Marvel Comics had some big announcements at its panel Sunday at South by Southwest. The list starts with weekly digital Infinite Comics, featuring four 13-issue story arcs over the course of the next year; the release of 700 free first issues for a short time; Project Gamma, technology that will enhance comics with sound; online videos about the company, including documentaries on their history; and the previously announced Marvel Unlimited iOS app.
Let’s start with the freebies. Between now and March 12, Marvel is offering 700 issue #1’s for free via comiXology. That’s the good news; the bad news is that the flood of traffic immediately after the announcement apparently crashed the site. Hopefully they will fix the problem quickly so everyone can get their free comics before the deadline.
The Infinite Comics are something Marvel introduced last year at SxSW. These are comics specifically made for digital media (I reviewed one just last week) that eschew the traditional page turns. Instead, a swipe may bring in new word balloons, a new panel, or a change in focus. (Marvel has a demo video on their site.) Up until now, they have been one-offs tied in to print storylines, but now Marvel plans four 13-issue story arcs, starting with Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted, which will debut on July 9th. Marvel CEO Axel Alonso told CBR,
What we’re trying to do is deliver a comic book that first counts for the long term fan and they’ll understand how it’s woven into the continuity, and secondarily is exciting to the new or lapsed reader. We want to make sure we use all the bells and whistles and props available on this new canvass to excite people… At the end of the day, you’re left with a very cinematic comics experience. There’s a sense of motion that the new technology allows for that makes for a completely different experience, but the reader still controls the pace of that experience.
The fact that there’s a Wolverine movie in the works is, of course, no coincidence at all. On the Marvel site, Alonso remarks that the writers of the monthly comics will also be working on the Infinite Comics, because they are all part of the same continuity. Marvel is keeping mum for now on the other three story arcs.
Project Gamma will provide audio enhancements to Marvel comics in the form of a soundtrack or other audio cues and will only be available for select comics; in the CBR interview, Alonso allows that he was skeptical at first but added, “Who out there hasn’t had that moment when you’ve been reading a comic book with your iPod on or the radio on, and you found that the music has changed your reading experience?” He called it an “adaptive experience” that will vary depending not only on the story but also the reader’s pace and other factors. There’s a video showing how it works on the Marvel site.
Finally, Marvel plans a series of in-house videos, to be hosted by Blair Butler (Attack of the Show) that will take a behind-the-scenes look at the company’s history.