- The Washington Times - Friday, October 21, 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 Begins: Deluxe Edition’

(Warner Home Video, $29.98)

DC Comic’s famed Dark Knight returned as a movie star this year in Warner Bros.’ blockbuster film starring Christian Bale as the perfect angst-ridden vigilante. A two-disc DVD set gives fans of the movie a chance to revisit Mr. Bale’s powerful performance while giving the uninitiated Batman fancier a chance to understand his roots.

It was nice to see a serious take on the Bat that cleared my palate of director Joel Schumacher’s cheesy 1997 film “Batman and Robin.”

Director Christopher Nolan pulls off the ultimate origin of the hero, and despite a lackluster villain (the Scarecrow can never compete with the Joker or Catwoman), production designer Nathan Crowley, screenwriter David Goyer and Mr. Nolan deliver a passionate adaptation of sequential artworkWivaled only by Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy” and Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City.”

After watching the film on the first disc, along with an unfunny spoof from the MTV Awards, viewers will be pleasantly surprised to find on the second disc an interactive, multiscreen comic book written by Mr. Goyer and drawn by Kilian Plunkett that has Batman battling a chemically induced fear attack from the Scarecrow.

The colorful panels pop up on the screen and eventually lead to a list of eight featurettes that include a breakdown of the film production, a multimedia character biography (including a slick look at the weapons of the Batman).

Most welcome among the featurettes are a deconstruction of the new Batmobile and a 15-minute discussion with legendary DC Comics editors Denny O’Neil, Bob Schreck and Jim Lee and DC President Paul Levitz, who help reflect on the brooding hero’s place in comics and the latest movie.

Read all about it: Just as it did in the “Constantine: Deluxe Edition” DVD set, Warner Bros. has provided a mini comic book in the “Batman Begins” package that contains a few of the sequential-art stories that inspired the creators of the film.

The 72-page, full-color treat includes the 1939 tale “The Bat-Man” (written by Bill Finger and drawn by Bob Kane), which introduced the Caped Crusader in Detective Comics No. 27; Denny O’Neil’s expansion of the Batman origin in “The Man Who Falls,” from the 1989 trade paperback “Secret Origins of the World’s Greatest Superheroes”; and the first issue of “Batman: The Long Halloween,” from Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale.

‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’

(Universal Studios Home Entertainment, $39.99)

My favorite television show growing up in the 1970s gets miserable treatment in the DVD realm through a three-disc set that enables me to relive the spooky adventures of an investigative reporter in the Windy City but gives little else to the multimedia lover.

The DVDs contain all 20 episodes from the 1974 season, which never lived up to the frightening “made-for-TV” movies (“The Night Stalker” and “The Night Strangler”) that preceded it. The series finds reluctant hero Carl Kolchak (portrayed to perfection by actor Darren McGavin) battling witches, vampires, demons, zombies and Richard Kiel in an Indian costume in paranormal plots inspired by the “X-Files.”

The supposedly digitally remastered shows look a bit dark, and along with the lack of any historical documentary, commentary tracks from any of the famed writers.

Read all about it: Thankfully, Moonstone Books has brought the adventures of Kolchak to sequential-art pages with a series of comic books blessed by the character’s original creator, Jeff Rice. Readers can either hunt for issues of the ongoing series Kolchak: Tales of the Night Stalker ($3.50 each) or seek out the 170-page trade paperback “Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Volume 1” ($17.95), which includes an adaptation of the unfilmed television script “Get of Belial.”

‘The Batman vs. Dracula’

(Warner Home Video, $24.98)

Legendary bloodsucker meets legendary crime stopper in a direct-to-DVD, full-length animated feature guaranteed to give cartoon lovers goose bumps this Halloween season.

Building upon the animation style and slightly reimagined mythology of the Dark Knight featured in the colorful current WB Kids! series “The Batman,” the 84-minute effort delivers a more mature viewing experience with violence and ghoulish imagery that could scare kiddies used to Saturday morning fare.

However, that’s a great thing for older fans, as they get a fantastic story featuring a suave and unstoppable Count Dracula (think Terence Stamp in a Hammer Films vampire flick) who has been resurrected accidentally by the money-grubbing Penguin and now wishes to rule Gotham City with, or without, help from the famous Batman.

Dark Knight fans should love the latest version of the Joker and his demented transformation along with some eerie nightmares of Bruce Wayne. Horror fans will relish the undead battles, and comic-book fans get a great script about a superhero that provides enough one-liners from the archenemies and Alfred to keep them from biting their fingers raw.

Extras worth mentioning on the disc range from a five-minute investigation of the science and superstition behind vampirism to an interactive map of Gotham that contains clickable character hot spots leading to interviews with the cast and production crew.

Read all about it:— DC Comics had the pop-culture legends meet in Batman & Dracula: Red Rain ($12.95) back in 1991. The Elseworlds graphic novel is part of a vampire trilogy — with Batman: Bloodstorm ($14.95) and Batman: Crimson Mist ($14.95) that forced the Caped Crusader into the role of one of the fanged fiends.

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

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