- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 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.

‘X-Men: The Last Stand, Collector’s Edition’

(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, $34.99)

The supposedly final film ode to Marvel Comics’ mutants arrives on DVD and is the most faithful to an average X-Men comic book, thanks to its dazzling fight sequences, the ambiguous deaths of main characters and scenes loaded with impassioned heroes and villains.

Although the 104-minute film is way too short to deliver the drama associated with a story about a potential cure for the Home Superior population (the intense political and social implications are never fully realized), it contains enough X-citement and characters for the fans and is a roller-coaster ride for the average viewer.

The extras: ‘Tis slim pickings for hard-core X-Men fans. They first get a pair of optional commentary tracks — one with the producers and one from the two writers along with director Brett Ratner.

The latter is the more interesting, as the trio expound upon X-Men lore tied to the film and offer such nuggets as the revelation that the opening Danger Room scene was based on the X-sequential story line Days of Future Past. Fans also get an abundance of 24 unremarkable deleted scenes. However, I can deal with the pathetic set of extras because of the included comic book (read below).

Read all about it: DVD owners get a very special 95-page mini comic book anchored by a new story written by X-Men patriarch Stan Lee. Mr. Lee actually becomes part of the X-universe and uses 10 familiar artists, including John Romita Jr. and Howard Chaykin to bring the primary 23-page tale to life.

The book also reprints three classic 1960s X-Men stories (issues Nos. 1,4 and 9) drawn by the late Jack Kirby and written by Stan the Man, who even offers an introduction to each.

‘The Dick Tracy Show: The Complete Animated Crime Series’

(Classic Media, $39.99)

Legendary cartoonist Chester Gould’s famed crime fighter was done a major disservice in a slapstick animated series that ran in the early 1960s.

All 130 episodes arrive on a four-disc DVD set and show how Dick Tracy was incorporated into a host of five-minute comedy sketches as he dispatched politically incorrect deputies such as GoGo Gomez and Joe Jitsu to apprehend some classic villains.

I did love seeing such archenemies as Pruneface, Mumbles, Flattop and the Mole in a color animated format, but overall, the show is painful to watch and clearly is not a representation of Mr. Gould’s more ominous vision for the Dick Tracy universe.

The extras: Even considering it is Dick Tracy’s 75th anniversary, viewers still get nothing to embellish the shows, not even a documentary on the history of the character or a biography of Mr. Gould. What a missed opportunity.

Read all about it: The set mildly redeems itself with a 64-page book of Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy comic strips reprinted by IDW Publishing. Three early black-and-white adventures from the 1930s offer the first appearance of the detective and help balance out the drivel presented in the cartoon series.

‘Return to The Planet of the Apes’

(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, $19.98)

The multimedia franchise about talking apes that took over Earth made it to Saturday mornings back in 1975 in a cartoon series that did a better job of preserving author Pierre Boulle’s original primate vision than the movies did.

A pair of DVDs offer all 14 episodes produced by the folks responsible for the Pink Panther cartoons and directed by the creator of Johnny Quest, Doug Wildey.

The series explores how in the year 3979, three human time-traveling astronauts find apes that really embrace technology (they drive vehicles and fly planes) and continue to try to exterminate backward humanoids.

Familiar characters such as Cornelius, Zira and General Urko grace the screen and offer fond monkey memories for older fans.

The extras: I feel privileged to be able to watch this classic show in a pretty clean-looking format, but I cannot believe 20th Century Fox would offer no bonus content, not even a documentary on the Planet of the Apes legacy.

Read all about it: Marvel Comics published a 29-issue black-and-white, magazine-sized Planet of the Apes series back in 1974. Fans will need to scour specialty stores and the Internet to track down any of these issues ($20 average in near-mint condition). They were based on the movies and distinguished by the work of legendary artists Alfredo Alcala, Herb Trimpe and Michael Ploog.

‘Smallville: The Complete Fifth Season’

(Warner Home Video, $59.98)

The adventures of teenage Clark Kent continue on the CW network this year, and the 2005 season is on DVD to introduce viewers to one of the best live-action superhero shows ever created.

Within six discs and 22 episodes, viewers get to hang out in the Fortress of Solitude, meet Aquaman and Cyborg, see Lois Lane perform a pole dance, learn about the plans of Brainiac and General Zod, watch Lex Luthor struggle to become an evil genius, and grieve at the loss of one of Superman’s heroes.

The series is an eclectic mix of action, drama and teen angst, and the combined story for the fifth season made the “Superman Returns” movie look amateur.

Best extras: Though not as impressive as previous Smallville sets, this one still delivers enough bonus nuggets to please fans. These include a pair of episodes with optional commentary tracks (the one with James Marsters aka Brainiac is best), a 30-minute behind-the-scenes look at the 100th episode, plenty of unaired scenes and a five-part story (previously seen on the Web) that continues the “Vengeance” episode.

Read all about it: Highlighted by contributions from more than a dozen artists, DC Comics compiles nine stories based on the television show into the 160-page trade paperback “Smallville” ($9.95).

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