- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Each month, the Browser features pop-culture sites on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Dark Knight Net

DC Comics’ Caped Crusader returns to the big screen Wednesday after an eight-year absence when Christian Bale dons the cowl in the Christopher Nolan-directed, big-budget “Batman Begins.”

Although the official Web site (www.batmanbegins.com) contains the same types of multimedia material found in other movie cyber-stops — including photos, film clips, production notes and free wallpaper and screen savers — sequential-art fans are in for a treat.

By clicking on the Comics section of the site, they can unleash a stand-alone viewer containing an assortment of illustrated stories crucial to the Dark Knight’s development. Each features pages of classic art that can be zoomed in on, read and admired.

Visitors will find the two-page 1939 Bat origin tale, illustrated by Bob Kane, which was part of Detective Comics No. 33, and the 22-page origin story for Ra’s Al Ghul (a villain highlighted in the new film) from the 1971 comic Batman No. 232, with art from legends Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. Future links promise a Scarecrow (another villain) story, probably from World’s Finest Comics No. 3, and a Batman adventure from 2003.

Virtual sound booth

Myspace.com, a “free to join” lifestyle portal integrating such features as Web profiles, blogs, instant messaging, e-mail, photo galleries, chat rooms and user forums for its 14 million members, has created a new listening lounge (available even to nonmembers) for people who want to enjoy sounds from some of today’s hotter bands from around the world.

Dubbed the Booth (www.myspace.com/thebooth), it offers presentations on hundreds of groups, with information on their albums, tour dates and origins, plus photos, contact links and, more important, a jukebox that plays streaming versions of songs.

Visitors can stop first by the opening page to listen to the band Filter’s recommended song picks and, every Tuesday, find emerging artists and occasionally full-album streams. The Los Angeles band Gorrilaz was in the spotlight recently, with its entire “Demon Days” album available.

Using the Booth’s search engine, which contains more than 80 categories of music —ranging from progressive house to happy hard-core to bluegrass — listeners can quickly pull up something to accommodate any taste.

Superstars such as Pink, the Eagles, Billy Corgan and the Cure contribute up to four tracks each. Lesser-known artists such as the Sun (www.thesunwebsite.com), Between Home and Serenity (www.betweenhomeandserenity.net) and the Dead 60s (www.thedead60s.com) also are included.

Online arcade

PC game maker Alawar Entertainment (www.alawar.com) has teamed up with other developers to offer a varied lineup of challenges downloadable to Windows-based computers.

The 7-year-old company gives free trial versions of every game to provide players a chance to adequately test the software before purchasing it.

Potential buyers choose from five game-genre buttons — which lead them to more than 50 types of puzzlers, shooters and arcade classics — to pull up descriptions of the games, system requirements and a link to download a multimegabyte file that allows them to play either a limited number of levels (usually about 10) or for a set amount of time (usually an hour).

By the way, Alawar promises that no adware or spyware of any kind is sent along with the trial software.

Magic Ball 2 requires players to shoot an orb into a three-dimensional arena and knock down structures. Alien Outbreak 2 highlights a spaceship-blasting adventure reminiscent of 1980s classics Galaxian and Galaga. There also are many Pac-Man permutations, including one that features the munching pop-culture icon in the Old West.

Once players decide if they like the action, they can simply download the full game for about $20 or get a CD-ROM version mailed to them for an extra $9.95.

Quality of the titles is certainly not up to that of Xbox or PlayStation 2 extravaganzas, but the price and satisfying free trial definitely are right.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message (jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com).

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