- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of DVDs (compatible with DVD-ROM-enabled computers and home entertainment centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

‘Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman’

(Warner Home Video, $14.99)

Currently found on the A&E Network, this 110-minute documentary about the multimedia history of the Man of Steel also is available as a single- and multidisc-DVD set for fans to absorb to their hearts’ content.

Narrated by the current Lex Luthor, Kevin Spacey, the program covers the origins of the superhero and follows him through his various comic-book, cartoon, radio-show, television, theater and movie incarnations.

The Super event mixes plenty of film clips and interviews with Kiss’ Gene Simmons, Stan Lee and Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill and the people behind and around the red cape, including DC Comics editor Mike Carlin, artist Art Thibert, actress Annette O’Toole (who played Lana Lang in “Superman III” and Martha Kent in “Smallville”) and Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”).

Moments worth the price of admission include George Reeves’ appearance as Superman on the “I Love Lucy” show and footage of the kiddie show “Superpup,” in which midget actors dressed in dog costumes take part in the Superman universe.

Surprisingly, the program only reaches the fringes of infomercial status toward its conclusion, as it liberally promotes the new “Superman Returns” movie.

Those able to find the rare DVD package sold at Best Buy will enjoy a two-disc set that adds 12 (of a possible 27) knowledge-packed video journals of “Superman Returns” director Bryan Singer (see the rest at www2.warnerbros.com/supermanreturns/videoblog) and mini-movie-poster reproduction cards from all five of the films.

Read all about it: A fine complement to the DVD history is the trade paperback “Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told” ($19.95), which compiles a snapshot of the superhero in comics over his 68-year career through nine sequential-art adventures.

‘Doctor Who: The Complete First Series’

(BBC Video, $99.99)

American fans of the legendary Time Lord will not find the first series of the famed British science-fiction show from 1963 on this awkwardly named five-disccq five-discey will find the first season of the 2005 program, with a newly regenerated Doctor who spreads the message to love every minute of life amidst bizarre, action-packed adventures.

With a nod to what made previous “Doctor Who” series so successful on the BBC, writer and executive producer Russell T. Davies delivers a hip Doctor (after a 16-year absence) thanks in part to the power of a big budget, slick special effects and the manic performance of Christopher Eccleston as the lead.

Our hero still enters a time machine (disguised as an antiquated police call box) called the Tardis and uses brains rather than violent brawn to save the Earth, but he no longer has to worry about sets falling around him and can enjoy the outdoors.

The DVD set really scores points, as it not only offers the first 13 episodes of the show, but each episode on the first four discs contains an optional commentary track. Added featurettes on each of the four also help deconstruct the creative process.

Better yet, the fifth disc of the set offers more than three hours of content devoted to even more behind-the-scenes work. An additional segment even introduces the latest Doctor Who (Mr. Eccleston quit after the 13 episodes highlighted on this DVD set).

Comic-book fans will appreciate the work of Ultimates illustrator Bryan Hitch, the series’ concept artist. Older Who fans will love the show’s energy and the reintroduction of villains such as the Daleks and Autons, and lovers of modern sci-fi television will enjoy the blend of humor with intelligent action.

Read all about it: Fans can track down Marvel Comics’ short-lived, 23-issue 1980s Doctor Who comic-book series ($4 each in near-mint condition), which featured comic-strip reprints from the Doctor Who Weekly British magazine, or grab a current copy of the title — now named Doctor Who Magazine ($7.99) and running a comic strip featuring the current Doctor — at a specialty shop.

‘The Searchers: Ultimate Collector’s Edition’

(Warner Home Video, $39.99)

A dynamite DVD release for the Western fan digitally remasters one of the best cowboy movies ever made and even manages to throw in a bone for the sequential-art lover.

I will not gush about the important, critically acclaimed 1956 film from legendary director John Ford that gave John Wayne the chance to play brilliantly the misunderstood Confederate soldier Ethan Edwards, who would go to the ends of the earth to rescue a niece kidnapped by the Comanche.

Rather, I’ll just report that the first disc offers a gorgeous, digitally restored version of the movie with a commentary from Peter Bogdanovich, while a second disc presents more than 80 minutes of featurettes that bestow accolades on the movie and take viewers back to the 1950s.

The extras continue within the package, which contains reproductions of the original Warner Bros. press book, filmmaker memos and correspondence, 10 behind-the-scenes photos and a pocket-size reproduction of the 1956 comic book based on the film.

Read all about it: Dell Publishing offered its Four Color Comics line from 1939 to 1962, and issue No. 709 adapted “The Searchers.” Luckily, fans of the film and sequential art can easily read the 36-page, full-color book, which features a photo of John Wayne on the cover, rather than try to find the rare and expensive original at a comics shop ($350 in near-mint condition).

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

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