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Increasingly, geeky pasttimes are seeping into the mainstream. Like creatures in a Neil Gaiman story, the boundary between the dimension of the fantastical and the land of the normal is blurring. And with that blur, faithful adaptations of heroes and villains have made the leap to the world of movies.
That means that in addition to Spider-Man, regular folk are suddenly familiar with the likes of Dr. Manhattan, Coraline and Hellboy. What’s more, graphic novels are showing up on our iPhone screens. Scrollmotion’s latest app, Daniel X, brings to us the adventures of a teenage alien hunter with a vivid imagination.
Creating The Hero
“Daniel X”‘s backstory is a little different than that of standard comic book fare. Created by author James Patterson, it’s not part of the Marvel or DC stable; there’s no rich history or über fan cult of longtime readers, either. He’s a completely fresh character, seemingly designed with a teen audience in mind.
Although Patterson has found success with the “Daniel X” series, he’s also written a stack of celebrated books, several of which have made the transition to film, too. Yet despite all this, Patterson kicks off “Daniel X” with little more than a hackneyed genesis of our soon-to-be hero.
Back when Daniel was knee high to a grasshopper, his father was an alien hunter. One ill-fated day, a particularly irate alien decided that he’d do a spot of murdering and Daniel’s folks were, due to all the alien-hunting stuff, fair game.
Much like various X-Men, Harry Potter, Batman, Spider-Man and an array of other heroes, Daniel X ends up an orphan before discovering his superpowers. Poor Daniel. For a character with so much potential, it’s a shame he had to wind up on the wrong side of a particularly unfortunate cliché.
Although the kid happens to be from Kansas, it seems that he’s stationed in Tokyo, apparently a hub of alien criminal activity. Plus, he has super strength, super agility, the power to imagine things into existence and the ability to morph. Apparently the author also has the power to morph things, too, as he’s managed to transform the entire graphic novel into one massive cliché.
Tip of the Iceberg
Above and beyond the core story, the app itself isn’t a total disappointment; the technology is impressive. Designed by Scrollmotion, their engine, entitled Iceberg, is custom-designed for playing back exactly this sort of content.
The app opens with a tutorial — as you drag your finger across the screen, a watermelon explodes. Dragging back rewinds the fruity detonation. The control mechanism is novel and feels like you’re leafing through frames of a film.
There’s an automatic mode, too. Tapping the screen reveals a control menu, allowing you to set the speed of playback, alongside a play/pause button.
Using Iceberg, the graphic novel’s artwork has been brought to life. Reading “Daniel X” feels less like a comic and more like scrolling through scenes in a cartoon: The camera pans across each shot, bringing the characters to life as speech bubbles pop into existence and gracefully fade away.
The artwork seems to be painted as opposed to inked. It has texture, which, when combined with the kinetic nature of Iceberg, makes Daniel X’s adventure seem less humdrum and a little more exciting.
There are, however, several enjoyment-impeding issues with the software worth pointing out. The inertia, when dragging pages, is incoherent — a small drag can seemingly whizz through several frames, or sometimes a big drag squeezes just a tiny bit of movement out of one panel.
Plus, switching to automatic mode can be frustrating. Even at the slower speeds, speech bubbles can zip past, with barely enough time to digest Patterson’s corny dialogue.
The iPhone screen also dims while the app is running and as there’s no settings menu within the app, there’s no way to stop this happening. What this means is that when reading “Daniel X” in automatic mode, you’ll find yourself having to tap the screen every few minutes to wake it up again.
The screen sleeping issue is irritating; it detracts from any opportunity to become engrossed in the experience. But then, the same could be said of the story and dialogue, too.
Patterson’s writing is downright awful. The dialogue is tired — we’ve heard it all before, but by arguably better comic writers — the story is predictable, the journey it takes us on more like a boring cruise than a narrative roller coaster.
Furthermore, at $9.99, the price is a serious shocker. In fact, it’s like Scrollmotion decided that since “Daniel X” is devoid of any effective narrative trickery, they’d throw in their own plot twist of sorts by charging $10 for the app.
I understand that a great deal of work — and as such, cost — went in to developing the app engine, licensing Patterson’s uninspired graphic novel and, most evident of all, taking the accomplished artwork and creating vibrant cartoon-esque scenes. I really do get it.
However, if an app is so costly to develop that it’s set at an unrealistic or prohibitive price point, then somebody is being greedy or unrealistic, or both. Whatever the reality is, speculation aside, there’s a lot of fun to be had from the App Store, much of it at significantly lower prices than that of Daniel X.
This is potentially good tech and yet it’s filled with vapid content, certainly not worth the price tag. I want to support graphic novels making the leap to a fresh medium but this is poor content at a baffling price and as such, should be avoided.