save for the occasional bits of jerky or stilted character movements, but the design work here is fantastic. Fans of Bruce Timm's style will find plenty to enjoy here. Characters look like they've stepped right out of a 1970s cartoon, and The Phantom Stranger is about as "Timm" as you can get, and the effects used in some of the more psychedelic moments and action beats are pulled off really well. And it's clear the creative team really did their homework to make sure everything here felt authentic and as accurate-as-possible to the era. Seeing this type of design work pop back up, and especially to see it applied to some novel characters and situations, is a pretty refreshing change from the semi-regular work from DC Comics' recent animated projects (not that I'm complaining).
DC Showcase: The Phantom Stranger is fun, albeit a little slight, but is able to keep things from going stale with fantastic visuals and solid pace. This short likely won't garner as much of a response compared to the others in this second wave of DC Showcase shorts, but it's no slouch. It's enjoyable, totally, even if it's a little light, but the clear work put in by the creative team to make sure it looks and feels authentic, and that it all serves the story, is impressive. There's a host of neat little background details scattered throughout that'll warn viewers that things are not on the up-and-up. Plus there's some nods here and there that long-time comic fans should pick up on. It may not be the best effort in the DC Showcase line, but it's still a pretty groovy time. Recommended!