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Hey folks, Ambush Bug here. I’m jealous as hell that my fellow @$$holes Matt Adler and Johnny Destructo were able to visit the Marvel New York offices last week to check out the new THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS animated feature. And they were kind enough to rub my nose in it by writing up this report on the whole darn thing. Take it away, Matt and JD!
MATT ADLER (MATT): Ok JD, this was a pretty cool opportunity we had, invited to the Marvel offices to view a screening of their newest animated feature, a 4-part series entitled THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS, which was adapted from Robert Rodi and Esad Ribic's 2004 LOKI miniseries. This was my first time at Marvel's new offices (they moved about a year or so ago as I recall) and I really didn't know what to expect. As in most New York offices, they share a building with other businesses, and you need to go through the usual procedure of going to the building security desk, explaining who you are and who you're there to see, and then you get to go up to the Marvel offices.
JOHNNY DESTRUCTO (JD): It was my first time at Marvel as well, and let me make a helpful hint to any of those making the trek through the streets of NYC in a massive rainstorm: don't assume that the address listed on googlemaps is the actual address. I walked probably a total of 20 or so blocks in gravity-defying horizontal rain with a comically inverted umbrella to three different locations before finding the actual Marvel offices. I woke up in Philly at 5am and it took me until almost 10am to finally arrive at the screening room. Exhausted, out of breath and feeling much like a used dish-sponge, my excitement over walking the halls of Marvel served as a much needed Red Bull shot to the heart.
MATT: Marvel's floor is well-decorated in the Mighty Marvel Manner, although we couldn't get too many pictures as they have restrictions on photography (we were permitted a few, though). They have a great full wall mural of Marko Djurdjevic's interlocking covers from the Avengers Heroic Age relaunch, the waiting room is stocked with various Marvel comics from recent years (I didn't have the balls to pick one up and read while I waited, though) and along the walls are pieces of comic art and covers from throughout Marvel's history (even Marvel 2099 is represented!).
JD: Hahah, yeah, I was totally gonna mention the Marvel 2099 stuff on the wall. For some reason that stuck out to me as well. I was a little surprised. Of all the stuff to put on the walls: Marvel 2099? Ok, sure, why not?!
MATT: I got there ridiculously early and so was the first one led by Marvel marketing maven Arune Singh into what they call "The Hulk Room." It's aptly named, decorated wall to wall with various Hulk sculptures and artifacts, including a mural that's a montage of art from various Hulk comics over the years (I'm embarrassed to say I own most of them and could name each of the artists represented). Oddly enough there was also a lone Spider-Man statue, waiting to be smashed I suppose. So there I waited for my fellow journalists, including you JD. What were your impressions, coming in to the Marvel offices?
JD: Well, hell…I was pretty stoked to be there. I even made an excuse to find the bathroom, just so I could walk around a little bit. Having grown up a "Marvel Zombie", the kid in me was surprised at just how corporate it was, while the adult side of me wasn't surprised at all. It's a business, of course there are going to be cubicles! Everyone I met was gracious, pleasant and at time surprisingly candid. The offices had an overall calming effect on me, which is the opposite of how I feel in most corporate settings.
I didn't know what to expect as far as the screening though. Was it going to be in a theatre-type setting, or in a cramped back room stacked with boxes, huddled around a tiny television? Turns out it was a rather large meeting room with a significant table, around which we were all seated and a wide flat screen T.V. hooked up to a laptop. They were kind enough to make up a bunch of popcorn and supply sodas and water for our screening, which I didn't expect, but thought was a nice touch.
But on to the presentation itself! We were told we wouldn't be seeing a "motion comic", but an "animation", since they weren't keen on the term motion comic and what it represents of late. I think they have to come up with a new term though, if they don't like the one already in place, because this was, in fact, a motion comic. Granted, it had a good deal of animation thrown in to up the ante on what these things can be, but I'd still say it's more like motion comic 2.0, or hell, maybe call it animated comics. What say you, Matt?
MATT: They probably do need to come up with a new term, not simply to differentiate it, but to emphasize the positive; they're using the actual comic art here, which should be a draw to comic fans. But I'll be damned if I know what term they should use. I haven't watched any of the previous "motion comics", so I can't really compare this to those, but I know the reaction has been mixed. I had no idea this was going to be in that vein, and the publicity announced this as an "animated series" which I took to mean an ongoing series, so I also didn't realize it was an adaptation of a single story, albeit serialized. Given that, I think I didn't carry a lot of preconceptions in when watching this. There's no doubt that they haven't reached full-fledged animation yet; they use computers to selectively animate certain elements such as mouths (in some instances I was reminded of that Conan O'Brien gag where someone is speaking through the cut-out mouth of a photo of a celebrity) and figures when the scene calls for action. If you're looking for complete fluidity and suspension of disbelief in the animation, this probably isn't that. But there were two elements that really made the production for me: the strength of the story (for which much credit has to go to writer Robert Rodi) and the strength of the voice casting.
JD: Oh, I wouldn't compare it to the Conan gag, that's a bit harsh, but you're right, it isn't what they claim it to be just yet, and selling it as such is going to piss off a lot of consumers. If I bought this, thinking it was an animated series, I'd feel this was a betrayal of my trust in the company and would be careful about being fooled again in the future. Just call it an animated comic and be done with it. It's more than a motion comic, but not quite fully animated. I did enjoy the story overall, not having read the original comic, and the voice acting, sound effects and music were all excellent, that's for sure. If you're into this sort of thing, than this is the best I've ever seen. Another thing that needs to be improved in the future involves Marvel figuring out a way to do the fully animated scenes to better match the style of the artist on the book.
MATT: Obviously a major reason they do these projects in this manner is budget; doing a fully animated feature costs a lot more, of course. I don't think there's anything wrong with doing these sorts of projects though; Marvel has a huge library of great stories ready to adapt, and the reality is some people would rather watch than read. So I think there could be a niche for this, though what the pricing and format should be is really beyond my scope. Perhaps they'd do well packaging several features together in a single DVD set.
Speaking of the budget, the producer Ruwan Jayatilleke was on hand after the feature to answer our questions, and one of the most interesting revelations he made was regarding the voice actors. Apparently, the cast is made up of some recognizable names from Broadway (which wasn't too surprising, given the quality of the performances), but they're using aliases here. Why? Well, as professionals, they're part of a union, and union requirements add massively to the cost, which this project couldn't afford. But these actors wanted the work, so they've found a way around that. It makes me wonder, if this series is successful, will the budget open up for future projects? And if so, what kinds of changes/upgrades will we see?
JD: Yeah, we've seen this a ton of times, and in the comics field specifically, with Bart Sears back in the mid-90's.I love that people still find a way to get aliased work. As for the budget, I believe Ruwan was talking about the budget being raised a bit after the previous project, IRON MAN: EXTREMIS, had such a positive response, which is why this piece is even broader in scale. I'm not entirely sure that this medium of animated comics (see, it's working already!) is ever really going to rival the success of fully animated projects. I don't think we'll be seeing "big name" actors taking the voice-over roles that this medium provides. I'm not holding my breath for a Ryan Reynolds-voiced DEADPOOL series. Though, if they can manage something like that, I would certainly be more excited about it! As I mentioned earlier, with an amped-up budget, I'm sure we'd be able to see significantly better animation that more accurately represents the original artist's style. I think they are only a couple steps away from that at this point, and I'd love to see it.
MATT: Ok, you've won me over to your term "animatedcComics". I certainly can't think of a better one. Although, I recall that one of Ruwan's reasons for dropping "motion comics" is that smaller publishers were coming out with their own "motion comics" with inferior animation. So, if your term gets popular, it's only a matter of time till it gets co-opted too!
JD: Well, that's an excellent point, and one that makes their attempted medium-change even more perplexing. That's like Martin Scorsese saying "Well, what I make aren't going to be called films any longer because there are people out there making bad and cheap films." Changing what you call it isn't going to help, doing it consistently and doing it better each time is going to help. And putting out a trailer to show the people that yours isn't one of the "bad" ones doesn't hurt either, and I think they did a bang-up job with the trailer they released.
MATT: Then again, Scorcese is working in an established medium; what they're doing here is a relatively new animal, so I can understand the concerns about perception. I don't know how far they can go with this, but I can see the appeal from their side; there's existing story and art, production can be done in-house more or less, and digital distribution is instantaneous and direct. When you think about all the travails in bringing an animated series to television, and of the financial risks of doing original productions for the DVD market, this has got to be an attractive option for them. For me, the bottom line is value; I've got to feel like I'm getting a decent amount for my money, which is why I think packaging several of these features into a DVD collection might be a good idea. But taken purely on its own merits, I think Ruwan and his team have to be congratulated on choosing a great story, staying faithful to it, and putting together a solid, enjoyable production.
JD: Agreed! Overall, this presentation of the THOR/LOKI mini-series was pretty impressive for what it was. I can't say I've enjoyed an animated comic as much as I've enjoyed this one. The story was entertaining and more introspective than I'd anticipated, the score, effects and voice acting were all impressive, and I think once they've nailed down the stylistic animation, these could be something to behold in the future.
MATT: We'll certainly have to keep our eyes open. The first installment of THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS hits iTunes, X-Box Live, and the Playstation Network on March 28th, and subsequent installments will be out every Wednesday starting April 6th. Check it out, and tell us what you think!
And I’ll be back tomorrow with an interview with producer Ruwan Jayatilleke to talk more about THOR & LOKI: BLOOD BROTHERS animated feature!
Matt Adler is a writer/journalist, currently writing for AICN among other outlets. He’s been reading comics for 20 years, writing about them for 7, and spends way, way, too much time thinking about them, which means he really has no choice but to figure out how to make a living out of them. He welcomes all feedback.
JD can be found hosting the PopTards Podcast, discussing movies, comics and other flimflam over at www.poptardsgo.com, graphically designing/illustrating for a living, and Booking his Face off over here.
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G