- The Washington Times - Friday, May 12, 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.

‘Robot Chicken’

(Warner Home Video, $29.99)

Actor Seth Green and Wizard Entertainment’s former editor, Matthew Senreich, turned their fascination with comic books, pop culture and action figures into a hit show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim program block.

Its first season is available on a pair of DVDs that will assault viewers with brief, tasteless comedic moments inflicted upon helpless action figures who come to life through the classic stop-motion animation process.

The smorgasbord of skits seen in 20 episodes caters to the channel-surfer mentality and leaves no pop-culture icon untouched.

Take the famed Transformer Optimus Primus: Here he stars in a public service announcement for prostate cancer. Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, the Falcon, Catwoman and the Hulk (with character puppets either culled or reproduced from the 1970s Mego action figures) star in a “group living” reality show. The scarecrow gets knifed in an HBO “Oz” takeoff, while Boo Berry, Franken Berry and Count Chocula judge an “American Idol”-style competition.

Normal people probably will not be able to stomach the DVDs’ five hours of this stuff, but each viewer will find his own comfort level in the wide range of topics, religions, cultures and superheroes mocked to extreme levels.

Bonuses include an outrageous number of deleted scenes, alternate takes and story pitches that reveal not only Mr. Green’s obsession with the project but his energetic creativity and his passion to target nearly anything taboo.

Most impressive among the extras is the behind-the-scenes feature that finds that Mr. Green cajoled such celebrity icons as Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Phyllis Diller, the late Don Knotts and Sarah Michelle Gellar to lend their voices to the proceedings.

Read all about it: “Robot Chicken” is not available in a sequential-art form, but its roots lie in a feature of Wizard Entertainment’s Toyfare magazine. Its Twisted Toyfare Theater offers action figures interacting, with dialogue bubbles, presented in a comic-book-panel layout. Of course, Wizard has compiled the insanity, and readers can find six full-color, 104-page volumes available at bookstores ($12.99 each).

‘Crumb’

(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, rated R, $19.99)

The 1994 documentary about one of sequential art’s most revered creators gets digitally remastered onto a single DVD to enable fans to revisit the extremely bizarre world of Robert Crumb.

Director Terry Zwigoff spent six years shooting the chaotic life and times of the artist, and through interviews with family, friends, critics and the man himself, he chronicles how Mr. Crumb grew from a leader of the 1960s independent comic movement to become a renowned illustrator and social critic.

At points, viewing the raw, mature-themed expose is like watching a train wreck, especially when the manically depressed and passive-aggressive Mr. Crumb hangs out with his family. An optional but very insightful commentary track further elaborates on the detailed biography as Roger Ebert injects an impressive knowledge of the subject matter and prompts Mr. Zwigoff to deconstruct his Crumb experience.

If figures such as Fritz the Cat, Mr. Natural and the “Keep on Truckin’” guy ring a bell, this intimate portrait of a craftsman should not be missed.

Read all about it: Fantagraphics Books offers a complete line of Robert Crumb trade paperbacks. I suggest the Complete Crumb Comics, Vol. 17 ($18.95) for a 136-page black-and-white taste of his work in Weirdo magazine, Whole Earth Review and Zap Comix.

‘Aeon Flux: Special Collector’s Edition’

(Paramount Home Entertainment, $19.99)

Even Academy Award-winning actress Charlize Theron cannot rescue this bland, live-action film based on Peter Chung’s groundbreaking MTV animated series.

I considered Mr. Chung’s original animated vision of Aeon a benchmark in the experimental, mature animation revolution, and I thought the movie needed a much more radical approach and less of a mainstream Hollywood-ization for it to succeed.

Its digital release on a single DVD offers — in addition to the film, about a deadly assassin who tries to bring down a utopian society with her band of Monocans — a pair of optional commentary tracks and a quintet of featurettes that cover the production process.

Most notable from the extras is the screenwriters’ humorous commentary track, in which Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi are more than willing to talk about what went wrong and right with the finished product.

Although Miss Theron looks the part of Aeon, she is never given enough reason to become one with the twisted revolutionary because a standard love story, of the “Logan’s Run” variety, greatly waters down Mr. Chung’s brilliance.

I would just buy the fantastic three-disc DVD release “Aeon Flux: The Complete Animated Collection” ($39.98) and savor the original cartoons.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics published a four-part Aeon Flux series last year that provides a prequel to the motion picture. A trade paperback compiles the entire effort with art more in line with Mr. Chung’s animation style.

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