Marvel Entertainment debuted the first episode of Spider-Woman: Agent of S.W.O.R.D. at Comic-Con today. This marks a new milestone for the comic book company, which has created the series as a motion comic from the get-go, rather than re-purposing an older printed work. Marvel is also continuing the paid content renaissance and will charge for access to the series.
Typically, motion comics have been slightly-animated versions of existing printed comics, and the results usually show. The two-dimensional images are given some “life” by moving an arm, for example, and there is voice acting. Early results were mixed, with characters often looking stiff, like popsicle stick puppets bobbing up and down.
For Spider-Woman, however, Marvel enlisted comic book heavyweights Brian Michael Bendis to write the story and Alex Maleev to do the artwork. I got a sneak-peek at the first episode and it’s far beyond the standard motion comics that have come before. There’s more depth of field, the animation is more complex and it’s more apparent that this was created for the web. But this better viewing experience will come at a price.
Spider-Woman will first be distributed through iTunes for an introductory price of $0.99 per 10- to 12-minute episode. After that introductory period, the price will go up to $1.99 per episode. “This is high quality content,” Ira Rubenstein, Marvel’s executive vice president, global digital media group told me, “If you were to buy a comic you’d be paying $2.99 to $3.99. Just because it’s a different format doesn’t diminish the value of the product.” Similar to what Warner Bros. did with its motion comics, Spider-Woman will be distributed on other platforms as well, such as Xbox LIVE.
It’s not that Marvel has completely abandoned the ad-supported model. The company still runs videos like old Spider-Man cartoons on its site, and there is a Marvel YouTube (s GOOG) channel, which Rubenstein says gets about a million plays per week. “We like YouTube from a marketing perspective,” said Rubenstein, “but the revenue is flat” — though he neglected to put a dollar figure around that “flat.”
Additionally, as of today, Marvel content is available via Hulu. Exactly what Marvel content will be available is complicated because there are many different rights holders. But for the content it can control, Marvel will put it up for electronic sell-through first, and then migrate just a few episodes to ad-supported services.
Marvel isn’t the only one plunging deeper into motion comics, rival DC Comics announced their lineup at Comic-Con this week as well, including Superman: Red Son, and Supergirl: Year One.