Saturday, November 17, 2007

"Dr. Strange" Hacks Marvel Archives?

Still perplexed by the mystery of Marvel Comics’ (doctor) strange shutdown, I did some more digging. To review, yesterday efforts to access Marvel Comics’ web presence led to a browser error message. On Firefox, I received the message “Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.” Also, when attempting to access Marvel, the URL in my address bar jumped from “” to “” (my browser strung 20, but based on the Firefox message perhaps whatever was going on was generating infinite Doc Stranges).

I had no idea that Marvel opened up a digital archive containing 2500 issues of Marvel comics this week, with 20 more issues to be added weekly, accessible via a $60 annual or $10 monthly subscription. A commenter put me on that trail, and some digging led me to this synopsis of the matter on Masheable.

Now, I’m only a casual skimmer of Marvel, and like my crowd observation skills, my skimming may well be even more myopic than I thought. This archive is entirely news to me. Anycase, it seems over the week, there have been a few glitches with the archive, as evinced by this digg comment by digg member PinkFloydFan re: Masheable’s article:

"Hey, true believers

The response to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited has been so overwhelming, we're just doing a bit of routine maintenance to make sure you have a great experience!

We'll be back shortly.

Thank You,"

This could well be a joke message speculating “in the event of" an archive crash, or an actual note the poster received from Marvel. We’ll let you know when or if we learn more. Also interesting in this thread was the following comment from Ratteler:

"Much like Hulu, though, comics will only be viewable through the site’s web viewer, and cannot be downloaded to the reader’s machine for storage."

I'll wait till they are available through bittorrent in .CBR format.

.CBR format is apparently a easily disseminated file format specifically for comic book archiving and reading. I’m assuming that some of the preview pages I read online are presented in this format, though again, my engagement with the comic hobby is very casual and more based on nostalgic whim than any sort of fan dedication. Corrections are welcome.

Now I’m 99% certain that this “doctor strange string” and the resultant crippling of Marvel is a hack. The question now is, what for? Let's speculate. It would be pretty to think this hack was an entirely innocent, capricious attack (remember the days when all hacks were?). That’s very unlikely, as is a remote possibility that this is some sort of “white hat” hack to expose Marvel and its customers’ vulnerability before a “black hat” exploits it. This leaves to my mind two criminal possibilities. First, this could be a financial info grab targeting customer data. Second, this is piracy effort to make off with the archive itself, in order to distribute them freely over torrent or other sharing networks.

My first instinct was the former, but I’m leaning now more to the latter. Hacking in order to display the Dr. Strange string sounds like something performed by a fan as a means to “sign” the stunt as a fan. I’m also quite sure that within the pirate community such an act could easily be rationalized through logic such as Marvel comics being a “common cultural property” under the unjust stewardship of an incompetent profit-mongering corporate regime yadda yadda …. Of course I also have a hunch that most of the denizens of the Pirate Bay and elsewhere don’t even bother rationalizing their piracy at all, but are just interested in scoring “the stuff.”*

Whatever has happened, is happening, over at Marvel, whether consumer data has been grabbed or Marvel's property has been hijacked, I’m seeing a potential cautionary tale brewing here that may be used as precedent for others contemplating the future of “content” management, within comics as well as the range of media with their varied engagements with digital distribution and protections. While some may see a coup against "the man," the access revolution may have flown over a speedbump. That hurts the ride too, you know.

We’ll keep you posted on this story as it develops, and feel free to drop us any scoops that show up on your radar.

*For the record, my full take on contemporary digital piracy and “cultural property” is a bit more complicated and nuanced than the above diss against hypothetical Marvel plunderers may sound, and maybe it’s something we’ll elaborate in this space later on. We should also get out in the open that the views of Cheesesteak the Impaler and Cod Peace do not necessarily coincide on most matters. I’m pretty sure Coddy is more of a straight arrow when it comes to matters of consuming media to the spirit and letter of existing copyright law, but he can chime in and school me otherwise.


redvader said...

For whatever it is worth over two days later I still can't get on. Excelsior!

redvader said...

For some reason that image tag didn't work, and the masses are no doubt clamoring for my genius so:

redvader said...

Also MidnightPlat on Digg suggested I link to the Newsarama thread on this, (What a tangled web the five people blocked out of are weaving) though Cheesesteak's coverage of it is much better, here you go: