Here it is the dawn of a new age: the first comic book series designed as — launched as — a Marvel Motion Comic on iTunes.
It’s not an unmitigated disaster — some of the music evokes an uneasy mood, and Alex Maleev’s color palate looks striking on the screen — but the first motion comic episode of “Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.” is often laughably bad, like an unintentional parody of a Marvel comic, done by the “Tom Goes to the Mayor” guys. It feels like something that belongs on Adult Swim as a pastiche of the hard-boiled superhero genre, complete with huskily-voiced overacting and dialogue that would fit an episode of “The Tick.”
Say what you will about Brian Michael Bendis’s Mamet-influenced comic book dialogue, but it works 100 times better on the page than it does when it’s read aloud. At least by these actors. Here, the dialogue is absurdly goofy at best and wince-inducing at worst.
Nicolette Reed provides the voice of Jessica Drew, a Jessica Drew who has returned from her Skrull abduction with a sense of loss, a sense of betrayal, and a sense that she’s the “most screwed-over human in the history of the entire world.” And when Reed says that line — and the line before it about Wolverine formerly being the “most screwed-over person in the universe” it not only sounds like “strewed-over,” but it sounds like the acting of someone on the lowest-rated soap opera in history. It has to be heard to be believed — I can’t imagine that Marvel, with its vast resources, would listen to her voice performance and say, “oh, yeah, that’s high quality. It’s a wrap!” I wouldn’t actually recommend that you watch this episode, except for its comedy value.
And Stephanie K. Thomas is no better as Agent Brand, the green-haired, sunglass-sporting S.W.O.R.D. director who blames herself for not stopping the Skrull invasion. Brand enlists Spider-Woman as a S.W.O.R.D. agent — a job that she can do while being an Avenger, apparently — and Thomas’s breathy performance is just as laughable as Reed’s. When the two of them swap banter on the train, it’s as if you’re listening to a recording of two terrible actresses who don’t get the meaning of their dialogue at all. They emphasize the wrong words, they overstate the asides, and they over-enunciate the slang. They might just be bad performers, or the director might have given them awful direction, or maybe Bendis’s dialogue just doesn’t work when spoken out loud. Maybe all three.
The only scene in the first episode that works at all is the one between Spider-Man and Spider-Woman in Madripoor. Spider-Man is voiced more appropriately than the others, so his dialogue doesn’t sound nearly as bad — though Jessica Drew’s overdramatic use of a euphemism for poop is jarring — and when it turns to fisticuffs, the motion of the comic, mixed with the use of shifting colors and light, along with the musical cues, makes it seem like this motion comic concept isn’t such a bad idea.
Unfortunately, that lasts for only 1/10th of the episode, and even the good stuff is nothing more than mid-range video game cut scene quality.
Basically, it comes down to this: “Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D.” might work as a comic book series — and I’m looking forward to reading it that way — but if this first episode is an indication of the general quality of the Marvel Motion Comics, then this is a new age doomed to failure. Or at least ridicule.