Marvel’s entry onto the iPad, powered by Comixology’s software, works pretty well. The pages are about two-thirds the size of a normal comic page but are quite readable, and you can double-tap on a panel to make it it zoom in for a closer look. (By default, the app blacks out other nearby panels when you do this. I prefer to see the art in the context of the rest of the page; you can turn off this “letterboxing” in the settings.) At present there are a few hundred titles in the store, from what I’ve seen all at $1.99 aside from a handful of free samplers. Purchasing seems to be through your preexisting iTunes account, so it should be easy, but you do have to create a free Marvel account first (which the app tells you in a warning message, but doesn’t offer to send you to the signup page-un-Mac-like). $2 sort of seems pricey to me, but it’s dollar or two cheaper than what new titles cost in a comic book store. Marvel’s already under intense pressure not to ruin its own print business, so in that context it makes sense. Still, ten issues for $20 is the same price as a nice hardcover of that same book, but maybe it’s time to stop comparing print to digital.
Here are my recommendations of what I’ve found in Marvel’s initial offering:
- Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. This run was very fun, the art is solid, and the story doesn’t require much foreknowledge of prior storylines. It has some good Whedonesque dialogue, as expected. (They have issues 1-24, but I don’t see the Giant-Size finale, oddly.)
- Captain America by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. This volume started in 2004 and has run for sixty-odd issues by now. When Brubaker’s done telling his whole story I have little doubt it will be regarded as among the best Captain America runs in Marvel’s history.
- Civil War by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. This was the biggest “event” Marvel did last decade. It poses interesting questions about how law & order would be possible in a world with super-powered vigilantes, and Captain America jumps out of a helicarrier onto a jet airplane.
- Invincible Iron Man by Matt Fraction and Salvadore Larocca. This series is going on right now and deals with some of the fall-out of Civil War, and the events that followed it. Not quite as friendly to new readers, but the recap pages explain the basic status quo and it’s been a fun ride.
I also saw two issues of The Immortal Iron Fist up. If they go back and put the others in, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s fun kung-fu story ran for about 15 issues and was a lot of fun.
Am I going to stop buying print comics in favor of digital ones? Doubtful. I’m going to sample a few different apps and see how good the reading experience is, and while I like the idea of saving a bit of money, I have serious worries about the longevity of the platform. All of the files you “buy” from Marvel’s app, and likely from other competitors’, are locked in that app. Your iPad’s files are backed up by iTunes, but the files themselves require the app and will disappear if its provider leaves the business. If Marvel were just selling PDF copies of its comics, I’d be able to back them up and read them in other software theoretically forever even if the iPad turned out to be a flop. I hate using the term “collectible”, because it conjures up images of comics as investments and not stories to be enjoyed, but I’d like to think a kid buying comics online now will be able to read them again in twenty years. (Won’t somebody please think of the children!) Then again, I had comics at 10 I’d love to read again but can’t find. So while there’s no guarantee of permanence no matter what you do and what format you choose, publishers did start using acid-free paper when they learned that old books were disintegrating. It’d be nice if the iPad offerings were doing something more future-proof since we know it’s better to have an unprotected file than one locked in a particular app in a particular kind of tablet.