- The Washington Times - Monday, January 10, 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 DVD-ROM and Blu-ray-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Family Guy: It’s a Trap! (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $29.99)  Television’s most dysfunctional family returns for a third time to a galaxy far, far away to skewer another “Star Wars” movie.

This time it’s “Return of the Jedi,” and despite enough juicy source material for even a third-grader to mock the mighty Skywalker clan, Seth MacFarlane and his sophomoric band of quahog-loving cohorts come up short.

Maybe it’s because I have seen just about every permutation of the gags Mr. McFarlane’s group has up its collective sleeve during the near-decade of “Family Guy‘s” television run.

The humor is a stretch (shooting at the band “Power Station” to destroy the Death Star, and Rush Limbaugh as a Rancor, ughh).

In the uncensored version on the Blu-ray format, Peter Griffin stars as Han Solo; his wife, Lois, as Princess Leia; son Chris as Luke Skywalker; baby Stewie as Darth Vader; and Brian the dog as Chewbacca.

The fairly precise collection of story highlights from the Jedi script is compacted into an hourlong episode. The stars of the show are the nicely animated spaceships, space battles and locations revealed in high definition.

However, fans will smile at surprise appearances by Meg Griffin as the Sarlaac and characters from other McFarlane shows popping up, such as “American Dad’s” fish Roger as Admiral Ackbar and “The Cleveland Show’s” Tim the Bear as the Ewok, Wickett.

I’ll admit to chuckling at the high-speed chase in the forest of Endor performed on bicycles, appearances by the real Ted Knight and Conway Twitty, and Peter’s exposed buttocks popping out of their carbonite tomb.

Suffice to report, men still wearing “Chewie” T-shirts and who are fascinated by the humorous complications of flatulence, sophomoric double entendres and profanity might embrace “It’s a Trap.”

For the record, I’m a much bigger fan of the biting “Star Wars” parodies pulled off by Seth Green and his “Robot Chicken” posse.

Best extras: I think the fact that Mr. MacFarlane walks out midway through the optional commentary track (while the others, including director Peter Shin, continue on) pretty much sums up his commitment to the project.

For extras, I would stick with watching four members of the production staff play a 30-minute round of Star Wars: Trivial Pursuit. Yeah, it’s sometimes like watching paint dry yet somehow intriguing (like appreciating a car fire) and occasionally humorous, especially as the players lament how this is the “worst DVD extra ever.” Yes, we all agree.

Animation fans also will want to check out the select segments of the cartoon in its raw storyboard/animatic form.

Read all about it: The defunct Devil’s Due Publishing offered three 48-page volumes of “Family Guy” sequential-art stories in 2006. Find a well-stocked online comics supplier to purchase Book 1: 100 Ways to Kill Lois, Book 2: Peter Griffin’s Guide to Parenting, and Book 3: Books Don’t Taste Very Good ($6.95 each).

24: The Complete Series (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $349.99)  One of television’s longest-running espionage-themed series — and arguably one of its best — ended last year and arrives in a massive DVD set boasting the entire eight-year run on 57 discs.

It’s an understatement to report that fans were riveted to each season, which boasted a plot spread out over 24 episodes. Each episode represented an hour of a complete day in the life of Counter Terrorism Unit agent extraordinaire Jack Bauer.

This special-ops-trained warrior with the anger issues of Detective Harry Callahan, the high-tech prowess of Ethan Hunt and the brains of Jack Ryan eventually would face down Serbian madmen, nuclear and biological weapon attacks, Russian terrorists, dirty agents and numerous assassination attempts during his award-winning television reign from 2001 to 2010.

Actor Kiefer Sutherland chewed up the bad guys and the scenery in the title role and was supported by a wonderful cast and notable stars over the years, including Dennis Hopper, James Cromwell, William Devane, Tobin Bell, Zachary Quinto, Sara Gilbert, Sean Astin and Katee Sackhoff.

Be it car chases, shootouts, fistfights, explosions, abductions or last-second rescues, each show is pretty much a thrill a minute, always punctuated with action-packed moments and plot twists.

For those consuming “24” for the first time, be forewarned. I suggest watching a full season and then taking a multiday break to avoid Bauer burnout  as well as to keep your fingernails from being chewed down to the bone.

Best extras: A bountiful supply of extras from each original, season-specific DVD release can be found in the set. They include more than 60 optional commentary tracks, extended and deleted scenes, dozens of behind-the-scenes featurettes, webcast diaries, slide shows, book samples and even a public-service announcement on climate change from Mr. Sutherland.

The set also contains an extended cut (102 minutes) of the 2008 television movie “24: Redemption” as well as that 57th disc, which offers exclusive features, such as a 30-minute retrospective on the show, a Comic Con 2009 panel session with the eighth-season cast and a bonus scene of Chloe’s arrest.

Read all about it: The hot-pop-culture-property-conscious IDW Publishing scooped up the sequential-art license to “24” and delivered multiple comic-book miniseries from 2004 through 2007. Pick up the best in the trade paperback “24: Omnibus” ($24.99), which features the five-issue prequel story 24: Nightfall and four one-shot issues, 24: One Shot, 24: Stories, 24: Midnight Sun and 24: Cold Warriors.

Machete (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, rated R, $29.99)  A character born from a trailer shown within the Robert Rodriguez- and Quentin Tarantino-fueled movie project “Grindhouse” was given his own live-action movie last year.

Now on Blu-ray, the story explores the mysterious and massively destructive Mexican madman Machete, played by gritty character actor Danny Trejo. This ex-Federale lives as an out-of-work illegal immigrant in the U.S. after surviving the murder of his wife and daughter by the drug lord Torrez.

After being caught in a conspiracy involving an assassination attempt on a senator, Machete begins an outrageous rampage of revenge when he learns his family’s killer is behind his current predicament.

Mr. Rodriguez co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed this absurdly gory and violent tale, taking a cue from the uber-B-grade exploitation films of the ‘70s.

Not for the squeamish, the 144 minutes of action often are as funny as they are horrifying (just watch for the creative use of a human intestine) but the film spends too much time mired in firing up the U.S. immigration debate for my tastes.

A slightly bigger problem: Mr. Trejo’s supporting cast is so good it’s hard to focus on the hero’s problems with Jessica Alba, Lindsay Lohan, Jeff Fahey, Cheech Marin and Michelle Rodriguez mixing it up with pop legends such as Don Johnson, Steven Seagal and Robert De Niro.

Best extras: Surprisingly, Mr. Rodriguez offers little in the way of bonuses to the film’s fans. An optional theater-audience reaction track is fun, but I would have expected at least another segment on his famed 10-minute cooking school, where he offers hands-on preparation and recipes of his favorite dishes.

Read all about it: IDW Publishing offered a single comic-book issue tied to the Machete mythology in September ($3.99). Written by Mr. Rodriguez and producer Aaron Kaufman, it featured a story on what caused the Mexican warrior to pick up his legendary weapons.

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