- The Washington Times - Friday, February 9, 2007

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.

The Invincible Iron Man

(Lions Gate Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $19.98)

If Marvel is going to waste the time and money to turn its hero universe into direct-to-DVD cartoons, then it needs to take some risks with the animated style and make the effort as important to fans as it is to lovers of the colorful medium.

Alas, this Iron Man adventure nearly fails on all counts through generic animation, a mediocre origin tale and not nearly enough pizazz to make it stand out among the likes of animated contemporaries such as “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” “Fullmetal Alchemist,” “The Amazing Screw On Head” (it’s previewed on the darn Iron Man movie), “Bleach” and “Hellboy” (read review below).

In the story, billionaire and often angst-ridden inventor Tony Stark has his minions raise a buried city in China and literally gets a broken heart (courtesy of some guerrilla soldiers), an armored suit to save his life and the chance to battle underworld warriors. He must also deal with the potential return of a deceased evil emperor named the Mandarin.

As was the case with the pair of Ultimate Avengers animated releases, the Invincible Iron Man only comes to life in the last 30 minutes or so through some spectacular fight scenes, but it is just not enough to make up for the preceding mediocrity.

Best Extra: I enjoyed seeing comics industry stalwarts Bob Layton and Joe Quesada talk about the legend of Iron Man in a 12-minute featurette but loved the virtual encyclopedia and its look at 16 configurations of Tony Stark’s most famous high-tech costumes in comic book history. Found under the Hall of Iron Man Armor, each entry presents a photograph and historical context to the comic books and character’s mythology.

Read all about it: Iron Man has been a part of Marvel Comics’ publishing empire since 1963. In addition to his pivotal appearance in the Civil War series ($2.99 each), I suggest a look at the trade paperback Iron Man: Extremis ($14.99) that compiles the six-issue story arc by famous comics scribe Warren Ellis.

Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storm

(Starz Home Entertainment, $19.98)

The Ralph Kramden of paranormal investigators makes his debut in the cartoon world through a 75-minute adventure that delivers action and plenty of extras to deconstruct the world and mythos of comic creator Mike Mignola’s red demon.

Through a single disc, viewers get a wonderful story — packed with Japanese supernatural folklore and the undead — that takes Hellboy on a mission into a spiritual realm to unlock the secrets of a Samurai sword while a secondary mission has the fire-starter Liz Sheridan and aqua man Abe Sapien out to stop a massive undersea creature.

Although I would have loved an animated design closer to Mr. Mignola’s sequential-art style, I can deal with the less menacing, more child-friendly, style of conceptual artist Sean “Cheeks” Galloway.

The addition of the Hellboy comics short story, Heads, intertwined in the narrative will be a pleasant bonus for fans who get to see how the hero deals with a batch of Japanese vampires in an animated format.

The principal cast from the movie adds the dialogue with a slight twist: Doug Jones (the man in the Abe Sapien makeup) replaces David Hyde Pierce (Abe’s film voice) to offer Abe’s lines while Selma Blair is still Liz and Ron Perlman continues with a fine performance as Hellboy.

Best Extra: The IVEX (Interactive Viewing Experience) shines when the DVD is popped into a PC, as it offers a continual, side-by-side comparison of the film to the storyboards, the script and even commentary from the creators.

Additionally, viewers can keep track of kill counts for the three heroes and access extra video content through a drop-down menu (also available through any DVD player) such as the creators’ discussion at the 2006 San Diego Comic Con and an excellent look at the man behind the lovable monster.

Read all about it: This all-inclusive release even includes a minicomic from Dark Horse Comics, drawn in the same style as the cartoon. The 25-page tale, Phantom Limbs, is classic Hellboy and features an unruly appendage, a visit to a creepy farmhouse and an encounter with a massive monster.

Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo

(Warner Home Video, $19.98)

Continuing the theme in this column about cartoon heroes battling enemies from the Far East, I offer the final piece of an animated show that turned a comic-book teenage superhero team into animation stars.

The Cartoon Network smash “Teen Titans” ended too earlier for many, but this movie will keep fans happy as the lineup of Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Starfire and Raven arrive in Tokyo to battle a Ninja, irate sushi chefs and a giant reptile, and to stop the mythical Brushogun.

The 75-minute effort is loaded with Japanese pop-culture tributes and it’s fun to see and hear the gang one more time, especially when they sing Puffy AmiYumi’s theme song over the end credits.

Extras: Viewers only get to watch “The Lost Episode,” which starred the villain Punk Rocket, originally run on the Post cereals Web site (www.postopia.com), and a set-top game that uses the DVD remote’s directional arrows to drive around the side streets and highways of Tokyo.

Read all about it: Although the series’ official last episode ran in January 2006, DC Comics continues to put out a monthly, child-friendly book, Teen Titans Go! ($2.25 each), which mimics the show’s wonderful animated style.

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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