NYCC: Marvel's House of Ideas Goes Digital

On Friday afternoon, the Marvel Comics digital team -- comprised of Executive Editorial Director of Digital Ryan Penagos, Marvel Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso, Marvel.com editor Ben Morse, VP CRM Danielle Campbell, "Legendary Star-Lord" scribe Sam Humphries, Product Manager Tatiana Nahai, and talent scout C.B. Cebulski -- joined forces to discuss Marvel Comics' existing and upcoming apps, games, and more. The panel opened to applause as Penagos took the stage and welcomed the audience to "Marvel: House of Ideas."

"This is generally our big old digital panel," Penagos explained to the attendees, "because we don't have a dedicated video game panel this year." As such, he would tackle topics such as the company's digital lineup, Marvel Unlimited service, AR, and Marvel original videos.

"It's our 75th anniversary and we're super excited," he went on to say, pulling up a slide on his presentation that featured Marvel projects across the board: the "AXIS" event cover, an "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon show poster, "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "Agent Carter" posters, and a "Guardians of the Galaxy" film poster. "Every time we go somewhere... there's new stuff to put in there! That sort of represents everything we do."

"There a lot of places to get comics," Penagos said as he handed the mic over to Campbell to get things started.

"I have a great job at Marvel," she continued. "My job is to vandalize digital comics, and right now you can read digital comics almost anywhere. The best place to get Marvel digital comics is through the Marvel digital comics app... You can also get them through Amazon, through Google, through the Apple Store, and if you really want to read everything we have Marvel Unlimited."

Marvel Unlimited turned out to be one of Campbell's main points. With 15,000 digital comics, she called it "our Spotify of comics." "Marvel Unlimited is for the fan who really wants to read every single comic in our catalogue," she explained, and gave some additional information on their newest service: "We have a new premium for the Marvel Unlimited Plus members, [like] an exclusive comic. On Sunday, we have an exclusive panel with a bunch of our best writers."

She went on to discuss a deal that the company is running on the Marvel Unlimited Plus membership. With the added benefit in the form of a membership card, a figurine, a comic, Marvel Unlimited Plus was offered for the standard membership price ($69) instead of its full price ($99) in celebration of Marvel's 75th anniversary and New York Comic Con.

Penagos added a little about the benefits of a Plus member attending NYCC: "[If] you come on Sunday [to the Marvel Unlimited Panel], there are things that I'm showing there that were only seen once or not at all. That's the only place they're showing, it's a private event just for Plus members."

"I love Marvel Unlimited," Humphries said. "You've got to check it out. I use it for research all the time. It's never once let me down... for your favorite character, or an origin story that you can't quite remember... Marvel Unlimited always comes through."

Campbell went on to explain Marvel Unlimited's newest feature: "We actually have a new feature called discover... [it's] a section that helps you figure out what to read, so you've got basically a reading list and sections for your favorite event or your favorite characters... it's great for new people or for Marvel fans."

"[It's] how to get your friend or your girlfriend or your boyfriend to read comics," Morse pitched in. "For the people who see the movies and watch to check it out... get Marvel Unlimited as a gift."

"We've added audio to certain books," Penagos said, switching topics. "Just a crazy experience! I liken it to video games."

"News that's just breaking now," he added, "is that we added these OGNs -- original graphic novels -- 'Season One' books for 'Ant-Man,' 'Daredevil,' and 'Doctor Strange' into Marvel Unlimited." As he pointed out, each of those titles runs for about $30 individually, citing it as an exciting opportunity for Unlimited members.

"We've got Infinite Comics," he went on, asking Alonso to explain.

"They're comics we created specifically for Internet reading," Alonso said, "The writer and artist work to create an experience that will be only achieved if you read it on a handheld device. Panels, balloons, captions... the reader is supposed to control the pace of the experience. There are special effects and motion that can only be achieved [in this format]... it's a very immersive experience. As the technology improves, we're keeping up with it."

Penagos then showed a preview from Marvel's latest Infinite Comic, "All-New Captain America: Fear Him" by Dennis Hopeless and Szymon Kudranski, which "bridges the gap between Sam Wilson and the all-new Captain America." All 6 issues will be released at once. Previous Infinite Comics, such as one for "Guardians of the Galaxy," are available on Marvel Unlimited as well.

"We also have Marvel AR," Penagos continued, referencing a service that appears on certain marked panels within weekly comics and trades alike. "[It] is a really cool behind-the-scenes... Just use the app and you get something else to get really excited about, whether it's how the art progressed or... why the writer or artist did what they did."

He previewed the type of service AR provides, using an animated "Death of Wolverine" sequence where artists Steve McNiven and Jay Leinstein spoke about what they prefer to work on. With music and a few moments of voice over, Penagos called this making-of featurette "just one example." Of the AR service, he said, "You don't have to watch them, but it's some cool behind-the-scenes programming." He also showed a clip from a "Civil War" tease narrated by Stan Lee that promised audiences they would "experience 'Civil War' like never before."

Penagos then passed the next topic, Marvel.com and the publisher's YouTube account, off to Morse. "I'm one of the producers," Morse explained, "There are a bunch of people working on this show too... We put out [videos] all the time. We'll do anything, from screwing with events to a word from our sponsors to... we're working on a Halloween episode right now."

Following Morse's introduction, Penagos ran a clip from a brand new, "AXIS"-themed episode of "What The--?!," a stop motion series that stars Marvel's superheroes and villains alike. The episode, the series' 36th, is now available on Marvel's YouTube channel.

Penagos showed a trailer for another Marvel video project titled "Marvel Comics: From Pulp to Pop!," which will be an hour-long show hosted by Emily Vancamp ("Captain America 2") that takes place in the "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." timeslot when the series goes on hiatus on November 4th. The show will feature behind-the-scenes footage from Marvel's 75-year history. "Watch this and get a sense of what Marvel is," Penagos said.

Penagos then dove right into Marvel Games by unveiling for the first time a trailer for the new "Contest of the Champions" game, available for handheld devices like Android and Apple in December 2014. The trailer featured legendary characters -- such as Wolverine, Deadpool, and Hulk -- in iconic scenes with the tagline "Become the Ultimate Marvel Champion." A fighting game, "Contest of Champions" finds all of the Marvel heroes and villains as items in the Collector's collection, who are then pitted against each other by notorious archenemies like Thanos and Kang the Conqueror. While the game was announced at the panel, Marvel had set up iPads in its booth to demo the game.

"It was a lot of fun to work on," Humphries said in regards to the game. "Everyone working on the game was such huge Marvel fans and they really wanted to put together a game that goes deep into the Marvel Universe. This game launches with 25 different Marvel heroes and villains: you have Avengers, you have X-Men, you have Guardians of the Galaxy, you have Inhumans. So this really is such a great Marvel experience... It looks like a console game but it's in your pocket... It's really easy to pick up. You can build your own team...This is a really cool Marvel story."

Next, Penagos introduced a game with a slightly longer tenure: "Spider-Man Unlimited," a runner game available on iOS and Android. Nahai picked up the conversation from there: "It's the very first free Spider-Man game, the very first free web runner. This is a Spider-Man runner game. We always wanted to make it so much cooler than a typical runner but with the same gameplay elements. It's running through Manhattan, swinging through really iconic Marvel buildings and New York locations... basically taking on the Sinister Six."

In order to describe how it sets itself apart from other runner games, Nahai explained, "It's a full fledged story that we present as an episodic adventure. So Spider-Man is fighting against the Sinister Six but it's not just the normal Sinister Six -- it's a dimensional version of the Sinister Six where each member brings in dimensional versions that you've seen throughout the Marvel Comics and the past 51 years of Spider-Man."

Tying it into the upcoming "Spider-Verse" event, "Spider-Man has no choice but to summon and recruit Spider-Men from multiple dimensions. So, this game has the most playable Spider-Men in any game ever, and we've been releasing a new Spider-Man every single week with some amazing upcoming editions... in this video, we're announcing the 4th villain: Sandman." The presentation showed an image that revealed Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Girl (Mayday Parker), and Scarlet Spider as playable characters. This latest chapter will be entitled "Enter Sandman." Green Goblin, Vulture, and Electro will also appear in the upcoming weeks. There will be 25 narrative play missions.

"I wanted to make a second announcement," Nahai continued, "that we're working really closely with Marvel to feature 'Spider-Verse' content in the game. We're doing this in a few ways: we're firstly releasing multiple Spider-Men... each new Spider-Man we release will have really cool events around them with storylines that lead directly to 'Spider-Verse.' And we're also going to be releasing Morlun as a playable villain in the game. But this is just the first of 'Spider-Verse.' We're going to be having so much more content coming out..."

Morse went on to sum up a few of the other games that Marvel has to offer. This included "Guardians of the Galaxy: the Universal Weapon," which is a mobile RPG that features Angela; "X-Men: Battle of the Atom," a strategy game for handheld devices; "Marvel Heroes," a massive multiplayer online game (MMPOG); "Puzzle Quest," a Tetris-like puzzle game; "Marvel: Avengers Alliance," a social game found on Facebook; and "Disney Infinity 2.0," a console game that has recently released a second set of playable characters like Rocket Raccoon and Groot.

Penagos took a little time to mention Marvel's 3 podcasts as well: "This Week in Marvel," which discusses new releases and announcements; "The Mighty Marvel Podcast," which features interviews with big name creators like Brian Michael Bendis; and "Women of Marvel," where Adri Cowan (Social Media Manager), Judy Stephens (Production and Photographer, Marvel.com), Sana Amanat (Editor), and Janine Schaefer (Senior Manager, Talent Relations) talk comics, movies, and more.

Finally, Penagos introduced C.B. Cebulski, who will be the host and creator of a new series of videos called "Marvelous Meals," which will unite two of Cebulski's passions: cooking and comics. "What we're going to do, for big events, is... invite creators and celebrity guests to my home and I cook them a meal based on that event... and then we sit around and talk about it." The first episode will be Spider-Man themed and guest star Dan Slott and Nick Lowe. "We made all kinds of Spider-Man treats," Cebulski shared. The series has filmed 3 episodes, which will be hosted on Marvel.com.

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