Marvel Knights Animation and Shout! Factory have teamed up to offer all four standalone volumes of the Astonishing X-Men motion comics (Gifted, Dangerous, Torn, and Unstoppable) in a single collection, and, for the first time, on Blu-ray no less. This represents Marvel Knights’ motion comics adaptation of the entirety of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Eisner Award-winning collaboration on Marvel Comics’ Astonishing X-Men 1-24, plus Giant-Size Astonishing X-Men #1. This is honestly one of my favorite runs of all time– of any book– and to see it come to life in any form is a tremendous joy. So enamored with the storyline am I that, in fact, Marvel Knights’ adaptation has single-handedly sold me on the notion of the motion comic as a medium. Suffice it to say, synopsis-wise, that this series finds the X-Men targeted as enemies of an alien world even as they face a number of nearly insurmountable internal threats, all of which threaten not only the continued existence of the X-Men, but the Earth along with them.
In my previous review of Dangerous, I lamented the transition in animation styles away from Gifted. In Gifted, Marvel Knights’ animators augmented Cassaday’s visuals with added periphery objects, extended backgrounds, etc. when the artwork from the original comics didn’t lend itself to the 16×9, widescreen aspect ratio. Panels were also occasionally blown up in Gifted to fill the screen with, say, a character’s face to retain Whedon and Cassaday’s tone when augmentation would have fundamentally altered the atmosphere of the scene as originally presented. In this way, the episodes in Gifted filled the entirety of the screen at all times. However, in the subsequent installments, the animators made no such attempt to fill the screen and, to a large extent, allowed the shape of the original panels to dictate their presentation in the final product. This obviously streamlined the animation process, but it also had the unfortunate side effect of obstructing audience immersion through the added stylistic flair.
While this was, in my original appraisal of the motion comic series, a significant problem for me, I now find the transition justified, but only after sitting through the Blu-ray release. In high definition, you’ll find that the blown-up panels in Gifted are highly pixellated, often enlarged far beyond the range of acceptable image clarity on a modern system. In this, the transition away from the consistent 16×9 format proves to be a fortuitous one.
The series is collected here on two Blu-ray discs in a standard-sized BD case, which is, of course, far more space efficient than the four separate DVD releases. Special features in this collection include interviews with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams, a behind-the-scenes look at Marvel Knights Animation, and a music video featuring the full Astonishing X-Men theme song with lyrics and all (which I’m not particularly fond of). Unfortunately, while the features are solid, they’re nothing new, having also been featured on the original Gifted release. Still, for its added picture clarity, enhanced sound track, and space saving BD case, this collection is well worth the cost of the upgrade.