- The Washington Times - Friday, January 7, 2005

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

‘Catwoman’ (Warner Home Video, $27.99)

Warner Bros.’ attempts last year to cash in on the comic-book-movie craze by bringing a legendary DC Comics villainess to the big screen in her own film came up painfully short on story and box-office receipts.

This bare-bones DVD release should help cover the film’s production costs but offers little to fans of the feline fatale and her struggles with the Dark Knight.

Basically, Halle Berry looks great in tattered leather. Did I mention that Halle Berry looks great in tattered leather? That pretty much sums up a movie paying little reverence to Catwoman’s origins and the sequential-art universe she normally resides in.

By comparison, the DVD extras — or rather one of the extras — showed promise.

The 30-minute “Many Faces of Catwoman” featurette nearly hits the mark as Eartha Kitt (one of the Catwomen from the 1960s television series), with her famed “rolling R” speech inflection, explores the many sequential-art and onscreen interpretations of the character. Added commentary abounds by such pop-culture dignitaries as Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Adrienne Barbeau, Adam West and a smattering of sequential-art luminaries.

For almost 23 minutes, I was enthralled with juxtapositions of comic books, live action and memories found within the feature. Then I was hit with the film marketing blitz, which magically transformed a fascinating historical documentary into promotional pablum for a subpar film.

Warner Bros. could have easily embellished this DVD debacle with at least an optional commentary track, virtual comic books for readers to peruse, a historical look at the character via some type of interactive timeline or just a text-based apology to fans who would have much preferred a movie about the monumental romance between Cat and the Bat.

Read all about it: Last year, DC Comics put out Catwoman: The Movie and Other Cat Tales (trade paperback, $9.95), which compiled the official Catwoman sequential-art adaptation along with Catwoman, Vol. 1, No. 0; Catwoman, Vol. 2, No. 11 for a taste of her various solo comic book series.

Spider-Man 2: Special Edition (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, $29.99)

Director Sam Raimi delivered another dramatic and passionate ode to sequential-art patriarch Stan Lee’s favorite web slinger in 2004. The subsequent two-disk DVD package presents a dense deconstruction of one of the best films of last year but a disappointing tribute to the comic book legend.

After watching the 128-minute effort, movie lovers will be satiated with its bonuses: a documentary on the production that runs more than two hours; commentary tracks with Mr. Raimi, Tobey Maguire and Avi Arad; and an multi-angled look at the pier confrontation scene between Spider-Man and Dr. Otto Octavius.

The sequential-art Spider-Man fan gets a trio of presentations (about 15 minutes each) culling interviews with current Spidey scribe J. Michael Straczynski, Marvel Comics Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, legendary artist John Romita and a lively talk with Stan Lee, as they all explain the emotional man behind the mask (especially told in the comic book story Spider-Man No More), his multi-tentacled adversary and the ladies in his life.

Fans also get a trivia and fact track that can be subtitled along the bottom of the movie, delivering comic book notes as well as a gallery of paintings by Alex Ross commissioned for the beginning of the movie.

It sounds like a lot of stuff. However, my reasons for disappointment with the set can be attributed to the meticulous job developers did with the last DVD release of the first Spider-Man film. That one included a dazzling group of interactive features along with an avalanche of media devoted to the superhero’s sequential-art origins.

I could only hope that those types of extras may go into the release of the Spider-Man 2.5 DVD set later this year, which extends action sequences and prepares fans for the third film, slated for release in 2007.

Read all about it: Marvel Comics has produced an issue of Amazing Spider-Man every month for the past 41 years. The current copies shine through the creative effort of Mr. Straczynski and artist Mike Deodato ($2.25 each). Fans of the movie will appreciate the five-part miniseries Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One, which explores the origins of the famed villain. ($2.99 each).

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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