Animated art, then and now
While Granov's art is outstanding and the job done to animate it is impressive, it's Warren Elllis' revamp of the Iron Man origin stories that makes this such an enjoyable ride. Updating his past, Ellis made Tony Stark into a young inventor and industrialist struggling with his purpose in life and the damage his inventions do in the world. He's also faced with the rapid advance of technology, which has left his Iron Man suit outdated, a fact he learns when he tries to stop a terrorist enhanced by a new nanotechnology called Extremis. The battle forces Stark to re-evaluate his own gear and the lengths he's willing to go to. Though the series can get a bit bogged down in Ellis' dialogue, good as it is, for the most part, action is just around the corner, and the final episode is a knock-down, drag-out slugfest.
I wish I had watched the older, five-part Spider-Woman first, because in comparison to the more intricate Iron Man, it just isn't as impressive. The mouth animations that were so impressive in the new film are absent here, so everything is a voiceover, even when there's dialogue, and the motion in the cartoon is less extensive. That doesn't mean there's not some genuine creativity and artistry, with some impressive graphic takes on Maleev's unique style. It's as if the animators realized they didn't have a lot of weapons in their arsenal, and, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.
Though the animation is limited, the issue isn't the art here. It's the story, which is odd to say, considering that contemporary legend Brian Michael Bendis is behind the keyboard. The main problem with the tale is the massive amount of backstory behind it, as it ties into the Secret Invasion storyline that ran through Marvel Comics a while back, about a shapeshifting alien race infiltrating Earth, turning allies against each other. So much of your investment in the story is tied to an understand of what went on before. And though the cartoon explains much of it as you go, it's asking a lot of a viewer to catch up with a plot that traversed about 100 issues of Marvel comic books, while following the present story. Though the story isn't as enthralling as hoped, the voice cast is quite good, especially Nicolette Reed, the voice of Spider-Woman, who helps give the character the feel that she's on the edge of losing her mind.
If there's anything about these movies that is a serious problem it's the way they are presented. For some reason, even when you watch each episode in a continuous flow, the titles and credits are left on, which means you sit through the titles six times and the credits at least five times. Sure, leave them on when you watch the episodes individually, but let's put in a bit of effort and help out the pacing of the episodes. This is even more of an issue in one of the later episodes of Iron Man, as you watch credits, then titles, then a recap of what's happened to this point. It just points to a lazy presentation.
The Dolby DTS HD audio tracks on Iron Man are incredibly cinematic, using the side and rear speakers for aural effects, music and atmospheric effects, including a nice plane launch that moves from side to side and front to rear. An older, more limited production, Spider-Woman doesn't bring the noise as strongly, but there's nothing about the presentation that will draw complaints either, and there are some examples of dynamic mixing that stand out.
If you want to know more about how the cartoon was made, you're in luck, as there's a five-minute overview of Marvel Knights Animation, with interviews with Marvel head Joe Quesada, artists Maleev, Neal Adams and John Cassaday, followed by a 13 and a half minute, four-part behind-the-scenes featurette on the elements that went into Extremis, including the 3D work, the voice cast and the animation by Magnetic Dreams. It's an excellent look behind the curtain.
A pair of music videos is up next, one for each film, featuring original songs about the characters. They aren't nearly as bad as you'd expect, though the Spider-Woman track is a bit more rocking (despite sounding a bit too much a theme song.) There are also a few automatic galleries of art to check out, two for each movie. One is a "visual history," with a line-up of Shellhead suits and some Spider-Woman art with text that's basically impossible to read. There there are very short (a minute or less) galleries of each artist's work on the comic. The images are really nice in all four galleries, but they could be better designed for viewing.
The final extra is a quartet of trailers for Marvel Knights Animation's four motion comics, Iron Man, Spider-Woman, X-Men and Black Panther.
The Bottom Line