Marvel Comics, through their Marvel Knights banner, has had several motion comics in the past few years, two of which, Astonishing X-Men: Gifted and Iron Man: Extremis, are now available on DVD through Shout! Factory. The results are mixed. Marvel and Shout! Factory have also teamed up for the release of Black Panther, a star studded animated series that was originally produced for BET but never saw the light of day in the U.S.
Astonishing X-Men: Gifted is the weakest of these three releases, which is a shame because it’s based on one of the best comic books I’ve read in the past five years. Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Killer and the director of 2012’s Avengers movie, wrote this thrilling and ultimately tragic series dealing with the popular mutant characters, the X-Men . As drawn by artist John Cassaday, the series followed a core group of X-Men- Cyclops, Beast, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Kitty Pryde and Colossus- as they battled a nefarious government agency searching for a cure to the mutated gene that causes super hero powers in some human beings. At the same time, they must fight a new alien menace that threatens the existence of all mankind. Whedon’s script and Cassaday’s artwork won several awards when it was released in book form and the entire storyline, which lasted four volumes, was very compelling. Gifted is volume 1 of the entire Whedon run of writing Astonishing X-Men.
The motion comic for Gifted is the probably the most routine of all three. I’m unsure what software was used to create the animation, but it looks like Flash to me. The animation is limited and the movement of the characters is very rough in places. Obviously the computer artists did not want to mess with Cassaday’s artwork, which may have limited them in what they were able to accomplish. The worst aspect of Gifted is not the animation, though. In fact, I’m very forgiving when it comes to Flash animation. Instead, the weakest part of Gifted is the cast of actors hired to create the voices of the X-Men. I hate to say that they sound like generic voice over performers, but there is nothing distinct about the voices or the acting. Gifted is a disappointment, especially if you’re familiar with the entire Whedon run of X-Men comics.
The more successful of the two motion comics is Iron Man: Extremis, which was written by famed comic book writer, Warren Ellis and drawn by Adi Granov. The storyline around this series involves an ill fated attempt to recreate the legendary Super-Soldier Serum, which gave us Captain America. This pursuit leads to the creation of Extremis, a military nanotechnology serum that taps into the human body’s repair center and turns ordinary people into a super-powered one-man army. Iron Man does battle with a member of a militant domestic group who has been injected with Extremis. The hero gets he can kicked and decides that the only way he’ll be able to save the day is by injecting himself with the serum.
Extremis is exciting and really comes to life thanks to Gravnov’s artwork, which looks like it was drawn using a computer rather than ink and paper. The animation and lip assignment to the characters is much smoother; it looks and feels much more like an animated cartoon rather than pages from the comic book. While I’ve never been an Iron Man fan, I was drawn into Extremis and felt compelled to watch every episode in on sitting. The only drawback is the casting, again. Not that the voice actors have to be the top Hollywood talent, I’d just like them to be less wooden.
Finally, we have Black Panther. While it was intended as an animated series to air on BET, what the producers essentially did is take the comic artwork of John Romita, Jr., a script by filmmaker/producer/comic writer Reginald Hudlin and animated everything, much like the previously discussed motion comics. Because the production had a little more money behind it, the animation is ten times better and there is a phenomenal cast involved with the series.
Taking place in the African country of Wakanda, an advanced and unconquerable civilization. A family of warrior kings, all who possess super human powers, defend the country from outside threats. As the series begins, King T’Challa has just taken over the country, not only as the Wakanda’s leading diplomat, but also as the super hero the Black Panther. The Panther must face down Klaw, a deadly assassin who has the blood of T’Challa’s father on his hands. Klaw brings with him an army of super powered mercenaries in and attempt to take over Wakanda and seize control of the previous resources the country possesses.
Black Panther is awesome. If you’re like me and you’ve often wondered, “Why don’t they just animate the art of Byrne or Romita or Alan Davis?” you’re in for a treat. Romita’s artwork lends itself to animation. It’s so dynamic and vital. Additionally, the scripts are tightly written and don’t contain any padding. We get to the meat of the story right away and the action moves quickly.
The key to this, and any animated production, is the cast. Hudlin and company assembled some of the finest African American actors working, including Alfre Woodard, Kerry Washington and Carl Lumbly. Most importantly, Djimon Hounsou portrays T’Challa/Black Panther. Each actor has a rich, powerful voice that adds weight to every episode. I’m unsure why BET balked on Black Panther. It really is a fine series and is worth seeing by comic book and animation fans, alike.
All three releases would probably garner a PG-13 rating, if they received ratings, so be aware should you decide to put one on while the little ones are playing in the next room. This is not kiddie animation, by any means. As with any Shout! Factory release, all three DVD’s com with a nice selection of bonus features. If you’re torn between buying any of the DVD’s, I’d start with Black Panther and work your way back.