Posts Tagged ‘Marvel Knights Animation’


I know, I know — yesterday I said I was done with “motion comics,” cold turkey. It was over. Finished. No looking back. I’d had my fill and generally walked away feeling pretty let down by most of them.

So what do I do? I sit down last night and watch Shout! Factory’s 2011 Marvel Knights Animation release (again, DVD-only as far as I’m aware) Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers, adapted from writer Robert Rodi and artist Esad Ribic’s highly-popular late-’90s four-part Loki miniseries (it was re-titled upon release in both collected form and on DVD in order to cash in on the hype then surrounding the pre-release of Kenneth Branagh’s highly-anticipated, big-budget Thor movie). My expectations weren’t high, having been worn down by a steady diet of lackluster stuff over the past few nights, culminating in the really rather atrocious Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D. But hey, my wife was at work, there was nothing on TV, I was feeling too lazy to read, and the unique occult combination of all these factors led me to give in and give this thing a go.

And boy, am I glad I did, because Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers is everything you could ask for in a “motion comic” and then some.


First off, the story’s simple, yet highly effective and tremendously involving : Loki, lord of mischief and misrule, gets his wish and finally takes over the mystical kingdom of Asgard. He defeats his brother, Thor, and lays waste to all that his mightier and more famous sibling holds dear. He holds the iron fist of power over all those who previously shunned him. and settles scores with both his families, natural and adoptive. He’s in charge. He’s The Man. Things are definitely looking good for the guy in the golden horned helmet.

And yet — he’s vaguely dissatisfied. He can’t bring himself to just be rid of Thor once and for all and finds that he still needs the love/hate relationship they’ve fostered over the centuries to serve as his primary motivating force in life. Hell, one even gets the sense that he’s done all this conquering and what have you just to impress the more legendary and heroic member of his family. And that love and acceptance he’s longed for his whole life? It still ain’t comin’. Thor still feels nothing but a strange mix of pity and anger toward this black sheep of his family.

And it’s in that emotional complexity — that exploration of why these two disparate figures fear and despise, but also love and even need each other, that Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers shines as a piece of psychologically compelling modern comics storytelling. This is a tale of ageless gods with powers beyond comprehension that somehow all of us mere mortals can still relate to. My heartiest congratulations, Mr. Rodi, on a job very well done.


But hey, “motion comics” are still comics (at least of a sort), right? So all that high-fallutin’ story stuff doesn’t matter a whit (well, okay, it still matters, but not as much) if the art sucks. Fortunately, Esad Ribic’s highly-stylized, exquisitely-detailed renderings are flat-out awesome, and Shout! Factory does a superb job breathing life into them via the use of complex, highly-intricate 3-D computer animation techniques that do more than just provide “motion,” they also breathe additional life and depth (both genuine and metaphorical) into the art and draw the reader into the physically and emotionally cold world of Loki’s Asgard by dint of their expressive power and sheer ingenuity. In other words, this is one awesomely cool film to look at.

Continuing down the technical rabbit hole, the disc also features a pristine widescreen image, well-realized and nicely-mixed 5.1 sound, two superb “making-of” featurettes (one concentrating on the creation of the original comic, the other on its translation into this new format), and some trailers for other titles in this series that by and large make them look better than they really are. The main feature itself may clock in at only 74 minutes, but this is definitely a package that gives you value for dollar.


So I guess when it comes to “motion comics,” I’m feeling a bit like Al Pacino’s Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Part III : “just when I thought I was out — they pull me back in!!!!!!!!!!!!” But for the time being, at least, I’m damn glad to be back. Thor & Loki : Blood Brothers is a darkly majestic work that balances its contradictory-on-their-surface epic and intimate themes with grace, precision, care, and a heck of a lot of style. It’s this reviewer’s opinion that it represents the apex of achievement in the still-nascent field of “motion comics” to date. It’s compelling, chilling, accessible, gorgeous, complex, and even breathtaking at times.

It gave me a much softer and more pleasant landing than I probably deserved for falling off the “motion comics” wagon so quickly. And you ,dear reader, should see it immediately.


Try as I might, I just can’t seem to quit crack. I know, I know — I’m trapped in a dead-end spiral, chasing after that first initial rush of euphoric coolness over and over again, but these days it almost never equals the highs of that introductory experience, and even if it does the feeling fades pretty quickly and I’m just left wanting more than it seems capable of delivering. Plus, if I’m honest, the first time wasn’t even that great. It just seemed like it would be, and I’m stuck forever pursuing a promise of bliss that was never delivered upon, hoping against hope that each next “score” will be The One. The Ultimate. The Best.

Whoops, did I say crack? I meant “motion comics.”  But hey — the same sentiments apply.

Still, I think I’ve finally found the one that will help me kick the habit for good, and for that I’m grateful. It’s not that 2009’s Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D (so titled in official parlance even though it appears to be exactly the reverse on the DVD cover packaging)., part of Shout! Factory’s “Marvel Knights Animation” line.  left me feeling so awesomely elated that I know it can never be equaled, much less topped. Quite the reverse. It was such a complete waste of time that it may — at least should — be enough to sour me on the whole notion of “motion comics” for good.


Which is kind of a shame, really, since this does have some things going for it. First off, it’s the first original  “motion comic,” with the DVD (again, no Blu-Ray exists for this that I’m aware of, not that it particularly matters) coming out in advance of its printed-copy counterpart. Secondly, unlike with many of these things, Shout! Factory has included a pretty generous sampling of extra features with this one, including as 30-minute “making-of ” featurette that looks at the whole “motion comic” concept in general rather than this specific title per se, some reasonably cool promo material for other releases in this series, a brief visual history of the Spider-Woman character throughout the years, and a tangentially-related-to-the-proceedings music video. Granted, a cynic might say that’s the least they can do since the main “feature” runs a paltry 54 minutes, but still — I appreciated it. On the technical front, the widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both fairly well flawless, and the musical score accompanying the —errmmm — “movie” proper is probably the best I’ve ever heard for one of these releases.

Unfortunately, everything else sucks. It’s not that Alex Maleev’s art is “bad” — in fact it’s pretty good by any standard — but it makes for a lousy “motion comic” because, while it’s quite expressionistic and noir-ish, it’s pretty static and suggest very little actual, ya know, motion. Also, Shout! Factory has done next to nothing to add any of said element to the mix via their process of what passes for animation, just rotating angles every so often and giving us the occasional panning shot of the scenery here and there. Apart from that, the whole thing plays out more or less like a slide show you could easily title “What I Did During The Alien Invasion.”


Which brings us to Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D.‘s biggest problem, and it’s a real doozy — fan-favorite writer Brian Michael Bendis’ script is just a fucking mess. Apparently, Spider-Woman’s civilian identity of private eye Jessica Drew was compromised/impersonated by the shape-changing Skrull Queen during said evil moarch’s last attempt to take over Earth, so our heroine’s got a big beef with these ugly green dopplegangers. Unfortunately, we’re just spoon-fed this knowledge via clumsy “info-dump” dialogue, so unless you’re intimately familiar with the Spider-Woman character’s backstory circa the early-to-mid-2000s, you’re not gonna really identify with the pain, anguish, and rage that Bendis is trying (and largely failing) to imbue her with. Still, given her bad personal history with the space invaders in question, it only makes sense that S.W.O.R.D., apparently a S.H.I.E.L.D.-type organization tasked specifically with fighting off menaces from other worlds, would bring her in (mostly in the capacity of  her aforementioned civilian identity — we actually get to see very little of Ms. Drew in her skin-tight leotard, which is kind of a bummer) when they get word that the Skrulls are giving the whole infiltration of our planet idea another go.


What makes a little less sense is why the hell Norman Osborn’s privately-funded super-team, the Thunderbolts, show up later (until a fairly limp “explanation” is provided), why the supposed “tension” between the various Skrull-hunting factions seems so forced yet still ends up falling flat, and why Bendis does , by and large, nothing to give any of the various characters much of an individual personality or perspective. Honestly, if it weren’t for the fact that different actors and actresses (a collection of no-names who generally do the best they can with such weak material) were delivering the lines, I’d be hard-pressed to tell exactly who in tarnation was talking.

The amazingly uneven length of the various “chapters” doesn’t help matters much (some run 15 minutes, some run five), and all in all you’re left with a story that feels like it was written as a “rush job” in one afternoon and (barely) animated later that night. There’s just no disguising it — Spider-Woman, Agent Of S.W.O.R.D.  feels like a mess from top to bottom because it is a mess from top to bottom.

Yup, I think I can safely rid myself of this whole “motion comics” habit cold turkey.

At least until tomorrow.



Maybe I’m just showing my age here, but the fact that we now seem to be entering into a phase where Marvel’s short-lived, ostensibly “mature” “Marvel Knights” imprint is looked back on with some sort of warm, nostalgic glow surprises me a bit. Not because the books that comprised the line were lousy (although some of them were), but because, well — it just doesn’t seem like they came out all that long ago.

Of course, for Marvel and their new corporate parent, Disney, it may as well have been a lifetime ago, as the current situation at the self-appointed “House Of Ideas” bears almost no resemblance whatsoever to the circumstances that prevailed back in the late 90s/early 2000s, when most of the “Knights” titles were released. Back then, Marvel was  just emerging from a richly-deserved bankruptcy and looking for any sort of toehold to remain relevant in the comics market. In short, they were throwing a lot of shit at the wall to see what would stick. Today, they’re primarily an instant-blockbuster-producing movie studio that keeps one finger in the comic pie just in case some hot new IP turns up there that they can screw its gullible, 25-year-old creators out of, but by and large there’s not much new happening on that front and they’re just continuing to strip-mine the wealth of characters and concepts created by Jack Kirby (like those we’re here to talk about today, The Inhumans — which were supposedly the brainchild of both Jack and Stan Lee, but you know who really did all the work and who filled in the largely-written-in-advance-by-the-artists word balloons) back in the 1960s for all they’re worth. “Marvel Knights” gave way to the so-called “Ultimate Universe,” which has in turn given way to “Marvel Now!,” but no matter how many times they re-launch and re-brand their line, the game remains the same — throw a slew of new “first issues” out there, wait a few years until sales numbers drop back to their previous levels, then reload and do it all over again.

Still, once in awhile a genuinely good comic does manage to sneak under the metaphorical lines set up by Marvel’s editorial department, and in 1998-99 writer Paul Jenkins and artist Jae Lee delivered one such product with their 12-issue Inhumans mini-series (note that I said “good,” not “great,” because this is a work that really does have some serious flaws, most noticeable of which is its full-time sullen attitude), which has now been semi-animated into the so-called “motion comics” format by Shout! Factory and released on DVD (although not, apparently, Blu-Ray, not that it would make much difference with a product of this nature) as part of their “Marvel Knights Animation” series. Even though it’s not, strictly, speaking, fully animated. But I digress.



For those unfamiliar with the characters, which were developed as a race of super-being foils to occasionally interact ,as either friends and foes depending on the situation, with the Fantastic Four (although Kirby always had plans to  put them in a book of their own that he was going to write and draw, and those pipe dreams were scuttled at every turn), The Inhumans are a race of genetic mutations who all exhibit very unique and different powers and who live in isolation from the rest of humanity in their domed (and apparently mobile, as it’s managed to shuffle around to a lot of spots over the years, including an extended stay on the moon) city of Attilan. They’re led by their all-powerful king, Black Bolt, who remains silent by choice because one word from his mouth can literally destroy, apparently, all of creation, and he is, in turn, joined at the top of their society’s feudal power pyramid by his wife, Medusa, who has long, flowing manes of super-hair that move around of their own volition (typically used to snare bad guys, naturally); her sister, Crystal, who I think is some sort of telepath or other; an aloof “deep-thinker” type named Karnak, who serves as royal adviser; top military commander/general bad-ass Gorgon; a green, amphibious Merman named Triton; and Lockjaw, the royal family’s gigantic St. Bernard who’s gifted with the power of teleportation. Really.

Generally a fun and admittedly hokey bunch of cool Kirby characters, Jenkins’ script takes things in a considerably darker direction that exposes the ugly genetic caste system that prevails in Attilan (apparently at puberty all “gifted” teens are exposed to something called the Terrigen Mists, which function as something of a high-tech cocoon, unlocking and  enhancing their mutations and turning them into “new and improved” beings that are completely unrecognizable when compared to their “former” selves once they come out the other end, and those who turn out ugly or end up being endowed with abilities deemed rather limp by the more powerful and beautiful are immediately shunned) on the one hand  while testing the royal family’s leadership abilities on a couple of fronts, both from the “have-nots” within their own society who are burning with the fires of rebellion,  and from  the humans outside their dome who are shelling Attilan with every type of ordnance they’ve got, on the other. Both situations have been engineered, and are being manipulated by, Black Bolt’s evil brother, Maximus, who has designs on the throne he believes to rightly be his, but at his society’s hour of greatest peril, the king seems to be suffering from — how ’bout this — some sort of mid-life crisis. Which is kinda strange since it’s strongly hinted that he might very well be immortal, but there you have it.



Jae Lee’s art is pretty cool in an angular, stylized sort of way — at this stage in his career he hadn’t yet developed the unbearably stiff and lifeless look that he employs today  and he wasn’t yet too lazy to draw backgrounds — and makes the transition to barely-animated form well, but the paucity of dialogue in Jenkins’ for-the-most-part-pretty-interesting script results in a choppy viewing experience, with most of the story’s 12 “chapters” running no more than 10 or 12 minutes before  we have to sit through the next set of closing-followed-by-opening credits all over again. The whole thing is barely over two hours long, so why they felt the need to segment it like this simply in order to strictly adhere to the comic’s format consisting of 12 separate issues is beyond me.

On the plus side, Shout! Factory has employed several different actors —of both genders — to voice the different parts (none of whom you’ve ever heard of, trust me, but that doesn’t matter much and most do a perfectly serviceable job), so unlike the Watchmen motion comic we took a look at on these virtual pages yesterday, you’re not stuck with one guy voicing every single character, even the women. This was released just this year while Watchmen was translated into “motion” almost five years ago, so I guess things have progressed somewhat. The widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are both terrific, as well, but be forewarned — turn your volume down about eight notches from its usual setting, because the sound levels on this thing are loud as fuck.



The package is rounded off with a pretty solid little 30-minute “making of” featurette that splits its attention between Paul Jenkins talking about this series specifically and Marvel head honcho Joe Quesada talking about the inception of the entire “Knights” line in more general terms, but relevant  and interesting as this is, it’s admittedly not something that anything other than hard-core comics fans will probably find very involving. Which is fine, I guess, since hard-core fans are obviously the only people that are going to bother with the whole notion of “motion comics” in the first place. All in all, it’s fair to say that the same final verdict applies to Inhumans as it does to all these things — if you liked the book, you’ll like this fine, despite some hiccups in the translation to a new format, but you certainly don’t need to watch it — and if you’re unfamiliar with the so-called “source material,” then the — let’s face it — pointlessness of essentially shuffling the comic panels in a slide show in front of your face, while the story is read  aloud, is only amplified and echoed.