REVIEW: THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS

CAST (VOICES)

Daniel Thorn (Technobabylon)
Jennifer Spriggs  (The One I Love)
Roger Clark (Perfect Disasters)

thor_loki_bloodbrothers_preview_01Loki has become the ruler of Asgard. However, he doesn’t have dominion over Hela, the goddess of death. Loki is demanding fealty from everyone in Asgard. Hela asks Loki for the soul of Thor for her “legions in Nifelheim”. Lady god Sif is imprisoned at the ending of the first segment. Karnilla, the queen god of Nornheim meets Loki in the second segment. She pleads for the release of Balder from imprisonment. In the third segment, Loki orders the destruction of the Rainbow Bridge. In a flashback, Odin defeats Laufey in battle. In the final segment, Loki refuses to execute Thor and spurns Hela.cbr-thorlokibloodbrothersclip118-1024x577To say this is “inspired by” the four-issue Loki graphic novel series of 2004 is a little misleading. The scripting, story and artwork are identical, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The animation is a more than a little stifled, mostly relying on computer technology to manipulate a single static image rather than produce extra frames. I find this adaptation to be fascinating. The transfer from graphic novel to albeit limited animated feature showcases the original artwork in an incredible way, adding a vibrancy to the work. The addition of the more traditional elements of Norse mythology and it’s clever integration is a very nice touch. If you liked the original source material then this you will love. thor_loki_bloodbrothers_preview_03

REVIEW: ASTONISHING X-MEN 1 & 2

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.1202175761_1The 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.astonishing-x-men-gifted-20100915105837328-000While, 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.”xmen“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.

REVIEW: WATCHMEN: THE MOTION COMIC

CAST (VOICES)

Tom Stechschulte (The Clairvoyant)

A re-examination of superheroes, done with a bleaker, more realistic point of view, Watchmen was revolutionary when it was released in 1985, and it remains as relevant as ever, despite some dated elements (which are mitigated by the fact that the story is told in an alternate world in a specific time frame.) The Crimebusters were a group of costumed crime fighters in the 1960s, but as the world became more complicated, they became less relevant, and they disbanded, and superheroes were outlawed by the government, leaving only a few government-sponsored adventurers, including the ultra-violent patriot The Comedian and the super-powered Dr. Manhattan, who gained command over reality when he was torn down to molecules by an atomic accident.The main story is a mystery, as the psychotic Rorschach, whose mask is an ever-changing ink blot, attempts to discover who killed the Comedian, who was found dead in his civilian identity. Thinking someone is out to kill the former superheroes, he uses his own brand of ruthless violence, driven by an insane, right-wing mindset, to figure out just what’s going on, drawing in his former teammates, as the truth becomes more twisted and complicated as the story plays out. In the end, the plot is intensely deep, focusing on the choices and mistakes made in life, the meaning of existence, the value of an innocent life and the lengths one will go to in order to achieve their goals, while the story is told using intricate storytelling techniques, interwoven supplemental material and smart literary devices that make it more intelligent and engaging than most novels. That it’s told about guys wearing tights just adds a layer of accessibility and absurdity.This version of Watchmen, which was released episodically on iTunes and elsewhere, is somewhat like an audiobook version, but enhanced with animation that’s built off the actually art from the graphic novel. Now, this was done way back when with some Marvel cartoons, and it was terrible, and has become a bit better recently, but these Watchmen episodes are the best yet. Taking Dave Gibbons’ original art, panel by panel, and doing slight animation effects (and some impressive lighting and special effects work,) Warner Premier allows you to watch the graphic novel, complete with dialogue, music and sound effects.The dialogue, provided entirely by Tom Stechschulte, is really quite good, especially when voicing Dr. Manhattan, though there are a few major exceptions, namely the fact that he also provides the voices for the female characters. Though he thankfully didn’t attempt to imitate a woman’s voice, which would have yanked you right out of the story, it’s highly creepy to hear him seductively purr as Silk Spectre, especially when he’s doing it up against his own voice.You’re never going to see a more faithful “movie” than this presentation, which offers up the 12 chapters of Alan Moore’s story, including the ending that fanboys nationwide were hoping to see on the big screen  Even if you’ve read the book many, many times, it’s a new experience and an entertaining one at that.

REVIEW: IRON MAN EXTREMIS

 

 

CAST

Jason Griffith (Yu-Gi-Ohi)
Ted Lewis (Pokemon)
Dan Green (Grave of The Fireflies)

The story was written by comic book legend Warren Ellis and for those expecting anything similar to the feature film adaptations may be very disappointed. “Extremis” is a much smaller feeling arc, with only two action set pieces, one midway through the program and one at the end; instead the story explores the characters of Tony Stark as well as some spots of insight into the mysterious villain, Mallen. Mallen, a conservative extremist, is the guinea pig for a strain of the Super Soldier Serum known as Extremis. Once the serum alters our crazed foe forever, he embarks on a wave of destruction against the government and innocent civilians alike, aided by his near supernatural powers including super strength and pyrokinesis. Initially Tony is called into investigate the theft of the serum by a scientist friend Maya Hansen.
Ellis’ story takes an almost leisurely pace before Mallen and Stark face off for the first time, allowing viewers a glimpse into the mind of Stark via two notable scenes. The first is an interview for a documentary by an ultra liberal filmmaker, who tries to eviscerate Stark on camera, accusing him of war profiteering, immediately following a very friendly introduction off-camera. Ellis’ political statements are very obvious, and Stark’s calm, collected verbal destruction of the filmmaker is very similar to the eventual final confrontation with Fallen. Stark represents the middle ground of political ideology in the story, demonstrating the faults of extremism on both sides of the fence; the Extremis strain itself though is a fly in the ointment that ultimately forces Iron Man to understand that unchecked extremism sometimes must be met with equal or greater retaliation.Amazon_women_07The second scene, taking place between Stark, Maya, and an older mentor figure. Here Ellis captures the strong distinction between Stark the man, and Stark the man behind Iron Man. The mentor brings Stark down a peg, pointing out how is flashy empire doesn’t benefit humanity nearly as much as the quiet, uncelebrated work of scientists such as Maya. The more Stark feels the burden of humanity from mentors as well as board members, the more he’s compelled to make his persona as Iron Man a legacy that will help mankind for as long as possible. When it comes time for Stark to don the suit though, “Extremis” isn’t nearly as exciting.maxresdefaultThe motion comic style is extremely effective for the character moments, but the uneven approach to action, namely the use of the 3D CGI models for various elements, cheapens the overall effectiveness of the motion comic format. Ultimately, “Iron Man Extremis” is an enjoyable but flawed story and motion comic presentation. Voice acting is generally solid, with the actor handling Mallen being the weakest link. There are a few overplayed moments, especially in the beginning, with the actress playing Maya sounding like she didn’t have a full grasp on her character. Fortunately, the voice actor handling Tony captures the cool, confident, and brilliant aspects of the character as well as the doubt and sometimes self-hatred. The actors all are best when they are given Ellis’ best material to work with: the dialogue driven moments, which are arguably the most fascinating and engaging aspects of the production, mixing a moderate ideology with some well-developed character study.