- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 20, 2006

Each week, the Browser features some pop-culture places on the World Wide Web offering the coolest in free interactive sounds and action.

Mutants on the Web

Marvel Entertainment’s popular team of sequential-art superheroes and villains returns to the silver screen Friday in Twentieth Century Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand.”

A frenetic stream of images, film clips and sound bursts from the film’s official Web site (www.x-menthelast stand.com) to greet visitors who embark on a quest to learn about the world’s most powerful mutants.

Once the characters’ montage concludes, visitors get an interactive steel-blue interface that looks like an enhanced Web browser and includes an address line, search function and bookmarks to move quickly to sections within the site.

A floating X icon on the screen also reacts to a mouse pointer and when clicked upon provides a three-dimensional navigation shortcut to view film production files, trailers and cast biographies.

The best place for new X-Men fans to start is the Mutants tab on the left side of the screen. It leads to a fantastic piece of multimedia design and introduces 16 characters highlighted in the movie.

A side-scrolling menu bar loads, and a live-action version of the actor in costume appears in a trading-card-shaped box. When the mouse pointer moves over a box, the character comes to life and demonstrates some of his or her powers.

Especially slick are Angel, whose wings spread across multiple areas; Iceman, who freezes his screen area; and Colossus, who transforms into his steely alter ego.

A click on one of the mutants causes a new level of swirling action to load, similar to the effect used to show Professor X tied into his mutant finder, Cerebro. Visitors can now view information about the character, including text of his or her origins and powers, action photos, and a data download of such typical Web site fare as wallpapers and instant-messaging icons.

Although it’s great to see this level of information placed in the context of the movie, I would have loved for the site to have given viewers background on the characters’ comic-book origins as well as the significance of the X-Men in sequential-art history.

Another site goody for Apple ITunes owners and Yahoo lovers can be found under the Widgets section. Both can incorporate an X-Men theme into their desktop and online music player.

A minisite called the Cure Summit (www.curesummit.com) also can be accessed by registered users, who can join a forum for an online discussion of one of the movie’s major plot points, a supposed chemical cure for those who have the mutant gene.

Additionally, a link from the X-Men site to a special Dell computers page (www.dell.com/html/us/xmen/index.html) allows fans to view (in three sizes) a whopping seven minutes from the movie.

Comics online

With no comic-book reference area on the “X-Men: The Last Stand” site, visitors need to surf over to Marvel Entertainment’s official cyber-stop (www.marvel.com) to find a colorful and interactive entrance into the world of sequential art.

Two sections will help visitors quickly catch up on the comic-book publisher’s legendary lineup of characters, including Spider-Man, Captain America and the X-Men.

First, let’s get to the primary source material, found under the Digital Comics section, to view complete online versions of nearly 50 issues produced by Marvel.

Issues released span the entire history of the publisher and currently include gems such as Avengers No. 1 from 1963, the Savage She-Hulk No. 1 from 1980, and 14 issues of X-Men-related comics. Visitors will not want to miss Astonishing X-Men No. 1 written by Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When readers click on an issue, it loads into a pop-up interface that fills the computer screen and enables them to read the actual comic book originally found in bookstores and specialty shops. A handy automatic zoom feature focuses on individual panels so most of the action can be enjoyed clearly. (Some of the older issues suffer from grainy artwork.)

The only catch is that readers must register to gain full access to all of the comic-book pages. It is a painless process and well worth the reward.

Next, a user-generated online encyclopedia, found under the Marvel Universe section, is an exhaustive resource developed by the folks who care most about the characters — the fans.

Of course, just as the online encyclopedia Wikipedia enforces submission parameters, Marvel editors carefully scrutinize entries before posting them, but the incredible depth of information provided by the hard-core comic-book geek is staggering.

Under the Heroes category alone are nearly 400 entries that cover all of the major players in the X-Men universe as well as their associates in detailed text.

Have a cool site for the online multimedia masses? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at the Browser, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]washington times.com). Joseph also writes a Web-exclusive column for the Washington Times Web site where he reviews educational software and family-friendly video games. Check it out at www.washington times.com/ familytimes /romperroom.htm.

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