Uncanny Avengers is one of the 700 first issues being released free online. (Marvel.com)

Marvel is releasing more than 700 first issues of its comics for free online, between now and Tuesday.

The announcement — made Sunday at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas — is one of a series of Marvel initiatives as the company tries to advance its brand through digital and interactive media.

The free first issues, which feature the origin stories of Marvel’s iconic characters, are often difficult to find in print. The plan announced Sunday allows users to download these tales for free by registering at the Marvel download site or using the Marvel app.

Wooing smartphone, tablet readers

It's a strategy geared towards pulling in the new generation of tablet, smartphone and laptop readers.

The featured titles range from 1960s-era works such as Silver Age to characters such as Wasp, Mr. Fantastic, Power Man and Iron Fist, said David Gabriel, senior vice president of sales.

Historic issues include Amazing Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Fantastic Four by Lee and Jack Kirby and writer-director Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men.


Marvel Infinite comics are being created for mobile phones. (Marvel.com)

"We never want fans to feel like they need to have read it all. Of course we want them to want to check out those stories, but the beauty of these No. 1 issues is that each is an entry point," Gabriel said.

"So with a character like Iron Man, you can choose if you want to start with the recent Iron Man series from Kieron Gillen or go back a few years to when Matt Fraction launched Invincible Iron Man or even before that."

Gabriel said the giveaway is aimed at getting fans in the door: both attracting new readers and engaging old readers who might have drifted away from their favourite series.

After Tuesday, the free offer expires and the first-issue comics will be sold online for $1.99 to $3.99 US per issue. Marvel has more than 13,000 titles in its back catalog.

Marvel unfolds new strategy at SXSW

On Monday, the company also revealed a plan for new, original online video content and Project Gamma, which incorporates music and sound inside digital comics. Marvel also outlined plans for comics designed to be read on smartphones.

Marvel executives took part in a House of Ideas panel at the SXSW festival, which includes a program devoted to interactive content. The comic-book company has struck deals with Hollywood to bring its stories to the big screen, including Iron Man and The Avengers. It also has an animated TV deal with Disney and an interactive website that features games and other digital products.

Original video content announced Monday by senior vice president Peter Phillips includes programs devoted to behind-the-scenes looks at Marvel, as well as reality programming, news and documentaries. The new programming will include Marvel's Earth's Mightiest Show, a weekly look into Marvel and pop culture hosted by Blair Butler.

Project Gamma features digital comics with embedded audio, which plays as readers browse or read through. The music and background adapts to both the events in the comic and the reader's behaviour. The project is an attempt to make reading a more immersive experience, like being inside a video game, according to Marvel executives.