Marvel is hoping that sound will be as revolutionary for comics as it was for film. The company just released an updated version of its subscription app, Marvel Unlimited, which includes access to a five-comic storyline carefully scored by Emmy-nominated composer David Ari Leon. It's dramatic. It's engaging. But is it really what people want from digital comics?
Captain America: The Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker, issues 8, 9, and 11 through 14, is the first sample of Marvel's "adaptive audio" feature, something it's been working on for over a year. Publishers have experimented with adding animation to comics — Marvel has been testing the effect for a few years in its Motion Comics — but it’s an expensive process and the result still doesn't look quite right.
Now the publisher is experimenting with dramatic music and sound effects. That may sound cheesy, and it’s dangerously close. But it kind of looks like Marvel could pull it off. The "adaptive" part refers to the way the soundtrack adjusts to a reader's pace. Linger on a page and the music will loop; tap forward and you’ll be segued into the next mood. You can also turn the sound off if you want.
This is the first enhanced media feature that seems to actually enhance the comic reading experience, at least for me. The music isn’t disruptive, it’s the opposite — it draws you into the story and helps you understand what’s going on, encouraging you to slow down and absorb more of what's happening. Eerie music, the beeps of a security system that failed to detect an intruder, and the sound of a knife going into someone's belly all provoke a visceral reaction without jolting you out of the story. If Marvel is willing to draft top composers to score its comics, this feature could be a step forward for the medium — but any less attention to detail and the effect would have been lost.
The sound effects are dangerously close to being cheesy, but it looks like Marvel could pull it off
The comics with adaptive audio are available exclusively through the subscription app, Marvel Unlimited, which offers access to Marvel's 15,000-comic library, is on sale this week for a promotional price of $.99 cents. Audio will be added to comics in the back catalog on a case by case basis, depending on how fans react.
We'll find out soon what the fans think — comics readers are a vocal bunch. But the real question is whether Marvel is really committed to handcrafting sound for each of its storylines.