Comic-Con staple Joss Whedon is probably best known for the long running Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series though more recently, he is more than partly responsible for making The Avengers the record-breaking behemoth it is. Lesser known, is that Joss Whedon has tackled comic book heroes before. He worked on the 2000 X-Men film, the more recent treatments of Thor and Captain America and from 2004 to 2008 he even wrote 25 issues of Marvel Comic’s Astonishing X-Men series which was illustrated by John Cassaday.
It is this series, that Marvel Knights Animation has brought their hybrid comic-animation treatment to Shout Factory DVD. The first installment of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men was titled Gifted and released almost two years ago. In it Dr. Kavita Rao develops a controversial mutant cure and Professor Charles Xavier’s X-Men which includes; Wolverine, Beast, a newly returned Kitty Pryde, and leaders Cyclops and Emma Frost find themselves battling against science, prejudice, and a mysterious new foe named Ord.
Dangerous, the second collection continues the story with the tragic death of a student at the Xavier Institute. It is revealed that a powerful enemy is working from inside the mansion to destroy the X-Men, an enemy who knows all their weaknesses and can predict their every move. This foe doesn’t want the typical wealth, power, or world domination. Unfortunately, it seems they only want them dead. As the X-Men fight for their lives, they come to learn that they’ve been deceived by one of their own.
This is where the video translation of the six issues of the Astonishing X-Men, Volume 3, issues 13 through 18, also known as Torn picks up. The third installment is broken into six DVD chapters and kicks off as Emma Frost’s erratic behavior has the X-Men spinning in a nonstop downward spiral and after secretly lying in wait for months the new Hellfire Club makes its move. The animated motion treatment of the comic panels is co-directed by both the original artist John Cassaday and the legendary Neal Adams.
The most important thing to note about the Astonishing X-Men DVDs, though sporting comic book type covers, they are not really for young children. The Will Eisner Award winner for Best Continuing Series is dialogue heavy but as most Joss Whedon efforts, does have smart storytelling. The animation style which is not full motion video will probably in itself turn off younger viewers and while not overly violent or highly sexualized, the themes and subject matter will go over the heads of most elementary school aged children.
Since the beginning, in the 1960s, the X-Men comic series has tackled more mature or adult themes more so than many of its contemporaries. The struggles of the mutants it highlights are thinly veiled references to the racial and sexual inequalities that were so evident at its inception. Now as new social issues vie for attention and resolution, the X-Men remain the perfect analogy. It is no wonder, that Joss Whedon would gravitate to the franchise and breathe new life in this series to a nearly forgotten Kitty Pryde.
Torn is the third of the four installments in the Astonishing X-Men and fans and viewers would be robbing themselves by starting halfway through. The Marvel Knights treatment is almost like reading a graphic novel on your big screen TV with each of the expertly and fully-voiced six books lasting just about 15 minutes. That being said, the lack of full animation and twists and turns of the plot are bound to turn some people off. The grand total of the 1.78:1 aspect ratio Dolby Digital DVD’s running time is about 81 minutes. The final animated episode of Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men, Unstoppable is due out at the end of the year.