Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. Episode 1

The day we’ve been talking about since February has arrived, as the Spider-Woman “motion comic” finally hit iTunes bright and early this morning. I had the time, and I had the paltry $.99 (or was it $1.99? Did I seriously just buy this thing without even looking at how much it was? This is what iTunes has done to me. I really should not have access to a line of credit, or really even keys to anything) so I downloaded the first… issue?… to see how it looked.

I should begin by disclosing that there’s more than a little fuddy in my duddy. I may be physically incapable of typing the words “motion comics” without involuntarily surrounding them in quotes. I’m not standing in the way of Progress or anything; I’m one of the biggest proponents imaginable for digital comics. It’s just that I like a thing to be what it is. Seeing the previews for this project, I thought, “If you want to make a cartoon, make a cartoon; don’t take your comic and tart it up with a lot of zoomy whoosh-whoosh just so the boys will like you. Be yourself, Spider-Woman comic.”

Now that I’ve put my preconceived notions and biases out front for all to see, what about the actual “comic”?

You know how, instead of simply beginning the story and running everyone’s names at the bottom of the screen, movies will still occasionally have an animated credits sequence? Imagine if that were the entire movie, and you will have a pretty good idea how Agent of S.W.O.R.D. came across to me. (My iTunes menu insists that it’s called Agent of S.W.O.R.D., by the artist “Spider-Woman MARVEL.”) I will say that none of it seemed like it was being animated just for the sake of movement; nothing jiggled just to jiggle. (I did particularly like the way Jessica’s loose strands of hair blew in the breeze at one point.) A comic by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev is actually perfect for a project like this; something full of wall-to-wall Mark Millar bombast or Jeph Loeb Technicolor would only highlight the limitations of the medium, while something more moody and thoughtful like this, with a lot of dialogue punctuated by action, plays much better as a comic that moves but doesn’t move.

But oh!, that dialogue. As I heard the actresses reciting it, I found myself a full three steps removed from the experience, thinking, “This is a great conversation. This is Bendis doing the thing I most love Bendis doing. How earnestly do I wish I were reading it instead of listening to these women orate it at me. I will pay you another $.99 if everyone stops talking.” Maybe it’s another case of text that plays excellently in one medium not playing in another. Maybe the actresses’ voices don’t match the voices I hear when I read these characters. (Actually, there’s no maybe about it. Agent Brand in particular must be stopped at all costs.) However you slice it, I spent much of the experience aware of the actors instead of involved with the story. I kept picturing them in the recording booth.

The image of the actors reading the dialogue also stayed with me longer than any image stayed on the screen itself. At one point, employing the unassailable “one Mississippi, two Mississippi” playground method of timing things, I began trying to keep track of how long the shots were. More often than not, I got to about “three Mississip-” before having to start over. I’m used to giving Alex Maleev panels a lot more than two and a half Mississippis, and I think he deserves more. This episode is actually a great illustration of that discussion that recently came up in the Invincible letter column in which Robert Kirkman said, essentially, “If you’re reading this comic in fifteen minutes, you’re reading it wrong.” This episode proves conclusively that Spider-Woman, Agent of S.W.O.R.D. can be read in ten minutes flat (well, 10:17, actually) but it really, really shouldn’t be. I think it was gorgeous, but I won’t be sure until I go back with the pause button.

And the zippity-zip issue isn’t just a matter of appreciating the art, either. When you read a comic, each scene plays at the pace you determine; your mind fills in the blanks and determines the moment’s weight for itself. Not so with the “motion comic,” where everything takes as little time as possible. The story is supposed to open with Jessica Drew sitting in a cheap hotel wallowing in self-pity. The whole thing lasts twenty seconds, maybe less. Twenty seconds isn’t wallowing; the establishing scene is over before anything is actually established. In practice, the scene plays like “I’m in a bad place hey an envelope look I’m on a bus who’s this???”

I have no idea how to rate this. The story, writing, and art seem like a great return to form for everyone involved; the medium is an active impediment to me enjoying any of the above. I found the experience alienating. I don’t know whether to feel like my grandpa looking at a Playstation, like an ape from 2001 looking at the monolith, or like that brave little boy looking at his bare-assed king in The Emperor’s New Clothes. I do know that Spider-Woman looks like a great comic, and that I can’t wait to read it when it comes out in September. For now, though, I feel less like I heard a great story and more like I watched a long trailer that spoiled a great story.


  1. That’s wierd, I always thought Bendis dialogue would sound better spoken if done right.

  2. I’m not surprised the Bendis dialog didn’t work in this format.  He is a bit long winded (in my opinion) and I’m sure the voice actors felt rushed.  The art in the stills you posted looks a bit off-putting, though I can see how it would look better in actual motion.  Thanks for giving this a try and sharing your opinion on it.

  3. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    I think Bendis, like Mamet, writes very complex dialogue rhythms. That sounds totally pretentious, but I swear it’s really hard to put into words. What I mean is…the dialogue is so specific that if it’s not read with the exact right inflection and rhythm, it sounds really clunky. Maybe that’s what’s happening here. 

  4. When I heard Bendis talk about this project, I had very high hopes. They talked about Maleev and him designing the book with the contraints in mind.

    I thought what they meant was understanding the aspect ratio of the conversion from print to digital and using that in the layout design. It’s more constraining than not worrying about it, but the Watchmen used a 9-panel grid with great success so we know that imposing a layout constraint doesn’t have to damn a book and its art.

    The way I think about it is that there are people who can write books that work just as well in issues as in trade. Twenty years ago people didn’t have to write with both in mind, but now it can be done successfully. The same will be true at some point of print and digital.

    Instead of getting something that shows how designing for both mediums at the same time can be done, we get a motion comic. Sigh…

  5. "If you want to make a cartoon, make a cartoon" were my thoughts exactly upon seeing the preview. My other thought was "It took however many years to make THIS? Something that looks like it was animated in Flash?" Just publish the freaking comic book already.

  6. Wait, the issue dosnt hit until September?

  7. I just wish the mouths moved. It was like watching bad anime

  8. It looks gorgeous.  I’m going to get this.

  9. Bought it and watched 5 minutes then couldn’t continue. So frustrating.

  10. Is this only on the US store? Looking on the Irish iTunes store and there’s nothing here.

  11. You know what I’d love to see as a motion comic?  JINX. 

    I’m curious as to what I’ll think of this one but what you say about the speed of it doesn’t sound promising.  If they had slowed it down so that it took 20 or even 15 minutes to get through instead of 10, do you think that would have improved the experience, or is it more that you’re deprived of the chance to get the story at  your own pace at all? 

  12. This is word for word what I think of m sound motion comics. Also, this is how bendis dialogue should sound like:


  13. I’m trying to decide if I have a moral obligation to buy this to support the medium as it explores new forms, or a moral obligation to abstain to show my support for good old print-on-paper (since I’m going to buy the comic when it comes out — oh yeah, so whatever happened to the plan that this was going to come out at the same time as the comic so that there would be mutual benefit to both?). 


  14. Just watched it on the iPhone. I didn’t think this would any good, but I gotta admit I was pleasantly surprised. The art is gorgeous. Jessica Drew is hot. The voice acting is pretty good especially the woman playing SW. And the motion stuff isn’t distracting but kinda neat. Only quibble is some of the dialogue is eye-rolling (She says something like "This what I call bull ca-ca!"……….oh boy).

  15. UK readers (viewers?) can’t download it. Well done Marvel, this will help reach your "new audiences".

    Can a kind hearted American please review this on ITUNES and let Marvel know the English are pissed! I am a big SW fan and have been waiting for this, and was willing to give this new media a try.

    Is it the same story as the real comic, or is it different but in continuity.


  16. Well if I can’t get it in the UK then I’m saved having to make the choice. To be honest I just don’t see the point. But I’m a luddite. Paper rules.

  17. @ pompster – you do right! I though "what the hell, let’s give it a try", ah well never mind.

     I’ll do like you, wait for actually comic.

  18. I really enjoyed the invincible motion comic from MTv, not sure if that was because I enjoyed the character or the style.  It did ruin the voices that I had heard in my head.  I’m not sure how Kirkman’s dialouge style translated vs Bendis’.  Sounds interesting enough though, I’m in for a $1, though that’s one less day I can feed poor children likes these, in Africa.

  19. It does seem strange that it’s not available in the UK surely the point of digital delivery is it’s available to everyone.

  20. Personally I really liked it, except the acting of the actress playing agent Brand, she was really awful.

    Also, I don’t agree with the critic that it played too fast to be the analogous of a 22-page comic.  If you put this episode on paper, the story would probably be contained in 12-14 pages, not 22.  It is not fast, it is just short (and because of that, it makes perfect sense that Marvel charges only $0.99).

  21. look, I liked it, censorship being whatever it is….’bull-cah-cah’ is hilariously out of context for me. 

  22. I like it, and I’ll keep buying them. But if they come out with a DVD with commentary and such…I’ll be annoyed. 

  23. I tried it and like all the other motion comics it came off as cheap and annoying. It’s not for me.

  24. I have to agree with Paul on the timing issue, I can take between 15 minutes to 45 minutes to read a single issue depending on what is happening, the density of the subject and the quality of the art, sometimes I can just sit and and process a really well formed panel at a slow speed so I can take in the art.

    Why make it motion???  Apart from Apple wanting to make use of sound and video components of their devices.  Why is it so hard to just leave speech bubbles alone and let the end user be in control of the pacing.

    This is definitely "Emperor’s New Clothes", online distributed or digital comics will start selling as soon as they make a decent coloured E-reader and we’ve only just reached text as being good on devices to date.  Until then its still print for me.

  25. Upon further reflection, I think motion comics is an attempt to capture an audience that doesn’t currently read comics. An attempt to expand the audience.

    I’m primarily interested in digital delivery of the traditional comic book form. That traditional comic book form is read, not watched, but otherwise the aspect ratio, flow, etc. can all be played with. That’s the experimentation I’m hoping for.

    Longbox and Comixology are the two most promising developments in this space.

  26. Thanks for reminding me to download this – purchasing now.

  27. Well, that was something. I have to agree with Jimski about much of the issues I have with it. It really felt like the voice actors were reading the the script on first blush. There was very little attempt at nuance to the lines. Not to play up Bendis’s dialogue, but it’s certainly layered with comedy even in bleak scenes. There are lines that I could tell Bendis intended to be funny that were played straight. The voice for Spider-Woman was all right I guess, but Agent Brand was terrible.

    Did anyone else notice the sound mix was a bit off during the bus scene? By this I mean, it sounded clear to me that the voice actresses were not in the same room, and their voice tracks were independent of the bus sounds. There was even a small void of sound when SW talked a few times. It was distracting. I don’t think I’ll be downloading the second episode. On the whole I’ve found "Motion Comics" to be a bit of a misfire for the industry. Like Jimski said, either make a cartoon or a comic.

  28. Finally got it to download and play.  (The issue is with my computer, not the file, as far as I know).

    I dunno. . .I thought it was neat?  If I had a subscription to something like this I’d probably check it out on a regular basis.  I wish the voice-acting had been better but the only thing I really felt didn’t translate was the euphemisms for the swear words (which I assume would have been @#?!#’ed out in print.  

    Just in terms of the story I’m intrigued, and I’d probably rather they had focused on getting the book done a few months ago rather than getting the digital format up and running (though in fairness the delays may be unrelated.)   I was a little skeptical of Brand telling Jess that the other Avengers wouldn’t be willing to do what needed to be done, when all the heroes were pretty much killing Skrulls without distinction or remorse throughout Secret Invasion.  But maybe that’s just supposed to be something Brand is doing to manipulate her.

  29. Great concept sounds like alot of fun…

    Unfortunately I have a strict code of conduct with my purchases:
    In terms of comics, =/ I can’t pay for something I don’t touch. I’ll wait for some CD/DVD compilation of everything they got.

  30. Gamechanger!

    Pick Of The Week, easy.

    A+, 5 stars!

  31. GAMECHANGER!! …. MAY..HEM!!!

    C’mon KickAss, if you’re comparing this motion comic to the others than the static comics don’t stand a chance. I bet it rocks =/ (now wants to purchase it but stays true to strict code)

  32. Can’t wait to see this….oh wait there aren’t any motion comics in Australia (ex. for Invincible)

  33. Just watched it on the metro this morning, and I enjoyed it, but agree that the acting is the main holdup.  One particular exchange of dialog stood out to me, when Brand gives Jessica a gadget and says "It’s a Skrull detector" and Jessica says "Seriously?" and Brand says "No.  Wouldn’t that be nice though?"  I imagined that, on the written page I would have interpreted the "seriously?" as credulous, Jessica biting on a little deadpan joke by Brand; but the actress gives "seriously" the same inflection as a very bored sounding "bullshit."  I guess I don’t know for sure that wasn’t the way Bendis intended the line, so perhaps my complaint isn’t as much that I don’t like the acting as it is that I prefer the printed page where I can interpret the words on my own.  Well that’s not really true, I definitely don’t think the acting is great regardless, but I may also prefer to see it written regardless.

  34. The best thing about this motion comic was that my boyfriend liked it.  I’ve tried to get him to read comics so many times to no avail, but I show him Spider-Woman and he said he can’t wait for the next one.  That’s reason enough for me to stick with this format for Spider-Woman.

    Also, the first 2 episodes are 99c after that $1.99, That’s cheaper than any comic I’ve bought in years. 

  35. it was okay, but honestly and I don’t know if this is their intention at marvel or not, I just don’t see this as ‘The Future,’ I think it is what it is though, a bold step into a new direction. If people are willing to get their comics this way, what else is possible as we push ourselves closer and closer to a paperless society. 

  36. I’m just not interested in this.  That’s not a comment on whether it’s any good or not.  I just like to read, rather than being read to. I like to listen to music while I do so.  I am very much looking forward to a print version of this.

    But I tried the Watchmen and Invincible versions, and I didn’t like those.  I don’t even really like the animated adaptations that much, to be honest.  

    That said, if this is what it takes to bring people to comics who weren’t reading before, I wish them much success.

  37. Oh, it’s gonna be a great book. You can tell that these characters, on a page I can look at as long as I want with brain-supplied voices, are going to be outstanding to read.

  38. I dug it.  I approached it as more of an audiobook that just happened to have some beautiful art rather than as a "motion comic."  And it was a nice break to watch during my lunch hour.  It was just the mid-day shot of comic that my life needed.

    Buying the next one is on my list, especially if it stays at a price point of $ .99.  However, if it does jump to $1.99, I may have to skip it.

  39. I have zero interest in ‘motion comics’. I prefer the way I have trained myself to read between the lines and fill in the blanks.

  40. I watched this last night. Sat on it. Still thinking about it. I generally agree with Jimki’s review. It did feel like something i’d prefer to read. But… i have to admit… I’m wondering if that’s a bias because I’m so AWARE that it’s also going to be a comic book by a comic book writer and a comic book artist whose work I know very well.

    Because it does work well. I thought the voice direction could be a little tighter (Paul wasn’t wrong with his above comment about dialogue and rhythm — I think Bendis’ dialogue needs to be read a little faster and more conversationally, to be honest). And if you get past the fact that it’s NOT a cartoon and the mouths don’t move during dialogue, then while the scene on the train did seem to go on too long, I did find myself gazing lovingly at the artwork for longer than I normally would when reading the story.

    One thing I’ll say: I watched this on my phone, and I really loved the way Maleev’s art is depicted here. Most folks tend to say that art looks better printed, but they did some stuff with this artwork, particularly with light, that just wowed me. The glow of neon, of sunset, of fluorescent lights… all of that was enhanced by being on a screen. It’s stuff that wouldn’t come across in print. And that alone makes this unique. 

    I don’t see myself dropping the comic for this. I can easily see myself dropping this for the comic. I see it as a sort of mutant offshoot and is clever and interesting but will not spawn a massive trend.

    But there certainly were some cool bits, I can’t deny that.