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STUDIO: Marvel Knights Animation & Shout! Factory
RUNNING TIME: 80 minutes
- A Conversation With Joe Quesada and Neal Adams
- Behind-The-Scenes Look At Marvel Knights Animation
- Visual History Of The Characters
- Marvel Super Heros, What The–?! Shorts
- Music Video
That Joss Whedon X-Men run you loved back in like, 2005? Shit moves now, man.
Joss Whedon and John Cassaday
The now-classic, Eisner Award Winning Astonishing X-Men storyline Gifted is used as the launchpad for Marvel’s release of Marvel Knights Animation Motion Comics. Using modern computer graphics technology, the art and stories of the comics are brought to (sometimes creepy, sometimes convincing) life in a form that retains the original detail and composition. The intention is to bring the energy and and dynamism of animation to the complexity and richness of a comic book. It mostly works.
In their brief history, motion comics have traditionally been used as gimmicky promotional tools and one-off cash-ins, but Marvel believes the technology has reached a point where they can start unloading some of their popular stories in the format. Really hitting the scene around 2005 with its use as a promo tool for Saw and some Stephen King novels, the biggest popular breakthrough for the medium came with DC’s long format adaptation of Watchmen and Batman: Mad Love. Reactions (as far as I have seen) to the comics have varied, and it’s not hard to see why. So far, the vast majority of the releases have been re-purposed from well-known properties, with questionable motives and a presentation that is, at its best, in its infancy.
So does it work here?
It’s better, that’s for sure. More than just slicing and dicing the images for elaborate “Ken Burns effects” (scaling graphic elements up and down while keyframing their position on screen), this Shout! Studio take on the technology involves mapping the original art onto 3D models. This gives the animators greater control to warp faces and create more dimensional movement to the point where they could be said to be engineering legitimate performances. Depending on the angle and composition, the effect is shockingly effective and takes on the feel of a cel-shaded CGI animated film. Just as often though, the effect is silly and distracting as a characters face contorts and twists in ways that have no relationship with real-world movement. It’s a simple fact that some of this art can’t be forced into a motion paradigm and hold up- the effect never looks right when it’s fighting with the original comic artists rendering of space and dimension on a flat plane. There is also the unfortunate effect of quality degradation and loss of image sharpness when they pull extreme zooms and close-ups from the art.
What about the story itself?
The comic being adapted is certainly a winner, having garnered itself an Eisner Award, and bringing with it Joss Whedon’s horde of fans. While it take place in a degree of continuity, it endeavors to be accessible no matter what level X-verse knowledge (classic, contemporary, or otherwise) you’re bringing to the table. Centering around a 6-issue, classic “cure” scenario, the X-men team lead by Cyclops and a reformed Emma Frost are looking to improve their public image, when a vicious extraterrestrial and a scientist with a new Mutant-Gene suppressant complicate their world. The roster is extremely streamlined, with the key players reduced down to just Cyclops, Emma Frost, Kitty Pride, Beast, and Wolverine (naturally other familiar faces enter in and out of the story as well, in cameos and side roles).
Even in paced, motion form the comic works well, and Whedon’s firm grasp on character dynamics shines through. There are points, namely the action climax of the arc that don’t necessarily translate to the medium very well, and end up feeling shortchanged. Whether it’s Whedon’s TV sensibilities bleeding through into the comic, or the friction between sequential art and video pacing, something feels off with the storytelling.
Ultimately the film functions as a collection of short episodes, and is entertaining to watch, but like an aging car that violently slips gears, the technology can’t help but jerk you out of the flow of the story more often than is really acceptable. If you’re a huge fan of the original comic, or simply can’t get enough of the Marvel U, then this might be up your alley. There is the inescapable feeling of a company discovering a fast, cheap way of re-purposing content here though*.
The question is- will comic fans respond if
they can’t slowly consume the art and story, before quickly flipping
through an exciting climax? Considering our increasing interest in the web and other forms of entertainment that require active engagement, it will be interesting to see if Marvel finds much success pushing comics into a more passive medium, with forced pacing.
*Joe Quesada blatantly admitting just that in the special feature doesn’t help either.
Tech specs are standard- NTSC Widescreen presentation with suitably standard sound. The disc allows you to play the 6 episodes individually, or all at once. Special features include a conversation with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams (a truly hyperbolic evangelist for the motion-comic medium), a music video for, a run-down of the history of the X-Men, a behind-the-scenes of the animation studio (people at computers), and 3 episodes of the embarrassingly cheesy Marvel Super Heroes: What The–?! shorts (Robot Chicken rip-off cartoons with stop-motion Marvel action figures).