- The Washington Times - Friday, February 10, 2006

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.

Ultimate Avengers: The Movie,’ rated PG-13

(Lions Gate Home Entertainment, $19.99)

Marvel Enterprises’ first foray into releasing a direct-to-DVD animated feature has led to a teen-friendly adventure based on Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Ultimates comic-book series. It will not impress fans of the book but is still worth a look for the sequential-art fan.

This sanitized version of the comic

no spousal abuse or sex-driven rampages here — finds Nick Fury recruiting a superhero team comprising —sted comprised ofptain America, Iron Man, Ant Man, Thor, Wasp, Black Widow and research help from Bruce Banner as they take on an extraterrestrial force that has been causing trouble since World War II and wishes to conquer the planet.

An uneven, traditional animation style will not impress cartoon connoisseurs. On-screen equivalents of Natasha Romanova and the Wasp are beautifully rendered, while Betty Ross and Thor seem rushed and definitely not as refined.

However, an amazing battle sequence with the Hulk, a rousing musical score and plenty of action in the latter half of the 71-minute effort leave great hope for the upcoming sequel to the film.

Extras include an optional fact track, which pops up as text balloons over the action and helps in learning about the characters and the comics, and a 25-minute creative history of the Avengers. Industry stalwarts Tom Brevoort, George Perez, Kurt Busiek, Joe Quesada and Mark Millar add their comments to this history while Avengers comic-book art from the past 42 years whizzes around the screen.

A feature highlighting fans’ own video auditions — as they vied to become the voices of the Avengers — are painfully humorous; some segments can be used to blackmail the participants if they ever run for public office.

Finally, owners popping the disc into a computer are asked a series of questions to determine which Avenger their personality most resembles in a slick desktop simulation.

Read all about it: Marvel Comics offers “The Ultimates: Volume 1, Super-Human” trade paperback ($12.99) compiling the first six issues of the brilliant, mature re-imagining of the Avengers in the 21st century.

‘Teen Titans: The Complete First Season’

(Warner Home Video, $19.99)

Another day and another example of media companies double-dipping in the DVD market. Fans who already have bought the separate releases “Teen Titans, Volume 1: Divide and Conquer” ($14.98) and “Teen Titans, Volume 2: Switched” ($14.98), which compiled the first season of the Cartoon Network show, don’t have to bother with this double-disc release.

Still, for those in need of a Titans fix, all 13 episodes are in the new set, which offers an action-packed and often hilarious look at DC Comics’ young superhero team re-imagined by Marv Wolfman and George Perez in the early 1980s.

Each show, animated in a frenetic Japanese style, features the heroes Robin, Beast Boy, Raven, Starfire and Cyborg battling such foes as the Puppet King and Slade while trying to live together in the Titans’ Tower.

The best extras, already seen in the previous DVD releases, include a 22-minute featurette on the origins of the comic book and cartoon; a clever Titans interview with the Japanese duo Puffy Ami Yumi, who sing their theme song; and the music video of the tune.

The only new extras are an eight-minute look at the voices behind the characters and an interactive trading card that fits into an LCD hand-held game station from Bandai called the Teen Titans Battle Communicator (purchased separately).

Read all about it:

Each month, DC Comics publishes a comic book devoted to the team’s animated adventures, aptly titled Teen Titans Go ($2.25). It’s perfect reading material for the younger sequential-art fan.

‘Mirror Mask’

(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $26.99,

rated PG)

Writer Neil Gaiman and artist Dave McKean, the legendary comic-book creators, collaborated last year on a fantasy film offering an amalgam of Cirque Du Soleil and “The Wizard of Oz.” It arrives, after a limited theatrical release, on a single-disc DVD that gives the pair plenty of time to discuss their friendship and the film’s creation.

The story of 15-year-old Helena running away from the family circus and into the dreamscape of the Dark Lands is a live-action and digitally animated homage to Mr. McKean’s fantastic art style. Viewers watch her enter a visually diverse landscape loaded with Monkeybirds, concrete giants, mechanical mannequins and eyeball spiders.

In addition to a very surreal film, viewers get an optional commentary track on the DVD that allows the director of the project, Mr. McKean, to banter constantly with buddy and co-scripter Mr. Gaiman on topics such as sock puppets, Brighton, England, and the computer-generated sets.

Also, a string of featurettes, about 50 minutes long, adds more behind-the-scenes information and interviews, concluding with question-and-answer sessions with the artists at the San Diego Comic-Con and the Sundance Film Festival.

Read all about it: Mr. Gaiman mentions at least a couple of times how much he enjoyed working with Mr. McKean on the graphic novel “Mr. Punch” ($19.99); readers definitely should check out the title.

Additionally, for an insight into Mr. McKean’s eclectic illustrative prowess, I would recommend reading Cages ($50), which even has some of the living sphinxes highlighted in the movie.

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