Friday, July 18, 2003

This chronic feature lets me review what’s recently passed my bloodshot pupils. So pull up a chair, break out the sarcasm filter and welcome to:

Mr. Zad’s comic critique

Daredevil, DVD (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $29.99). The bloated miscue of director Ang Lee’s film adaptation of the Incredible Hulk looks unforgivable when compared to the fast-paced film drama afforded to tell the tale of Marvel Comics’ Man Without Fear.

I mention this because after digesting almost 150 minutes of “Hulk” at a theater, I soon popped in the DVD version of “Daredevil” and felt rejuvenated about bringing superheroes to the silver screen.

“Daredevil,” the movie, has actor and comic-book lover Ben Affleck taking on the role of blind lawyer Matt Murdock — aka Daredevil — who has been part of the Marvel Universe of characters since his introduction by writer Stan Lee and artist Bill Everett in 1964.

Mr. Affleck gets huge assistance from Colin Farrell, who plays archenemy Bullseye, as they demolish humans and scenery with a Greek tragedy love interest, Elektra, played by Jennifer Garner, aboard to further complicate a brooding plot of revenge and heroic vigilantism. The addition of Michael Clarke Duncan (John Coffey in “The Green Mile”) as another famous Marvel villain, the King Pin, rounds out a depressing story for Mr. Murdock but an exhilarating one for the Daredevil fan.

The film packs a wallop thanks to Matrix-like action scenes, the spark between Miss Garner and Mr. Affleck and the ability to faithfully re-create a story reminiscent of writer-artist Frank Miller’s successful 1980s run on the comic-book series.

Great, the comic aficionado sayeth — but what does the two-disc DVD package do for me and my kind who have already seen the movie as well as those humans not familiar with the protagonist?

Well, Natchios cheese breath, the first disc not only brings the 103-minute film to crystal-clear life, but also offers an enhanced viewing mode that, when played in tandem with a commentary track by director-writer Mark Steven Johnson and producer Gary Foster and on-screen text trivia, deconstructs both the cinematic accomplishment and sequential-art success story of the character.

Viewers will learn how Mr. Johnson has wanted fanatically to be a part of this movie since he was 14, understand the painstaking process involved in getting the costume to look just right — trying to appease both fan and studio weasels — and get prompted on what comic books must be read to completely understand the Daredevil mythos.

Two fantastic areas, broken up into film and comic, make up the second disc, with each anchored by an almost hourlong documentary.

“Beyond Hell’s Kitchen: Making Daredevil” simply looks at all of the fun involved in making an angst-ridden action picture as passionately as possible, right down to Miss Garner obsession-mastering the sai weapon and how a story by consultant Tom Sullivan led to the brilliant rain sequence in which Matt Murdock first sees Elektra in his Shadow world.

Also under film: Look for a tepid screen test of Miss Garner, a photo gallery of more than 100 images, three music videos and a few multiangle scene studies of key action sequences.

As for the comic banner, “The Men Without Fear: The Art of Daredevil” feature uses interviews with sequential-art legends and legends in the making; among them Stan Lee, Gene Colan, John Romita, John Romita Jr., Frank Miller, Joe Quesada, David Mack and Brian Michael Bendis — along with plenty of comic art to explore the illustrative heritage of a hero Mr. Miller considers unique for being known for what he cannot do.

Additionally, the comic category houses the Shadow World Tour, juxtaposing sequential-art panels with similar action from the film, modeling sheets highlighting text-based biographies and illustrations of five characters.

Those using a computer to gain entry to the disc also will appreciate a nice selection of PC-only features that include access to Marvel’s Web site to read a bunch of current Daredevil comic books online, a sensory game involving guessing a perpetrator solely by using such skills as voice recognition or observation, plenty of art and more history on the character.

Bottom-line rhyme: Daredevil comes to cinematic life further shining through a complementary DVD set, packed with knowledge and easily the best homage to film meets comic book yet.

To the point

A selected peek at titles that didn’t inspire a bloated evaluation.

• “Teen Titans” (a cartoon series, airing Saturday evenings at 9 on the Cartoon Network). The home of the Powerpuff Girls builds upon its successful alliance with the DC Comics universe of superheroes with tonight’s debut of “Teen Titans.”

Based slightly more on the 1980s version of the comic book New Teen Titans than the 1960s title, the animated effort has Batman’s usual teenage sidekick, Robin, leading comparably aged heroes Cyborg, Beast Boy, Starfire and Raven as they defend Star City from evildoers.

Produced by Glen Murakami (an Emmy winner for the science-fiction series “Batman Beyond”), the 30 minutes of mayhem mixes troubled teens in a heavily influenced anime style to create what Mr. Murakami calls a “superdeformed Japanese equivalent to a Tex Avery approach.”

Opening with a high-energy theme song — sung by Tokyo-based pop duo Puffy AmiYumi in a style that sounds like a skewered version of Johnny River’s “Secret Agent Man” — the show gets to the laughs quickly, thanks to the silly antics of Beast Boy and the deadpan delivery of Raven.

The series should appeal to the 10-year-old crowd that wants an equivalent to big brother’s Justice League of America.

• “Barnum: In Secret Service to the USA” (DC Comics, $29.95). Writers Howard Chaykin and David Tischman turn the famous showman Phineas Taylor Barnum into an action-adventure agent through a 128-page graphic novel harking back to the triumphant days of the ‘60s TV show “The Wild Wild West” that fits comfortably into the “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” framework.

After saving President Cleveland from an assassination attempt, Barnum selects a team of freaky fellows from his circus sideshow to hunt down the mastermind behind the grievous act, brilliant inventor Nikola Tesla.

The eccentric madman’s ultimate plan to topple America can be stopped only by Barnum’s crew, which features the likes of the midget strongman Colonel Dyna-Mite, the Italian sword-swallowing contortionist Plastino and mind reader Hypnosia coming to the rescue.

I loved artist Niko Henrichon’s Victorian-era illustrations, but the plot suffered from all-too-familiar concepts that left it a bit flat rather than an irreverent homage to history and the superhero team-up.

• Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski or write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

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