- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 28, 2007

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.

Spawn: The Animated Collection, 10th Anniversary Signature Edition

(HBO Video, Rated: TV-MA, $39.99)

Four DVDs encased in an illustrated, etched metal package and nearly impossible to extract lead owners into one of the most violent adaptations of a comic book ever produced.

Also critically and popularly acclaimed, the series tapped into Todd McFarlane’s famed anti-hero’s world and was translated perfectly into a very-mature-rated horror cartoon.

For three seasons in the 1990s, HBO gave Mr. McFarlane a canvas to explore the very bad and occasionally good side of human nature as his conflicted character searched for revenge on his killers, clues to his origin and a reunion with his wife, Wanda.

Only if the badly burned Spawn could break free of Hell’s controls and challenge the underworld would he reach his goal of salvation.

Owners get all 18 digitally remastered episodes of the series, which boasted superlative voice-over work by Keith David as Spawn and Richard Dysart as his unwelcome mentor and conscience, Cogliostro — and for that role, Mr. Dysart should have won an Emmy.

The pair of actors made the program as powerful a drama as seen in any format on television in the 1990s and beyond.

Besides the incredible animated style, my favorite memories of the series were the live-action introductions of the episodes by Mr. McFarlane, who acted as the Canadian version of Rod Serling with his odd accent and ominous message.

Best extra: Besides the rehash of extras included from the 1999 Ultimate Collection edition DVD, owners get a frame-by-frame study of the first episode, from storyboard to animation, 15 character profiles and a 10-minute step-by-step look at the making of an episode.

More important are the new optional commentary tracks for a quartet of episodes. In each of them, Mr. McFarlane not only dryly and clinically dissects the fine details of the production but, more impressively, manages to talk nearly nonstop.

Read all about it: Spawn has resided on the shelves of comic-book stores since 1992. Those wishing to catch up quickly on his adventures should pick up the Spawn Collection, Volume One ($19.95) and Volume Two ($29.95), trade paperbacks that contain the first 33 issues of the acclaimed series.

The Archies: The Complete Series

(Genius Products, $26.95)

An authentic and extremely corny adaptation of the comic-book world of Archie Andrews and his teenage pals gave Saturday morning viewers a reason to laugh and get groovy back in 1968.

The complete series is available in a two-disc set that offers all 17 episodes (two stories per episode) and reveals just how dramatically the American cartoon has changed since the 1960s.

Each 12-minute plunge into the Archie universe begins with one of the worst theme songs I have ever heard. Characters such as Veronica, Betty, Reggie and the much-maligned Jughead then get ample screen time to complicate one another’s lives and those of Big Moose, Mr. Weatherbee and Coach Cleats.

Each episode also featured a dance step (everybody do the stick shift) and new bubble-gum song from the gang.

As a quick note, the Archies was one of the first animated pop supergroups and the precursor to Josie and the Pussycats.

Overall, the wholesome level of cheesy, comedic action runs high here, but some of the tension that underlies Archie Andrews’ relationship with Betty and Veronica (he often was found sandwiched between the girls’ lips, for example) might look a bit weird to today’s Saturday morning censors.

Best extra: The interview with the young-at-heart executive producer Lou Schiemer is a real hoot. He glosses over the history of the show and delivers a shtick one might hear from a wacky granddad in the family.

Viewers also get a jukebox of the songs featured in the show. However, it would have been nice if a version of the band’s megahit, “Sugar Sugar” (not originally part of any of the Archie shows but part of an album) had been included to sweeten the musical selections.

Read all about it: Owners of the set get the first six pages reprinted from the first issue of the Everything’s Archie comic-book series. The sequential story from 1969 covers the day the gang visited Filmation Studios, where their cartoon was produced.

Zadzooks! is on the Web. Read an extended version of his column that includes a review of Space 1999: 30th Anniversary Edition DVD set (video1.washingtontimes.com/zadzooks). Call 202/636-3016; fax 202/269-1853; e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes .com; or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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