Rule of Three!
Robot Chicken DC Comics Special
Robot Chicken is a show that I don't really think about much anymore. Although the show is technically still going, I haven't watched any of it since Season 6 (and even that was just a few random sketches I saw Online). The show is one of those series that you know exists, remember seeing at one point or another, but it really doesn't feel like something you go out of your way to track down. It's better suited the YouTube era at this point than actually seeing it on broadcast TV. It's not appointment viewing, but occasionally you just want a couple of minutes of crass humor before you go off to watch something else.
If you haven't see Robot Chicken before, it's a sketch comedy show that, at least at the start, used toys to tell its crass and raunchy pop-culture sketches. It'd have jokes like He-Man on the prowl falling into bed with Skeletor, and then Skeletor getting the wrong idea and thinking he was in a romance with He-Man but He-Man was just drunk. And then someone would vomit, or there would be (censored) nudity, or something. And characters would die. Every sketch usually ended in something bloody, or racist, or sexist, or all of the above. But it is legitimately hilarious, especially for just the pure shock value of it all.
As the series evolved over its (now) ten seasons (and counting) the use of toys specifically was swapped for a lot of clay maquettes based on said toys, which gave more flexibility and poseability for the characters. Their targets broadened, more and more pop-culture targets were brought in, and the show grew in popularity. But there was also this feeling, after sitting down for a stint watching the show, that you had to pull away. I've said, more than one, "what the hell did I just watch," after a binge of even a couple of episodes. I've felt dirty after, and I think that was why I stopped watching. It's great to see a couple of sketches of the show, but after 15 minutes (for the length of one of its short episodes) or especially if you watch a set of shows off a DVD, you really need a shower after just to feel clean.
While I stopped watching the main show a while ago, I did keep up with a few of the specials they produced after. These shows, usually aired during breaks in the main series, would focus on a single topic and satirize it even further than the main show could do. While the main episodes weren't above running gags, these either had to be developed over the course of multiple short episodes (which meant only the hardcore fans could get them), or they'd have to be setup, and paid off, very quickly for them to work in a single set of sketches. The specials, though, were double-length (at least) and had more time to breathe. They were, in a way, the perfect distillation of Robot Chicken: just long enough to really pay off the humorous setups of jokes but not so long that you needed to cleanse your brain with bleach after.
Although the show started its run of specials with a trio of Star WarsThe modern blockbuster: it's a concept so commonplace now we don't even think about the fact that before the end of the 1970s, this kind of movie -- huge spectacles, big action, massive budgets -- wasn't really made. That all changed, though, with Star Wars, a series of films that were big on spectacle (and even bigger on profits). A hero's journey set against a sci-fi backdrop, nothing like this series had ever really been done before, and then Hollywood was never the same. specials (and we will cover those eventually on this site), I happen to think the show really hit its stride in this format when it turned its sights towards DC ComicsOne of the two biggest comic publishing companies in the world (and, depending on what big events are going on, the number one company), DC Comics is the home of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and just about every big superhero introduced in the 1930s and 1940s.. When the special came out, the Saga in a Galaxy Far, Far Away had the six movies that were ripe for targeting, but most people didn't know the ins and outs of that franchise's continuity enough to really get all the side characters and weirdness that went with it. The show had to tread a thin line from looking to ridiculous and, presumably, there was a lot of content Lucasfilm simply wouldn't let them play with. While I'm sure DC was protective of some stuff with their characters and this special, there is so much bizarre content in the DC Universe that the comic maker is proud of, and likes to show off, that Robot Chicken could have an absolute field day while still coloring within the lines.
That's how we get this first special, the Robot Chicken DC Comics Special, which goes to a lot of strange and wonderful places as it pokes all kind of stupid fun at DC's long running history. As it's a double-length episode, the show has time to let a few different plot lines breathe. The primary story, such as it is, focuses on the Justice LeagueThe premiere team at DC Comics, their version of the Avengers (which actually came before the Avengers and, really, has existed in some fomr since the early 1940s), the Justice League is the team-up to end all team-ups, featuring some of the most popular, and longest running, characters in all of comics history (and also Booster Gold). and their mistreatment of poor AquamanRaised by his fully-human father, Arthur Curry has a history even he didn't know about until he grew: that he was the half-human, half-Atlantean son of the once-Queen of Atlantis, and was destined one day to be it's rightful ruler, the Aquaman.. Bearing in mind this came out before the DC Extended UniverseStarted as DC Comics' answer to the MCU, the early films in the franchise stumbled out of the gates, often mired in grim-dark storytelling and the rushed need to get this franchise started. Eventually, though, the films began to even out, becoming better as they went along. Still, this franchise has a long way to go before it's true completion for Marvel's universe. made Aquaman fairly cool, this special takes the version of the character we knew back them: they guy that went for swims and talked to fish. While he did have his own long-running comic and some pretty cool adventures, most of the dangers in comics happened on land, or in the sky, or in space. Despite the Earth being 70 percent covered in water, not that much happened in the oceans. So Aquaman is the butt of many jokes because no one likes the poor guy.
Meanwhile we also have a few other running gags. There's BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. constantly getting his back broken by Bane (as famously happened in the mis-1990s run of the Bat). We also have SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. rediscovering his power to make Lois forget he's both Superman and Clark Kent (as he did in Superman II), and then using that power on his various villains (to hilarious effect). And there's the running gag pointing out the worst of the "Real Heroes of the DC Universe" (poor Firestorm). Oh, and Lex Luthor gets hit in the face more than once by a kickball, which is way funnier than it sounds.
This special does a pretty solid job of balancing out the true weirdness of the DC Universe, like all the various side character and C-list villains, against stories focused on the main heroes that everyone knows. While you don't get some truly deep-cut characters like Condiment King or Polka-Dot Man (I think we have to wait for the next special, or maybe the Lego Batman Movie for that material), we do still get plenty of appearances from character you may not have even realized were in the DC Universe. There's a lot of dumb characters from the Golden and Silver ages of comics that this special lets us see and enjoy.
At the same time, the show manages to tread that fine like between crass and gratuitous without go too far over the line. The show has been known to go to some truly horrible places (three words: magical unicorn mayonnaise) but this show is actually fairly controlled. The worst is a bit of poop humor about Two-Face (that actually felt pretty in character for the guy) and the customary level of gore you expect from Robot Chicken. It's outlandish but not so far over-the-top that you feel absolutely disgusted after finishing the special.
It honestly wouldn't surprise me if DC stepped in during development and asked for just a little bit of editorial approval as part of the deal to make this special (which DC's branding and logos included). If they did, it was a light hand, keeping the show just far enough within the lines to not offend any DC fans too much. It's the right balance (something the show doesn't traditionally care much about) and it works here. Maybe that could have led to some fans thinking the show pulled its punches, but I appreciated that the show found that proper balance here.
End of the day, though, it is Robot Chicken. If you like this kind of humor, and are amused at the idea of Superman kissing all his villains to make them docile, or Aquaman getting pushed so far by is so-called friends that he decides to join the Injustice Society (who, even then, think he's too big of a loser to be worth joining their ranks), then this show will be perfect for you. For everyone else, there are other DC works that might suit your fancy a lot more. When it comes to Robot Chicken you know exactly what you're signing up for, good or bad, and this special is exactly what you'd expect. It's among the best the show has produced, with the right tone and humor, but that might not be enough for some viewers to want to stick around for all this special has to offer.