Remember how you despised the film adaptation of your favorite comic or storyline? “It didn’t capture the spirit of the comics,” fan boys often cry. If you could take the actual comics they are based on and warp that into a living comic, with spoken dialog and motion, would you enjoy it? That is what Marvel Knights Animation asks with their motion comic creation of the beloved Eisner award-winning Astonishing X-Men: Gifted storyline by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. The ultimate result of this is an interesting new medium of film, where they take original art and dialog, and simply make the comic live. It’s akin to what you do in your head already, but you see it on the screen. Join me after the jump to find out if the experience is worthy of your time and money.
For those unfamiliar with the Gifted storyline, let me give you a brief description and see if you recognize it: as tensions between humans and mutants rise, a geneticist announces to the world that they have a “cure” for the mutant gene, which will enable those that take it to become normal again. If you recognize it, it is because this was the base storyline of X-Men: The Last Stand, a film which many feel was one of those bad adaptations.
The original comic storyline (and thus, the motion comic) starts with Kitty Pryde returning to the Xavier Institute to find Beast, Wolverine, Cyclops, and Emma Frost (formerly White Queen) as acting teachers. The familiar tension between Wolverine and Cyclops is still prevalent as ever, and anitmutant sentiment is a continual theme. When Dr. Rao discovers a way to eradicate the mutated gene that creates mutants, a burdensome question is asked that threatens the very foundation of the X-Men. There is also the threat that this new cure might fall into the wrong hands and be used as a weapon against mutants unwilling to be “normal.”
To be blunt, the storyline is extremely gratifying, because there is more to it than just the surface issues that our cast of characters deals with. However, I’m not here to sell you on the storyline; it does that well enough. The real question is whether the motion comic is good enough to justify the price of admission and your time.
The best thing about this question is that I can do two things: either describe the process for you, or you can watch a trailer below to get a feel for what you can expect. I suggest you do both. Make no mistake: this isn’t an animated film. What Marvel Knights Animation did was take the pages of the comics and pluck the characters out, and make them move. This can have a jarring effect at first. You are essentially watching two-dimensional images move around on a two-dimensional background. You might think that there is nothing jarring about that description, but this is far from the fluid animation that we are used to seeing.
The closest effect is you cutting out the characters in your own comic, and bending and moving the cutouts around. The animation is interestingly crude; you could pause the video and someone might think you are watching a slideshow of comic frames (save for a lack of word bubbles). Even Neal Adams, co-director of the film, admits that the genre is taking its first baby steps right now. They have used this to promote upcoming series and DC took Watchmen and created a motion comic before the release of the film adaptation last year. In other words, this isn’t entirely new, but it is the first time I can recall anyone openly aiming to convert heralded comics into motion comics on a wide scale; he hopes to have them premiere in theaters in the future.
This provides a unique experience that even animated films don’t achieve: absolute dedication to the source material, down to the art and dialog. These are Cassaday’s characters moving around on his backgrounds, and Whedon’s dialog being spoken by that art, and yes, the characters’ mouths move. They even have a varied cast of voice actors to bring the characters to life, whereas the aforementioned Watchmen motion comic had one man voicing everyone. Additionally, it bears mentioning that the animation is much more fluid than previous efforts, but the technology is rapidly progressing.
With the addition of sound effects and an underlying score, we have a fully rounded episode-based experience. This brings me to one of my main gripes with the DVD. You would think that hitting the “Play All” option would eliminate the exit credits and subsequent introduction animation between each episode. A simple “Chapter 2” image would have been OK, but instead Marvel decided to either force you to skip ahead or watch each end credit and introduction between the chapters. If they are aiming for this medium to screen in theaters, you have to provide a more fluid transition. I would have liked the experience to feel more like watching a movie instead of a TV show on DVD.
Regardless, Marvel does do a nice job of packing the DVD with extra features. For those not completely caught up with the X-Men series, it can be daunting to jump into the middle of a storyline. Luckily, this was the initial arc that began the Astonishing line, and Marvel goes through the pains of including an incredibly informative slide show that will catch up any X-Men novice. Additionally, Marvel included a number of other goodies, including a music video for Rise Up, a slideshow of the different looks of the main characters, a behind the scenes clip of Marvel Knights and a 17-minute conversation with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams about the evolution of the motion comic with this project in particular.
Ultimately, it is incredibly difficult to predict whether someone will like the motion comic format or not until they experience what Marvel Knights Animation and Shout Factory have done with Gifted. However, this is an interesting leap in the technology and shows a reverence for the source material like never before; this celebrates and highlights what Whedon and Cassaday have done, and brings it to an exciting new level. Will motion comics blossom into a full-fledged genre? That is hard to predict, but there is no getting around the fact that this is relatively cheap and quick. If motion comics find support, this is a bread-winning formula that Marvel will not pass up. Gifted is certainly worthy of your time, and if they can keep the price point down, worthy of your money as well. Gifted hits stores on September 28th.