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DC's new digital comics offer interactive features, layered multimedia

Andy Ihnatko | June 6, 2013
On Tuesday, at the opening of a new exhibition at the Time Warner Medialab in New York, DC Entertainment's President, Diane Nelson, and Co-Publisher, Jim Lee announced a new storytelling technology that would soon start appearing in DC's digital comics line.

The data is anonymized and aggregated; DC later told me that they've no interest in connecting specific preferences to specific users. But another obvious concern remains. Will the data that DC Entertainment sees change a writer's plans for an ongoing storyline? And is that a good thing?

I reminded Lee and Nelson of the famous Batman storyline, "A Death In The Family." In 1983, readers were invited to use a 900-number to vote on whether Robin would live or die at the end of the story they were reading.

Nelson and Lee laughed. "We'll know what interests [the readers] in the kind of response we get--as they make those choices, that data will have an influence on what we do next," Lee allowed, but he downplayed the idea that the tail of technology would wag the dog of storytelling. Mostly, the influence of the data will be'll suggest to DC the characters and concepts that they should be developing further.

But: Lee didn't completely dismiss the idea that an unexpected groundswell of interest in a specific character's storyline could, say, motivate the publisher to keep him or her around for a while. The first "Multiverse"-enabled title will be the digital-first Batman: Arkham Origins, based on the same-named video game that's set for release this fall.

Multilayered media
Besides DC2 "Multiverse" comics, the new DC2 initiative will also include linearly-plotted digital comics that include multilayered artwork, sound, and dynamic action sequences. The first such title is "Batman '66," which is based on the tone of the classic, campy Adam West TV show.

"Our major initiative is about finding those elusive new fans," said Nelson, citing the success of DC characters in games such as "Arkham," in TV shows like Smallville and Arrow, and in movies. "Casual fans enjoying those experiences could become comic fans. We're finding that as much as 30 percent [of DC's "Digital First" customers] are new readers."

DC wants to use these storytelling tools in a way that suits the nature of the incoming reader. "We want to apply this technology where it makes sense organically; we don't want to be gimmicky," Lee said. "We want to choose the right stories and the right characters to use the tech."

"Arkham Origins speaks to the limited world franchise familiar to gamers," explained Nelson. "DC2 and its ability to use all those classic sounds and balloons really spoke to 'Batman 66.' It felt organic to that show. Fun, and all-ages."

"A parent would feel very comfortable handing that to a kid to read," Lee agreed, when I asked about the differences between catering to an older, established audience and appealing to the upcoming generation. "The level of fun and interactiveness of that project lends itself to bringing in younger readers."


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