Marvel Knights: Iron Man & Spider Woman
Shout Factory // Unrated // $29.93 // August 2, 2011
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted June 7, 2011
E - M A I L
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Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
Animated art, then and now

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Comic books, animation
Likes: Motion comics, Iron Man
Dislikes: Spider-Woman

The Movies
I've watched several motion comics to this point, and though I've been impressed with how they've improved over the years, there's always been a sense that, in the end, they are forcing animation onto an art form that doesn't really need to be animated, but lately they've been legitimate artistic endeavours. With Iron Man: Extremis the bar has been raised to an incredible level, creating a genuine cartoon in the style of the original comic, ones that moves and flows. Taking the painted art of Adi Granov and mixing it with CGI and advanced 3D techniques, the result is beautiful animation that's faithful to the original comic. For an animation style that was built off of simplicity, this is now a complex process.

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 He's also faced with the rapid advance of technology, which has left his Iron Man suit outdated, a fact he learns when he tries to stop a terrorist enhanced by a new nanotechnology called Extremis.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 Disc
The 11 episodes are held on one Blu-Ray disc, which arrives in a standard Blu-Ray keepcase, with a two-sided cover, featuring nice art on the inside that's unfortunately obscured by the blue color of the case. The menu design carries over the look of the cover art, and organizes the content neatly, but the disc certainly falls short though in the features, with no audio option, no subtitles and no closed captioning.

The Quality
The DVD release for Iron Man drew complaints, but this Blu-Ray looks outstanding, with the 1080p AVC-encoded transfers delivering Granov's gorgeous painting in all its glory, down to the textures in his art, along with the gritty intricacies of Maleev's dark illustrations. The newer, far more animated art on Iron Man certainly looks flashier, but they are both clean and crisp, with excellent color and a high level of fine detail, without any noticeable problems with digital artifacts.

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.

The Extras
Things kick off with a pair of interviews, one with Granov and one with Bendis. At least, that's what the box says. In reality, Bendis is nowhere to be found (outside of a short, mildly funny video titled "What The?!" which features Robot Chicken-style animation and guest spots by MC Chris and Claudio Sanchez of Coheed and Cambria.) Granov's interview made it though, and it's pretty in-depth, as he spends 17 minutes discussing his work on the comic series and the challenge of bringing his painted art style to motion comics. It definitely has something for movie fans and comic fans alike.

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
Watching Iron Man: Extremis is to experience the next evolution in motion comics, and when you see where the art form started and where it is today, it's stunning to see the leap. Unfortunately, that leap is made all the more obvious when you pair Extremis with Spider-Woman, which looks practically prehistoric by comparison. It's also not nearly as entertaining a story, because there's so much backstory involved. Aside from the content, the disc looks and sounds great, and offers a healthy dose of extras to enhance your experience, though some of it's a bit fluffy.

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