- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The comic book permeates all levels of popular culture. This sporadic feature reviews some recent examples from the world of digital video discs and also includes a recommended reading list to extend the multimedia adventures.

Thor: Tales of Asgard (Lionsgate Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, $29.99)  A direct-to-disc animated adventure piggybacks on the release of the new live-action “Thor” movie to give fans a look at the early life of Midgard’s sworn protector.

I have been disappointed constantly with the efforts of both DC and Marvel to capture the PG-13 cartoon market. They have tended to play it safe, taking no risks with the animation design.

This effort is no exception. Once again, instead of trying to challenge the medium, viewers are stuck with a style that looks as if it were, subjunctive pulled from a Fox Kids network series.

The difference this time is that the story does not disappoint.

Young brothers Thor and Loki are still very good friends (they eventually become sworn enemies) as they embark on a quest for the lost Sword of Surtur.

With help from the legendary Warriors Three (Volstagg, Hogun and Fandral; think viking musketeers), the pair travel around the nine realms and battle with Frost Giants of Jotunheim, Valkyries and a dark elf while ultimately bringing a war to the steps of Daddy Odin’s Asgard.

The 76-minute tale reminds viewers of the recklessness of youth and dangers of narcissism while demonstrating the power of family and friends in the time of crisis. Not bad lessons for anyone watching.

In the Blu-ray format, the presentation looks stunning despite the animation’s mediocrity. I also was impressed by the muted color palette, which looks about right for chronicling the early days of Asgard.

Best extra: Two optional commentary tracks starring most of the key production staff won’t impress. I did enjoy a 20-minute behind-the-scenes featurette that addresses Thor’s comic-book origins and the creators who made him great.

Also, viewers can watch the 23-minute episode “Thor the Mighty” from Disney XD’s “The Avengers: The Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” animated series. I like the episode’s character designs better than those in the “Tales of Asgard” main feature; the Frost Giants are just nastier looking.

Read all about it: For more information on the young life of our future hammer-wielding hero, check out Marvel Comics’ 12-issue series from 2004, Thor: Son of Asgard. A trade paperback ($34.99) compiles the entire story and features some dynamite art by Greg Tocchini.

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