This week's release of Avengers vs. X-Men #1 was a big one for Marvel, and not just because it was the start of their latest high-profile, superhero-filled event series.
It also marked the debut of their first two "ReEvolution" digital initiatives: Infinite Comics and the Marvel AR app. David Pepose reviewed the Infinite Comics debut earlier this week and rated it a 9 out of 10, but there's been less talk on Newsarama about the app — well, until this article.
In case there are folks still confused as to what "AR" actually is, it stands for "augmented reality," which is a fairly broad term for a merger between the digital world and real life (hopefully in a fun way, as opposed to a terrifying dystopian science fiction-y way). So under that definition, a yellow first-down line added to a TV broadcast of a football game can be considered augmented reality, as are the card-generated mini-games that launched last year with the Nintendo 3DS. A fairly fully realized example was introduced this Wednesday, with Google revealing "Project Glass," in-development AR technology strikingly similar to Greg Pak's Vision Machine.At its core, the Marvel AR app seems to be the latest attempt at pushing digital innovation while not alienating print comic book retailers or print comic book audiences. Marvel calls it "value added" with the purchase of compatible comic books, and it would be tricky to argue that's just marketing speak— for a $3.99 print comic, you get 34 pages of story by Brian Michael Bendis and John Romita Jr., a download code for a digital copy, the digital-only Infinite Comics release starring Nova and by Mark Waid and Stuart Immonen and all of the AR features; provided you have an iOS or Android mobile device capable that can download the free app.
Counting the cover, there are eight AR-activated spots in Avengers vs. X-Men #1, each distinguished by a small logo. It's natural to worry that this could be disruptive to the reading process — especially to whichever chunk of the population could care less about any of this stuff and just wants to read the comic — but I found them to be surprisingly subtle, even missing one of them completely in my first couple read-throughs. Embedding these logos within the actual artwork raises the issue of posterity — will collected editions contain the enhancements, and thus the logos? And if the program fails to take off — a possibility, if no reason other than it seems time-consuming to produce and difficult to monetize — will Avengers vs. X-Men #1 look as dated as the $2,500 prize advertised on the cover of Uncanny X-Men #137?Those questions seem to be kind of missing the point. The entire promotion and positioning of Avengers vs. X-Men #1, from the digital tie-ins to the worldwide launch parties, have shown that following years of trade-waiting and rapidly released collected editions, single issues still matter, and can be worthy of being treated like a big deal by themselves — because and not in spite of their periodical nature.
The AR app is a clear extension of that, providing bonus content meant to enhance the experience of reading something that's only one-twelfths of a whole. The features have frequently been compared to DVD extras, and that's pretty on the nose— the cover activates a trailer, and the splash page of Nova brings up a short audio commentary from Bendis discussing the scene. Several of the spots provide the black-and-white versions of the pages you're looking at, to compare and contrast between the finished product. (The fairly sizable elephant in the room is why wouldn't Marvel integrate this type of content within their digital comics, but word is that's coming.)The potential is clear, just from the initial outing — if they can do commentary for one scene, why not a whole issue? If we can see black-and-whites on a few pages, why not all of them? The app has energized as least one of AvX's five co-writers, Matt Fraction, who wrote on Twitter that he was "completely excited by what it makes possible." Since it's clearly early in the process, it's easy to detect improvements that can be made. I viewed the AR content on an iPhone 4, and much of it seemed distractingly low-res, to the point where the infographic on Hope Summers was barely readable. Though the app is designed to promote interactivity between reader and technology, the content itself isn't necessarily interactive, in case you wanted to say, zoom in on a page or pause one of the videos. (Also, if you're reading in public, frequently hovering your phone or tablet over comic book pages inevitably makes you look like a maniac, which might discourage some more inhibited fans but is actually kind of fun.)
Still, I'm eager to hear what the next AR-ready release will be, and to see what kind of new content types might be developed. The most intriguing thing about the AR app at this point is what it could look like in the future if the publisher continues to support it, and the first attempt shows enough promise to prove that's something worth pondering.Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!