Friday, August 28, 2009

Exfanding Review: Spider-Woman Motion Comic

Spider-Woman Motion Comic imageThe Digital Revolution is coming.

Fine, so it's been here since the early-to-mid-nineties. Still, the Comic Book Digital Revolution has kinda been spinning its wheels for a while, trying to find its way in an ever-changing marketplace.

We've all heard about the "latest, hippest" wave of new-fangled digital comics, and how paper will disappear because of it. And, of course, every time a company has tried this route, it's been met with either abject failure, or complete apathy from fans. (Is "complete apathy" redundant?)

Now, I'm a paper person myself, and I don't much care for the whole "let's make everything on the computer" pitch, partly because I work in the paper biz, and partly because I like paper.

Curmudgeonly diatribe aside, I absolutely understand this drive towards digital, and the sprint that many companies are doing, away from paper. The Amazon Kindle and other reading devices like it allow the user to download content immediately and to carry as many books as possible with them at all times.
Stack of booksBut, personally, I enjoy going to bookstores, and comics shops, and I'm one of those people who will haunt those places until Skynet takes over everything.

And maybe even still then.

I kinda cringe when I see things like Kindle, because I've noticed that the Borders and Barnes & Nobles in the area aren't stocking as much new stuff as they once did. And let's not even get started on independent bookshops taking a hit this past year, because that's just depressing.

And, while digital reading devices aren't all to blame, they are definitely a part of it. And so's Amazon itself, of course. And let's not forget that there's plenty of blame to go around throughout Borders and Barnes & Noble, too.

Perfect example, a few weeks ago I was in one of the two stores--forget which one, and it really doesn't matter--and I wanted to buy the follow-up to (the very entertaining sci-fi debut novel by Jonathan Barnes) The Somnambulist. The follow-up, entitled The Domino Men, was released earlier this year.

By all accounts, The Somnambulist was a pretty major release, and every store has a copy in stock. So, using the logic that Barnes is popular, and that Somnambulist sells (why else would it be in every store, right?) Domino Men should also be in stock, right next to Barnes' debut. Yes?


So, I check the correct section and see that, while Somnambulist is there, Domino Men is not. So I check the store's computer to see if it's easily purchase-able. And I find that, according to the computer, it is, in fact in the store.

Maybe it's on one of those "featured" tables out front, I think, and head over that way.

Nope, not there. So I go to the service desk for help, and a very nice lady tells me that, while it is in the back room, it's already been boxed up to be sent back to the store's warehouse.


"I know," the nice lady says, with a forlorn expression, "It's as if we don't want to sell books to people."

That was a long winded way of saying that the big chains do as much damage to themselves as all of the other forms of media encroaching upon their bottom line. Sorry about the digression.

Back to Spider-Woman. I promise.
Spider-Woman Motion Comic bannerSo Marvel has released its first digital comic, which they call a Motion Comic, with a brand new, in-continuity tale. Written by Brian Bendis and with art by (Bendis' Daredevil artist) Alex Maleev, the company has spared no expense to make a huge splash in the market.

I think it paid off quite well. For .99 cents (if you purchase before September 2--then it goes to $1.99), one can download the first installment (which has a running time of around ten minutes) from iTunes, and get the story before it is eventually collected in comics form.
Another Spider-Woman Motion Comic imageSome of you have no doubt seen other "motion" comics, such as DC's Batman: Black and White or their digital version of Alan Moore's Watchmen.

Both were good, but not great. Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D., on the other hand, is by far the best motion comic I've seen. While the characters don't move as they would in a cartoon, parts of them do. Like Spider-Woman's hair blowing in the breeze. The movement is well used, but not over-used, and it is done artistically.

The voice acting is top notch, and, frankly, with all the dialogue Bendis writes, it has to be. There are a few times when I was very aware that the actress playing Spider-Woman was reading comic book dialogue out loud, but for whatever reason, it seemed to work just fine.

The story concerns Jessica Drew's (Spider-Woman) actions and mental state in the aftermath of the big Secret Invasion event. During that storyline, it was revealed that





the Jessica Drew who has been running around in the mainstream Marvel Universe was actually a Skrull. And not just any Skrull, but the Skrull Queen. And the real Jessica Drew has been held captive on a Skrull ship for an indeterminate amount of time.

So, yeah, you can see how Jessica might not be in the best of places, mentally, at this point.

And that paranoid mindset allows for some compelling stories to be told. In this issue...uh, episode...Jessica is approached by the government agency S.W.O.R.D. and she is asked to become an agent. Leery of, well, everyone, at this point, Jessica must make a decision as to what her next move will be in a world that has become unfamiliar and threatening for her. And this story will follow the ramifications of her decisions.

The series is a bit tough to describe, just because something like it has never really been attempted. Bendis and Maleev really created a new comics language as they tell this Motion Comic story, and it's something I'd suggest all fans should check out. I know this sounds stupid, but this is literally a "motion comic." There are panels, and the characters move in the panels, but the whole time you get the feeling you're watching a comic book come to life.

And I don't mean to say that it's a similar experience to seeing Watchmen or Spider-Man on the big screen. This is literally a comics page jumping to life in front of you. And something like that has just never been accomplished before with digital comics. So in that sense, Spider-Woman is a triumph.

And, because of the execution, I think this whole Marvel Motion Comics thing is going to be around for a while, and that Marvel absolutely chose the right creative team for their launch book in this endeavor. Spider-Woman features a good story, a very interesting (and readily accessible) premise, it's Bendis so it's well-written, and the Maleev art is stunning.

And, apparently, the proof is in the pudding, as the episode ranked as high as #2 on iTunes' Top Television Episodes sales chart. So, while I want to see paper stick around forever, and I will always prefer to read a comic or a novel or a newspaper in print form over their digital doppelgangers, Marvel has taken a great forward stride in creating high quality, marketable digital product.

Now, some of you might be asking, but Alex, what does this mean for comics shops? And, although I am usually all-knowing, in this instance, I honestly can't even begin to speculate. I mean, I'm assuming that Marvel won't be releasing all of its line digitally before releasing in print, because then the direct comics market as we know it would die off.

And I don't mean like Bruce Wayne.

I'm talking main character in Kirkman's Walking Dead series, here.

And here's where my review gets all negative and preachy. Comics shops can't make money off of digital comics. They just can't. And that's not right. Will the comics shop go the way of the Dodo anytime soon? Well, many have gone away in the past several years, and there's a smaller number of comics shops in the U.S. today than at any point over the past decade.

And digital product will not help those numbers.

The dilemma (for all media-based companies, really) is that digital is clearly the way to go. It's easier, faster, cheaper, and better for the environment. We live in a world where we carry around the Internet in our hands, and with it the global community. Technology is changing at an unreal pace, and to ignore that march towards the future would be stupid on the part of the comics industry.

But how can you effectively turn your back on the direct market, and the retailers who have made comics what they are today?

There are no easy answers to this, and I think in the coming months we'll see what else Marvel (and, I'm sure, DC and Dark Horse and Image) have planned in the way of digital content. But to think that they're going to stop at one or two brand new, in-continuity series is naive.

We'll see more of this stuff, and it'll be good and new and shiny, and even paper die-hards such as myself will go and buy this stuff. Because it's cool and hip and relevant. Because there's no need to figure out how to store these things. Because it will kill the Collector Mentality. And, as I mentioned, Spider-Woman is good comics, plain and simple. This is something I'd buy in a shop with no hesitation when it's collected.

But it's also something (the Motion Comic, I mean) that I'd show to someone who has never read comics, and I'm positive they'd enjoy it. This is comics on the verge of something bigger and better, folks.

All Good Things, for sure.

But, again, the issue becomes the retailer. What the heck happens to them? What happens to our Wednesday Ritual? What happens to the old school fans who just will not go for this? What happens next?

I hate to end this on such a buzz kill, because I really liked the episode. But I just don't know where we go from here.

Any thoughts?

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