As I’ve made it abundantly clear, I’m kind of addicted to Marvel: Avengers Alliance, the free online RPG that lets you act as a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent leading a team of the Marvel Universe’s mightiest heroes.
In a lot of ways, it’s what every good Marvel game should be: a deep dive into the characters, stories, and world of Marvel. The same way Ultimate Alliance gave gamers a chance to mash buttons with all the heroes fighting all the agents of Doom, Marvel: Avengers Alliance carries out the feel of a non-stop comic book adventure.
This is where I’m particularly pleased with Marvel, though. Not only does Avengers Alliance draw influence from the never-ending narratives of comic books, but it actually references comic book events!
If it seems like this shouldn’t be revelatory, you’re right. But one thing I’ve noticed across the past 10 years of consuming comic book media is that Marvel (and DC, too) rarely promotes the actual comic books. Like, the floppy things you can hold in your hand and read and collect? When it comes to TV, movies and video games the big boys in the industry act like the floppies just don’t exist.
I’m hardly the first one to have noticed this, but nobody went to see Spider-Man or X-Men in the early part of the decade and saw ads for John Michael Straczynski or Grant Morrison’s fantastic runs on the characters.
If sales happened to go up in the aftermath of cross-media events, we can attribute that to the natural promotional boost of the character, not to any overt endorsement of the comic books themselves.
In many ways, this has kept the actual comic books (once and always any comic publisher’s backbone) a secretive affair. The only people who know comic books are comic book nerds, encased within the walls of their cult-like comic book shops.
I’ve always found this mildly insane. For example, before all those millions of people saw The Avengers, Marvel didn’t think it would help their cause to promote maybe 5 of The Avengers most famous collected trade editions? Or even the current flagship run on the characters? It would be like if you told Coca-Cola they can run an ad for their product during the Super Bowl, and they decided it just wasn’t their scene.
You can be damn well sure the inverse promotion is out in force, too. If there’s an enterprising media opportunity approaching, every single comic book from the major publishers will make note. A lot of times this means ads on the cover of the book (The Dark Knight Rises… July) and full page spreads as you read.
So again: mildly insane.
All of the above is why I’ve been so happy to see Marvel: Avengers Alliance clearly referencing ongoing comic book story arcs.
I’ve noticed it most clearly in the latest Spec Ops 6. There are two things happening here that may generate some interest in actual comic books:
1) The Spec Ops storyline focuses heavily on Havok and some previous interactions he’s had with The Living Pharoah, Mr. Sinister, and the Hellfire Club.
It’s heavily implied that by reading previous comics with Havok (presumably this is in AvX terrirory, but I’m not there yet), you can catch up on all these details.
2) The new ‘lockbox collections’ feature which grants players a chance to add Magneto to the team is all about trying to earn new comic book covers. Now this sort of digital comic book collection is hardly new (you can find some variation in nearly every Marvel video game), but the MAA version is very focused.
Whereas previous iterations generated collectibles that you never really see, Avengers Alliance has players focused on no more than 8 titles, all directly related to Magneto. It’s not as if every player is going to suddenly rush out and buy all 8, but it does make it clear to non-comics readers that Magneto has an abundance of cool stories out there available in this medium.
I can say with full certainty that this strategy has increased my interest in previous Havok storylines (I want to know what the heck they are talking about with his relationship to the Living Pharoah and Hellfire Club) as well as my interest in the character’s current role in Uncanny Avengers.
Honestly, this sort of example ties into most of the reasoning behind Comic Book Herald. I wanted to create a reading order (coming along slowly, I know) for new entrants to the Marvel Universe. When I started really getting into comics in college, I would read book after book that referenced events or characters that I just wasn’t familiar with. And all this did was make me want to go back and read THOSE stories so I’d have all of the story of this universe I’ve fallen in love with somewhere in my head.
It doesn’t take much to generate this kind of interest in fans of the Marvel Universe, and it’s nice to see Avengers Alliance making strides. There’s still plenty more they could do with digital integration (how about linking to Marvel’s online comic shop with books related to certain missions or Spec Ops?), but for now I’ll give credit where credit’s due.
Just another reason to love Avengers Alliance.