- The Washington Times - Friday, March 18, 2005

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

Batman: The Animated Series, Volume Two

(Warner Home Video, $44.98)

The show that helped adults appreciate the television cartoon returns through a four-disc DVD set compiling 28 episodes from the 1992 and 1993 seasons.

I could never have imagined that Hollywood could pack this much artistry, style and popular culture into 20-minute animated stories, but that is what Bruce Timm and his colleagues did for five years as they chronicled the adventures of the Dark Knight.

The range of episodes in this set includes confrontations with the Joker, Riddler, Catwoman and Penguin; a two-part, Emmy-winning ode to the origins of Robin; and

my favorite — a team-up of Harley Quinn with Poison Ivy in a “Thelma and Louise”-type crime spree.

The most interesting bonus on the discs, among some optional commentary tracks with the producers and a trio of featurettes, is the eight minutes spent with the excellent voice-over cast — especially when Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill talks about portraying the Joker and the creative process involved.

—Read all about it: DC Comics publishd 36 issues of the Batman Adventures, complementing the animated series run in the early 1990s, and although it was for the kiddies, it mirrored the “art darko” noir style of the cartoons. I would suggest the “Dangerous Dames and Demons” trade paperback ($14.95), which compiles some of the more popular issues and features work by Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and John Byrne.

Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Six

(Anchor Bay Entertainment, $79.98)

Highlighting the final season of one of the best fantasy-adventure shows ever put on television, this 10-disc DVD set pays a fantastic tribute to the sword-swinging heroine created by actress Lucy Lawless.

The package contains all 22 adventures chronicling her epic last battles and goes far to satisfy rabid fans looking for the detailed nuances of the production. Viewers will find such extras as interviews with cast and crew about most of the episodes; commentary tracks with Miss Lawless, actress Renee O’Connor, series creator Rob Tapertcqd writer Joel Metzger; a director’s cut of the final two-part episode, “A Friend in Need”; alternate cuts of three episodes; and bloopers, outtakes and “making-of” featurettes.

Also, as with all of the Xena DVD sets, the critical 10th disc, placed in a PC’s CD-ROM drive, reveals an encyclopedic resource complete with episode synopses, cast resumes, a trivia game and character biographies (broken down by mortals, legends and gods), along with manipulable storyboards and production drawings.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics published a 14-issue comic-book series starring Xena during the final two years of the show. Fans can still enjoy three paperbacks (“The Warrior Way of Death,” $9.95; “Blood and Shadows,” $11.95; and “Slave,” $9.95) compiling issues of the title.

Superman: The Animated Series, Volume One

(Warner Home Video, $26.99)

Nearly the same creative team that fueled the award-winning Batman cartoon in 1992 gave rise to a Man of Steel animated series in the mid-1990s but could never quite live up to the intensity of the Dark Knight’s animated accomplishments.

This two-disc set with a total of three sides compiles the first 28 episodes of the show, beginning with the catastrophic events on Krypton and continuing with Superman’s battles with the likes of Lex Luthor, Darkseid, the Weather Wizard and the feisty Lois Lane.

Fans will appreciate a trio of featurettes covering the show’s development and supporting cast of characters and will be enlightened by facts on optional commentary tracks with the producers and an optional, subtitled, fact track.

I was especially surprised to learn about the huge stylistic influence comic-book-art legend Jack Kirby had on the creators, down to their fashioning a recurring character, Daniel Turpin, in his likeness as a tribute.

Read all about it:

DC Comics offered Superman Adventures as a sequential-art counterpart to the show, and it lasted two years longer than the cartoon. New fans will want to grab the trade paperback “Superman: Adventures of the Man of Steel” ($7.95), which compiles the first six issues of the child-friendly comic-book series.

The Best of the New Scooby-Doo Movies

(Warner Home Video, $64.92)

ever found the Mystery Inc. gang’s exploits hilarious, but I always appreciated their unbelievable staying power as legendary popular-culture icons. My favorite episodes were hourlong doozies in the early 1970s that starred a cavalcade of celebrities. They always left me grinning.

Well, I will be smiling for quite a while after watching four DVDs loaded with 15 shows, each 40 minutes long, with such guests as Don Adams, Don Knotts, Dick Van Dyke, the Harlem Globetrotters, the Three Stooges, Jonathan Winters, Batman and Robin, and Mama Cass Elliot helping the canine detective and his pals. Suffice to report, a cartoon featuring Larry Fine and a beatnik with the munchies will keep me riveted to a television screen anytime.

The three bonus featurettes don’t evoke the nostalgia that the episodes do, but the package does contain a mini lithograph celcq (suitable for immediate display) duplicating the work of legendary Hanna-Barbera storyboard and layout artist Bob Singer.

@Read all about it: DC Comics continues to offer a monthly Scooby-Doo comic book ($2.25 per issue).

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