The 10 Best Motion Comics

By Chris Cummins in Comics, Daily Lists
Tuesday, June 14, 2011 at 7:57 am
5) Batman: Black and White
Based on the popular anthology, this is the longest running motion comic to date. There are 20 episodes to choose from, but I'd recommend the above "Case Study" (written by Paul Dini and illustrated by Alex Ross) or "Here Be Monsters" (think David Goodis by way of Darwyn Cooke) as your starting points. As those names indicate, the diversity and amount of talent on display here is unparalleled in comparison to other motion comics. Because these stories are often moody and noirish character studies, I'd recommend alternating back and forth between episodes of Batman: Black and White and the comedic Batman: The Brave and the Bold if you truly want to immerse yourself in the Dark Knight's schizophrenic mindset.

4) Astonishing X-Men: Gifted
Are you a Joss Whedon fan who feels burned that his Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 8 motion comic didn't make the cut? Fear not, because this motion comic by the Firefly auteur is so good it's, well, astonishing. Ugh. Sorry. Anyways, the story involves a new a roster of X-Men led by Cyclops (who seems more interested in schtupping girlfriend/team member Emma Frost than taking command) as they deal with the duel threats of a possible mutant cure and a new alien enemy who, of course, has a secret agenda of his own. As you would probably like to forget, the mutant cure plot thread also made an appearance in X-Men: The Last Stand. However I'm pleased to report that it's handled much better here. Peppered throughout six brisk-moving episodes is the sly wit that has won Whedon his legion of faithful followers. But the humor on display -- and there's a lot of it -- never overshadows the drama. A highlight of the series is a fight between Wolverine and Beast, who is seriously considering taking the cure to finally rid himself of his ever-changing mutation. The scene transforms from a fierce battle to a discussion of the self vs. the greater good that is so riveting to witness that the crude animation is the furthest thing from your mind. It's story that counts here above all. Whedon crams a lot of it into a brief running time and still manages to resolve each character arc in a satisfying manner. Even Lockheed gets a moment to shine here, and he's partially responsible for the series' best joke. Exactly why does Kitty love him so much? Hmm.

3) Watchmen
As mentioned previously, Juice Films also handled The Walking Dead motion comic. Sadly, all of the company's employees have not been seen or heard from since a muttering, bearded Englishmen with a penchant for dark magick is rumored to have paid them a visit. You see, if Alan Moore hated the live-action Watchmen film, you can only imagine how much he despised having his work transformed into a barely moving comic in which every character is voiced by the same person. But the thing is, I love this for exactly these reasons. As the sole voiceover artist involved in this project, Tom Stechschulte had the thankless task of creating a unique vocalization for every character. Somehow, he pulled this off and made the goofy gimmick work. But that's not the only unlikely success story to come from what many of you may see as a sacrilegious undertaking. (Let's face it, even attempting to adapt the story in any form, especially one as basic as a motion comic, takes some serious cojones). By breaking Watchmen up into half-hour chunks, the folks at DC have given us the greatest comic-based TV series that never was. Even if it is in a rudimentary form. The story adjusts to the episodic format remarkably well, so much so that it was even broadcast internationally on stations like the BBC. One of the criticisms that Zack Synder had to endure with his film adaptation was that he infused it with a bombast that some felt disrespected the source material. No such problem here. Above you'll see the infamous squid sequence is recreated with downright poetic reverence for the original. This is a haunting sequence that, if I wanted to be transformed into a newt while I'll slept tonight, I'd say is more effective here than on the printed page. And those on-screen word balloons may be a bit jarring, but they sure do allow for some hardcore movieoke sessions, eh?

2) Peanuts
Eleven years after his death and Charles Schulz's Peanuts strips continue to be printed daily in newspapers across the country. I'm guessing this is so because life is still the bitch that constantly pulls the football of your dreams away from you at the last minute. (Certain truisms never lose their relevancy). Likewise, the Peanuts motion comics capture the humor of daily disappointments in brief vignettes that all basically involve people being shitty to Charlie Brown in the worst imaginable way. More traditionally animated than the other entries on this list, these Peanuts shorts don't elicit huge laughs. Instead they offer up dependable chuckles that make you forget for a second that you are trapped on a rock spinning through the cosmos on an inevitable course to oblivion. Video comfort food really.

1) Axe Cop
The Internet has given us many wonderful things: keyboard cat, five-minute obsessions like Chatroulette and Friendster, endless pornography, this website and, best of all, Axe Cop. The legend of Axe Cop began in late December of 2009 when then 5-year-old Malachai Nicolle had his stories of an axe-wielding policeman adapted into a comic book by his 29-year-old brother, Ethan. The resulting tales of heroism and humor fed the Internet's voracious appetite for fun memes, and the titular character became an online star. Axe Cop and his revolving array of allies and enemies (can someone please make a Pretzelhead toy stat?) get involved in adventures that are the embodiment of childhood imagination. What the elder Nicolle brother has done here is crafted his younger sibling's creative flights of fancy into humor-packed stories that rank alongside of Ben Edlund and Steve Purcell's best work. The result is not only artistically pleasing, but a genuinely touching tale of brotherly love. But is Axe Cop's entire raison d'etre to fulfill the potential that motion comics have as a medium? It seems possible. As of this writing there have been four Axe Cop motion comics released so far, each better than its predecessor. Ethan Nicolle's illustrations are brought vibrantly to life through some impressive animation, great voiceover talent -- including Futurama's Maurice LaMarche -- and the greatest cartoon music since the 1960s Spider-Man series. Alternately silly and sublime, the Axe Cop motion comics brilliantly compliment their web comic counterpart without overshadowing them. Know this my friends; happiness is nothing more than a mustached cop beating the shit out of dinosaurs with his axe.

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