Friday, August 2, 2013

DVD Review: Marvel Knights, Astonishing X-Men

From Joss Whedon, the Mastermind Behind the Acclaimed TV Series Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Firefly, and Award-Winning Artist John Cassaday Comes the Ultimate Story of Mutant Survival!
When Dr. Kavita Rao develops a controversial mutant cure, Professor Charles Xavier's X-Men, the aggressive Wolverine, conflicted Beast and newly returned Kitty Pryde, led by Cyclops and Emma Frost, once again find themselves battling against science, prejudice and a mysterious new foe named Ord! Can the X-Men protect the mutants of the world against this powerful new alien menace and the concoction that threatens to rid them of their unique abilities?
With smart storytelling, incredible action, startling revelations and the reemergence of old friends, this Will Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series will have you on the edge of your seat like never before with truly astonishing animated motion co-directed by artist John Cassaday and the legendary Neal Adams himself! 
Editorial Review for Astonishing X-Men - Gifted (Marvel Knights) (2009)
Sometimes your local public library can have some interesting videos. Last week, I discovered mine had the Astonishing X-Men Gifted, Dangerous, and Torn motion comics (at least, that's what they're called. The videos are taken from the graphic novels of the same name. Having never read the graphic novels, I can only assume the story lines are the same or markedly similar.

However, I had to read up on the Marvel Knights imprint to find out that these stories were taking place in one of a collection of Marvel Universes (comic books are becoming way to complicated, in my opinion).

In brief, this trio of videos forms an entire, unbroken sequence of stories starting with Kitty Pryde's (Sprite, Shadowcat) return to Charles Xavier's school as an adult after an absence of some time. Although Cyclops (Scott Summers) is currently running the school and is the leader of the X-Men, the story is largely Kitty's story. She's the heroine on more than one occasion and the person who seems to be seeing with the clearest eyes.

Jean Grey (Marvel Girl, Phoenix, Dark Phoenix) is dead and the Professor is on a sabbatical at some initially unknown location. The other X-Men are Hank McCoy (the furry blue version of the Beast), Logan (the recently returned Wolverine), Emma Frost (the White Queen) and eventually Peter Rasputin (Colossus). Since the audience is thrust into the sequence of events mid-stream, we pick up details as the action moves along.

The videos seem geared to an older audience, as evidenced most clearly by the sexual scenes involving Scott and Emma. Nothing pornographic, but you see them in bed together in fairly little clothing and leaving almost nothing to the imagination. Also, at one point, Wolverine starts swearing. No, you don't hear the words, but you hear a lot of bleeping, during one sequence for about ten seconds solid, so you know he's unhappy.

The X-Men are apparently trying to recover as a team both in terms of public image and motivation at the beginning of the story. The school is like how Xavier's school is treated in the live action X-Men film series with the X-Men being the core team and the school's instructors but with a large number of young mutant students who play supporting roles in both the film series and this motion comic series.

The series ties directly into the larger world of Marvel characters with a cameo appearance by the Fantastic Four and an ongoing presence by SHIELD.

There are a number of subplots including the aftermath of a genocidal event which claimed the life of Kitty's father among millions of others, and which seems to have involved both the Sentinels and the X-Men. This is where the Professor has chosen to go, leaving the X-Men behind (he never rejoins them at the Mansion during the three-disc series.

The story arc that crosses all three discs is the prediction that one X-Man will be responsible for the destruction of an alien world. Someone from that world was sent to Earth to kill all the X-Men, since it's unsure which one will be "the destroyer of worlds." SHIELD is charged with stopping the alien but also finding the "guilty" X-Men, and it's unsure if one rogue agent and her team may not try to take the X-Men out themselves to prevent an interstellar war.

Within this context, other subplots occur, including the Danger Room becoming sentient and reforming itself as a feminized, humanized robot and trying to destroy the X-Men (and all of the students) by exploiting their weaknesses which "Danger" (the humanoid version of the Danger Room) knows all too well.

Emma Frost is something of an "X" factor within the team since she originally was a member of the Hellfire Club. It's revealed at the end of "Dangerous" that she is still in league with her former partners for some insidious purpose, but she's conflicted (of course) because she really does love Scott (even though she takes away his powers and reduces him to a drooling idiot in "Torn."

The stories are all reasonably compelling and the "acting" isn't bad. Each disc is made up of about six "chapters" running around fifteen minutes each (sometimes it seems that the opening and ending credits of each chapter go longer than the actual story). The animation seems choppy and especially in the opening sequence, the X-Men move more like robots than people, but I think that's an effect of this series being "motion comics" as opposed to straight up animation.

In addition to how the school and students are presented, other similarities to the films include a cure for mutation, the death of Jean Grey, and sinister Government forces threatening to destroy the X-Men. SHIELD even has a mole inside the school (I won't give the identity away and its only revealed late in "Torn".
Oh, one more similarity is that Scott is pretty much a stooge and an ineffectual jerk in both the films and the motion comic series. He's a tad more heroic in these videos, but not by much. Emma even confronts him about how Xavier only made Scott the leader because he felt sorry for Scott. Scott doesn't deny it.

Apparently Jean's death breaks him completely and he never emerges as the hero and leader he was (though still admittedly conflicted) in the original comic book incarnation.

The series is definitely watchable but if there is a back story that explains what's going on and what lead up to this sequence of events, I don't know about it (which is no surprise because I don't really keep up on the comic book universes...who has the time or the disposable income?). I was disappointed when I saw that "Torn" ends on a cliff hanger. We discover who the "destroyer" is and that destruction of the alien world is coming soon, but with the launch into space of a SHIELD spaceship trying to head off the disaster, that's all she wrote...literally.

Both the graphic novel set and the series of videos include only "Gifted," "Dangerous," and "Torn" without any subsequent products, so either the story was continued in some older series which was eventually collected as graphic novels, or (hopefully) the cliffhanger will be resolved at some future date.

The creation date for the videos runs 2009-2012, so they're recent. My interest and curiosity is piqued. I want to see what happens next. I think you will, too.