The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
Christmas shopping for comic-book fans

December 2, 2004
By Franklin Harris

Have you seen the crowds at the mall? Have you tried finding a parking space? I don't know about you, but I'm glad my Christmas shopping is done. But if you are among the unlucky many still trying to find gifts this holiday season, here are some suggestions for the comic-book geeks on your list:

You can't go wrong with DVD box sets, and here are three that should appeal to most fanboys (and fangirls).

"Wonder Woman: The Complete First Season" ($39.98). For an entire generation, Lynda Carter defined the DC Comics heroine. Airing first on ABC and later on CBS, "Wonder Woman" avoided the camp humor of the 1960s "Batman" TV series while still not taking itself too seriously. In tone, the show fit right in with other mid-1970s action/adventure programs, including "The Bionic Woman" and "Charlie's Angels," which featured female leads in traditionally male roles.

This three-disc set contains all 13 first-season episodes, plus the 90-minute pilot movie. The first season is set during World War II, with Wonder Woman (Carter) coming to America to help fight the Nazis. "Carol Burnett Show" regular Lyle Waggoner plays Wonder Woman's largely ineffectual sidekick, Maj. Steve Trevor.

Bonus features include a documentary retrospective and an audio commentary with Carter and producer Douglas S. Cramer on the pilot movie.

Useless trivia: Waggoner tested for the title role in the "Batman" TV series but lost out to Adam West.

"Batman: The Animated Series, Vol. 1" ($49.98). This four-disc set collects the first 28 episodes of the 1992-95 cartoon series, which is widely regarded as the best version of the Caped Crusader ever to hit the screen, big or small.

"Spider-Man: The '67 Collection" ($59.99). Even if you've never seen the show, you know its theme song: "Spider-Man, Spider-Man/Does whatever a spider can!" This six-disc box set includes all 52 half-hour episodes of Spider-Man's first cartoon series, which aired Saturday mornings on ABC from 1967 to 1970. The animation is crude by today's standards, but for those who grew up on the show during its network run and later in syndication, nostalgia conquers all.

Ever since comics gained mainstream credibility, publishers have flooded the shelves with biographies of comic-book creators and histories of the medium. Here are two of the best:

"Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of Comic Book" by Gerald Jones (Basic Books, $26). Jones traces the story of American superhero comics from their beginnings in the late 1930s to the present day, focusing most of his attention on Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel and DC Comics founders Harry Donenfeld and Jack Lebowitz. Other key players include Will Eisner, whose studio supplied stories to several publishers; Plastic Man creator Jack Cole, who went on to fame as a Playboy cartoonist before committing suicide in 1958; Batman co-creator Bob Kane, who turned over most of his work to others while taking all of the credit; and Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marsden, whose unconventional theories on sex and relationships found their way into his character's adventures.

"Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book" by Jordan Raphael and Tom Spurgeon (Chicago Review Press, $24.95). This engaging and evenhanded biography of the controversial Marvel Comics editor and writer gets behind Lee's decades of self-promotion to reveal the real man who, with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and a few others, gave birth to Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men and a universe of other characters. Like his heroes, Lee has feet of clay, but he is still, undeniably, "The Man."

All prices cited are suggested retail prices, but you won't have to look long to find some bargains.

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