- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

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

‘Ultimate Avengers 2’

(Lions Gate Entertainment, Rated PG-13, $19.98)

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return in their second direct-to-DVD animated adventure, which finds Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man, Wasp, Black Widow and Nick Fury aligned with the Black Panther to extinguish an extraterrestrial threat to Earth.

Based on the themes of the comic-book series the Ultimates, this 55-minute cartoon melds hand-drawn and computer-generated designs. Yet it suffers from a bland overall style, offering not much of a tribute to artist Bryan Hitch’s powerfully illustrated sequential-art pages.

The story also never reaches its PG-13 possibilities (Ultimates writer Mark Millar should have developed the script) but lumbers on as a run-of-the-mill superhero tale. The more I think about what Bruce Timm did to turn the Dark Knight into an animated legend, the less I like Ultimate Avengers.

Marvel Entertainment will have to do better, especially with the recently announced project between DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation. That partnership will produce direct-to-DVD cartoons based on classic DC books and stories next year.

Best extras: The Ultimates featurette runs 25 minutes but is packed with information on the origins of the reimagined Avengers developed by the dynamic team of Hitch and Millar. Interviews with Marvel’s Editor in Chief Joe Quesada, editor Ralph Macchio and both creators shed light on the creative process while fantastic artwork punctuates their words throughout.

Read all about it: Ultimates 2 concludes this month with a double-size finale to the 12-issue story ($3.99). Readers will want to gobble up all of the issues and can have an affordable start with the Ultimates 2, Volume 1: Gods and Monsters ($15.99), which compiles the first six issues of the latest adventure.

‘V for Vendetta’: Special Edition

(Warner Home Video, Rated R, $34.99)

This is easily the most successful movie adaptation of a story from legendary comic-book scribe Alan Moore. It makes its way to digital video realms in a two-disc set that is short on extras and long on price but mildly educational.

The film, produced by the Wachowski brothers (who also wrote the screenplay), condenses the fantastic 1980s comics series by Mr. Moore and illustrator David Lloyd and intensely tells the tale of a masked anarchist (Hugo Weaving) out to destroy a totalitarian regime by igniting a revolution.

I enjoyed the 132-minute film when I saw it in theaters, and its DVD equivalent still delivers a political- and action-packed punch as it brings the Moore-Lloyd collaboration to life.

Best extras: The paltry extras are most defined by the absence of comment by Mr. Moore, who distanced himself from the movie early in its development. Still, I loved the 15-minute feature on the origins and importance of “V for Vendetta” and the comic’s history — fueled by words from Mr. Lloyd and such comics legends as Vertigo editor Karen Berger, artist Bill Sienkiewicz and creator Paul Chadwick.

I also loved the history lesson found in “Remember, Remember: Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot.” Mr. Moore based V’s disguise on Fawkes, a 17th-century English conspirator who tried to assassinate King James I.

Read all about it: Why didn’t Warner Bros. throw in a pocket-size comic (a precedent already set with “Constantine” and “The Searchers”) with at least a few issues of DC Comic’s V for Vendetta for viewers to compare the film style to the sequential art? I bet we’ll see a massive extended edition with a book later just to bilk the hard-core fans. However, readers can still buy the trade paperback ($19.99), which is an essential for anyone who calls himself a sequential-art fan.

The Boondocks’: The Complete First Season

(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, Not Rated, $49.95)

Aaron McGruder’s socially charged, controversial cartoon strip became an animated series last year and a major reason why Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block is the best place to enjoy a mature laugh every night of the week .

The uncut and uncensored first season is available as a three-disc DVD set and will not disappoint fans. It contains 15 episodes of a hilarious examination of black culture and race relations in America that revolves around a grandfather who becomes legal guardian of his two anarchist grandsons and moves from the south side of Chicago to an upscale neighborhood.

The level of social satire jarred this nerdy white man, but any tongue-swallowing moments of bad taste, graphic violence and constant use of the n-word were extinguished quickly with huge belly laughs. Boondocks episodes such as “The Garden Party” (with the voice of actor Ed Asner) and “Return of the King” are immediate classics as edgy stories come to life through a distinct, slightly anime-influenced animated style.

Best extras: The 20-minute behind-the-scenes documentary enables new viewers to hear from the creator why he thought he could pull off this inspired brand of cultural comedy.

Additionally, five of the shows get an optional commentary track — two from the character Uncle Ruckus — and two even get video support. All are pretty funny. Computer owners also will appreciate the ability to pop the first disc into a Mac or PC and print out storyboards from five of the shows.

Read all about it: “A Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury” (16.95) offers four years’ worth (more than 800 strips) of Mr. McGruder’s work.

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