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"Mosaic": What if Mary Jane Got Super Powers

One of the iconic Marvel Comics titles of the late 1970’s was What If…?, which spun out hypothetical stories or altered existing comics continuity to see how events would change. There was never one that worked off the idea “What if Mary Jane Watson, not Peter Parker, had gotten super-powers?” but if there had been, it would probably have looked a lot like Stan Lee Presents Mosaic.

Maggie Nelson has an unusual workout regimenThe leading lady of Mosaic is Maggie Nelson (voiced by Anna Paquin), an aspiring college-aged actress. She has a nerdy best friend, Stephan (Cam Clarke), who pines for her silently, and a father, Nathan (Gary Chalk), who is an Interpol agent investigating thefts connected with the homo chameleo. These are members a branch of the human evolutionary tree who have developed shapeshifting powers and hide amongst the human populace. With the help of a mystic doodad and a lightning storm, Maggie gains the powers of the chameleo herself, and soon finds herself caught between two warring factions. One side, led by the sinister Manikin (Ron Halder), is bent on ruling both homo sapiens and homo chameleo. The other, represented by the chameleo peace officer Mosaic (Kirby Morrow) seeks a peaceful co-existence, or at least a life free of Manikin’s dictatorship.

Mosaic offers few real surprises to anybody familiar with Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics or even superhero stories in general. In fact, the relationship between the perky Maggie and dark, brooding Mosaic seems lifted fairly straight from the Buffy/Angel dynamic in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Except for a few pop-culture references, Mosaic is exactly the kind of thing that Stan turned out for Marvel pretty regularly back in the day, although no one in Mosaic has the emotional resonance of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, or the X-Men. This is not a terribly original or innovative work, but it mixes and tweaks just enough of the material it’s lifted to keep you guessing for its 72-minute running time.

Mosaic's workout is even weirderMosaic also benefits from a lack of expectations. Any new Spider-Man cartoon will be measured against the multiple comic books, movies, and animated series that have starred the character; Batman the Animated Series has cast a long shadow over every subsequent DC Comics animated project. So even if it is derivative, Mosaic is at least something new, which lends it enough of a sense of the unexpected to carry it through to the end.

This isn’t to say that it’s outstanding stuff by any stretch. Two extended sequences that quote Shakespeare seem to exist largely in order to give Anna Paquin something more substantial. A number of plot elements are brought up suddenly but lead nowhere before being just as quickly abandoned. The voice actors all do their best, with Paquin getting a few decent zingers, but there’s only so much they can do with Scott Lobdell’s cliché-laden script. There are also several moments that feel like the expository captions or dialogue balloons that recap the prior issue’s events, which feels odd and unnecessary in a direct-to-DVD animated movie.

Manikin's just mad that his name is misspelledThe movie’s animation is passable, though not spectacular, being just a cut above that of the 1990’s X-Men series. The character designs are horribly bland, however. If Maggie’s generic blonde design makes much of an impression at all, it is due to either Anna Paquin’s voice acting or the movie’s tendency to get Maggie in her underwear as often as possible. While all the characters stay on model, they also don’t tend to “act” very well. The result is a curious lack of urgency throughout the movie, even as the characters discuss ideas like ruling the world like a god or hunting down and exterminating an entire race of people.

In the end, Stan Lee Presents Mosaic is pleasant enough comfort food for the superhero junkie, but it’s got a long way to go before it joins the pantheon of Lee’s more enduring creations.

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