Marvel Knights: Astonishing X-Men Blu-ray|
As far as I can remember I’ve always loved the X-Men. I have all the movies, read a large number of the comics and played my share of the videogames. So when the opportunity came up to review Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s own take on my favorite X-Men, I had to jump on it. Before Joss directed his superhero blockbuster he wrote a comic book series that redefined the X-Men universe. Now comic book and X-Men fans alike can see his works animated in its entirety with the release of the Marvel Knights: Astonishing X-Men Collection on Blu-Ray.
Animation can have many meanings in the movie world be it computer generated or hand-drawn. There is a third option out there that may come into its own very soon. I’m talking about the artistic style known as the “motion comic”. I first got a look at motion comics when Watchmen released years ago, but the technology has changed since then and I’d say for the better. Astonishing X-Men on Blu-Ray showcases all 4 arcs (Gifted, Dangerous, Torn and Unstoppable) spanning 24 issues on 2 discs. Of all the comics I’ve read and now seen this is by far one of my favorites due to its more mature storytelling. This telling is not like what you saw on TV after school and some discretion should be used around the young ones.
This four-story arc starts with “Gifted” which lays the grounds for the rest of the adventure. Kitty Pryde returns to the Xavier Institute to become a mentor to a younger generation of mutants. Rounding up the roster of X-Men for this telling is Wolverine, Cyclops, Beast, Colossus and the unlikeliest of allies, Emma Frost. Emma, taking up Xavier’s mantle, leads the X-Men as they are confronted with a “mutant cure” that comes from a source that could rock their world. There is also the small matter of an alien warrior known as Ord and his desire to wipe every mutant off the face of the earth. Even one of my favorite X-Men, Kitty Pryde, is reunited with her once thought dead love, Colossus. While this arc is very familiar, ala The Last Stand, the story is very serious with bits of humor and even a few surprises along the way.
Things heat up in the next installment “Dangerous”, where nothing is as it seems and both the viewer and the X-Men have a few things to learn about their mentors. In this section, Danger isn’t only an idea but a reality as the X-Men find one of their students dead and are put to the test as they face a being that knows their every move and weakness. The plot also thickens as Emma’s motives may not be wholly of her own as she leaves in the middle of fight against a Sentinel on what’s left of Genosha. I love the fact that Joss has an eye for detail and that he incorporated the past events of X-Men lore into this story.
“Torn” is the probably one my favorite arcs in Whedon’s story. Emma reveals her true icy personality as she and the current Hellfire Club comprised of Cassandra Nova, Perfection, Sebastian Shaw and Negasonic Teenage Warhead attack and defeat the X-Men one by one by using their greatest fears, Oh and I totally agree with Shadowcat on that last name despite Negasonic’s rather cool character design and tie-ins with Emma Frost past on Genosha. This arc actually has several surprises and twists right up to the very end of the story. Kitty steps up and becomes more prominent in the X-Men as she’s up against Frost while the others are waking up with beer and yarn. This arc also finally reveals the single X-Men that Ord has been trying to stop from destroying his world.
Two worlds are on the verge of all out war as the final arc, “Unstoppable”, rounds out this motion comic adventure, In this arc, Agent Brand of S.W.O.R.D., takes the X-Men including a powerless Scott Summers to the Breakworld. It is here that the destined X-Man learns of their role in the destruction or salvation of an entire race. This fated soul may also just save his home in the process from an alien weapon that threatens to erase all of human life, mutant or otherwise. Why “Torn” showed the inner conflicts of our favorite X-men, this arc shows things in a much bigger scope. While the X-Men are on the Breakworld many of the Marvel universes greatest supers try to avoid doom from Earth. The gravity of the situation is very apparent and this is the most emotional piece in the set for me. War is not without tragedy and for the X-Men their world will never be the same. This arc while darker isn’t without some humor and light-hearted moments which is needed when the stakes are that high. Plus everyone loves a bit of Spidey charm.
When Joss first started his Astonishing X-Men story, he teamed up with Eisner Award-winning Artist John Cassaday to bring his story alive on the pages. Cassaday’s work is impressive on its own bringing the X-Men into the darker more mature world known as Marvel Knights, but is the added contributions of Neal Adams that brings those pages to life. A lot of meticulous detail was required to take still images and make them move in such a way that it doesn’t look corny. Much like a hand-drawn animated film, mouths, limbs, eyes, and emotion had to be portrayed and I think that they did an amazing job here. There were times where the images frame by frame aren’t quite right like Fury’s eye patch bleeding into his forehead. Though despite a few flaws, I could almost watch this like it was just another animated cartoon but calling it a cartoon however would be an insult to Whedon and Cassaday’s name. This is far better than any show on TV.
Astonishing X-Men may have just been words written on a page in Ink and pigment but to make this work in a motion comic the story needed to be heard. This story is brought to life by a talented group of voice actors that did an amazing job of making these characters sound legit. The sound effects and music used in the Marvel Knights: Astonishing X-Men Collection sounds amazing in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. I absolutely loved the menu score which is used throughout all 4 arcs. There is even a bonus music video that you can watch on the first disc that is done with clips from the motion comic that is really cool.
This 2-disc motion comic Blu-Ray set will run you a cool $30 bones at most retailers but as a big X-Men and Whedon fan that is a price I would gladly pay any day. Having 24 issues of a comic book in one collection like this would easily cost more to track down and purchase than the $30 dollar price tag. There are few other special features to view in this collection including a Behind-The-Scenes Look at Marvel Knights™ Animation and interviews by Neal Adams and Marvel’s own Joe Quesada which are really interesting.
I have to admit that I really enjoyed the Astonishing X-Men Collection as it is portrayed a more mature presentation of the X-Men that we know and love. Joss did an amazing job at integrating past X-Men comic events with his own take on the mutant world and beyond. His gift for detail and humor really shines in this Blu-ray production and I’m glad that I didn’t miss out on this adventure. Motion comics may not be for everyone, but as a person that loves both comics and technology I can’t wait to see where things go in the future. If you love the X-Men as much as I do and own a Blu-Ray player then you have to check out the Marvel Knights: Astonishing X-Men Collection today.