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Astonishing X-Men (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

November 2, 2012 by  



Joss Whedon’s award-winning Marvel comic book series receives the motion comic book treatment on Blu-ray with all four volumes of “Astonishing X-Men” presented in HD! Featuring an entertaining, gripping storyline with wonderful voice acting and special effects makes this Blu-ray worth owning!  X-Men fans will love this Blu-ray release!

Images courtesy of © 2012 Marvel & Subs. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Astonising X-Men

DURATION: 24 Episodes (5 Hours)

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:78:1, English Dolby TrueHD 5.1

COMPANY: Marvel Knights/Shout! Factory

Release Date: November 13, 2012

Written by Joss Whedon

Art by John Cassaday

Colorist: Laura Martin

Directed by Jesse Cote

Supervising Producer: Todd Casey

Executive Producers: Alan Fine, Dan Buckley, Joe Quesada, Jeph Loeb

Co-Executive Producers: Stan Lee, Eric Radomski

Editor: Dan Kelly

Starring:

Mark Hildreth Scott Summers/Cyclops

Laura Harris as Kitty Pryde/Shadowcat

Brian Drummond as Logan/Wolverine

Ron Halder as Dr. Hank McCoy/Beast

Lara Gilchrist as Emma Frost/Perfection

Rebecca Shoichet as Agent Brand

Trevor Devall as Piotr Rasputin/Colossus

The ASTONISHING X-MEN 2-Disc BLU-RAY COLLECTION is the perfect gift for the ultimate Marvel fan. This collection is available in stores nationwide November 13, 2012 from Shout! Factory, in association with Marvel Knights Animation. The 2-Disc Blu-ray collection boasts all four ASTONISHING X-MEN adventures from Joss Whedon, the mastermind behind the massive hit film Marvel’s THE AVENGERS, and award-winning artist John Cassaday. As one of the most important X-Men stories of all-time, it features over 5 hours of engaging animation combined with non-stop action, as well as all-new cover art illustration by Cassaday.

Joss Whedon is well-known for creating TV series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” and the screenwriter, executive producer is also known for his writing work on comic book series.  A big comic book fan, Whedon was a cowriter for “X-Men”, “Thor”, “Captain America: The First Avenger” and wrote and directed the upcoming film “The Avengers”.

In 2006, Whedon caught the attention of fans with his series “Astonishing X-Men” which he stayed onboard for 24 issues.    It has become a major best-seller for Mavel comics and was nominated for several Eisner Awards and winning “Best Continuing Series” in 2006.

The first six issues of “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” was then released on DVD in Sept. 2010 courtesy of Shout! Factory as part of Marvel Knights Animation.  These animated stories (also known as motion comic books) are more like comic books with slight movements but with voice acting and special effects.  And two more DVD’s were released with “Dangerous” and “Torn”.  But for the first time, all three series plus the fourth, new “Astonishing X-Men” collection “Unstoppable” release will be included on two Blu-ray discs and will be released in November 2012 courtesy of Shout! Factory.

With each collection, featured are six episodes which are around 12 minutes each.

What is “Astonishing X-Men”?

Joss Whedon is well-known for creating TV series such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Angel”, “Firefly” and “Dollhouse” and the screenwriter, executive producer is also known for his writing work on comic book series. A big comic book fan, Whedon was a cowriter for “X-Men”, “Thor”, “Captain America: The First Avenger” and wrote and directed the 2012 summer blockbuster “The Avengers”.

But back in 2006, Whedon caught the attention of fans with his series “Astonishing X-Men” which he stayed onboard for 24 issues. The comic book series became a major best-seller for Mavel comics and was nominated for several Eisner Awards and winning “Best Continuing Series” in 2006.

The series focuses on the the adventures of X-Men leader Cyclops, Wolverine, White Queen, the Beast, Kitty Pryde and Colossus.

What is “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” about?

Joss Whedon’s first story arc for the X-Men revolves around a rumored “mutant cure” that was designed by Indian Benetech scientist Dr. Kavita Rao.    But as the X-Men go to investigate rumors that the drug is a product of illegal human experimentation from an unknown victim, who turns out to be Colossus, who was thought to be dead.

As the group continues their research, they find out that Dr. Rao’s experiments is being secretly sponsored by a warrior alien known as Ord.  It is also revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D is working with another group known as S.W.O.R.D. and that Ord was acting with consent of Special Agent Abigal Brand, head of S.W.O.R.D. for some reason.

What is “Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous” about?

Astonishing X-Men: Dangerous” features X-Men members Cyclops, Emma Frost, Wolverine, Beast, Colossus and Kitty Pryde.  As the group are trying to protect civilians from a huge monster with help from the Fantastic Four, a mutant teenager named Wing attending the School for Gifted Mutants is depressed because he was “cured” of his special abilities.  Wing is standing on a cliff, wondering if it would return his power.

Fellow student Hisako Ichiki (Armor) talks to her friend Wing to not jump off the cliff because he could end up dead.  Now that he is cured, he has no reason to stay at the school and can go back home.  But then Hisako starts to dare him to jump and sure enough, Wing jumps to his death.

As the X-Men return back home, Hisako starts to panic as Wing has gone missing and other students are also other young mutant psychics can no longer feel him around.  Suddenly, trouble arises and Kitty Pryde has all the students go into the danger room to protect themselves.

Meanwhile, not far away is a badly damaged Sentinel that has been kept by a farmer and reawakened.  Still deadly, the Sentinel begins to crawl  and is now wanting to destroy the X-Men.  But who is controlling it?

As the children are huddled inside the danger room, Kitty is shocked to see all the students scared of their discovery.  Wing is laying in the ground dead but automatically, Wing is reanimated and brought back to life.  The Danger Room has now achieved intelligence and is now threatening to kill all the children inside the Danger Room.

The X-Men must now try to find a way to break into the Danger Room and destroy it before it kills anyone.  But the sentient Danger Room  has a plant of its own and that is to kill all X-Men.

What is “Astonishing X-Men: Torn” about?

In “Astonishing X-Men: Torn”, the DVD consists of six episodes which are around 12 minutes each and based on issues 13-18 of the comic book series.

The story begins with Cassandra Nova expecting Emma Frost to use her power to get into Scott Summers head and hurt him.  Meanwhile, Cassandra Nova goes to work on each X-Men member and defeat them by mind-control.  Making Wolverine think he is a a coward, making the Beast think he is a feral animal, making Colossus think that Kitty is going psychotic, meanwhile Kitty and the children are aware that something bad is going on and must find out what is happening within the mansion.

Meanwhile, Agent Abigail Brand (of Earth-616) and head of S.W.O.R.D. (a subdivision of S.H.I.E.L.D., that defends the Earth from extra-terrestrial threats) had come into contact with an alien named Ord and is convinced that a mutant from Earth (who happens to be an X-Men) was going to destroy the planet.  So, now Brand tries to find a solution to this crisis.

 What is “Astonishing X-Men: Unstoppable” about?

The final arc written by Joss Whedon, the story continues with the X-Men leaving to another planet in order to protect the planet Earth.  The team goes against the leaders of Breakworld (the planet where Ord is from), who are deadset in planning to destroy Earth with a giant bullet.

Can the X-Men along with the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Spider-Man and other Marvel superheroes stop the Breakworld’s weapon of mass destruction in time?

VIDEO:

“Astonishing X-Men” is presented in 1080p High Definition.  Presented in 1:78:1, the motion comics of today differs greatly from the motion comics of the ’90s. There is more use of CG animation for special effects and blurring as opposed to the comic book pages with standard lighting effects.

The biggest difference I noticed from watching the DVD versions to now watching it on Blu-ray is how vibrant the images are in HD.  Colors absolutely pop!  And if anything, the comic animation is much better looking than on DVD!

It’s important to also emphasize that “Astonishing X-Men: Torn” is not an animated cartoon. It’s a motion comic book, so the characters are provided in their comic book version but you will see hair movement, lights blinking or leaves flying around the pages and also some slight animated movements of the character themselves. While a character talks, you will see their mouths move.

AUDIO:

“Astonishing X-Men” is presented in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio.  There is good use of the surround channels as I was hearing special effects coming from the rear surround and surround channels.  But the big positive when it comes to audio is “Astonishing X-Men” and its use of voice acting.   The voice acting is fantastic!  Also, the music sounds much crisper via lossles.

SPECIAL FEATURES

“Astonishing X-Men” comes with the following special features:

  • A Conversation with Joe Quesada and Neal Adams – (17:11) Joe Quesada and Neal Adams talk about using today’s technology to make original comic animation with wonderful voice acting, sound effects and sound.
  • “Rise Up” Music Video – (2:36)
  • “Astonishing X-Men: Gifted” Trailer – (1:55)
  • Behind-the Scenes: Marvel Knights Animation – (5:12) Behind-the-scenes on the making of the “Astonishing X-Men” (and also Spider-Woman: Agent of Sword).
  • Trailers – Featuring comic book animation trailers for “Spider-Woman: Agent of Sword”, “Black Panther”, “Iron Man Extremis”, “Thor & Loki: Blood Brothers”.

As a long time collector of the X-Men comic books and having read so many of the comics even to this day, I have to admit that Joss Whedon has managed to make X-Men a serious and entertaining comic book series.  There was a lull of storyline content unfortunately created by Marvel due to its plethora of X-related comic books and every character having their own series or mini-series and truthfully, it was one of the biggest reasons I quit reading the series.  Too many titles, increase in price for comic books and the quality of the series was dwindling.

Whedon’s storyline manage to continue its action-packed battles but he emphasized story, especially character development and his presence with “Astonishing X-Men” was felt and while he was involved, it was an amazing run!

And now his contribution to “Astonishing X-Men” is being carried out via motion comic books on DVD.

Having been one of the earlier adopters of motion comic books on CD, suffice to say, they have come along way especially with these Marvel Knights DVD releases.  Back then it was just a page with voice acting (which was not all that great) and lighting effects.  It worked during the mid-90′s but in 2012, you expect a bit more and sure enough, you do get animated movements, special effects, mouth movement.   And of course, much better voice acting.  And as mentioned, they were CD’s and can only be played on computers.

While each DVD release contains six episode, the Blu-ray release of “Astonishing X-Men” comes with four arcs, so a total of 24 mini-episodes.  The Blu-ray is much better than its DVD counterpart when it comes to overall look and sound quality and the fact that you get more episodes and also special features which the DVD’s don’t have.

As for the storyline, from kicking off the series with a fight against a new character named Ord and also to see the return of Colossus was quite significant.  Immediately, people get to see the X-Men in action but also the children at Xavier’s institute.  And this leads into the second arc “Dangerous”.  The storyline was fantastic as it took a storyline of what would happen if the danger room could be sentient and learn over time.  And the answer is “chaos” as the X-Men are suddenly faced with a rival that was designed to know and counter their fighting style.  And to make things worse, the Danger Room has become sentient to the point that it wants nothing but to kill the X-Men.

As for the storyline, “Torn” features the new Hellfire Club as the antagonists.  The Hellfire Club led by Sebastian Shaw have always been a thorn in the X-Men’s side but this time around, the primary antagonist is Cassandra Nova.  And what is interesting about Nova is that she was born the same time as Charles Xavier.  She was conceived without a body but copied Professor Xavier’s body and became his twin sister.  Despite being stillborn, the creature survived and has managed to mimic human traits and now is hellbent of destroy Charles Xavier and the X-Men.

So, it was interesting to see this character back again to twist Emma Frost and the Hellfire Club to attack the X-Men.  Or is it Cassandra Nova?  Suffice to say, the conclusion of this arc has an intriguing twist.

The addition of the Agent Brand storyline is to help build up to the next arc known as “Unstoppable”, which would be the final arc for Joss Whedon and John Cassaday.  The final arc definitely ends with a bang as Whedon brings more X-Men characters plus other popular Marvel Superheroes into the battle against the Breakworld.

For fans of the older Uncanny X-Men series, the storyline of the X-Men is much different and the storyline itself didn’t mesh with Marvel’s current run of X-related storylines or Marvel crossovers.  If you were familiar with the characters, that was all that was needed to understand the series.  The X-Men are still funded and led by Professor X, the team is led by Cyclops and there is no Ice Man, nor is there a Jean Grey, who has since been replaced by Emma Frost (which is a big part of the storyline from 2000) who is romantically linked to Scott Summers (Cyclops).  But similar to the original series, Beast and Wolverine are still part of the team and the romantic angst between Kitty Pryde and Piotr Rasputin (Colossus) is still ongoing.

But there is also a deeper and darker element to this series and showcases a different Scott Summers, especially during its ending minutes as we learn more about the creation of the Danger Room.  But the storyline is entertaining and loved how Whedon concentrates a lot on the characters.  Prior to Whedon and with past X-Men related issues, too much was focused on convoluted storylines, including regurgitated non-interesting banal storylines that went nowhere and eventually some other writer would have to clean up the mess.  Whedon stayed with keeping things simple, but yet focusing on character development, team dynamic and intriguing adversaries.

I know many people have invested in the previous three DVD’s already and are having to decide if they should upgrade to the Blu-ray version.  My answer is that “Astonishing X-Men” on Blu-ray is a much better product.  All 24-episodes are in HD and the colors are much sharper and vibrant, while the lossless track utilizes the sound effects through the surround channels rather nicely.  Also, the Blu-ray release has special features which the DVD version did not.

But if you have the previous three “Astonishing X-Men” DVD releases, you don’t have to upgrade unless you need to watch these episodes in HD.  It sure does help to have all four Joss Whedon “Astonishing X-Men” arcs in one package but it is definitely worth the upgrade if you have the ability to play HD and listening to lossless soundtrack via home theater.

Overall, “Astonishing X-Men” is a fantastic comic animation collection that is a major leap forward for comic book animation.  The voice acting is fantastic and the Blu-ray really emphasizes how much better “Astonishing X-Men” can look via Blu-ray compared to the previous DVD releases.

If you are an “X-Men” fan, “Astonishing X-Men” for Blu-ray is definitely recommended!

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