SDCC 2012: We Preview Disney's New Marvel Book Apps, Including Spider-Man AR

Have you ever wanted to have Stan Lee reading comics to you? Well, that’s exactly what can happen when you snag one of Disney’s new Marvel book apps, which we had a chance to get a hands on with at San Diego Comic-Con.

Okay, that’s not exactly true... We’ve been playing around with two of the books-turned apps - specifically the Avengers story, and the Hulk story - for a few weeks. But at SDCC, we had a chance to sneak behind the Marvel booth, talk to the developer, and preview the brand new Amazing Spider-Man AR Book, based on the movie.

The experience on all of them is intuitive, and similar. The framework is a book, published by Disney, based on the distillation of Marvel characters, using the best of their comic book histories to provide a reading experience that also teaches lessons about heroism, teamwork, and getting bit by spiders to young readers. The Apps add in motion, interactivity, and the option to have Stan Lee reading to you. Of those, the last is probably the most surreal. Having Stan The Man shout “Excelsior!” at you while curled up in bed is a weird, weird experience.

That said, these interactive books are at the forefront of a new wave, book publishers trying to take advantage of all the iPad (and other tablets, we guess) have to offer, rather than rolling over and dying in the wake of the digital revolution. Unlike other Publishers, though, the Marvel line started at an advantage. We asked what they had learned over the course of now four books in the line (the first was non-movie Spidey), and it turns out that they had already essentially beta tested the software on other Disney properties. By the time it came around to Marvel titles, the developers already knew what they were doing.

That’s not to say improvements can’t be made. One of the advantages cited to me about these e-books, is that if there are changes, they can just be pushed through updates. For example, the Publisher just released a free 2.0 update for the Hulk App that added a number of 3-D games, including one where you can play as members of the Avengers, or the smashy one himself. And about that, the amount of detail and time the developers spend to get this right was underlined: if you play as the Hulk, you’re smashing army helicopters and tanks. If you’re any other member of the Avengers, the gameplay is essentially the same, but you’re protecting a tiny Bruce Banner in the corner. Because why would the Avengers attack the army otherwise, right?

Okay, so you’ve got the book, read by Stan Lee, or you can select to read it yourself. You have motion and Easter Egg games in the book as you’re going. And games exterior to the book, as well. In the Spider-Man AR app, one of the cooler features are the chance to get yourself in a Spider-Man mask, that turns as twists with your own face as you use the front-facing camera on the iPad. Plus, multiple language support, and more. Sounds like a lot of bells and whistles for a book, right?

Again, Disney is thinking ahead on this. I brought up a recent article stating that kids tend to get less from e-books than paper books, because parents spend more time trying to get the kids to “play” the book the right way. As I was asking the question, the reps were nodding, excited to answer my question. The reason for that is, their opinion is that it is the parents that aren’t used to e-books. Kids, on the other hand? They don’t know how to NOT use an iPad. So you hand them one of these books, they expect interactivity, buttons and functions out the wazoo. So why the video games, is the next natural question? Because at some point they may want to put the book down and play a game. Instead of putting down a print book, picking up the X-box controller, and forgetting the book exists... They never leave the book. You’d think video games and books would be mortal enemies, but here, Disney has got them to work together. Clever, right?

Now granted, I am one of those cranky adults who doesn’t know how to use your new-fangled Eye Padds, but I will say that I preferred the more recent Spider-Man AR App to the two other books I’ve played around with, for the simple reason that the tech is a step ahead - and the reading experience is a step back. On the Hulk and Avengers apps, there’s a LOT of movement, more akin to a motion comic experience than reading a book. The Spider-Man app’s movement is more subtle, with Peter Parker slowly moving out of the background; or the chance to take your photo as the (spoiler) one on the intern badge Parker steals early in the movie. These details, I think, enrich the experience, rather than distract from it, and really show the power of e-books.

Plus, seeing yourself wearing the Spider-Man mask is just cool.

You can snag the Marvel apps on iTunes, of course, and a “container” app that allows you to house all of your books in one app should be coming down the pike soon! And before you go, here's a video of Stan Lee using the App: