The Astonishing X-Men is just one of a variety of motion comics trying to find some ground between comics and animation.
(Before we begin, some breaking news: As was always certain, and should surprise no one, Bruce Wayne is coming back. Like Captain America before him. Chris Geddes at USATODAY has the scoop.)
No one really knows how digital distribution will change the comic book industry, but it's clear that change is coming.
The leading edge of that change may already be here: Webcomics proliferate, and although the Kindle and other e-readers aren't yet up to presenting the comic page in its full glory, anyone who keenly desires to read a comic on his or her phone can rest assured that there are, indeed, apps for that. More every day, it seems.
And while Marvel and DC aren't exactly blazing pixellated trails across the electronic frontier, they've constructed some humble but respectable digital homesteads. For a modest monthly fee, you can get access to a largish online library of Marvel superhero comics. (On this page, under the "What's a Digital Comic?" tab, you can check out a free preview of an Iron Man digital comic. The navigation, which emulates the action of an eye moving down the page, takes a little getting used to.)
Over at DC, however, their digital comics efforts have taken a different form. Instead of posting old and new superhero comics online, they've set up Zuda Comics, a sort of self-contained digital imprint that invites creators of original webcomics to compete against one another. (Got some time? Check out Bayou, by the excellently named writer/artist Jeremy Love. Make sure to start at the beginning.)
Recently, Marvel and DC have introduced a shiny new web toy into the mix, the so-called motion comic.
When it works, it's an intriguing hybrid that's not quite comics and not quite animation. When it doesn't work, it's a Terry Gilliam cartoon.
After the jump: Comic book bodies in motion. Plus, a special video extra: Remember that video of the wedding party dancing to Chris Brown? Ever wondered what it would have looked like if featured more Kryptonian villains in duct-taped costumes and an enthusiastically staged super-fight that lasted FOREVER?
Essentialy, motion comics are slight variants on what filmmakers call animatics, the rough CGI storyboards used by animators and special effects houses to plan shots, futz with lighting and generally see how a given scene plays.
It's not full animation, but efforts are made to keep images from seeming static by keeping the camera in motion (the ol' Ken Burns' pan-and-zoom) while simulating figure movement with digital "cutouts" of limbs, eyes, etc.
Last summer, Warner/DC released a chapter-by-chapter adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen comic to coincide with the live-action film's release.
You can see all 12 episodes here for free. There is a psychic cost, however, in the form of lots and lots of commercial interruptions featuring a near-toxic blend of mayonnaise, moppets, and Bobby Flay. If you've got a fluttery stomach, you might want to splurge on the iTunes downloads.
SPIDER-WOMAN: AGENT OF SHEILD
Marvel answered with an original, 5-episode motion comic by Brain Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev, starring a down-on-her luck Spider-Woman on a mission to rid the earth of evil, shape-shifting aliens.
Although this series has since been produced as a printed comic, it was created expressly for the motion comic format. (I'd recommend starting with the second chapter, though.)
Recently, Marvel has begun to produce motion-comic adaptations of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's hugely popular run on the Astonishing X-Men comic, which saw the X-Men regrouping to battle both an evil alien overlord and bad publicity.
Stay True to Your (Art) School
When it debuted, the Spider-Woman motion comic came in for some criticism for its relatively stiff look. It's certainly true that it contains the least motion of these three ostensible motion comics: The camera in Watchmen never seems to stop its roaming, while X-Men is all about creepily animated doll-like faces saying snarky, Whedonesque things.
That scene with dead-eyed Emma Frost talking to the students is gonna haunt my unquiet dreams, let me tell you.
It's for reasons like that one that Spider-Woman is far and away my personal favorite, so far. I like how it finds a stylish way to stake out the middle ground between comics and animation.
Alex Maleev's photo-referenced art is moody and expressive, and I think it'd suffer if some dude went in with a stylus to start moving lips and raising eyebrows.
Because when motion comics attempt too much, you end up with that that scene toward the end of the first episode of Astonishing X-Men where they've donned their new costumes and are walking toward the X-Jet.
That's supposed to be the slow-mo hero shot. That's how it plays in your mind's eye when you read the printed comic. As presented here, though, it's straight outta Python.
I don't know, though. Maybe it's me. I confess I'm still fuzzy on just what motion comics are intended to do, and who they're ostensibly for. What do they offer that comics can't, that animation doesn't?
If you know, don't keep it to yourself. Let me know in the comments.
Cringe in Sympathetic, Stomach-Hollowing Embarrassment Before Zod!
This video has bounced around the comics blogosphere this week, from Great White Snark to Topless Robot to Comics Alliance to Blog@Newsarama.com.
As so many others have weighed in, I've nothing to add.
Except maybe: Gah. Gad. Oof. Um. Makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop. Gah.
If you have as hard a time getting through it as I do, try this: Concentrate on the table of women in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and try to imagine the conversation they will have on the long trip home.