Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Marvel DCU

It's probably not a good omen for the new online effort from Marvel, but they've named it Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, aka: Marvel DCU. Keep in mind, DCU is also how DC Comics (Marvel's prime competition) refers to its entire line of comics: The DC Comics Universe. Sadly, I doubt anyone at DC ever thought to copyright "DCU", or else they couldn't. Apparently DCU is also the stock ticker for Dry Clean USA.


In addition, Marvel hasn't made it clear what you're actually buying if you sign up for their annual subscription service. It's a $60.00 investment for a year, which... when comics are going for $3.00 a pop, that's not a bad price for access to thousands of comics. Especially when you know it's less than $5.00 a month.

The problem is that I'm not sure which comics they're making available. I'm certainly not interested if Marvel is placing all of their failed series online, but only a few issues of a series I want to read. If they're placing a bunch of their content online and planning on keeping it there, that's great (think Netflix comics).

Right now the entire first 100 issues of FF, Spidey and X-Men are online. Buying collections, that might set you back over $100. But what about newer stuff? What if I want to read all of Annihilation online?

It seems almost as if Marvel is using the online effort as more of a marketing effort than a new way to approach comics. They seem interested in providing back stories, etc... but they seem overly concerned with treading on the toes of their current distribution model (ie: 32 page comics followed by trade collections).

Marvel isn't going to want to step on the toes of their distributors. It doesn't behoove them to lower the number of folks walking into comic shops and killing the golden goose, so it more or less makes sense that they aren't putting new comics out online. The fact is, had Marvel or DC gone online in the 90's or early 2000's, they probably wouldn't be as worried about cutting into the comic-buying/ paper collecting audience. However, with an audience that only ever expands to about 150,000 for a best-selling comic (and down to about 20,000 before it faces cancellation) losing any sales from comic shops is a major problem. Especially at $5.00 a month.

Whether Marvel learns to offer their newer comics online at a premium rate remains to be seen. It certainly seems like a possibility.

Despite the better arguments of Scott McCloud for how comics were going to go online and change the world, comics don't work terribly well online. clicking to reach the next panel doesn't necessarily jive with the composition and gestalt of the comic page (and I am not limiting comics to the usual folded tabloid size here). There's no flow between panels as a passive experience when you have to engage the page.

That said:

Either a very good sign or very bad sign, the site has been so busy that Marvel hasn't actually made this work. In two days, I have yet to see an online comic. Not exactly awe-inspiring from a technical standpoint. I can understand the problems in the first few hours, but...

For collectors like myself, I'd like to not have a house full of comics or graphic novels I've read once, and I'd like the option of not dropping $20 to read reprints I may not find I enjoy. But mostly, I am sure Jamie would like it if I found a way to NOT bring more collections and comics into the house. I think that's easily worth a handful of shekels per year.

I'm still pondering the Marvel subscription. I'm never a first adopter, and this is one more case where I'm waiting to hear more before I jump on board. That said, if anyone is wondering what to get me for Christmas... a Marvel Digital Comics subscription would be swell...


I finally got on to try a sample. I did find their interface to be straightforward and easy to use. I'm still not sure all of what is available to the subscriber, but any fears I had about how the pages would be formatted is no longer a concern. You just need a decent sized monitor set to a decent sized resolution. I guess buyer beware on that count.


J.S. said...

There's something weird about comics on a computer. I think it's the fact that as soon as I see the art up there on a computer I start asking myself why the characters can't move around and talk. This kind of thinking may not be fair (obviously animating stuff is a whole different endeavor than just drawing still frames), but nevertheless, given the capabilities of computers and the things that we all know that you can do with them, it just kind of comes naturally to ask, "Well if they could use the computer to do this, then why didn't they do this other thing...?" (motion, music, voices, etc.)

I like comics on paper, and although computer comics may be the way of the future, I bet they're going to change and morph into something almost unrecognizable as a traditional "comic book" within the computer medium (with things moving and music playing and all kinds of nonsense).

The League said...

I would point you toward Scott McCloud's "Reinventing Comics" which took a good look at these questions back around 2000.

I think it helps if you think of this effort by Marvel as a library and less as new comics. I will do another post on DC's Zuda here in the next few days.

In the meantime, check out this comic: The Retriever