Comics Disassembled: Ten Things of Note from the Past Week in Comics, Led by Vertical Mania!

Oh baby, what a fun week of news we have this time out. Let’s get to all the goodies we have in this edition of Comics Disassembled, where I share ten things I liked or didn’t like from the week of comics, led by a full embrace of vertical scroll comics.

1. Marvel, Reinventing Existing Things (But in a fun way!)

Congratulations, Marvel Comics. You’ve invented vertical scroll comics – or, as an example, what Webtoon uses – which is something that has existed for a long time.

Facetious, completely unnecessary intro aside, Marvel’s new Infinity Comics endeavor that launched as part of their refresh/relaunch of the Marvel Unlimited app is a smart thing, as they’re comics created specifically for the platform rather than ones retrofitted for it. More than that, these exclusive (for now, as Marvel is never one to leave value on the table) titles are a nice value add for existing customers and an attraction for new ones, as they launched with eight titles for the app – including the very fun X-Men Unlimited from writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Declan Shalvey, as well as others from creators like Kelly Thompson, Skottie Young, Gerry Duggan and more – and primers to help readers better understand the comic versions of these characters in a hurry. I dig it.

There’s not much to dislike about this effort, as there’s no cost to it but plenty of theoretical benefit. I saw people grumping about how they don’t want to read comics digitally so this sucks, but my read on this is simple: just don’t read it! You do not have to read every comic!

All that said, while I like it, I’m not sure how much upside there is to this, especially when compared to the DC/Webtoon collaboration. As cool as vertical scroll can be and as nice as it is to see Marvel embrace the way comics are going, it’s not like that structure is what attracts people to platforms like Webtoon or Tapas. This strikes me as a new way to deliver comics to its existing audience, and perhaps even in a way those people don’t entirely want (I saw a fair few print comic enthusiasts scoffing at the mobile experience after this was announced). I think it’s a good thing, if only because it reflects a Marvel that’s open to change, but like with a lot of Marvel decisions, it’s half cool, half questionable in terms of how much of a difference it will make.

That’s definitely exacerbated by the fact that I am not fond of the retooled and redesigned version of Marvel Unlimited. I’m a big Marvel Unlimited user, and as much as I appreciate unlimited downloads, the new browse functionality is considerably more clunky than the way it used to be. The whole thing feels like redesign without adding value. That said, it’s still early. I’ll give it more of a look later on, but my initial read is unfavorable.

Ultimately, I’d call it a good move by Marvel – I really like those primers, in particular – but one I expected to be more into when I first heard about it. It doesn’t help that this came the same week as item #2, something that felt more exciting for a number of reasons. But Marvel’s move is more kind of cool rather than fully cool, which is less than I expected.

2. DC, Using Existing Things (But in a fun way as well!)

This week also brought the cascading announcement and then release of the first Webtoon/DC collaboration, as Batman: Wayne Family Adventures – a comic from CRC Payne, Starbite, Maria Li, Lan Ma, and more about the at home tomfoolery that takes place with the extended members of the Batfamily – was revealed and launched this Wednesday to a sensational response. People loved it, as it is a super fun comic that also fits within the parameters of what Webtoon readers love the most, which leans more on the slice of life side of things.

Qualitatively, I just want to say that any comic that features superheroes fighting over the last remaining cookie from a pile earns my love, but more than that, it’s really well done. It also underlines how smart everyone involved with planning this was by not trying to shoehorn usual DC material in, instead fitting the property into what works best on the platform. I genuinely dig it.

More than that, instead of trying to build their own platform like Marvel, they fished where the fish already are. That’s smart, and you can see it in the results. Much ado was made about the immediate buy-in on the series, as there are, as I type this, over 307,000 subscribers to the series on Webtoon. It’s an exciting number and one we should hype up, but I had two thoughts on this I wanted to share.

First: I saw people comparing that number to direct market orders, as if those two things are an apples-to-apples comparison in any way, and that is just silly. There’s nothing to be gained by doing that, as the amount of people who will engage with something for free is not remotely comparable to those who will actually pay money for it (I know from experience!). Beyond that, subscriptions do not equal readership for Webtoon, at least not necessarily. It’s an implication that you’ll potentially come back to read more – and likely makes it more probable that you will, if the 5.2 million subscribers to Lore Olympus are any proof – but not a guarantee.

Second: there’s still a ton of value to that! This shows that people are excited to read these types of stories about these characters! And fostering excitement for this universe and building enthusiasm in an audience that isn’t necessarily the one that usually engages with DC materials is what this is all about! If even a fraction of that subscriber base ends up buying trade paperbacks or getting HBO Max to watch the Harley Quinn animated series or watching the upcoming The Batman film or just likes these characters more than they used to, then this is a massive win for everyone involved. This a very smart thing for DC to do, precisely because it connects an atypical audience for these characters to them in a real way that could pay dividends forever. This is about building a new generation of fans, and even more than when it was announced, I am certain that this will happen. Or, at the very least, that it will help it happen. That’s huge.

Back to the main point: this is awesome. If I graded every bit of news that comes through the comic world based on how wise it was as a business move and on the strength of the overall decision-making, I’d give this an A+. And I’m not one that’s prone to superlatives! I used to argue with people back in my Multiversity Comics days that reviews that give a comic a 10 out of 10 should barely exist. So know that this is a rare distinction. A plus grades to all involved!

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