Well, here's something new in the endlessly bewildering (to me) world of variant covers: a talking variant for X-O Manowar #1, which relaunches the Valiant publishing line this May. The cover doesn't actually talk, mind you, not like one of those children's books or greeting cards that play recorded messages when you open them. No, the X-O promotion is a bit more interactive, requiring the reader to use their mobile phone camera with a QR code on the cover or in-store promotional posters to trigger playback of an animated video of X-O's mouth speaking some grim dialogue written by series scribe Robert Venditti. The idea is you hold your phone over the mouth portion of the Jelena Kevic-Djurdjevic illustration and it will appear as though the cover is speaking.

It's possible this is not what Mark Waid was talking about when he was experimenting with digital content last week, but Valiant's hope is that the unusual gimmick will drive customers into comic book stores. You can see it in action after the cut.

Recent conversations with publishers and other comics professionals have convinced me of something I'd always resisted for purely emotional reasons: that some people will buy virtually any comics-related collectible simply by virtue of the fact that it's rare or unusual, and that these people account for a considerable portion of retailers' profits. As such, comic book publishers trade regularly in variant covers as a way to increase sales to retailers, perhaps none as prodigiously as Dynamite Entertainment (whose "Risque Nude" covers for Warlord of Mars and Dejah Thoris have run afoul of the Edgar Rice Burroughs people) and BOOM! Studios, which recently released a brazen 1-in-200 variant cover for its new series Valen the Outcast that came pre-"slabbed" (encased unreadably in a comic book form of carbonite, basically) by the Certified Guarantee Company, with excess printer copies set on fire on video to demonstrate the authenticity of the promotion.

While the appeal of such an item is beyond my realm of understanding, the fact is that some people love these sorts of things and they do well for retailers and publishers -- at least for now. The trick is, it seems, to come up with a variant promotion that's based not just on scarcity but also spectacle, and Valiant has done just that with its "talking" X-O Manowar cover. For example, CBR actually has an interview with Valiant's executives dedicated solely to this artifact, one that's even longer than some creator interviews. Bleeding Cool even filmed a couple of its own videos of site editor Rich Johnston having some fun with the animation (which was created by Neal Adams' Continuity Studios). When ComicsAlliance posts variant covers, we usually just say, "here's some pretty art," but this one is so unusual that I'm compelled to opine at length, even though I personally don't dig this kind of thing. So I guess it worked!

But while press is nice, Valiant is banking on this talking variant to get people into actual comic book stores to appreciate the gimmick in person, as stated in a press release:

"We want fans worldwide to know that something special is happening in their local comic shop during the build-up to May 2nd and the launch of the new Valiant Universe," said Valiant Chief Creative Officer Dinesh Shamdasani. "Valiant's QR Voice Variant is not only a new innovation in comics and a true incentive for retailers, but an enhanced and immersive experience for fans as well. By merging elements of print and digital, we've hopefully created something that fans will just have to see in person!"

Of course, the idea is that some of those people will buy some comic books. X-O Manowar #1 is by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord. Check out some preview pages:

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