Marvel’s forays into digital-only comics have been reasonably tentative compared to DC’s both-feet approach, which has seen the publisher launch multiple digital-only series in a weekly format. However, Marvel seeks to change things with its first paid-for digital series by Jason Aaron, Jason Latour, Yves Bigerel and Paco Diaz: a 13-parter titled “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted.”
Set in current continuity (not that there are any overt references), the comic sees Wolverine heading to Japan for — well, reasons discovered soon enough. Delivered in Marvel’s “Infinite Comic” format, it’s produced widescreen with all of the extra effects guided view allows, as seen in last year’s “Avengers vs. X-Men” and this year’s “Guardians of the Galaxy” tie-ins. As an experience, it’s innovative but not showy to the detriment of the comic. There is one instance of wonky storytelling that makes it look like there are two Wolverines (it pans from one to another) but since the format is young, it’s easy to forgive.
Latour’s scripting is good, the issue ends with an interesting twist, and Bigerel & Diaz’s art styles mesh well and — thanks to Gracia and Silva’s colors — look beautiful (extra thanks to the backlight). It’s as solid a Wolverine comic as could ever be found on the shelves, with a frontier-like tone that recalls Aaron’s earliest story arcs. If this is indicative of the quality of Marvel’s digital comics, then readers should be quickly won over. As statements of intent go, this is a clear indication that Marvel is taking the digital arena seriously.
That said, there’s a less compelling argument to be made when you look at the price. DC’s digital offerings have long set the pace with a $0.99 price point on digital-exclusive series, including the infinite-style “Batman ’66”. Marvel has chosen to set the price of “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted” at $2.99 per issue. To represent good value, it either has to be three times as good, or three times as big. It’s hard to compare sizes directly due to the “infinite” format, but “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted” has 79 frames to “Batman ’66″‘s 95. It’s actually a smaller story, and with no disrespect to anyone involved, it’s good, but it’s not three times as good.
As a monthly proposition $2.99 isn’t too great an outlay, but remember that this is a 13-part weekly comic. It’s going to cost almost $40 for the whole story. It’s too expensive for what it is. Perhaps there’s a good reason why the economics don’t work at $0.99 per issue. Maybe Marvel plans a price drop further down the line. But at $2.99, they’ll only sell one issue to me, where at 99c, they’d have sold 13. “Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted” proves that Marvel has the stories and creators to bring in a new, digital audience, but given the choice between one issue of this and three issues of similar-quality material from their competitors — even for a Marvel devotee, it’s not a difficult choice.