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Last Minute Shopping Guide: 2004 — Day One

By Michael David Sims
20 December 2004 — With Christmas less than a week away, one would assume that nearly everyone has their shopping done. But one look at the stores clearly states otherwise: long plodding lines, grumpy parents franticly speeding from one store to the next for that special item, parking lots packed to the brim. As usual, only the wise August shoppers are done. And as the days push on and the Christmas spirit slowly begins to swell in our bellies, the shelves will continue to thin — making last minute shopping that much more difficult and the chance of giving a gift card that much more likely. However, nothing says "I didn't know what to get you" or "There was nothing left 'cause I went at the last minute" more than a gift card. So instead of handing over a prepaid shopping experience, I'm here to help you find those last minute gifts (and deals in some cases) for that special someone.

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Comic Books
This year saw plenty of great graphic novels and trade paperbacks hit the store shelves, and, if you know nothing of comics, it can be a little daunting sifting through the stacks and stacks of superhero goodness to find the right book for a loved one. And while stores like Barnes & Noble and Borders offer great deals and a wide selection on TPBs, the staff usually has very little knowledge in the way of what's good or what's appropriate for certain age groups. The last thing you want to do is grab Batman: The Killing Joke for your six year old nephew.

Worse yet, if you happen to have a comic book shop in your neighborhood, they're often dark and cave-like and cold to outsiders. Very few are staffed with the friendliest of people, and most want you in and out with as few questions as possible so they can get back to watching their taped KISS concert (circa Love Gun) or their grainy, fourth generation bootlegged copy of Prozac Nation. Shops that cater to families and outsiders as well the hardcore fanboys — the brightly lit ones with a warm, knowledgeable staff and dust-free shelves — are so very few and far between, that it isn't worth your bother to go look for one when seeking help during the holidays.

Instead of subjecting yourself to any of that, you can educate yourself by reading this list of the hottest comic book collections to see print in the last twelve months — collections that will make any comic book reader a happy comic book reader.

Age Recommendation: 16+
Best For: hardcore comic book and Neil Gaiman fanboys; history buffs
Description: While Neil Gaiman is a name that even non-comic book readers recognize as one of the best authors of the day — mostly due to his magnificent Sandman series — and those same people often purchase anything with his name on it, 1602 isn't necessarily for them. It was written for hardcore comic book fanboys by a comic book fanboy. That's not to say the average reader — comic or otherwise — couldn't enjoy 1602, it's just that many of the references and subtleties will unknowingly fly over their heads. Additionally, those with a penchant for historical pieces (especially alternate history, such as fans of Harry Turtledove) might enjoy seeing what role superheroes would play during the Inquisition.

Bone: One Volume Edition
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: children of all ages
Description: This is it, every single issue of Jeff Smith's action/fantasy opus collected in one giant, 1300+ page beast. Clocking in at a mere $40, everyone who reads comic books needs this volume in their collection. While kids will love Smith's thick-lined cartoon style and fun adventures, Bone offers compelling stories for any adult.

Ultimate Spider-Man Collection
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: superhero lovers of all ages
Description: For $50 you can present that special someone with the first 40 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man. This modern retelling of Spider-Man's humble beginnings is often declared as the greatest superhero comic book on the market today — if not ever. The crisp writing and stunning art mesh like no other comic before it and will make the perfect gift for that special someone.
Note: The Ultimate Spider-Man Collection is a Barnes & Noble exclusive, and, as such, can only be purchased in one of their many stores or online.

The Ultimates, Vol. 1
Age Recommendation: 18+
Best For: hardcore comic book fanboys; action movie aficionados
Description: While Ultimate Spider-Man has been correctly dubbed the greatest comic book of modern age, The Ultimates is simply the greatest team comic book of all time. While some fans were initially put off by the idea of updating The Avengers, their harsh criticism was quickly washed away from the moment they saw Bryan Hitch's impossibly flawless art and read Mark Millar's perfectly realized story. If you know someone who loves action movies — especially those over the top, half-a-billion dollar budgeted Arnold Schwarzenegger-type films — they'll love the all-out action of The Ultimates.
Note: If you're going to ignore my age recommendations of the other selections, you must obey it for this one. The Ultimates is bloody and violent and filled with unsavory language that would clearly grant this an R rating if it were ever adapted for the big screen.

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Yes — there are plenty of great DVDs out there, but not every one would make the perfect gift. And choosing between the standard edition, Director's Cut, or Ultimate-Super-άber-Swank collection can be a little frightening to say the least. So, what follows is a list of the best DVDs of 2004 and a recommendation on which edition to buy (assuming there's more than one).

Batman: The Animated Series, Vol. 1
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: everyone who loves Batman and/or cartoons
Description: Allow me to quote myself from a piece I wrote about BTAS: "Without a doubt Batman: The Animated Series is the greatest cartoon ever." Be it five, ten or a hundred years from now, those words will still ring true. It is the only perfect rendition of Batman to date and serves as a standard that all other animated shows must now strive for. Featuring four discs and 28 episodes (including two with commentary), there is no reason this shouldn't be in everyone's collection.

Dawn of the Dead (2003)
Age Recommendation: 18+
Best For: horror freaks
Description: While most remakes of horror films suck — I'm looking at you Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and The Ring — this take on George Romero's classic actually gets it right. The filmmakers chose to tweak what was necessary — mostly for modern audiences — while staying true to its roots, and thus created a film that can be appreciated on its own as well as a remake to a masterpiece.
Which Edition To Buy: Unrated Director's Cut

Age Recommendation: 13+
Best For: comic book and action lovers
Description: Hellboy might not be the best comic book adaptation ever, but it's surely a fun romp through a world filled with monsters and demons and freaks and undead Nazis. Ron Perlman's gruff, tough-as-nails-yet-has-a-sensitive-side Hellboy seemingly knows he's in an action flick, and loves every minute of it — which brings a certain charm to both the red-skinned demon and film.
Which Edition To Buy: Three-Disc Director's Cut

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: every-freaking-one
Description: If you haven't seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy, you're truly missing out. Quite simply, this is the greatest trilogy of all time. Yes — it's above and beyond even Star Wars. And even if you haven't seen it, I guarantee that special someone has (multiple times) and is dying for a loving someone to handover this collection come Saturday.
Which Edition To Buy: Platinum Series Special Extended Edition

The Ultimate Matrix Collection
Age Recommendation: 13+
Best For: sc-fi, action and karate lovers
Description: After all of the hype and anticipation, we all know the last two Matrix films didn't quite live up to expectations, but that hardly means they sucked. They just weren't as good as we had all hoped. Having said that, this collection is the mother of all DVD gift sets. Coming in at a whopping ten discs (which includes all three films, The Animatrix, and hours of behind-the-scenes material), this collection would definitely put a smile on Scrooge's ugly mug.
Which Edition To Buy: non-bust edition

Quantum Leap: The Complete First Season
Quantum Leap: The Complete Second Season
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: sci-fi nuts
Description (first season): Though it was far from an instant hit, Quantum Leap slowly worked its way into the hearts and minds of many. The time traveling adventures of Dr. Sam Beckett brought us weekly doses of sc-fi goodness that TV has since forgotten how to produce. Sadly, the first season was a short one — a mere eight episodes — but features the timeless "The Color of Truth" as well as the two-part pilot.
Description (second season): Brought back for a second — and longer — season, Quantum Leap finally found a larger audience thanks to episodes such as "Good Morning, Peoria" and "MIA".

Shaun of the Dead
Age Recommendation: 18+
Best For: horror freaks; lovers of black comedy
Description: Chances are you haven't seen Shaun of the Dead — the story of a slacker who must save his ex-girlfriend, mum and mates while zombies ("Don't say that!") devour London — as it wasn't in American theaters all that long. When it was, however, it gained a cult following due to its witty humor, sensational acting, sense of timing and a perfect script. You absolutely must get this for anybody you know who loves zombie flicks.

The Simpsons: The Complete Fifth Season
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: every-freaking-one
Description: Look! This is when The Simpsons were still worth watching. Anyway, to save myself the trouble of writing a description for a show we've all seen a billion-and-one times, here's a truncated list of episode: "Homer's Barbershop Quartet", "Cape Feare", "Homer Goes to College", "Marge on the Lam", "The Last Temptation of Homer", "Deep Space Homer" and "Sweet Seymour Skinner's Baadasssss Song".

Sliders: The First & Second Seasons
Age Recommendation: 13+
Best For: sc-fi nuts
Description: Swooping in while Quantum Leap was still hot, Sliders told the story of four cross-dimensional travelers as they worked to find their way home. Much like the afore mentioned Quantum Leap, Sliders was a mere five seasons long and featured a rather short first and second seasons — which is why they're both collected in one set. It will come as no surprise to fans of the show that nine of the Top Ten episodes (ranked by TVTome.com) are featured here — including the two-part pilot, "Gillian Of The Spirits" and "As Time Goes By".

Spider-Man 2
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: every-freaking-one
Description: Throughout this piece I've used the term "the best" quite often, and here's another instance: Spider-Man 2 is the best superhero film of all time. Forget Batman, Superman, X2 and even The Incredibles — all top notch films if there ever were any. Spider-Man 2 has it all when it comes to character development (including one of the most sympathetic villains ever), action, story movement, pacing and continuity. Best of all, not only does the second Spider-Man film utilize storylines and themes set in motion by the first, it clearly defines what will transpire in the third (and rumored final) chapter of the Spider-Man franchise.
Which Edition To Buy: Special Edition

Star Trek: The Original Series — The Complete First Season
Star Trek: The Original Series — The Complete Second Season
Star Trek: The Original Series — The Complete Third Season
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: sci-fi and Trekkies
Description (all three seasons): Despite the great divide between fans of the original series and The Next Generation, most everyone will agree that Star Trek was a highly original and groundbreaking program that clearly set the bar for sci-fi television shows for decades to come, including Quantum Leap and Sliders. If you have a relative who loves Star Trek and you don't mind spending roughly $300-$350 on them, these three seasons — which are also the only three seasons — will serve nicely.
Major Deal: All three volumes can be purchased together for $266 at Amazon.com, which amounts to a savings of $125 (30%).

Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete First Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Second Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Third Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Fourth Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Fifth Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Sixth Season
Star Trek: Voyager — The Complete Seventh Season
Age Recommendation: 13+
Best For: Trekkies
Description (all seven seasons): Admittedly not the most beloved of the long-running franchise, Voyager did serve to introduce us to many new alien races, threats and the sexy Seven of Nine.
Major Deal: By no means am I suggesting giving all seven of these as a single gift, but purchasing them as a set from Amazon.com will save you 40% and cost just under $500. (Your total would be over $800 individually.) Overnight these puppies, and they'll be snuggly under the tree just in time for Christmas morning.

Star Wars Trilogy
Age Recommendation: all
Best For: all
Description: Long before The Lord of the Rings ruled the trilogy scene, Star Wars was it when it came to epic movie making. Like The Simpsons, much doesn't need to be said about the movies everyone and their mother has seen. This four disc set features all three original films (with added and altered scenes), feature-length commentary by George Lucas, a playable demo of Star Wars Battlefront (Xbox), a making of the Episode III video game and an exclusive preview of the Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith. If you know a Star Wars fanboy and if they have yet to buy this for themselves, you'd better grab this ASAP!

That's it for today, but tomorrow I'll return with a look at what Nintendo has to offer in the way of video games, which will surly cause your loved ones to bounce with glee as you and yours sit around the tree.

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Day One :: Day Two :: Day Three :: Day Four

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Marvel Introduces Timely Comics
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