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First, the comic book gives you more, in case you haven't read it yet. But this motion comics adaptation ain't so shabby, either. Apologies to Grant Morrison and his quirk and others who did decent in their X-Men runs, but no one's done it better recently than Joss Whedon. So if a comic book company were to launch a new platform to showcase its comics, mining Whedon's brilliance seems a straight-up no-brainer. Artist John Cassaday helped, too. Of course, DC was the actual pioneer in this field, having come out with its rough WATCHMEN motion comics some years ago.
ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED is Whedon's first X-Men arc and, reading it, you knew right away that you're in for some spectacular times. Whedon pulls out all the usual tools from his utility belt: the wit, the humor, the emotional gut checks, the pop culture plunge, the plot swerve. He makes you love the characters, even characters you didn't give an ef about going in (I'm looking at you, Cyclops). And, after you grow to care about them, he kills them off. I'm not saying that that happens here. But Whedon is a notorious serial killer.
Whedon gets a crack at writing Kitty Pryde, and if you don't fall in love with her, you are some sort of soulless. She returns to the X-Men proper here, and as a member of Xavier Institute's faculty, all grown up. In terms of character development, Kitty is the richest character. Love Kitty Pryde.
The central conflicts in the story: An alien mercenary called Ord from the Breakworld - the wonderfully snide Emma Frost refers to him as the "alien berk" - is running amok, taking hostages, testing the X-Men for whatever reason. Meanwhile, with the ever present anti-mutant hysteria as a backdrop, a brilliant geneticist publicly announces a cure for the mutant gene. Two separate plot threads but, as it turns out, it's all one single thread. As a bonus, Nick Fury shows up and S.W.O.R.D. is introduced. And just to demonstrate that Whedon doesn't only kill people off, an X-Man returns from the dead.
Don't get it twisted, what's featured here isn't full blown animation or a cartoon or what have you. Motion comics is a medium perched somewhere between the comic book and animation (text captions and word/thought balloons are excised in exchange for spoken dialogue). The movements aren't that fluid or continuous. Think of it as taking the original artwork from the comic book and tweaking it here and there just enough so that there are bits of movement. It's pretty minimal stuff, but in spite of the inherent stiffness and the limits to this new medium, the computer graphic artists do wonders. The neat thing to this concept is that there is absolute devotion to the source material, the comic book's original artwork is preserved, as well as the words. In ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED the "animators" are all very keen to keep faith with John Cassaday. Thanks to them - and thanks to project overseer Neal Adams and Cassaday himself - this motion comics achieves a sort of dynamic flow. The voice actors - a bunch of unknowns - flesh out the characters and are pitch perfect for their roles. And we already know Joss Whedon's story itself has legs.
I'm still not sold on this motion comics thing. If Marvel, and whichever other comic book company, were to stick with its best products, then motion comics might make a go of it as a valid medium. I'd love to see John Byrne's 1980s run on FANTASTIC FOUR to get this treatment or Miller & Mazzucchelli's BATMAN: YEAR ONE. I like what I saw in GIFTED because Cassaday's art is stunning stuff, never mind that this new technology is still tottering on baby legs. Neal Adams has stated that he someday wants this medium to get a movie theater release, but that is some serious reaching at this early stage. Let's wait and see.
ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED collects all six episodes, each running at around 12 to 14 minutes. The DVD's bonus material: Joe Quesada and Neal Adams talk about the genesis and development of Marvel's first motion comic book, with Quesada also going into the process of acquiring Joss Whedon as X-Men's then newest writer (00:17:10 minutes long); the pretty cool "Rise Up" music video; the ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED trailer; a chronological history of the X-Men, narrated in text, except that if your television screen is small, then you may not be able to read the print; "Behind the Scenes with Marvel Knights Animation" delves even more technically into the motion comics process (00:05:12 minutes); an Artist's Gallery featuring John Cassaday's incredible stuff; "Marvel Super Heroes: What The--?!" presents Marvel characters auditioning for roles in ASTONISHING X-MEN: GIFTED: Episode #1 ("There's No Business Like Snow Business"), Episode #2 ("Red Carpet M.O.D.O.K."), and Episode #11 ("Deadpool FYC"); and trailers for other Marvel motion comics (SPIDER-WOMAN: AGENT OF S.W.O.R.D., the shaky looking BLACK PANTHER, and IRON MAN: EXTREMIS).