The 10 Best Motion Comics

By Chris Cummins in Comics, Daily Lists
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 7:57 am
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The problem with motion comics is that they are by their very nature a lesser product. Not possessing the nuances of a comic or the visual flair of a cartoon, these things are weird creatures traveling through the night in search of their own identity. That may sound a bit grandiose, but think about it. Motion comics are designed for people who are too lazy to read a graphic novel. Yet they are also crafted in such a fashion that their inferior animation is their primary selling point (there's a thesis in here somehow about how the seeming half-assedness of motion comics is a reflection upon contemporary America's overwhelming ability to settle for mediocrity, yet I'm far too lazy to write it). Motion Comics have been called the Cliff's Notes of the comics industry, and that sounds like a fair assessment. Yet it seems that they are also, to make a timely reference, the Rodney Dangerfield of fandom. Just because you probably should read a graphic novel as opposed to watching one brought to life with the least amount of effort doesn't mean that there aren't some motion comics that are worth your time. Come to think of it, some of these are actually quite exceptional. You see, as long as you view motion comics as a companion to their source material instead of a replacement, they offer up a lot of enjoyment. So I'm going to stop poo-pooing them and begin giving them the respect they deserve. Here then is a look at the 10 best motion comics released. Thus far anyways.

10) Iron Man: Extremis
Warren Ellis is most famous to regular Topless Robot readers as the man who made "tender, passionate love to our childhoods" (with his enormous dick, natch) through his work on G.I. Joe: Resolute. He merits inclusion on today's Daily List for his six-issue Extremis story arc in The Invincible Iron Man, which was adapted for the motion comic medium last year. The story has an ennui-stricken Tony Stark reuniting with an old colleague who was working with an experimental serum called Extremis that got into the wrong hands. Obviously, things go bad and Stark experiences a substantial amount of self-doubt before saving the day. I'm deliberately simplifying the story a bit here so that you can experience its surprises for yourself, but the best bits include a compelling interview in which Stark is challenged by a Michael Moore-styled documentary filmmaker and a new take on Iron Man's origin that directly influenced the one featured in his big screen debut (which also was heavily inspired by Adi Granov's visual take on the character as is featured here). Another connection to the Iron Man feature film is how the portrayal of the Sal Kennedy character -- a Zen-spouting Dude who disapproves of Stark's career choices -- seems heavily influenced by Jeff Bridges. Sadly, the scene Kennedy appears in is a bit heavy-handed and pretentious, so when he appears you can feel free to schedule a snack/bathroom break.

9) The Walking Dead
Remember Daniel Kanemoto's fake credits sequence for The Walking Dead? It was the first taste the world had to how much fun a motion comic based on Robert Kirkman's long-running zombie title could be. In order the promote The Walking Dead TV show, AMC hired Juice Films (more on them in a bit) to, um, bring to life Tony Moore's artwork. The result was this stand-alone adventure that demonstrates the potential that a regular The Walking Dead animated series could have. Since the paths of the TV show and comic have diverged, it would be fun if AMC released more of these motion comics to their website. Sadly, that would be cost prohibitive and could possibly take away interest from the live-action show. So for now, we are left with this one-off. Yet I still crave more brrrraiiiinsss...

8) Batgirl: Year One
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Available on a DVD with the equally worthwhile The Batman Adventures: Mad Love, Batgirl: Year One chronicles the early days of the future tragedy victim as she irritates/befriends Batman, flirts with Robin, battles Killer Moth (whom I can't take even remotely seriously after watching The Monarch on The Venture Bros.) and hides her secret identity from her pop. The true strength here is some fantastic voiceover work that reflects the enthusiasm and self-doubt of Batgirl that was the heart of Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon's comic. In the story, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is a young woman trying to carve out her own niche in life while being constantly overshadowed by the achievements of her police commissioner father and a certain bat-obsessed vigilante. Kate Higgins' portrayal of the character is layered with courage, vulnerability and self-awareness. Her performance seems effortless, and it allows viewers to connect with Batgirl's plight on an emotional level. While punctuated by brief moments that foreshadow Barbara's unfortunate future -- most notably a comment by Doctor Fate and a cameo by The Joker in the Batcave training area wearing his outfit from The Killing Joke -- Batgirl: Year One is mainly a joyful valentine to DC's most underrated heroine.

7) Superman: Red Son
Mark Millar's Elseworlds tale of a Superman who landed in Russia instead of the U.S. following the destruction of his home planet world is condensed into a briskly paced 80-minute adventure that will thrill alternate comic history fans. You can watch the first 14 minutes above, though be warned as the next sentence will probably seriously impede your enjoyment of this. Here goes: Russian Superman totally sounds like Dr. Zoidberg. Don't believe me? Just jump to the 7:55 mark. Perhaps Supes should have challenged Lex to a clawplach?

6) Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.
Back in 2008, artist Roland Becerra's short Dear Beautiful detailed how the mysterious arrival of a new type of flower in Connecticut was a harbinger for a zombie apocalypse. The film used slightly animated paintings that made the undead look like tragic romantic figures. This exact type of uncomfortable beauty is on display in the Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. motion comic, and it's a joy to watch. Like She-Hulk, Spider-Woman was created to be female counterpart to a Marvel A-Lister although never really quite caught on as well as initially hoped. But just as John Byrne and Steve Gerber did with Shulky, Brian Michael Bendis found a way to deconstruct the character to make her fascinating to readers who may have been oblivious to her first incarnation. Following the events of Marvel's Secret Invasion -- during which she was impersonated by the Skrull queen Veranke -- Jessica Drew/Spider-Woman is pissed. So when she gets enlisted by counter-terrorism agency S.W.O.R.D. to get vengeance, she jumps at the opportunity. Needless to say, she experiences more self-empowerment in each episode than audiences do in an entire Lady Gaga world tour. And thanks to the stunning art by Alex Maleev, she looks great while doing so to.
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