- The Washington Times - Friday, March 16, 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.

‘Dragon Ball Z: Season One Vegeta Saga’

(FUNimation Entertainment, $49.99)

Comic-book creator Akira Toriyama’s epic about Earth’s greatest hero, Goku, and his Saiyan struggles, was adapted to an anime (Japanese animation) format back in 1989. Now it comes to the frugal masses in a six-disc DVD set. The package offers the first 39 episodes of the groundbreaking show for an incredibly reasonable price.

Until last year, those who wished to watch the series via DVD would have needed to shell out about $25 per three episodes of the massive story arc that introduces a powerful villain named Vegeta and his ties to Goku, as well as the powers of the Saiyan race of warriors.

FUNimation has digitally cleaned up the episodes to remove the grain and scratches and has cropped them to be presented in a widescreen format as opposed to the originally televised 4:3 aspect ratio.

Although this supposed upgrade has caused the anime purist to choke on his Senzu beans, first timers will wonder what all the fuss is about after enjoying the 15-hour epic.

What Dragon Ball Z newcomers will find irritating will be the advertisements for other FUNimation DVD series, which are at the start of every disc and cannot be skipped or fast-forwarded.

Best extra: The Marathon feature enables viewers just to watch the action and cuts out all of the start and end credits of the shows. On the sixth disc, viewers also get a look at the high-definition digital remastering process, which involved $2 million of equipment, and a three-minute promo from FUNimation sort of explaining its decision to widescreen the cartoon. To round out the package, a 24-page color booklet introduces the heroes and villains of the story.

Read all about it: The Vegeta Saga can be followed through Viz Media’s American-translated Dragon Ball Z trade paperbacks, Vols. 1 to 5 (averaging $7.95 each), which compile Mr. Toriyama’s original masterpiece.

‘Doctor Who The Complete Second Series’

(BBC Video, $99.99)

Actor Christopher Eccleston brilliantly brought back to life the good doctor for 13 episodes of the reinvigorated BBC series in 2005 and then promptly quit the show. It was enough of a traumatic experience for the Who fan to hide forever in his TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space) time machine.

Immediately, enter David Tennant. Could this British veteran of stage and screen maintain the momentum in one of the best-written and -produced science-fiction sagas on the air?

Unbelievably, yes, and this DVD set highlights Mr. Tennant’s tenure as the 10th Doctor Who through a spiffy six-disc set that contains the 14 episodes from the 2005-06 season.

Although all of this 10th doctor’s time-traveling adventures must be seen, some of my favorites in the set include “School Reunion,” which has the doctor reunited with former comrade Sarah Jane Smith and his robotic pooch K-9; a two-part story in which he battles the ultimate evil (“The Impossible Planet” and “The Satan Pit”); and a two-part return of the Cybermen.

Doctor Who continues as a pop-culture, science-fiction juggernaut not to be missed.

Best extra: With more than four hours’ worth of behind-the-scenes and video-diary features from which to choose, fans will be quite satisfied with this DVD set.

I would start with the minisegment that highlights the ninth doctor’s regeneration into Mr. Tennant’s version and then savor all of the five In-Vision Commentary tracks. This extra enables viewers to watch an episode along with the staff and actors talking about the show from a small pop-up box in the corner of the screen.

Read all about it: Panini Comics offers a comic strip in its monthly Doctor Who magazine. Trade paperback compilations of the strips continue to be released in Britain. One of the latest, Doctor Who — Oblivion, Vol. 3 (15 British pounds, about $30) offers sequential-art adventures with the eighth version of the character.

‘The Complete Ben 10: Season 1’

(Warner Home Video, $19.99)

Cartoon Network’s chronicles of the action-packed life of 10-year-old Ben Tennyson arrive in a two-disc DVD set to offer the first 13 episodes of the science-fiction adventure.

Based on the concepts developed by the comic-book and multimedia creator collective Man of Action (Joe Casey, Joe Kelly, Duncan Rouleau and Steven T. Seagle), the animated series explores Ben’s acquisition of the powerful alien weapon the Omnitrix, which enables him to transform himself into 10 alien life forms.

Highlights of the first season include the introduction of Ben and his powers in “And Then There Were Ten,” the hero’s temporary alliance with “Kevin 11” and “Secrets,” which pits supervillain Vilgax against Ben and his family.

Best extras: The choices are limited. Youngsters get a three-minute art lesson on how to draw Ben from storyboard director Scooter Tidwell. Animation fans will find an informative optional commentary track delivered by the primary production staff and Man of Action’s Mr. Rouleau on the episode “Secrets.”

Read all about it: Ben shares sequential-art pages with some of his other animated pals in DC Comics’ monthly comic-book anthology series Cartoon Network Action Pack ($2.25).

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