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Iron Man: Extremis (2010)

by on 2011/05/06

“You can’t just wish the future into being.
It has to be paid for.”

* * * *

I love motion comics, and yet I’m not entirely sure why. What about minimally (or non) animated panels captures my imagination? Why not just read the comic? I suppose I enjoy the voices, the music, and the sound effects as well.

Perhaps it’s also that cheap animation often looks like, well, cheap animation. A motion comic looks like stills from a quality production. It gets me as close as possible to the Uncanny Valley, without falling headlong into it.

It’s the Ken Burns’ Jazz of graphic novels.

This form of presentation is relatively rare though — like 3D in its infancy — there’s a small but persistent push to make a go of it. My most significant entry point was a Watchmen video, one whose effectiveness was somewhat marred by a limited voice cast. And by “limited” I mean “one actor” . . . a male, whose reading of all roles, including the females . . . let’s just say it simply didn’t work.

Iron Man: Extremis is quite different. Directors Joel Gibbs and Mike Halsey have adapted the original six part series by Warren Ellis (script) and Adi Granov (visuals) in a reasonably compelling way. The artistic style is less “four colour classic” than “CGI watercolours on a lightly textured canvas” and the audio work is equally impressive.

The score is provided by Amotz Plessner and Underground. Voicing the lead characters are DJ Tanner as Tony “Iron Man” Stark, Therese Spurrier as his friend Maya Hansen, and Ed Paul as both victim and villain, “Mallen”.

Stark begins at a difficult time, plagued by questions regarding his “heroic” intentions. Before he can resolve them, a scientist friend (Hansen) pulls him into the mystery of an experiment gone missing, a super soldier serum called Extremis.

I don’t want to say too much about the narrative itself, as it’s really very fascinating stuff, and as much a new beginning as anything else. While newbies won’t be left behind, it’s also not a rote origin. The way Extremis parallels flashbacks from the original Iron Man story with the new developments is fitting and satisfying for fans at any stage.

Beneath and throughout the expected action is surprising complexity. Shadings and underpinnings suggest sociopolitical issues: corporations versus governments, consumer production versus military support, and whether genetics are a code we’re meant to hack. Heady stuff for “funnybooks” but appropriate in the context of the Iron Man world.

Similarly appropriate is the art direction. If there are occasional shortfalls, then the artifice of CGI can be a boon in a technological context. One part shows the difficulty of mixing visual approaches — a high-velocity fight scene set in traffic — but nothing mismatches like the mess that was Dragonlance.

Overall, I was impressed. I’d watch more efforts like Extremis. I’d be especially curious to see DC Comics’ response to this Marvel series. Some motion comics one-upmanship could get us to a sweet spot between economy and exposure. After all, there are a lot of great adventures yet to be discovered by a whole new audience.

Although, for what it’s worth, I missed the speech bubbles.

* * * *

Rated PG14A for violence

81 minutes

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