Written by Brian Michael Bendis
Art by Alex Maleev
Motion by Motherland
Sound by Simplissimus
Published by Marvel
Reviewed by Brendan McGuirk
After all the delays, hype, and subsequent delays, Marvel’s new motion comic initiative finally took the stage on iTunes today, with the release of Spider-Woman: Agent of Sword Episode 1 on iTunes. The product has the look and feel of a grand success, something innovative and new, yet wholly familiar to fans of previous Bendis/ Maleev collaborative endeavors.
The story begins on an emotionally battered and broken Jessica Drew, ruing the world after the events of Secret Invasion. Having been removed by the Skrulls, and replaced by their queen, Spider-Woman was quite literally the face of the invasion, and as such currently feels totally untrusted. And what good is a spy who can’t be trusted?
There’s only one place for Drew to be properly utilized, so she is recruited by Agent Brand, who, after the catastrophic failures leading up to and during Secret Invasion, is rebuilding S.W.O.R.D.. Due both to Drew’s specialized skill set as a private eye, and some unresolved feelings of guilt regarding her total failure, Brand hooks up Drew with a gig as S.W.O.R.D.’s point person in hunting down the alien stragglers hiding out across the Earth. With that, a license to kill, and with a nifty gizmo that detects non-humans while providing endless information (looking more than a little like an iPhone, natch), Jessica Drew sets off to the shadiest port city in all of the Marvel universe to begin her new career as an agent of S.W.O.R.D..
So those are the basics of the story. But the story alone isn’t what caused all the hype surrounding this release.
The question is; how does this work as a motion-comic? Does it feel like the start of a digitally-distributed comics’ revolution? The best answer I can provide is: maybe.
The package is very clearly finely produced, with full attention paid to the periphery. The voice acting is subtle and professional, with Spider-Woman’s British accent, (remember her origin) and an echo effect on the not-entirely-human Agent Brand. The score is properly moody. The length of the episode is solid, clocking in at just about 10 minutes. That’s just about perfect, since, while this is but a segment of the not yet released Spider-Woman Agent of S.W.O.R.D. comic (though, as Bendis has noted, the print version will contain some different elements of the same story and vice versa), that is about the time an average comic takes to read.
The motion itself is hard to quantify- the images are static, and so it is the movement of the camera that provides the motion. The characters are their own layers, and as such are used in contrast to the layers of their background. There is little visual dynamism to the patented Bendis-chit-chat scenes, but it is the action scenes that provide the real excitement. The images move quickly and kinetically, unique in their blend of the beauty of finely rendered comic imagery and animated motion.
For fans of other motion comics, this may seem like a step forward, but perhaps not a leap. It isn’t so much the movement that makes this such a new product, because comics have been adapted before. No, what makes this episodic series different from the others is the obviousness that the art was created explicitly with servicing this animatic format as well as being its own comic art. This isn’t a cutout Spider-Woman being waved across a panel, onscreen. It is its own form.
Of course, the two names leading the charge are comics all-stars, and their talents are on full display here. Reading (watching?) the opening scenes of Jessica at her lowest, one can’t help but be reminded of Bendis’ first critical success in mainstream comics with Alias. The writer cut his teeth on lonely private eyes without a hope in the world, so it’s rewarding to see him return to that. There are a few trademark Bendis-ian quips that sound a little stranger to the ear than they read on the page, but for the most part the strength of his dialogue carries over to this new medium. Alex Maleev’s star shines brightly on this project, as it is his flexible and emotive art that makes for the highly stylized visuals. His colors work to perfection, and the textures he employs bring an unprecedented reality to the work. It will be really interesting to see the print comic to see what choices were made for the respective formats.
The most important thing about this project is that it is not an adaptation. It isn’t a case of trying to make a round comic fit into a rectangular iPod. It is an organically realized product with its own strengths, and yes, weaknesses. But it is true to its word in being both ambitious, and new. It’s too soon to tell if this is what the comics of the future look like, but for now, it’s a pretty damn cool new toy.