Caped Crusaders on Call

By Jen Chaney
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, October 21, 2005

Two famous comic book characters have used their superpowers this week, but not to clean up Gotham City or save Lois Lane. Instead, Batman and Superman are focusing their considerable strengths on dominating the DVD market.

In addition to this summer's blockbuster "Batman Begins" ($28.98), Warner Bros. also released on Tuesday two collections inspired by the DC Comics characters: "Batman: The Motion Picture Anthology" ($79.92), a set featuring the four "Batman" movies that preceded this year's franchise-reviving installment, and "Adventures of Superman: The Complete First Season" ($39.98), the 1950s television show starring George Reeves as the Man of Steel. And that doesn't even include "Batman vs. Dracula" ($24.98), an animated feature in stores Friday.

Call this a coincidence, or call it what it actually is: an act of superheroic synergy. Though the studio's marketing energies are focused on "Batman Begins" (see capsule review on this page or read a full DVD review on ), clearly the hope is that these additional titles can ride Christian Bale's batwings to a successful run on the DVD sales charts.

The "Motion Picture Anthology," with two-disc special editions of "Batman," "Batman Returns," "Batman Forever" and the much-maligned "Batman & Robin," practically has the words "holiday gift" stamped across its snazzy silver-and-black packaging. Indeed, fans of all four films or collectors of comic book-related "swag" should be happy to receive this compilation, which comes with several hours' worth of bonus material. Each DVD also is sold individually, providing a more economical option for anyone who covets only the Michael Keaton installments.

But even those who hated "Batman & Robin" with a passion that could melt Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze may enjoy director Joel Schumacher's occasionally candid commentary track on the film. Though he never calls it a flop, he does point out numerous problems (too much emphasis on toy tie-ins and the studio's insistence on making the movie "family-friendly," among others) that prevented George Clooney's turn as the Dark Knight from winning over audiences. "If you love a movie, there are hundreds of people that made it lovable for you," Schumacher says. "If you don't like it, blame the director. That's what our names are there for." Holy acceptance of responsibility, Batman!

If, like Jerry Seinfeld and Nicolas Cage, you prefer superheroes who proudly plaster a big "S" across their chests, "Adventures of Superman" should provide hours of worthwhile retro-entertainment. Featuring that famous introduction -- "Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane!" -- and storylines that play like a mix of cops-and-robbers capers, film noir and lost episodes of "Scooby-Doo," "Superman" holds up remarkably well even though more than a half-century has passed since its TV debut.

Of course, the program isn't as slick as its more modern descendants, such as "Smallville" or the 1990s hit "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman." In the 1950s, Superman's tights tended to sag around the knees, naive reporter Jimmy Olsen regularly uttered words like "Jeepers!" and, sometimes, the shadows of the actors were clearly cast across the set's simplistic backdrops.

But Reeves still makes for an admirable, charming Superman; really, his chin alone could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Extra features on this five-disc set include a 17-minute documentary; four commentary tracks recorded by "Superman" experts; a 1940 short featuring a young Reeves; and vintage commercials in which the "Super" star extols the virtues of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes. All of it will undoubtedly put baby boomers in a delirious nostalgia coma for at least a couple of days, but even younger viewers may be drawn into the dramas involving Clark Kent and the gang from the Daily Planet. If that happens, don't worry about continuing to satisfy the appetite for kryptonite; season two of "Adventures of Superman" is slated for release on Jan. 17, the same day the second season of "Lois & Clark" is scheduled to soar into stores.

Apparently, like the battle for truth, justice and the American way, the attempt to cross-market DVDs also is never-ending.

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