- The Washington Times - Friday, September 9, 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.

‘Smallville: The Complete Fourth Season’

(Warner Home Video, $59.98)

The soap-operatic drama about a teenage Clark Kent’s slowly assuming the role of the Man of Steel continues to arrive on DVD, in the latest six-disk set. It covers last season’s 22-episode story arc and throws in a couple of dynamite extras.

The 2004 programs, helped by the creativity of veteran comics scribe Jeph Loeb as a supervising producer, gave fans such highlights as the introduction of Lois Lane, an appearance by a young version of the Flash, Clark’s joining the football team, a new enemy named Mr. Mxyzptlk and the evolving mystery surrounding a trio of Kryptonian stones that harness superpower.

Fun bonuses on the DVDs include a look into the show’s writing process, a trio of optional commentary tracks and a 10-minute history of Lois Lane on-screen using interviews with Noel Neill (the 1950s Lois on television), Margot Kidder (Lois on film in the 1970s), Dana Delany (Lois from the 1990s cartoon series) and Erica Durance (the Lois of “Smallville”).

Also, a seventh disk contains the first episode of the 1990 series “The Flash,” based, of course, on the red-suited DC Comics speedster.

Read all about it: DC Comics offered a bit of sequential art based on the WB series during its first season in 2001. Fans will find it conveniently compiled into a 160-page trade paperback titled Smallville ($9.95), which offers nine stories from a quintet of previously published comic books.

‘The Simpsons: Season 6’

(Fox Home Entertainment, $49.98)

Another 25 episodes highlighting the animated adventures of the world’s funniest and most dysfunctional family get the DVD treatment to especially inspire cartoonists.

Through a quartet of disks, fans relive the 1994 season, when the popular show found a relaxing niche on prime-time television. They experience such insanity as an Itchy and Scratchy theme park (think “Westworld”), the nearly J.R.-Ewing demise of Mr. Burns and the perennial Treehouse of Horror, a Halloween episode that incorporates an homage to the “Shining” as its focal point.

An optional commentary track accompanies every episode and mixes cast members and production staff together to unleash multiple eye-watering evenings of memories. Also, “Simpsons” patriarch Matt Groening participates in nearly all of the sessions with plenty of dry wit.

Other extras deconstruct the ancient art of animation with multimedia tutorials that allow viewers to watch the black-and-white animated storyboards of a show while artists mark them up to explain their lunacy. Viewers can also watch storyboards on the screen and compare them with finished scenes shown on a pop-up box in the corner of the screen.

Overall, the set stands out despite a storage nightmare: Its cheap plastic case is shaped like Homer’s noggin. Doh.

Read all about it: Bongo Comics has spent the last 12 years offering the Simpsons in a sequential art format. Fans should check comic book stores and newsstands for the latest issue ($2.99 each). I also highly recommend Bart Simpson’s Treehouse of Horrors No. 11 ($4.99), which includes stories from such art masters as Marv Wolfman, Gene Colan, Al Williamson and Bernie Wrightson.

Thundercats: Season 1, Vol. 1’

(Warner Home Video, $29.98)

Before viewers revisit this classic cartoon from the 1980s they need to be very careful about what they are buying. A complete season set of DVDs does not exist; if it did, it would consist of 65 episodes. Only 33 are currently available. One can purchase either a three-volume set of those 33 for $69.99, or individual volumes of Season 1 for $29.98 each.

That marketing tactic is just plain nasty for the uninformed consumer who routinely expects to buy the whole first season of shows.

Now combine that with disks displaying VHS picture quality, and fans of the original will find the set a huge disappointment.

“Season 1, Vol. 1” does offer a dozen shows that present why the saga of Lion-O and his pals was so special. The bonus feature to Vol. 1 has some “super fans” and “Star Trek” has-been Wil Wheaton reminiscing about the depth of the cartoon’s story. All together now, “Thunder, thunder, Thundercats … Ho cares?”

Read all about it: Marvel Comics produced a 24-issue Thundercats comic book series back in the 1980s. Those issues may be very hard to track down. However, fans will have a much easier time finding the 2003 series produced by Wildstorm, geared toward an older audience. Trade paperbacks such as “Thundercats: The Return” ($12.95) and “Thundercats: Dogs of War “($14.99) expand upon the Thundercat legends with slick art and some darker stories.

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