- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 19, 2009

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 and Blu-ray enabled computers and home entertainment systems) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Plastic Man: The Complete Collection (Warner Home Video, Not Rated, $44.98) This Golden Age comic-book hero starred in a Saturday morning cartoon from 1979 to 1981, exposing young viewers to his rubbery crime-fighting antics. Now Warner Home Video is offering 35 wacky episodes from the vintage TV series in a four-disc DVD set.

For those who were not around when Super Friends ruled the airwaves, this Plastic Man is not the clever, 1940s Jack Cole comic version of the character. Crafted by Ruby Spears Productions and Hanna-Barbera Productions, viewers found a homogenized, kid-friendly, Looney Toons-inspired hero, reimagined with Scooby Doo villains.

Our hero’s unfunny baggage included a female sidekick in high heels and short skirt named Penny and Hula Hula, a Polynesian helper who sounded like Lou Costello.

Slapstick and hijinks ensued throughout the half-hour episodes (a laugh track conspicuously absent ) as the hero shaped himself on demand into such items as a hose, ball, plank, springs and even a turkey carcass while playing down to the 6-year-old demographic.

I’m really surprised none of the Justice League stopped by to help does anybody remember when the Caped Crusader teamed up with the Mystery Inc. gang? Unfortunately, a dirty, occasionally out-of-focus, inconsistent color transfer makes it look like Warner Home Video released the set as a cash grab rather than a cherished piece of animated memorabilia.

By the way, this is not a complete collection. The original series, called “The Plastic Man Comedy/Adventure Show” also featured shorts with Baby Plas (Penny and the rubbery fellow finally acted on their romantic impulses and had, of course, a bouncing baby boy) and the Plastic Family.

Best Extras: A 15-minute retrospective covering the comics and cartoons is worth a look. About a half-dozen people offer memories, facts and introspection, including a cavalcade of “Batman: Brave and the Bold” production staff; comic and animation historians; Tom Kenny, the voice of SpongeBob and the 2006 Plastic Man; Mark Evanier, writer of the original television series; and voice-casting guru Andrea Romano.

The best episode on the set by far is the 2006 pilot for the Plastic Man cartoon reboot, “Puddle Trouble.” It certainly plays light years ahead of the original cartoon series with its stylish, Tex Avery-style chaos.

Read all about it: Enjoy Jack Cole’s original vision for the character in DC Comics’ hardcover release of the Plastic Man Archives: Volumes 1 to 8 ($49.95 each). Each book beautifully reprints about 10 issues and just begins to tackle Mr. Cole’s 15-year run with the character. I also recommend artist Kyle Baker’s gorgeous and absurdist take on the hero in his 12 issues from the early 2000s. They are contained in a pair of trade paperbacks, Plastic Man: On the Lam ($14.99) and Plastic Man: Rubber Bandits ($14.99).

Star Wars: The Clone Wars, The Complete Season One, (Lucasfilm Ltd. and Warner Home Video, Not Rated, $59.99) A galaxy far, far away got a cutting-edge, animated look this year in a weekly Cartoon Network series that appeals to padawans in the making.

All 22 episodes from the first season are available in pristine, 1080p high definition on three Blu-ray discs, complete with eye-popping space battles, light saber duels and laser fire fights.

This “Star Wars” tween’s dream series features 23-minute stories mired in the years when the Republic was embroiled in a galaxy-consuming war with the Separatists. That means appearances by stalwarts such as R2-D2, Padme Amidala, Ben Kenobi, Mace Windu and, of course, Anakin Skywalker with his padawan Ahsoka Tano.

Standout episodes include the very first, “Ambush,” where Yoda almost single-handedly dismantles a Separatist droid battalion; a wondrous fight between AT-TEs lodged upon a meteor and a massive space battleships in “Downfall of a Droid”; and great light-saber action in “Cloak of Darkness.” Even “Bombad Jedi,” co-starring the fan-vilified Jar Jar Binks, is strong.

The great musical score, with Gregorian-style chanting for the bad guys and classic John Williams Star Wars themes, also helps propel the action.

I appreciated the dramatic directorial choices showing clone troopers falling in battle, the vicious slicing and dicing of droids by Jedi and the pure evil General Grievous’ displays as he instructs his minions to shoot down a defenseless clone medical transport.

Unfortunately, the really lame grunt humor from the battle droids often falls flat and disrupts established tension in the story. It is also a bit difficult to swallow a computer-generated animation style that gives humans hair that looks like wood carvings.

However, the space fights look as if they were plucked from a live-action “Star Wars” movie. Touches such as the incredible facial detail for Assajj Ventress, clone trooper armor variations, those Rodian’s crystal ball eyes and carvings on Plo Koon’s breathing apparatus are just stunning.

Despite my minor gripes I still miss Genndy Tartakovsky’s Clone Wars series what’s most apparent here is this latest character- and moral-rich “Star Wars” series equals and often exceeds the acting and plots of the previous films.

Best Extras: Viewers get a fairly tame selection of extras considering the innovation and technological breakthroughs delivered by George Lucas and his various companies over the years.

Besides an extended director’s cut of seven episodes, every episode also gets a short behind-the-scenes featurette with staff interviews and high-definition clips interwoven from the live-action movies.

The Jedi Temple Archives sounds more intriguing than its reality. Basically, fans have access to 2-D and 3-D art through either a standalone viewer or with on-demand access in the behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Additionally, bound within the packaging is a 68-page production journal containing lots of concept designs and a plug for a “Making of Season One” art book. That Lucas fellow never misses a marketing opportunity.

Read all about it: Dark Horse Comics offers a monthly series called Star Wars: The Clone Wars ($2.99 each) that acts as a compliment to the animated show. The comic style can’t compare to the high-def on-screen exploits, but many of the issues are co-written by one of the developers of the Cartoon Network show, Henry Gilroy, to give an air of continuity.

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