Ka-Pow! Marvel Opens Massive Comic Book Images Archive And API To Fans, Developers

The home of Captain America, Spider-Man, and many other beloved comic book heroes is setting them loose on the world. Hulk fans: happy.


What’s the sound of 8,000 beloved comic book characters storming the globe? We’re about to find out.


Marvel Comics is unveiling its programming interface (API) and developer platform in a beta version tomorrow morning, swinging wide the gates to the Marvel universe of comic heroes to fans and developers around the world. The API–which will include comic book artwork, character histories, creator insights, and expanded stories–will grant members access to an expansive database of Marvel’s library of 75 years of comics, including over 30,000 comics, 7,000 series, and 5,000 creators. This move gives developers the tools to create their own Marvel-based apps and digital offerings.

Developers can build mini-applications around their favorite characters, in this case Iron Man and Black Widow, that display comic covers for all issues they both appear in.

The brainchild of Marvel’s VP of web and application development, Peter Olson, the new API and Developer program provides a robust portal for developers.

“We expose a lot of different types of data with the API,” Olson told Fast Company. “Developers could certainly build apps centered on a single character, team, creator, or even things like decade or digital availability.”

This first-of-its-kind API from a major comic book publisher will not just offer users a list of Marvel published titles and stories–it will also flesh out the relationship between all of Marvel’s comics and the creators that have worked over the years to build such intricate story lines and complex characters.

“Unlike lists of books, movies, or news articles, comics are an inter-connected web–no Spidey pun intended!–of data spanning 75 years,” Kristin Vincent, VP, digital products, wrote in an email. “It’s the relationships between them that are fascinating. Everything is connected and continues to expand as more comics are released each week.”

While developers and fans alike can build interactive timelines and real-time updates to comics as digitally released by Marvel to share on their own sites or apps, Marvel is always looking for new ways to engage their traditional brick-and-mortar comic book shops and retailers in the digital realm.


“These could be companies that build mobile apps using Marvel data, or even print comic retailers that want to pull Marvel’s new releases onto their websites,” notes Vincent. “Now we’ll be able to on-board partners more quickly and bring new products to market even faster.”

Many fans like to browse the Marvel comic backlist by following writers or artists they enjoy. People can now query by creator and display Marvel series, along with Marvel art for that series.

Marvel’s developers, and others at parent company Disney, have been experimenting with the program to see what’s possible with this type of access to the archives. One example is data visualizations that show how different groups of creators collaborated on books over the lifetime of a series. In addition, things like interactive timelines, new browsing and discovery tools for the current Marvel Unlimited library, and even SMS-based activities like comics sent as a “This day in Marvel history…” text message to fans are just a few obvious possibilities of what Marvel’s API can help developers create.

“Marvel has the best fans in the world, and many of them are tech savvy, early adopters who we’ve seen jump through hoops trying to pull Marvel comic data together for their personal blogs or websites,” says Vincent.

And now?

“We’re only bound by what people dream up and take the time to make.”

All of which means, this: Hulk Vs. Punisher in a cage match. Finally.