Stan Lee’s moustache is a real work of art.
One of the first original offerings to come out of Stan Lee’s new company, POW! Entertainment, is this animated direct-to-DVD superhero tale. Lee, the legendary creator of many Marvel Comics characters such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the X-Men, has this time come up with the adventures of a girl who can become anyone.
Maggie (Anna Paquin, X-Men, The Piano) is an ordinary 17-year-old girl living in New York City who longs to be an actress someday. Her father is an Interpol agent, working on a case involving some stolen ancient relics. One night while she’s home alone during a storm, a bolt of lightning strikes one of these relics in her fathers’ safe, miraculously giving Maggie some unusual abilities. She can change her appearance with a thought, making herself look and sound like anyone she sees. This comes with a few added bonuses, such as being able to turn invisible and being able to turn into animals. Rounding the “human chameleon” metaphor is the fact that Maggie can also scale walls like a spider, uh, I mean a lizard, and she has Predator-style heat vision.
While enjoying the benefits of her new powers, such as sneaking around while invisible and faking out the school principal, Maggie meets a mysterious yet hunky young guy named Mosaic (Kirby Morrow, Stargate: Atlantis), who has the same shape-changing powers. Maggie soon learns that her father’s investigation has to do with a secret race of ancient shape-shifting beings with an evil plot to overthrow humanity. These villains have also kidnapped Maggie’s father as part of their plan, so Maggie and Mosaic now have to team up, traveling first to Rome and then to the North Pole to uncover their enemy’s plan and save the day.
I happy to say that I enjoyed Mosaic much more than I thought I would. After recently viewing the goofy cheesiness of Stan Lee’s Lightspeed, I prepared myself for more of the same with this one. Instead, Mosaic is like reading a classic Stan Lee comic. Sure, there are superheroics aplenty, but there’s also some solid characterization and a fairly well-thought-out back story. Once Maggie gets her powers, she doesn’t just put on tights and leap into action. Instead, we spend a lot of time with her at school, with her friends, and with her dad. The creators provide us ample time to get to know Maggie before she starts saving the world. We see her doing ordinary stuff like fretting over her science homework or dancing around her bedroom in her pajamas. That makes a lot of difference—even if it means sacrificing screen time for fisticuffs and explosions.
When we first meet Maggie, she’s on stage, performing a scene from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In other words, our introduction to her is as she’s pretending to be someone else. Giving a wanna-be actress shape-changing powers is a simple and perhaps obvious idea, but it works brilliantly nonetheless. Sure, Maggie can make herself look like anyone, but that’s not enough. She still has to act the part. Therefore, she must use her wits, not just her powers, to get out of trouble. With all this emphasis on character, Lee and co-writer Scott Lobdell (Uncanny X-Men) have created a character viewers will really be able to care about and root for.
The other characters don’t benefit from quite as much detail as Maggie. Mosaic gets to be a tough guy and more likely to jump into action, but he also has the thankless job of delivering most of the exposition here. As a result, there are times when he’s a little less dashing and a little more dull. The villain, another shape-shifter who goes by the name “Mannequin,” mostly sticks to the usual villain clichés with a combination of a revenge plot and a take-over-the-world plot.
It might look like a Saturday morning cartoon, but this is definitely not a disc for the younger kids. The violence is pretty intense, such as a scene in which Maggie’s father is brutally beaten. Maggie herself even gets some “action hero” blood on her forehead at one point. You should also prepare yourself from some sexual innuendo, including a dream sequence that has Maggie running around in nothing but her bra and panties. Nothing overly graphic happens, of course; just know that Mosaic is a little more grown-up than other cartoons of this kind.
The animation here isn’t quite up to feature quality. It’s more along the lines of what you might think of as a Saturday morning cartoon. Movements aren’t quite fluid, and a few lines of dialogue don’t quite match the characters’ mouths. Still, Mosaic is nonetheless nicely designed and nice to look at; even if it’s not the most animation money can buy. The DVD transfer shows it all off excellently, with bright vivid colors and deep, rich black levels. The audio, in both 5.1 and 2.0 flavors, is clear and workable, with music, dialogue, and sound effects coming across with no problem.
If you’re a Stan Lee fan, then I’ve got good news: Stan the Man is all over the bonus features here. He provides a humorous introduction to the movie, as well as a similarly lighthearted interview. Director Roy Smith (The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure) also provides an interview, going over his thoughts about the story and its themes. The still gallery is more interactive than these usually are, with Maggie and Stan Lee providing spoken biographical info about the characters. The “Mosai-ku” game you play with your remote is fairly simple, but if you get stuck you can click on the “Stan” button, and he’ll give you a hint. Some trailers for upcoming releases round out the extras.
This DVD also comes with a 12-page limited-edition comic book, The Condor, written by Mike Kennedy with art by Fabio Laguna. Lee has an “executive producer” credit on the comic. The Condor is a crime fighter atop a flying skateboard, who, in this story, hunts down a crook while thinking about what it does and doesn’t mean to be a hero. It’s a simple story, revealing very little about the character, who will get his own straight-to-DVD animated release in a few months. It’s still a nice, breezy read, with great art by Laguna, very reminiscent of superstar artist Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween).
In the bonus features, both Stan Lee and the director express a desire for more Mosaic stories in the future. Now that the origin story has been told, there are all sorts of directions the character can go. Maggie not only has to wonder if there are any other shape-changers out there, but her dad still works for Interpol, and she lives in New York City, where just walking down the street can be an adventure. As a writer, I too can see endless possibilities for these characters and I wonder what will happen next. Mosaic entertains solidly enough so that you want to see more chapters to Maggie’s story.