Debuting on Tuesday, September 28, is DVD collecting the Astonishing X-Men motion comic Gifted, based on the comic by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday and directed by Cassaday and Neal Adams. I’ve been harsh on motion comics before, but what I saw of it was better than I expected.
The disc, list-priced at $15, contains six episodes and a handful of bonus features. The first episode, which is all I watched at one sitting, is 13 1/2 minutes long, of which three minutes are opening and closing credits, including the many voices and even more Marvel VPs, plus legal notices. There’s even a brief nod to the character creators, with a “Special Thanks to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby”.
I admit, the effects — eye blinks, mouths moving for dialogue, transitioning the front elements against backgrounds, lighting — were much better than I’d been led to believe. Kitty Pryde’s power, especially, is well-handled. (Although Emma looks even more ridiculous in her skimpy costume when she’s moving in such limited fashion.) It only works when one element is animated, though. When the whole team is “walking” together (in the scene shown on the cover), I found the different ways they’re moving distracting and conflicting.
I can see watching more of these, although at times they do remind me of the “trailers” that people have started making to promote their comics or graphic novels. It’s a bit odd, being asked to buy a product that feels the whole time like marketing for something else. I’m very glad, though, to see the “motion comic” as a whole has improved since the Watchmen one. Note: The soundtrack music, used also on the DVD menus, is thumping and monotonous, so it gave me a headache after a while.
Bonus features include the disc’s own trailer and a 17-minute “conversation with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams” that’s back-patting about how great Marvel is for doing this and how this is a new medium that’s totally different from animation, according to Adams. While his passion is entertaining, it’s not a convincing argument. Adams is more interesting later on, when he’s giving tips on how they make this all work by extending panels in various ways.
Quesada, meanwhile, talks about how they got Joss Whedon to write the comic and the story concept of healing mutantism. Unfortunately, this segment is mis-billed, since the two men don’t appear to have been filmed together. They’re not talking to each other; they’re just intercut. Also included as special features are
- A 2 1/2-minute music video done motion comic style for “Rise Up”, credited as the Astonishing X-Men theme, by David Ari Leon and Guy Erez.
- Some Who’s Who-type screens about the X-Men that I found impossible to read on my laptop screen. You can use the navigation to select and enlarge them, but that’s an awful lot of clicking without a remote control.
- Five minutes “behind the scenes with Marvel Knights Animation” with Quesada, Adams, Alex Maleev, John Cassaday, and others, including production staff, that talks about how hard the artists work and shows some of the voice recording and animation. It covers many of the same points as the longer Quesada/Adams piece in more direct form, with more insight into the construction process.
- A short (7 screen) gallery of Cassaday’s comic covers for this series.
- Four animated What The–?! segments in which action figures are used for comedy sketches.
- Trailers for the Spider-Woman, Black Panther, and Iron Man motion comics.
They plugged this disc as coming in “a unique replica of comic book-style plastic sleeve packaging that bridges the comic book to DVD concept”, which I found the most disappointing part of the experience. The adhesive holding it closed was so strong that I ripped the plastic envelope getting it open, which meant I couldn’t reuse it. Maybe that’s part of the “just like comics” plan — trying to sell me extra packaging materials later?
The next release in this series will be Iron Man: Extremis. Based on this DVD being better than I expected, I’m actually looking forward to it. (The studio provided a review copy.)