- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2011

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

The Walking Dead: Season One (Anchor Bay Entertainment, not rated, $49.99)  A zombie apocalypse sets the stage for a human drama that easily was one last year’s best television shows.

I’m particularly proud to report that an ongoing comic series written by Robert Kirkman acted as inspiration and often as storyboard for AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

Now available on Blu-ray, this all-too-grim-and-gory human experience plays out over a brief six-episode season, brought to disturbing life in the high-definition format.

Although the series boasts the best-looking undead ever brought to any screen, thanks to makeup-effects wiz Greg Nicotero, viewers were riveted to the lives of the survivors, beginning with the Gary Cooper of this modern-day zombie massacre, Deputy Sheriff Rick Grimes (perfectly played by actor Andrew Lincoln).

The guy gets shot and wakes up in a hospital room to find his world has ended. While searching for his wife and son, he eventually finds other survivors. I won’t divulge anything, but he and this band of too-normal humans must cope with one another and an extreme level of hopelessness, desperation, unimaginable loss and those pesky flesh-eating creatures.

It should be noted that series writer, director (first episode), executive producer and macabre muse Frank Darabont pulled no punches in ramping the gore factor as high as allowable for cable television.

This is no more apparent than in the episode “Guts,” in which Rick and his new friend Glenn must too closely mimic the zombie menace to get through a pack of them.

Fans of the comic will find glimpses of sequential artists Tony Moore’s and Charles Adlard’s stark black-and-white art faithfully re-created in gritty live action in nearly every episode of the series.

Be it Rick on horseback riding on a deserted expressway into Atlanta, the tragic yearning of Bicycle Girl or a decapitating encounter with the undead, it’s an appreciated adaptation of potent illustrated visuals.

Best extra: Once viewers get past a 30-minute overview of the series and a look at creating the incredibly grotesque zombie Bicycle Girl, they will find an unsatisfying collection of short featurettes that act merely as marketing pablum.

I find it inexcusable that viewers don’t get a featurette starring the creators discussing the comic book or some type of digital comic for new fans to appreciate the original source material. (Even a minicomic in the package would have been nice.)

I fear that now that the consumer is stuck with the Blu-ray format, Hollywood is abandoning many of those great interactive extras that were built to help define the technology.

Read all about it: Since 2003, Image Comics faithfully has published the ongoing Walking Dead series every month ($2.99 each). To read precious back issues, I particularly like the three omnibus deluxe hardcover editions (in a slipcase, no less) that each compile 24 issues of the series into one volume ($100 each). The larger-size format (almost 13 inches tall by 9 inches wide) gives true art connoisseurs giant pages to appreciate the artists’ work.

All-Star Superman (Warner Home Video, rated PG, $24.98)  I’ll give DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation’s unholy alliance credit. Despite a string of mediocre to abysmal comic-book-to-cartoon adaptations, they keep trying to deliver a winner.

With the latest direct-to-Blu-ray release, however, I’m still not seeing the gold.

This PG-rated ‘toon taps into an awesome sequential-art spectacle from 2005 orchestrated by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely that shook up the Superman universe. In the 12-issue comic-book series, Superman is dying of solar radiation poisoning, but he still has plenty to accomplish before he dies.

A list of essentials includes revealing his secret identity to Lois, taking her out on the ultimate superpowered date, relocating Kandor (that city in a bottle), helping cure terminally ill children, thwarting a suicide attempt, and facing a final confrontation with Solaris and Lex Luthor.

Dwayne McDuffie’s screenplay tries hard to compact that much comic into a 76-minute feature, but I found it too scattered and too loaded with subplots that weren’t played out evenly enough to appreciate.

That happened because chunks of the comic are left out, many of them very emotional and pivotal moments, led by a visit to Bizarro World, an encounter with Pa Kent and Jimmy Olsen’s major role in the story.

The art design does a valiant job of trying to capture Mr. Quitely’s subdued and emotional style, taking on almost beautiful anime qualities, while the high-definition format enables the animation to pop from the screen.

Although those unaware of the original source material still will appreciate “All-Star Superman,” the hard-core fan base will find plenty of reasons to gripe.

Best extra: I’ll never fault Warner Home Video for the nice selection of extras included on all of the DC-based cartoons.

The Blu-ray includes a pair of episodes from “Superman: The Animated Series”; a 30-minute look at DC Comics’ All-Star comics imprint focused on the Superman title, with interviews with Mr. Morrison and DC co-publisher Dan Didio and lots of art from the books; and a 10-minute brainstorm session with Mr. Morrison that includes his sketch work.

Better yet, check out the optional commentary track featuring producer Bruce Timm and Mr. Morrison, which should satisfy any comic-book geek in the family.

Read all about it:Warner includes the entire first issue of the series on Blu-ray for all to admire, and you’ll only need a 90-inch screen to really appreciate it. A better idea is just to buy DC Comics’ gorgeous hardcover “Absolute All-Star Superman” ($99.99) and soak up a great story and art in pages nearly 16 inches tall and 9 inches wide.

Blu-ray Boo Boo

Another beloved cartoon character has fallen prey to the greed of Hollywood, as witnessed in last year’s live-action-meets-computer-animated-creature film “Yogi Bear.”

Starring the voice of Dan Aykroyd as the famed character and Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo, the story had little to add to the famous character’s mythology and was about as enjoyable as the Garfield movies.

It definitely left the adults who accompanied offspring to the theaters pining for the days of Hanna-Barbera’s original cartoon series.

The film’s release on Blu-ray (Warner Home Video, $35.99) does nothing to change its impotent impact, and the desolate picnic basket of extras won’t help the purchasing, or even renting, decision.

The only interactive feature  there’s not a game to be had, by the way  is the intriguing Spending a Day at Jellystone Park. It starts off pretty promisingly with an animated map loaded with clickable locations, including the Ranger Station, Lookout Mountain, Redwood Valley and Jellystone Lake.

Unfortunately, those clicks lead viewers down an uninspired path of mostly behind-the-scenes featurettes.

By the way, these contain no real history of the character or even a cartoon of the original series, but stuff such as actors performing to sticks-and-cardboard cutouts, a fake commercial for Jellystone, interviews with some of the voice-over talent, and the nuances of set design.

Yogi deserves better.

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