- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital videodiscs (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 Batman: Training for Power

(Warner Home Video, $14.99)

The latest version of an animated Dark Knight gets ported into a single DVD highlighting just a smattering of his adventures from the Kids WB series.

Through a trio of 20-minute shows, children watch as Bruce Wayne begins his path to becoming Batman and has first-time encounters with legendary foes.

In addition to showing the vigilante learning his limits and incorporating a bunch of new high-tech gadgets, the episodes have him battling such re-imagined archenemies as an acrobatic Joker, the chemically driven behemoth Bane and a whip-wielding Penguin (who sounds like Bob Hope) while avoiding a pair of Gotham detectives out to capture him.

Unfortunately, two problems plague this DVD and lead it to fall economically and artistically way short of enjoyment.

First, the extras do nothing to propel the potential of the digital video medium.

A shameless merchandising promotion, referred to as “Building the Batman,” leads off as real designers from the Batman toy licenser, Mattel, attempt to interact with cartoon-character detective Ellen Yin while products are plugged. It’s not pretty and would have worked much better as straightforward interviews with the folks who produce some cool interactive action figures.

Also, a seven-question multiple-choice quiz on the show, which should have been a set-top challenge (that is, the narrator reads a question and the player uses the DVD controller to select an answer), will frustrate any fan.

As Alfred the Butler blathers away with his queries, the possible answers pop up on-screen, and Junior has barely a second to shout out an answer, not make a selection, before it is revealed. That is pure laziness on the part of the disc designer.

The second problem falls under the “too many choices” area, as Warner Home Video has just released the third volume of “Batman: The Animated Series” (see review below) and, for roughly an extra 20 bucks (check Amazon.com pricing), fans get more than 10 hours’ worth of brilliant episodes of a legendary series rather than 60 minutes of a mediocre one.

Read all about it: DC Comics puts ou a monthly comic book mirroring the style and action of the cartoon series. Readers should grab the trade paperback “Batman Strikes: Crime Time” ($6.99) to enjoy five of his harrowing adventures.

Batman: The Animated Series, Volume 3

(Warner Home Video, $44.99)

Master artist Bruce Timm’s 1990s version of an animated Caped Crusader, which took Batman away from hanging out with Scooby Doo and the Wonder Twins and returned the legend to his darker, imposing origins, is celebrated through a final four-disc DVD set containing the last 29 episodes of the award-winning series.

The stories surrounding the stylishly animated art-deco delight unload a bevy of characters from Batman’s comic-book mythos. The Caped Crusader, with help from Robin and Batgirl, encounters such legends as Mr. Freeze, Bane, the Joker, Two-Face, Ras Ah Ghul, Poison Ivy, Jonah Hex, the Riddler and Catwoman.

Extras include an eight-minute featurette on the introduction of Batgirl to the series, with words from legendary artist Alex Ross; a pair of optional commentary tracks with series production staff; and a video commentary on the episode “House and Garden” that has producer Bruce Timm, writer Paul Dini, director Boyd Kirkland and moderator Jason Hillhouse reminiscing in a pop-up box in the corner of the screen.

Read all about it: DC Comics’ trade aperback “Dangerous Dames and Demons” ($14.95) offers the best chance to enjoy a sequential-art version of the show.

The Mask: Platinum Series

(New Line Home Entertainment, $19.99)

Anyone wanting to see the real potential of the DVD medium need only look to the New Line Platinum Series of releases for an immersive experience to satisfy any cinema fan.

The 1994 movie returns to a single DVD and features Jim Carrey’s Tex Avery-inspired portrayal of Stanley Ipkiss, a schlep who finds headgear that transforms him into an unorthodox superhero. This stands as a prime example of the comic actor’s brilliance.

The new digital transfer of the film is gorgeous, and extras include a commentary track featuring Dark Horse Comics President Mike Richardson, an almost 30-minute look at the history of the movie and the pleasing IVEX resource, specifically for PC owners.

This Interactive Video Experience, recently used on the DVD release of “Blade Trinity,” provides an encyclopedic, menued reference to the minutiae of the film.

The software syncs up storyboards, character biographies, a multiple-choice pop quiz and behind-the-scenes commentary and production imagery to the movie action as it plays in areas on the computer screen. Also, viewers can read the script rolling underneath the digital film as well as the screenplay.

Read all about it:

“The Mask” started in 1991 as a comic book from Dark Horse Comics, and sequential-art scholars can pick up a trade paperback appropriately titled “The Mask” compiling the first five-issue miniseries ($14.95).

Also on store shelves

ndycq Tartavosky’s famed Japanese warrior returns to DVD in a two-disc set exploring his battles with wizard Aku and an attempt to return to his past. Samurai Jack: Season [email protected] (Warner Home Video, $29.99) offers 13 reasons why the stunning animation and action-packed stories made the series a breakthrough hit on Cartoon Network. Along with plots mixing Jack’s battles with assassin robots, and even a really bad odor, extras include a humorous biography on Mr. Tartavosky and a manic story-pitch session.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowskiwashingtontimes.com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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