I feel like I'm really out of my depth reviewing this Marvel Knights Animation release, Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous. My pathetic cred involves being heavily into the X-Men during Dave Cockrum's reign in the 1980s, (and then delving back into the heady days of Dark Phoenix) while also enjoying Joss Whedon's Firefly. That's probably not enough. At any rate, this one-hour-plus delivery of misunderstood superhero goodness comes in the form of six 12-minute episodes penned by Whedon and illustrated by John Cassaday. It's a motion comic, meaning it eliminates the need to be literate, while skirting the issues involved with full-scale animation. That said, if you're an X-Men fan, this is a perfectly enjoyable way to kill an hour on the couch.
Motion comics take illustrations - presumably from a comic book, but what do I know - and minimally animate them. Elements from a panel are broken out and moved around, so that a comic panel may be rendered into a panel on your screen in which a few elements move around, either fitfully or with some kind of vibrancy, depending on your point of view. It is (nominally) better than a still image, and somewhat more true to comics than your latest tent-pole blockbuster featuring miscast actors like Ryan Reynolds. This disc takes a story that likely would have fit into a two or three-part comic book series, while adding voice talent to bring things more to life.
Whedon's story involves the Danger Room, a computerized, robotic holo-deck, if you will. That is, it's a room designed to realistically and fully create any threat the X-Men might face, for training purposes only. But when an ex-mutant, not disgraced but despondent, meets his end in the room, the computer comes up with some creative ideas of its own to escape a life of servitude to the mutants.
What follows is a bit of psycho-dramatic fun involving everyone's favorite villains, the Sentinels, and a team of X-Men consisting of Cyclops, Wolverine, Colossus, Beast, Kitty Pryde, and some chick in white whom I don't recall at the moment. Whedon's plot and dialog are certainly above par when it comes to graphic fiction, which is saying something, since even in the '80s and before it was clear that attention to craft could make comics into literature. (For examples, just check out Maus or Watchmen.) Whedon's work here doesn't approach that depth, but he definitely brings a skewed creativity that will have you scratching your head in delighted wonder. His conception of the Danger Room is a bit beyond the pale, and the weirdness he summons in service to that concept will perk up any comic fan's ears.
Meanwhile, Cassaday's artwork captures the X-Men in a way that expertly bridges the gap between the old-school look of Kirby and Cockrum, and more contemporary artists. The design of the Danger Room villain, in particular, brings to mind some mess you might see while tripping on the dance floor, while a minor twist makes Beast appear much more beastly. Of course any action involving the Sentinels is more than welcome, and Cassaday's take, aided by Whedon's weird vision, provides scares and thrills for true believers.
I guess I'm not a true (read contemporary) X-Men fan anymore, and I don't understand the concept of motion comics, which seem to hamstring the medium in favor of selling more HD TVs, but hey, what do I know? If you fancy seeing your comics on a 55-inch screen instead of a tiny printed page, (or you can't read) motion comics are a fine way to go. A low MSRP means it's not too terrible to dive into Marvel Knights Animation DVDs. This weird-beard X-Men story, penned ably by Joss Whedon and illustrated with verve by John Cassaday, is likely a cut above average Marvel or DC fare, in relationship to today's standards. If you are a collector, this isn't a bad little disc to check out.