I'm not a die-hard X-Men fanatic...but with a casual to moderate interest in comics during the past 20 years, it's always been on my radar. Even those without a passing interest in the medium are likely aware of its existence (thanks to the enormously popular movies, no doubt), so it's safe to say that Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's supergroup has burrowed firmly into worldwide pop culture during the last five decades. The multi-volume Astonishing X-Men series began in 1995 during Marvel's "Age of Apocalypse" arc, with a successful follow-up volume arriving four years later. The third and most recent volume kicked off in 2004 and it's still going strong as of 2012, featuring art and stories by a rotating cast of fan favorites.
The first 24 issues, as well as the bulky Giant Sized Astonishing X-Men, Volume 1, were penned by pop culture hero Joss Whedon (The Avengers) and illustrated by John Cassaday (Planetary). Divided into four separate sections ("Gifted", "Torn", "Dangerous" and "Unstoppable", which originally spanned roughly six issues apiece), this initial run of Astonishing X-Men's third volume set the stage for the popular series it still continues to be. Stripped down to a core group of Cyclops, Emma Frost, Shadowcat, Colossus, Beast and Wolverine, this focused collection of stories is loaded with interesting character dynamics, fantastic artwork, great dialogue and colorful villains. All four were eventually converted into motion comics and released between 2009 and 2012; produced by Marvel Knights Animation and initially available via online outlets like iTunes and Hulu, they've enjoyed a similar amount of popular and critical acclaim.
Summary of "Gifted", "Torn", "Dangerous" and "Unstoppable" Story Arcs (via Wikipedia)
Shout! Factory's new Astonishing X-Men two-disc Blu-Ray collection presents all four feature-length motion comics back-to-back in glorious 1080p for your viewing pleasure. Those who have already read and enjoyed the original comics will enjoy revisiting this run of Astonishing X-Men; as an example of the medium done right, it's a largely satisfying affair that doesn't deviate much from the source material. Those who just saw Joss Whedon's name on the package and/or bought that one issue of X-Men with the shiny cover back in 1995, hoping that they'd retire in luxury? Well, they might not get as much out of this collection, at least not at first. These detailed, multi-layered stories cater to seasoned fans first and foremost, so proceed with caution if your X-Men frame of reference ended more than a decade ago.
It's also worth noting (and advertised on the packaging, no less) that these motion comics include adult themes and aren't exactly appropriate for all ages. I'd normally not feel it necessary to repeat such a disclaimer, but a large majority of the public continues to insist that "cartoons are just for kids".
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
On paper, Astonishing X-Men looks good overall...but these 1080p transfers aren't uniformly excellent. Gifted is definitely the odd man out here, showcasing a number of nagging problems like banding, aliasing and the occasional artifact, though it's still a watchable experience overall. The other three films look notably more impressive, offering crisp image detail, a vivid color palette and rock-solid black levels. Sporadic (and minor) digital problems do pop up on occasion...but on the whole, fans won't find much to complain about during 75% of this material. With that said, most of these problems could very stem from the original source material, as Shout! Factory is typically quite reliable with their animated releases.
HEADS UP: This images in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-Ray's fancy-pants 1080p resolution.
The audio is a bit more consistent, as each film has been paired with a DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio mix; unlike the visuals, everything here obviously had to be built from the ground up. It's an impressive effort in almost every regard: dialogue is crisply recorded, music cues sound great, channel separation is strong and the overall impact is considerable for a two-channel presentation. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles are included during the films or bonus features. Disappointing, considering the source format.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, this two-disc set is packaged in a standard size dual-hubbed keepcase and includes an attractive matching slipcover. Menu designs are generally smooth and easy to navigate, while both Blu-Rays are locked for Region A playback only. Summaries of all four films are printed on the back cover.
Not much, but it's all worth checking out. Up first is an Interview
with former Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada and artist Neal Adams (17 minutes, 1080p), who share a bit about their personal involvement with this project and the motion comics medium as a whole. A similar Behind-the-Scenes Featurette
(5 minutes, 1080p) includes Quesada and Adams along with artist Alex Maleev, Bob Wilson, Kristine Stone and more, who discuss the process of constructing motion comics out of printed source material.
Of lesser interest are a Music Video for "Rise Up" by Guy Erez & David Ari Leon (3 minutes, 1080p), plus a Trailer for Astonishing X-Men: Gifted and other Marvel productions. No optional subtitles are included.
This collection of Astonishing X-Men motion comics has no shortage of high points, but it's recommended for seasoned fans only. Those who haven't picked up a Marvel comic in months (or those who just came here for the Joss Whedon factor) might feel lost on several occasions...but from a technical standpoint, there's very little to complain about. Shout Factory's compact two-disc package serves up a solid A/V presentation, though the bonus features are a little skimpy overall. But the majority of this content is of very good quality and the price tag is fairly reasonable for what's included. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.