Released this week from WaterTower Music is The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 on CD and digital formats, with a double vinyl album coming soon for all you Jack Whites out there.
This follow-up to 2010’s The Music of DC Comics: 75th Anniversary Collection celebrates the ongoing musical heritage of DC Comics in every medium except — ironically — comics. The 29-track compilation features recordings from a variety of movies, TV series, video games and radio shows dating back to 1940 and starring the likes of Superman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Metamorpho, etc.
Does it stack up to volume 1? Is it a collection for everyone’s ears or just those pointy bat ears of the most hardcore fans? And who the hell is Metamorpho anyway?! Let’s dive in and find out.
Neal Hefti’s “Batman ’66” earworm turns up here as it did in volume 1, but otherwise volume 2 is all-new. Following the example of its predecessor, this eclectic mix runs the gamut from classic un-ironic kitsch (“Joker is Wild” by Sun Ra and the Blues Project) to modern wink wink, nudge nudge kitsch (“The Ballad of Batman” from The Brave and the Bold), only more so. As bizarre as the first album’s music was for The Plastic Man Comedy Adventure Show, it’s nothing compared to this album’s Rat Pack-like roll call in “The Theme of The Justice League of America”. It’s difficult to hear swinging lyrics such as…
Here they come. Look out, chum. It’s the Justice League!
…without picturing Sinatra and Sammy in primary colored tights.
Some of the compilation’s more interesting tracks stem from DC’s earliest exploits beyond the comic book page. It’s a joy to return to those thrilling days of yesteryear via the opening narration of Superman’s radio show, as well as the Batman and Robin movie serial, both from the 1940s. Even 1958’s The Adventures of Super Pup is fascinating to hear, if only to make one aware that there actually was a television series (a pilot episode anyway) called The Adventures of Super Pup.
If decades-old novelty tunes and radio dramas aren’t your bag, then you can shuffle your iPod to more modern fare. The current crop of DC Comics’ (**) TV adaptations are all here – The Flash, Arrow, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow – and all composed by Blake Neely. His Flash score in particular is excellent, appropriately conveying heroic urgency wrapped in a sci-fi melody. It’s much better than the score to the Scarlet Speedster’s original series from 1990. Composer Danny Elfman’s main theme for that show sounds 70% like his main theme for Batman: The Animated Series (also included here), which sounds 90% like his main theme for the Burton Batman films. Luckily we only had to listen to it for one season.
And then there’s Metamorpho, the ex-soldier of fortune who can morph his body into the Periodic Table of Elements. Seriously. Musician Arthur Korb’s 1966 song is as weird as Metamorpho himself, whose odd-even-for-comics origin is detailed in the lyrics:
Trapped in a pyramid he saw a light.
It came from a glowing meteorite.
Shooting cosmic rays
stronger than the sun
through his body and brain
and when it was done
there (where?) there (where?) there…
stood the Element Man!
To quote DC rival Stan Lee — ‘nuff said.
Like most musical compilations with wide-reaching tastes, there are some misfires. The over-produced pop tune “Get Your Cape On” comes to mind. Ditto for the industrial noise that is “Fight Night” from Batman v Superman. Hans Zimmer, the maestro of that ditty, is much better represented by his Man of Steel entry, the inspiring contemplative “What Are you Going to Do when you’re Not Saving the World?”
In the end, The Music of DC Comics: Volume 2 is a bit of a mixed bag, though mixed more with good then bad. For every re-playable John Williams cut, there’s the disco dirge of Wonder Woman’s 1970s TV theme. Or a lounge-era love ballad devoted to her. (***) These are fun to hear once or twice, but not worthy of being on repeat mode.
Except of course for “Metamorpho”.
He’ll change into copper, cobalt or tin.
Rearrange his molecules just like that.
Become anything he’d like at the drop of a hat.
(*) Despite what the cover art may lead you to believe, Green Lantern and Cyborg do not appear in volume 2.
(**) The DC in DC Comics stands for Detective Comics, which means that the company’s full name is Detective Comics Comics. That’s a bit redundant, isn’t it? It’s right up there with Boutros Boutros-Ghali, Walla Walla Washington and shrimp scampi. (Scampi is Italian for shrimp.)
(***) Hopefully Wonder Woman’s upcoming solo film treats her better musically than the ‘60s and ‘70s did. Or Batman v Superman, for that matter. A centuries-old Amazon warrior with origins rooted in Greek myth deserves a leitmotif that reflects her background. Something bold and timeless with lyres and choral singers. Not the grating electric guitar that we got, which reflects director Zack Snyder’s rock video visuals more than it does the character. Diana’s a princess. She deserves better.