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September 01 2009

Trailer for the Astonishing X-Men: Gifted motion comic. The adaptation didn't exactly wow one reporter when it was unveiled at last weekend's Fan Expo.

I think the motion comic is a misbegotten genre. Instead of giving you artistically arranged panels that lead you to imagine the action between them -- making you a participant in the storytelling -- it gives you discontinuous bits of motion that remind you that you're not looking at real people. Instead of leading you to imagine the voices -- again, audience participation -- it reminds you that (for example) no one knows what an alien sounds like, but it's probably not like a guy trying to sound scary. Lines like "Mommy is screaming. Her screams are . . . yummy!" are best read, since when you get to the end, you have to rethink the meaning of everything that came before. Hearing someone perform the line reduces the surprise and makes the little girl sound like a monster, rather than a little girl having a nightmare about being a monster (a subtle distinction, since children do fantasize about being huge, powerful, dinosaurs who can overpower the people who have all the power over them, but that subtlety is lost when you attach a specific voice to the line rather than allow the reader to imagine a range of potential voices and expressions that convey [1] vulnerability [2] fantasies of power that counter the feeling of vulnerability [3] the childhood fear that one's fantasies can come true and destroy your parents [yeah, I got that from Bruno Bettelheim]).

Motion comics are like comics, but not as good.

ETA: None of this applies to a story that might be written specifically for motion comics. Someone writing for the genre could use the voice actors and movement to good dramatic effect.
But adapting a comic like Astonishing for motion comic -- taking dialogue written for the eye and art drawn for static viewing, then adding voice actors and motion -- detracts from the story.


[ edited by Pointy on 2009-09-01 22:10 ]
Well, um.
I second Pointy.
Aw, shucks. :)
I think the lip syncing is far better than I ever expected and to some extent they've got the heads to turn in ways that aren't quite utterly ridiculous. It's ridiculously stilted whenever characters walk or move across panels, but otherwise I'm surprised how effective some of the smaller details are. (Like whenever there's a hand moving something through a frame, I was expecting sub-shadow puppet quality.)

Mostly I'm having trouble with the voice acting. I can imagine much better (well, to me) line readings than the actors they actually hired who just sort of disappoint what I imagined. I think both Joss and Grant Morrison made allusions to how their Emma Frost was meant to be faking an upper class accent.

It would be nice if the writers were actually on hand to sort of direct how they intended some of the lines to be. (For example, the little girl in this trailer-- I assume Joss would have wanted something more like an 8 year old Amy Acker broken god-king voice. ^_^)

If anything, I'd sort of like it if they just went with outright new art to adapt it? Or I'm just forever expecting Emma to sound like this one flash comic book parody.
Are they using talent from the various animated shows for this ? It doesn't sound like it and some of the lines sounded poorly acted to my ears. Just about any of the actors from the `90s X-Men or the current Wolverine & The X-Men would be quality choices (or from the film series, if they could afford 'em). I can't speak for X-Men: Evolution, never saw more than a few minutes of it.

Some of the effects are kinda cool. I mean the way they've animated it doesn't look as hokey as I was expecting it would.

I just got caught up on Runaways after not reading it since Joss' run ended over a year ago and the most recent issue of Volume 3 I have (#10), by Chris Yost, featured many X-Men cameos to great comedic effect. Enjoyed that short, funny, and suprisingly poignant Molly tale more than Terry Moore's entire 9-issue run. Moore got a few good scenes and lines in there, but was overall unsuitable for the title (disappointment, given how much I loved his Strangers in Paradise). I sorta appreciated how he tried to give the kids a break from everything being so dire, a breather after the tumultuous time travel arc and the events of Secret Invasion--basically New York sucks for the Runaways and they should always stay in LA--but at the same time, that lack of urgency killed the momentum of the series (especially in Moore's initial aliens-want-Karolina arc, which didn't need to go on for 6 issues). Eager to check out the most recent two or three issues that I missed.
It seems like a weird half-way point between comics and animation, that doesn't really have the strengths of either, and actually seems to suck all the life out of the comic.

So, yeah. What Pointy said.
Totally Of Topic, but this Amber Benson's comic, about she twittered is already linked?
Wonder if the rumored Buffy motion comic will be anything like this? If so, then that's kinda cool I guess...Doesn't look half bad.

Amber's comic is cute. :)
Love it. I hope we will get Buffy animated soon.
It's OK. I expected worse. Actually reminds me of animation from the 60's. The voice part though could be better, it make the difference.
Another +1 to what Pointy said. "Motion comics are like comics, but not as good".
While I personally feel like I probably wouldn't get as much enjoyment out of watching this as I did from reading the book, I'm at the same time happy that it's getting some extra exposure, as it's certainly a book deserving of it.
Seems ok to me. Neither great nor terrible. Maybe people who don't enjoy comics so much will like this sort of animated way of telling the same story.
I found it interesting that the SyFy channel will showing motion comics. I wonder if that means we'll see the Buffy and X-Men ones on the telly at some stage.

That could be pretty cool if they do them between shows, kind of like webisodes but with comics.

...taking dialogue written for the eye and art drawn for static viewing, then adding voice actors and motion -- detracts from the story.

Yeah true Pointy, motion comics don't use "closure" in the way comics do i.e. the reader doesn't fill in between panels so in that sense I can see it being less involving, less engaging of the imagination, less flexible in some ways (it's hard for me to tell because so far i've never watched a motion comic where I haven't read the static comic first). But in principle at least, you can use the motion to do some fairly stylistically interesting things with the images IMO and precisely because they're sort of moving static images (it's not an oxymoron, it's not it's not it's not ;) and don't necessarily have to adhere to some/most of the laws of motion in our world. Whether this particular motion comic will do that remains to be seen but even in the trailer I thought there were some visually interesting moments.

Re: dialogue though, I think there's more of a point. Superhero comics dialogue can be "big", these are mythical archetypes after all and that doesn't always lend itself to being acted or even read out loud (something to do with the concreteness of hearing a sound from outside your head I think - I say "outside" BTW because I "hear" a voice when I read, wasn't until a few years ago that I discovered not everyone did).

Even Joss' superhero dialogue which is often funny/cool precisely because it's understated and casual sometimes reaches for that sort of operatic quality (as it should, that quality being part of what allows the genre to talk about characters that are both people and gods at the same time or to tell stories about a girl's love for her telempathic purple dragon and the fate of the entire universe on the same canvas). One of my favourite lines from his run on AXM for instance makes me cringe in anticipation of actually hearing it spoken aloud, when we find out Scott has been playing a long con, has his powers back and says "To me, my X-Men" - in every way it's a "big" moment in the comic but you better be a pretty decent actor to pull it off in spoken dialogue.

(though that said, i'm glad they have a voice cast, single narrator motion comics can be very distracting, especially when the focus of the story is a team and its interactions)
Isn't "To me, my X-Men" a trademark Professor Xavier line ? I seem to recall him saying it a few times, but in my head it's spoken out loud by the voice actor from the `90s series, so it was probably in the cartoon or one of the video games around that time. It is a ridiculously cheesy-sounding line when spoken out loud. Heck even on the page it's sorta overexuberant-knights-in-shining-armor-level hokey, but no surprise in a superhero comic. I think Joss could best get away with that stuff in his 1907 story in Runaways, 'cause somehow it doesn't sound as strange when said during a time period I didn't live through. Re-read that arc recently, btw, and enjoyed it more as a quick read than 6 issues spread over a year or so (and Michael Ryan from that arc is still the artist with the most suitable style to have worked on the book, no disrespect to co-creator Adrian Alphona's also-excellent work before him).
Isn't "To me, my X-Men" a trademark Professor Xavier line ?

Dunno Kris, not actually that big an X-Men reader (wouldn't be surprised if it was a deliberate nod though). I agree it's very much an old-fashioned, swashbuckling, pre-WW I sort of rallying cry, almost too big for the modern concept of a hero as a usually reluctant, self-aware, sometimes self-loathing combatant (people who actually enjoy fighting aren't usually seen as heroic any more).

It reminded me of the 'Sharpe' books/films which are set during the Napoleonic wars - in the confusion of battle he'd often shout it or similar in order to rally his men for a (usually victorious) final effort. Sharpe is, at least until near the chronological end of his adventures (i.e. Waterloo), a fairly unreflective character who generally likes fighting and soldiering because, frankly, he's a natural at it, it's his truest calling (IMO they get away with that because of the historical "blood and bodices" backdrop when words like 'honour' and 'glory' could still be used unironically - if it was set during a modern war Sharpe would either be good at it but not enjoy it and probably be tortured by his own proficiency or a bad guy).
Here's the more direct link to the trailer at Marvel (without the preceding ad). Amusingly, it seems that Marvel may be trying to promote this to Whedonites using some astroturfing: the link was sent to me under the guise of an independent fan, but coming from an IP address that points to a Marvel server.
Was the subject something like "Dave wants you to check out a page on" Whedonage ? Could be someone just clicked on the "Send to a friend" link to give you a heads up.

Or maybe they are astroturfing, you're right to wonder (it ain't whether you're paranoid, it's whether you're paranoid enough ;).
They can't be for people who can't see, because there's images. They can't be for people who can't hear, because there's sound. They remind me of the Merry Marvel Marching Society show I watched as a kid, but I think they just couldn't afford full animation.
@Saje: the link was posted on the WhedonAge site by a new user under the subject "Joss Whedon and the X-Men?!!?" saying, "Hey guys, I just checked this out and it's pretty awesome." -- but whose posting IP address resolved to a computer at

Looked like astroturfing to me -- which is kinda odd, 'cause they could have just gone the "official" PR route.
Yep it does and yep they could. Agreed, seems a bit daft (not to mention pointless).
It's Disney's doing ! Dun dun dunnn !

The amount of nerd spaz-out over the buyout/takeover thing is hilarious and unsurprising (and premature, but speculation can be fun).
I must admit I don't get the point of the motion comics. Why bother? Traditional comics do their thing well and so does animation. I can only assume that they are trying to make more money by tinkering with a pre-existing product. And who doesn't need more cash? But I don't think this is going to do it for them. Motion comics as they now exist, are like the El Camino of story-telling. Maybe if enough people are interested, it will eventually develop it's own language and techniques... but for now I think that it's just really awkward.
I'm interested in seeing what non-comic fans think of the motion comics.

Marvel views motion comics are a way to bring in new readers and get younger people into comics that want videos and wouldn't pick up a book to save their lives. And that might be the reason for the astroturfing from Marvel. They're trying to reach out to a new audience that would never be interested in comics.

I have my doubts that motion comics are really going to appeal to those types of people, but maybe it will.

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