The machines of the Astonishing X-Men

Marvel has released Astonishing X-Men on Blu-ray. The self-contained adventure offers a rather interesting look at some of the often unexplored elements of the X-Men saga.

Astonishing X-Men was originally a 24-issue comicbook series written by popular television and film writer/director Joss Whedon, and illustrated by comics veteran John Cassidy. As part of the Marvel Knights line, Marvel has converted the books into a series of motion comics.

Unlike the films, or even the animated television serials, the motion comics of Marvel Knights exist within the canon and continuity of the comics lines, and so here the characters are interacting with the politics and characters of the greater Marvel universe, something they can never do in the actual films.

It’s fun to see the X-Men interacting with the Fantastic Four, and chatting amiably about Spider-Man. There are enemies slinking in the shadows, and a media who wants their hide, but much of this adventure is not about Earth or its mutants.

The motion comic follows the story of the original comics, letter for letter, so if you’ve read them, then you already know the story.

The book takes place in the wake of the incidents at Genoshia, when a huge population of mutants was killed by sentinel monsters.

The repercussions of that event are still being felt, and play a large role in the events of the series, mostly in that Professor Xavier is off in Genoshia engaging in his own form of mourning, which Scott Summers and Emma Frost are running the X-Men team. Each of the four 6-part books that make up the run have their own villain and character arcs, but they add up to a central conflict which must be finally resolved in the 24th issue.

The Break World has a problem with Earth. Their oracles have seen the future, and they see that a powerful mutant from Earth will be responsible for the destruction of their own world. They don’t know who it is, but they are certain that it is true, and will take drastic steps to stop it from happening, or at least, to serve retribution upon the earth in response.

More than that, however, it’s the story of Kitty Pryde, the girl who can walk through walls. She is recruited into the ranks of the X-men in the first issue, and becomes our primary point-of-view character for the full run. The line is very much her story. We see her join the team, work through naiveté and self-doubt, fall in love, learn to live with love, and finally earn her place, solidly in the X-Men story. Kitty is a character I’ve always wanted to know more about and see more of, so these comics were great to me for that reason alone, and getting them in this form is that much better.

It’s no surprise that the writing is good, and the world-building is phenomenal, it’s Joss Whedon after all, but you already knew that if you read the original comics. The new material here is the animation and voice-acting. The animation is just the original illustrations being moved and morphed around, it was nothing like a traditional cartoon, but it also wasn’t distracting. The voice performances are not all stellar. Quite a few lines are clearly not spoken in the intonation originally intended for example, especially in the smaller roles, but it was all acceptable, and it was never actually confusing.

The only complaint I have is with the sound-mixing. During scenes of high action or lots of background noise, it’s difficult to understand the character’s dialogue over the other sounds. One early scene, for example, takes place with a lot of helicopters in the background, and the noise from those choppers completely drowns out all of the dialogue, and not in a way that seemed  deliberate.

I might not prefer this version to the actual comic book itself, but it’s very cool to see it done, and it’s a good way to draw in some audience who would ordinarily be unwilling to read the comics, though they may enjoy watching the cartoons. And, really, that’s the point of motion comics, not to entertain the fans of the comics, but to serve as a bridge from the films and television shows over to the comic books, and as that bridge, it does very well.

Overall, it’s a skillfully crafted and enjoyable adaptation of an already well-received comic book run, making a great addition to any fan’s collection, or an interesting introduction to the comics world for a fan of the films.

Astonishing X-Men is available now on Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.