Marvel wrapped up 2019 with Avengers: Endgame as the highest-grossing film worldwide (and of all time). Captain Marvel landed at #4 on the list, while Spider-Man: Far From Home is at #3. The latter is a Sony film, but Spider-Man is a Marvel creation, and the studio collaborated with Sony on it. We’re into our second decade of Marvel characters dominating on film. Even characters like Ant-Man and Iron Man, who weren’t initially widely known outside of comic-book readers (and Ghostface Killah fans for the latter), are now just as popular as Captain America in the public’s psyche due to having massively successful films.
With Disney’s dominance of the 2019 box office complete, Marvel now wants to garner the same interest and domination in the world of audio story-telling. With its new partnership with Serial Box, an e-book/audiobook hybrid startup, Marvel is seeking at least a more solid presence in the audiobook space.
Comic book sales are down, as people have abandoned print, and Marvel has already partnered with apps like Kindle and comiXology as well as creating its own app where consumers can download digital comic books from the brand. Some Marvel titles are also available in audiobook form, so fans more interested in the storylines without the accompanying imagery can hear their favorite Marvel tales read, which is odd given that comic book fans—whether they’re purists or strictly into Marvel movies—tend to be more visual. Then again, there’s something for everyone.
So, how is Marvel’s partnership with Serial Box unique?
The storylines will be new, there’s more room to experiment with wild concepts than movies can, sound effects will be prominent, and there’s also the option for readers to toggle between print and audio. Serial Box is geared toward commuters who want to listen to stories while on the go, but also then likely to turn to reading when they are at home. It’s both worlds in one place, but without illustrations. So what about comic book enthusiasts who prefer the complementary visual component?
Aaron Stewart-Ahn, one of the writers of the partnership’s first offering, titled Thor: Metal Gods, is confident that people will be just fine using their imaginations.
“There are visual things I believe you can do in comics that you can’t even replicate in movies, and vice versa,” he told Wired. “But I do believe all mediums lend themselves to something unique. No matter how hyper-detailed an illustration is, or a prose description, you still need the person on the other end, the audience, to complete the illusion.”
Thor: Metal Gods debuted on December 12. Episode one begins in 1980s London, where Loki plays lead guitar in a successful rock band. Meanwhile, Thor is somewhere in the cosmos answering the call of a friend who summoned him. The concept of Loki as a rock star stems from a 2014 comic-book series, but in this case, the adventures of Thor and Loki will take us in a new direction as they attempt to prevent a cosmic catastrophe with the help of a Korean demi-goddess and a gender-ambiguous space pirate. The series will play out over the course of 15 weekly episodes, narrated by actor Daniel Gillies.
One person narrating a story to a group of people is a familiar concept, and also one of the oldest forms of entertainment. It’s not even new for Marvel. There was a 1967 Doctor Strange series on New York’s WBAI. Last year, Marvel released a 10-episode podcast series called Wolverine: The Long Night, which was followed up with a second season titled Wolverine: The Lost Trail, which debuted earlier this spring. These are obvious signs that audio will play an important role in Marvel’s future, especially because Black Panther, Black Widow, and Jessica Jones are also slated to have storylines via Serial Box throughout 2020.
But can Marvel convince people to use their imaginations? Even Marvel comic-book purists—those who have long learned to divorce themselves from the idea of Marvel movies being anything like the books—are still keen to watch the films, so anything is possible. And Marvel has convinced a lot of non-comic book readers to actually watch its films. The MCU caters to a worldwide fanbase with diverse preferences, but if domination in audio is the goal then these stories—while they are new—must also be edgy, unpredictable, solid, and trend-worthy enough to make people feel like they need to be part of the conversation.
Loki as a rock star is a cool concept, but a gender-bending character is one that we have yet to see on film in the MCU. Audio isn’t the future of Marvel, but if it’s a place to experiment with ideas that may one day appear in movies that’ll reach tens of millions of people, it’s a start in the right direction.