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Featured DVD Review: Astonishing X-Men: Gifted

September 24th, 2010

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted - Buy from Amazon

Astonishing X-Men: Gifted is an motion comic book, which if you've never seen one of these, it's a bit tricky to explain. Take a comic book, get actors to perform the roles, and then do very limited animation on the panels. Depending on the quality, there could simply be camera tricks like pans and zooms, while a single narrator reads all of the lines. (This does get a little disturbing when there are male and female characters, but only one voice speaking for both of them.) So this review has to look at not just the story being told, but how well it is told using this relatively new medium.

The Show

If you've never really read the comics but have only seen the movies, then Astonishing X-Men: Gifted takes place roughly after the end of X2 and actually deals with some of the same topics as The Last Stand, but this story takes place in a timeline that is not the same as the movies.

Previous events destroyed Xavier's School for the Gifted, but it has been rebuilt with Emma Frost and Scott Summers in charge, with the rest of the faculty made up of Beast, Kitty Pryde, and Wolverine, if and when he shows up. When he does show up, it's immediately clear he and Scott Summers still don't get along. It has been a while since Jean Grey died and Scott Summers has moved on and is now involved with Emma Frost. Wolverine thinks this is a betrayal of Jean's memory. Or maybe he's just looking for a fight.

Despite this, Scott Summers thinks the X-Men need to work together more as a team to show the world that they are heroes. They've saved the world a number of times, and have even prevented the destruction of other worlds. However, humans still see them as monsters. They get their chance to prove they are heroes when Ord, an alien warlord, shows up on Earth and threatens a group of rich people. His motives for this attack are simple, to test the X-men, who fail, except for Lockheed, Kitty Pryde's alien-dragon friend. But while his initial attack is just a test, he's on Earth for a much more serious reason.

Meanwhile, there is a further complication at the same time Dr. Kavita Rao, working for Benetech Corporation, develops a cure for the mutant condition. This of course causes a wide set of reactions within the mutant community, including the X-men. Some see it as an insult, as it implies being a mutant is something that needs curing. Others, like Dr. Hank McCoy, a.k.a., Beast, are intrigued, and on more than just an intellectual basis. (For those that don't know the history of Beast, he started out as more ape like in appearance and powers, but recently a secondary mutation was triggered, causing him to look more cat-like. Secondary mutations like this are not exactly unknown, and further mutations risk creating fatal results.)

That's about as far as I would like to go with the plot. You get the action setup with Ord and the intellectual setup with Dr. Rao, and any more detail on either side would be entering too deep into spoiler territory.

This six-issue comic book run won the Will Eisner Award for "Best Continuing Series" in 2006, and you can see why. The "Mutant Cure" storyline wasn't new and it has since been used a few times (including in The Last Stand) but it is handled better here than any time previously or since. We get insight into how mutants feel about their abilities, in an emotionally mature way, that is superior than most TV shows aimed at adults. Comic books are too often dismissed as being something just for kids, but if more people read this series, I think they would change their minds.

Plus, there's some great humor in the show.

The animation is mostly limited, but not as much as previous "Motion Comics", some of which only had pans and zooms. Here there are more attempts to make the characters come alive, especially when talking, as there's limited animation used to move the mouths of the characters, create eye movements, etc. Sometimes morphing techniques are used to make it look like the characters are turning their heads or other effects. Walking it rather stiff, but better than previous efforts. Background movement is present, parallax is used to create depth, etc. The action scenes rely on writing more than animation to sell it, but that's why its called a "Motion Comic" and not true animation.

I have very limited experience with this new medium, but Astonishing X-Men: Gifted sells it well. I would consider a Motion Comic analogous to a Comic Book the same way an Audio Book is analogous to the original novel. With the right voice talent and enough animation, it's worth checking out for fans of the original or those who missed it the first time around. And Gifted has both.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an 17-minute interview featurette with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams, the editor-in-chief at Marvel and the co-director of Gifted respectively. They explain the difference between Motion Comics and animation, the origins of the medium, the creation of Gifted, how Joss Whedon got involved, etc.

It's an excellent special feature, but it is the only prime feature on the DVD. There's also a music video, text and image based history of the X-men, and the trailer.

The Verdict

I have admittedly limited exposure to the new medium of the "Motion Comic", but from what I've seen, Astonishing X-Men: Gifted is the best. Not only is the writing excellent, but it makes the best use of the technology that I've seen. The extras on the DVD are limited, but the main featurette is worth checking out, and its enough to lift the DVD from a rental to a solid purchase.

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