I can officially say that I'm over the concept of motion comics. What was once an interesting gimmick, showed some promise with Marvel's Marvel Knights line of animation. Taking the original printed page artwork and bringing it to life in a continually evolving fashion spoke to me as being a strong bridge between the quality of actual comic writing and appeal of animation. Generally, the two have been quite exclusive, with animated adaptations simplifying complex stories and while being often entertaining and classic in their own right, a poor substitute for the "real deal."
The fourth release in the Marvel Knights line should obviously be a huge advancement over the earnest, but still limited offering of "Astonishing X-Men," the technically disappointing, "Iron Man: Extremis," and the flat out embarrassing, "Black Panther," right? Well, despite entering the ring with the writing talents of Brian Michael Bendis on her side, "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D" is perfect fodder for the average motion comic naysayer. Created in conjunction with Bendis' 7-issue series (which was abandoned due to lack of time to commit to the project, a big red-flag from the get go), "Spider-Woman" throws viewers into a world with zero context, instantly alienating all but the most hardcore Marvel fans.
A Marvel fan myself, my knowledge of Spider-Woman is limited and the world in which this character inhabits definitely doesn't look, sound or feel like the normal Marvel Universe. The story handed to viewers is incredibly simple: Jessica Drew is a woman lost in an insane world and things get much stranger for her once she's enlisted by the mysterious Abigail Brand to join S.W.O.R.D (like S.H.I.E.L.D, but with a focus on aliens) and hunt down Skrull invaders (destructive alien shape shifters). Bendis' writing is consistent throughout the 5-part, 50-minute program, but at times feels uninspired and phoned in. The tone of the series is part superhero/part noir, with a constant melodramatic narration by Drew keeping things running. Most unfortunately, with the limited time viewers are given with Spider-Woman, she doesn't do much.
Complicating matters is Alex Maleev's artwork which is fine on the printed page, but is incredibly flat and lifeless on screen, a major fumble by the animation studio meant to bring it to life. Compared to the other Marvel Knights line motion comics, "Spider-Woman" is a huge step back and ultimately a useless production. The whole project reeks of being a marketing gimmick rather than an honest attempt at giving a lesser-known character a shot at new fans. Only Bendis' writing keeps things going, doing its best with a limited time to tell a very short story of inner conflict, conspiracy, and lurking fear. The take home lesson is that Spider-Woman is an interesting character (not at all a female Spider-Man clone for those unfamiliar, her powers are incredibly unique), but "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D" doesn't do her the justice she deserves.
"Spider-Woman" earns the rare distinction of being an above average piece of entertainment that has no justification for existing. The animation gimmick is laughable at best, the voice work is passable but lacking real emotion, and the effects and musical scoring are second-rate. For those intrigued by Bendis' take on the character, I advise you not to waste your time with the motion comic version and instead seek out the printed page. As for the Marvel Knights line, this release is the nail in the coffin for this once optimistic believer in the motion comic format.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is the strongest I've seen in a Marvel Knights release. The art of the printed page is captured well with strong color reproduction and an absence of compression and aliasing issues.
The Dolby Digital English stereo audio track is a disappointment, with voice work overpowering the forgettable but still necessary effects and score. Overall, it's a flat track with little life beyond the narration.
A 5-minute "Behind the Scenes" video looks at the Marvel Knights animation studio. Strangely (or not), the segment focuses on what is ultimately the best release in the line, the debut release of the "Astonishing X-Men" program. Additional extras include a disposable music video, a "Visual History of Spider-Woman" which is an attempt at giving some context to the character, and an art gallery of Alex Maleev's work.
Long story short, while Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev's printed version of "Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D" is an entertaining read worth checking out, the Marvel Knights adaptation is a useless release, adding nothing with limited animation and forgettable voice work. Maybe three or four years ago, it would have been a passable entry into the early motion comic realm, but in 2011 with finer output (including earlier Marvel Knights releases) available, it's laughably sad. Skip It.