Fantastic Four/The X-Men
One might expect Marvel Comics to deliver a good interactive comic book; they’ve been around forever, they control many of the most dynamic (and commercially successful) super-heroes, and lately they’ve proven their willingness to throw lots of money in new directions. Their first two CD-ROM efforts, The Fantastic Four/The X-Men (Marvel Entertainment Group/Toy Biz, Inc.), deliver some of the more cogent interactive comic experiences available, even if they are not truly spectacular. The X-Men is heavily indebted to the cartoon series on Fox, borrowing the music, the cast of characters, and video clips from the episodes. It’s all put together around a single issue, Giant Size X-Men #1, which introduced the line-up that inspired the cartoon. The issue is here in its entirety, with a spoken dramatization of each page, and hotlinks to audio and video clips in some panels. There’s also some backstory pages – excerpts of other X-Men issues that become available when pertinent subjects arise. The multimedia experience is completed by a video-taped introduction from Stan Lee, a brief Biography section (which plays clips from the cartoon), and a trivia game. It’s all good, clean fun, targeted at the same audience as the Fox series – teens and pre-teens. The audio hotspots are mostly useless, but the video clips work to good effect, enlivening an issue that does not stand terribly well on its own. We understand why they chose this particular story – it’s a suitable beginning to what might be a whole series of CD-ROMs – but we would rather have seen some of the Claremont/Byrne issues, which were more skillfully done and addressed more sophisticated subjects, or the original Lee/Kirby issues, which have yet to be equaled in terms of shameless melodrama and good old action-adventure (one of the back stories excerpts eight pages from X-Men #1, courtesy Lee and Kirby; it’s a high point on the disc). Minor complaints aside, however, Marvel has come up with a good blueprint for future issues.
The Fantastic Four does not have a new TV series to steal video clips from, so the disc is a bit more limited. The selected issue (FF #243, in which Galactus returns to earth to wreak havoc) is better on paper than Giant-Size X-Men #1, but it is far from the best of the series. The man responsible for the issue is John Byrne, whose best work was on the X-Men. Except for the lack of video, this is pretty much the same as the X-Men disc, with spoken narration, audio hotspots, backstory pages, and an identical video introduction by Stan Lee. To understand the intended audience for these discs, one just needs to take into account that the narrator pronounces “fists flyin’,” sans g, without a hint of self-consciousness.
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