Review: Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D.


This is not a review of a comic, at least not in the traditional sense. Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.OR.D. —which I assure you is something I have no intention of typing over and over again, so we’ll call it SWAS—is a motion comic. What does that mean? Learning that was the primary reason I purchased the first two episodes of this series (available for $1.99 apiece on iTunes). A motion comic is a hybrid between cartoon and comic. The art is for the most part static, but the “camera” pans around to focus on different areas of the art. Typically the foreground and background will be different layers and there will be background motion during otherwise still scenes. There are moments of brief animation, such as a car chase, but otherwise the action is largely talking heads and shifting frames with voiceover acting.

The plot of SWAS follows the life of Jessica Drew after the Skrull invasion during the Secret Invasion story arc. Without giving too much away, Jessica’s Skrull replacement was a pretty major figure in Secret Invasion and her return to Earth and her former life is a trying experience for Jessica. We pick up the action as she is approached by S.W.O.R.D., a shadowy government agency that is seeking to hunt down and destroy the remaining Skrull on Earth.

I was primed to enjoy this, which might be part of why what I saw let me down so much. The art for the motion comics is done by Alex Maleev, who has a great moody and painterly style that looks fantastic on a page, but I feel is ill-suited to a motion comic where the progression of the pages is independent of the reader’s will. I can’t stop and look at the art and admire it, I just have to watch it stream along. It also necessitates a gritty and dark feel for the motion comic, one that almost becomes oppressive only after two episodes and 20 minutes of comic.

Part of the weight of the motion comic comes from the way the content is being delivered. The first episode has roughly 2 minutes and 45 seconds of a 9 and a half minute long motion comic consist of two women sitting on a bus and talking. It’s necessary exposition, but perhaps there was a better way to tackle the first ever motion comic than by having a full third of it consist of alternating shots of two people talking to one another on a bus. The second issue/episode at least has the good sense to include a chase scene.

The voice acting in the comic is decent, but feels a little stilted, which is likely just a side effect of the character art not having lips moving along with the audio at all. However, the second episode commits a cardinal sin for this media format, in that it features two female characters talking to one another and they have very similar voices. I very quickly lost track of who was talking and ended up pretty confused as to what was being discussed, not having read all of Secret Invasion and being able to use that to contextualize things.

I also understand why Spider-Woman was chosen for the comic, as she featured heavily in Secret Invasion, and isn’t a major comics draw like some of the other Marvel characters, so her arc can be followed through in this new format without upsetting too huge a portion of the fan base. But she’s not a terribly well known or dynamic character (as far as my exposure to her is concerned). I would much rather have seen a mini-arc for a more A-List comic like Spider-Man or Wolverine or Hulk (and perhaps Mr. Loeb would have some critical insights for how to bridge the gap between comics and motion more effectively, having been a TV heavyweight for some time now).

I’m likely going to download and watch the third episode, but I have a hunch that will be the last one. I’m not terribly engaged by the heroine, and her story so far is as dreary as her outlook. The voice acting is clearly professional, but has a bit of an emotionless tone to it. I’m also not enough of a fan of the franchise being presented for me to feel any real loyalty to see it through to the end. It’s probably worth snagging an episode to see what it’s like, if you’re a comics buff, but it’s not the kind of product that will win over any new followers.

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