Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run was just that, astonishing. Coming in to write the series at the height of the films’ popularity, Whedon took a unique approach and didn’t go to familiar villains, instead pitting the fractured group against themselves and a new villain, the mysterious Ord. Whedon’s 24 issue run consisted of four thematically connected story arcs, the first being “Gifted” a six-issue miniseries introducing Ord as well as the possibility of a permanent mutant cure. The motion comic has slowly but surely become a fixture in the lexicon surrounding superhero media.
The most well known example would be the “Watchmen: Motion Comic” a nearly 6 hour production that was an interesting adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ epic masterpiece. The big issue with many fans was the lone narrator, who was forced to voice male and female characters as well as the sometimes gimmicky, limited animation. Marvel, not to let DC hold the limelight for long has taken the next step in motion comics with the help of Neal Adams, bringing John Cassaday’s artwork from “Astonishing X-Men” to a level of life not seen before in the motion comic realm, as well as enlisting a full voice cast to cover Whedon’s take on the characters.
To be quite honest, the motion comic concept here isn’t the selling point. There are plenty of other story arcs or series’ Marvel could have tackled and a lesser story wouldn’t have been improved by this new animation technique. What sells “Gifted” is Whedon’s writing and the faithful adaptation and expansion of John Cassaday’s art. It’s really hard to describe how this motion comic looks. If you’ve seen something like the “Watchmen” motion comic you will be blown away. The technique here takes the original art and gives the characters some more lifelike movement. Little touches like Beast’s ears wiggling to eye movement distance this from the rough animation given to other productions. Neal Adams’ advanced is motion comics deserves much credit, as the expansion of Cassaday’s 2D art is seamless, retaining the artist’s distinctive look, even when certain areas had to be expanded for the medium. Fortunately, Cassaday was a co-director on the project and was able to assist Adams in the task before them.
While, the motion comic technology still fails to top traditional animation in the action scenes, Whedon’s story and the more than competent voice cast, allow these hiccups to be overlooked. I have never been the biggest Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat fan, and was apprehensive back when I saw Whedon was making her a huge part of this take on the X-Men, but, sure enough, he makes her a compelling character. In fact, she, Emma Frost, and Beast are the most compelling characters in “Gifted,” overshadowing Cyclops, Wolverine, and the new, but underdeveloped villain, Ord. The story focuses on the relationship between the team as a whole, now significantly weakened; Jean Grey is dead, Professor X is gone, and other familiar characters like Storm, Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Iceman, are missing-in-action. While Cyclops may be the figurehead leader, it’s soon very obvious that Emma Frost is running the show and has many issues of her own, including a militant attitude towards humans that falls on the fence between Professor X’s tolerance and Magneto’s eugenics. Her attitude quickly rubs Kitty Pryde the wrong way, although as Emma sadly puts it as a fight between Wolverine and Cyclops on school grounds wraps up, “I still come in second to a corpse.”
“Gifted” is a fun experience to say the very least. It really takes the motion comic concept to the next level, surpassing even the classic animated series in terms of consistent storytelling. Whedon’s material is much more mature than the kid’s stuff of the early 90s and it all deserves to be adapted to this format. Purists to the source material may argue this is a gimmick, but here I would say, it’s not. This is merely the next evolution in adaptation. Marvel could have just had new animators animate a full adaptation and it might have been as good; voice acting wouldn’t have been an issue for sure, but the digital comic retains the original artist’s look and feel and with his own input taken into account, this is a much preferable animated adaptation. “Gifted” is the X-Men in top form, and the seven episodes go by, way too quickly (around 80 minutes), leaving you wanting much more.
Whedon’s story involves the Danger Room, a computerized, robotic holo-deck, if you will. That is, it’s a room designed to realistically and fully create any threat the X-Men might face, for training purposes only. But when an ex-mutant, not disgraced but despondent, meets his end in the room, the computer comes up with some creative ideas of its own to escape a life of servitude to the mutants.
What follows is a bit of psycho-dramatic fun involving everyone’s favorite villains, the Sentinels, and a team of X-Men consisting of Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Beast, Kitty Pryde, and some chick in white whom I don’t recall at the moment. Whedon’s plot and dialog are certainly above par when it comes to graphic fiction.
Meanwhile, Cassaday’s artwork captures the X-Men in a way that expertly bridges the gap between the old-school look of Kirby and Cockrum, and more contemporary artists. The design of the Danger Room villain, in particular, brings to mind some mess you might see while tripping on the dance floor, while a minor twist makes Beast appear much more beastly. Of course any action involving the Sentinels is more than welcome, and Cassaday’s take, aided by Whedon’s weird vision, provides scares and thrills for true believers. if you fancy seeing your comics on a 55-inch screen instead of a tiny printed page, motion comics are the way to go.