- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2010

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 centers) and also includes a recommended sequential-art reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Halo Legends (Warner Home Video, rated PG-13, $44.98) Microsoft’s sci-fi video-game universe comes to animated life in a collection of short cartoons created by some of the masters of Japanese anime.

Much as “The Animatrix” and “Batman: Gotham Knights” offered an extended exploration of each’s pop-culture mythology, this collection concentrates on Halo’s war between Covenant and USNC forces while digging deeper into the origins and lives of the species affected.

A single Blu-ray disc contains seven beautifully crafted stand-alone pieces averaging 15 minutes each. Among the best:

“The Duel” In clearly the most radical and gorgeous of all the vignettes, director Hiroshi Yamazaki takes viewers into a vibrant, living watercolor world of the Elites, where we learn a bit about their code of honor, samurai influences and the plight of the Arbiter Fal.

“Odd One Out” Daisuke Nishio teams up with Toei Animation to deliver a “Dragon Ball Z”-inspired, tongue-in-cheek tale about Spartan 1337, a fellow with an ego as powerful as his assault rifle. Stranded on a planet, the warrior encounters dinosaurs, the Covenant’s latest furry weapon and some superpowered kids led by a high-tech Mama.

“The Package” Shinji Aramaki directs Casio Entertainment in the production of a stunning computer-generated, hyperrealistic-looking adventure starring the Master Chief. An elite group of Spartans is on a rescue mission, which translates into viewers seeing some wondrous weapons, a high-powered space battle and a duel with laser swords.

Somebody sign up these guys to do a weekly Halo series, please.

The other segments are equally enjoyable, as they explore familiar topics, squads and terrain such as O.D.S.T., the Flood, the world of the Forerunners, Red Spartans, brutes and the assassination of a Prophet.

I’ll gush about the dramatic moments (reference Hades Squad’s Ghost and his humanity in “Prototype”) and the wonders of high definition that does eye-popping justice to all of the animation.

This powerhouse of an anthology never falls flat as it pays homage to the original source material and breaks new ground in the field of animation.

Best extras: Each animated piece is accompanied by an eight-minute behind-the-scenes look at its origins that is not to be missed by anyone in love with the creative process.

Better yet, I’ll take the 23-minute recap of the Halo story, exclusive to Blu-ray, featuring clips from all of the shorts and interviews with Microsoft Game Studios writer Eric Nylund, who is well-known for his work on the Halo canon. This is especially helpful for those new to the Halo universe.

Read all about it: Marvel Publishing handles all Halo sequential art these days. Its most recent, a five-issue series, Halo: Blood Line ($3.99 each), chronicles the Spartan team code-named Black. I also recommend learning about the life of an O.D.S.T. trooper in Peter David’s Halo: Helljumper series, conveniently compiled into a soon-to-be-released trade-size hardcover ($24.99).

SGU: Stargate Universe 1.0, (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, not rated, $59.99) From the combined might of a major motion picture and three television series, the Stargate universe has been collecting fans nearly nonstop for 25 years.

The latest continuation of the mythology is another live-action television series on the Syfy cable channel that requires little knowledge of the Stargate canon and might interest the sci-fi drama fan.

After a group of civilians, researchers and military types from Earth use a Stargate (a ringlike direct-dial device that ports anything that moves through it to similar rings around the universe) to escape an attack, they find themselves on a barely functioning starship called Destiny.

Destiny, which belongs to the Ancients the folks who built the Stargates roams the galaxy on autopilot and is tied to Stargates all over the universe with the mission to help its current crew, which is longing to return to Earth.

An ensemble cast of characters is stuck in the ship, including hotheaded but brilliant scientist Dr. Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle), college-age hacker Eli Wallace (David Blue) and determined team leader Col. Everett Young (Louis Ferreira).

The first 10 episodes of the series’ first season get the Blu-ray treatment on a pair of discs. I’m not sure the grizzled look of the show demands a high-definition format, especially when inspecting the dimly lit starship, but the white-hot dunes of distant planets and the fiery reflections of a star look spectacular.

A couple of clever ideas help freshen a plot that often feels stale in the wake of “Battlestar Galactica” and “Star Trek: Voyager.”

First, there’s the generous use of Alteran communication stones, which enable characters to travel into the body of someone else who also has a stone. So, for example, Col. Young’s consciousness can visit Earth in the body of Col. David Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) while Telford checks out the Destiny in Young’s injured body.

Next, there’s the cinema verite use of Kinos, a group of self-levitating orbs that act as videographers for the travelers on Destiny and are used to test what’s on the other side of a Stargate. Controlled by Eli, they offer an emotional and sometimes humorous look at day-to-day life on a starship with a mind of its own.

On a less complimentary note, I won’t rant too much about how much of a rip-off it is for 20th Century Fox to offer half a season of the series at a price that often buys a show’s full season. (Check out a full season of “Lost” on Blu-ray, with discounts on some Web sites bringing it down to $37.99 versus “SG-U” discounted to $38.99).

Whoops, that was a rant. Suffice to report, this may be a Netflix opportunity for most fans.

Best extras: Besides an optional commentary track for each episode and an extended version of the three-part “Air,” viewers will enjoy a collection of Kino video moments spread out on both discs. An interface shaped like a Kino controller has the viewer pick a segment to get a quick primer on the Stargate, a tour of the ship, the chance to spy on some characters and messages recorded by the crew members in case they do not survive.

Also, look into a swirling constellation tied to Destiny’s star-map entries and click on 30 points or so to watch three-minute nuggets going behind the scenes. Each features interviews from all of the principal actors and much of the top production crew.

Read all about it: Avatar Press kept the Stargate universe alive in sequential art through a selection of comic-book limited series from 2003 to 2007. Find the trade paperback Stargate SG-1: P.O.W. ($13.99) for an example. Dynamite Entertainment is licensed to publish the comics and is threatening a new comic, titled Stargate, No. 0 ($1) to include a story based on the new show.

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