- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2011

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 Blu-ray enabled computers and home entertainment systems) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $19.98)  Decades after Batman’s prime crime-fighting days, Bruce Wayne has retired his cape and cowl. His alter ego, however, is resurrected via Terry McGinnis, a pushy punk ready to assume the mantle of the Dark Knight and avenge the death of his father.

So went the clever animated series “Batman Beyond,” which took a futuristic look at the Caped Crusader. It lasted 52 episodes and aired from 1999 to 2002 on the Kids’ WB.

One of the series’ greatest standalone moments, a direct-to-DVD movie, arrives in the high-definition format, offering the uncut version of one of the nastiest encounters between Batman and the Joker ever captured by animation.

It’s not enough to appreciate the psychological unraveling of Bruce Wayne and Terry by a foe that should be just bones resting under Arkham Asylum. No, Paul Dini’s story is classic as it gives viewers a glimpse into the days when “Batman: The Animated Series” ruled the airwaves and delivers a brutal ode to the end of the Clown Prince of Crime and some surprising twists to the hero’s history.

I’ll offer nothing more other than to report that the chance to savor actor Mark Hamill’s voicing of the maniacal lunatic is classic, while Kevin Conroy’s rasp lends itself so well to the elder Wayne.

The movie stands up surprisingly well, with quite an eye-popping high-definition transfer blazing with color within a 4x3 full-screen format. I found the story as unnerving as the first time I enjoyed it.

I’ll remind readers that this is the uncut version, not the butchered original release from 2000, and it is well-deserving of its PG-13 rating.

Best Extra: How does Warner Home Video fill up the huge amount of space available on this single Blu-ray disc? With the same paltry extras it offered on the DVD back in 2000.

Fans will still love the optional commentary track featuring producer Bruce Timm, Paul Dini, director Curt Geda and art director Glen Murakami. Now, how about a selection of Mr. Timm’s favorite “Batman Beyond” episodes, guys?

Warner Home Video also offers something a bit unusual and definitely a prize for the new “Return of the Joker” diehards. Also included in the package is the original, uncut, DVD version of the film presented in widescreen format. For me, its inclusion just shows off how great the Blu-ray version looks.

Read all about it: DC Comics published the official movie adaptation of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker back in 2001 (averaging $25 in near mint condition). Additionally, look for DC’s six-issue limited series Batman Beyond from 1999 in a trade paperback format ($29.99)

 Tron: Legacy (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG, $39.99)  The revival of a cult-classic after a 28-year absence is a rare treat  but it happened in 2010.

“Tron,” the groundbreaking effects-driven film from 1982, resonated with a loyal fan base over the last three decades through word of mouth and a trickling of comic books, video games and action figures.

Disney finally released a sequel to the film last year to satisfy the masses. Its Blu-ray release highlights the beauty of modern-day special effects, but still delivers only a passable story co-starring the first film’s protagonist Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges).

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