Avengers Vs. X-Men: Infinite #01
Before you scratch your head, wonder why I’m talking about a secondary event title and move on know that this isn’t just any old action comic book, in fact it’s not technically a book at all, it’s binary. I’m not reviewing this for the story because even if I did care about Avengers vs. X-Men there actually isn’t much content here to grasp onto, rather it is how the tale is being told that earns it the respect of a review. See this issue is a digital exclusive but more than that it is a daring step forward for the digital medium, or at least that’s what the introductory sprawl tells us as we tap forward with the flick of a finger. The issue opens on space and the words “Are you ready?”, a bright light erupts in the distance as the phrase fade out, replaced by “For the future of comics…” the light grows bigger, brighter and more bold when the words change again, “…at your fingertips.” Then out shoots the above image of Nova, screaming through the stars. A big call certainly, does the book live up to it?
For this to be the future of the medium it must be different in more ways then presentation – comics have of course come digitally for quite some time now – and on this level Waid’s claim isn’t wrong. Besides the way you buy it, hold it and move forward within it there were two main differences between reading this and any other book. The first is pacing; all digital comics have what is called ‘Guided View’ technology, a term which basically equates to an intelligent zoom, showing the reader one panel at a time at an ideal size. These ‘Infinite’ comics however take that idea one step further, breaking the book down to its most basic elements and delivering these one by one. The pages appear in pieces, often one panel at a time and these panels are then staggered so that speech bubbles are doled out in the order that they would have been spoken; separating each image into several timed pieces.
The way that the words come out at you beat by beat actually does make them better; I felt their rhythm and motion more than I ever have a physical comics. To be clear though this isn’t animation, the activity still jumps from still image to still image as it so wills, only now these panels are allowed a stronger relationship with those that sit alongside them; almost as if they are segregated into sets, into scenes. This of course is already the case with many physical books but for some reason it’s never quite worked like it does here, the divide never felt as distinctive. To lo-fi this discussion, Infinite is the equivalent of making every panel a holographic akin to those you would find in a chip packet; the picture feels like it is alive when it is actually just alternating between three frequencies. It’s comics as we know them, only acting on a much more intricate scale than the page has ever allowed them too before.
The other distinctive quality however is an entirely unique one. This Infinite medium also allows the writer to play with focus, no not story or character focus but that of the images.As film has shown us images change meaning as the lens moves from one distance to another and this technique is used strikingly through the issue, no more so than in the opening monologue when the shape of the star behind the character is revealed. This though is not just an improvement or freedom, it’s an entirely new idea. I’m not a genius artist so I can’t tell you just what it could possibly be used for, but based on the power found in simply having the focus pulled from one face to the other as they each take their turn to speak, I can imagine that it could be truly great.
Do these two new traits equate to a revolution? Yes and no. In a sense they aren’t actually new at all, they’ve both been occurring in the readers head this whole time; only not all the time. See sometimes you get absorbed in a comic and you stop reading the pages and just start seeing them; they move separately to your mind, the images connecting and the words spoken as if aloud. This is the ideal reading experience, but it is a fleeting one: a single scream from a nearby baby, the scrape of a chair or the gust of a breeze on your book can snap you out of it, leaving you again alienated. With this technology though that feeling is ensured, the computer is doing the imagining for you and it literally has a will or iron. If this is a revolution then it is the fabled rise of the robots and it’s obvious why this would scare some people. I was almost surprised not to find a Skynet logo on the credits page.
While I’m not actually one of the staunch puritanicals who would think like that I so still prefer physical books, because that’s just who I am. I like to hold them, to look at them and to feel them and many no doubt feel the same, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a place for this type of telling in the industry. When mo-cap first came along the their guild was afraid that it would replace actors, instead it’s just provided a different approach for these professionals to take in certain applicable roles, this technology is the same. Not every book is going to require the Infinite style and not every writer is going to be suited to it, but when they are why not embrace what it can bring? That ballsy sprawl ends by telling us to “Enjoy [comics] while you can,” and if print is actually dying then that’s exactly what I will do; though when the digital stuff is this good that’s not a future I feel I need to fear