Marvel Stands Triumphant in Epic Battle of iPad Comic Apps
Comic book fans who want to be sure to never miss an adventure with their favorite superheroes and heroines are well-served by the iPad. The two biggest names in the comics business -- DC and Marvel -- both have apps for finding, buying and reading their characters' latest exploits. In this clash of the titans, though, Marvel walks away the winner.
Certain applications on the iPad seem almost native to the device. Reading electronic books, for example, falls into that category. So does reading comic books.
Comic book apps first showed up on the iPad's little brothers, the iPhone and iPod touch, but the larger canvas that the tablet format offers adds immeasurably to the medium. After all, the iPad's display is close to the size of an actual comic book page.
Numerous methods are being deployed to bring comics to the iPad. Portions of graphic novels, like Frank Miller's Sin City, are being transported to the tablet as standalone apps. So, too, are issues of Hellboy. One enterprising enthusiast simply scanned pages from some Green Hornet comics and posted them as an app. The heavyweights in the space, though, have opted for a la carte models.
Marvel, whose titles include Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk and Fantastic Four, had a comic reader for the iPad right out of the gate. DC, with titles like Superman, Batman and The Justice League of America, joined the parade later. Both companies offer free reader apps and encourage their followers to buy issues of their favorite titles at US$1.99 a pop.
When you open the Marvel app, you're greeted by the Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America charging you from a splash screen, then you're taken to the front door of Marvel's online comics store. There you can see some featured comics -- liberally sprinkled with free titles, as well as paid ones -- and poke buttons to see new, popular or just free issues in Marvel's library.
A browse button allows you to find content in the library. You can search by word or by series, genre, creator or story arc. The non-word search option is very useful for doing some true browsing of the store. For instance, I like the work of an inker from the 1960s named Chic Stone. By tapping the Creator tab, I found all the titles in the library inked by him. Alas, there were only eight of them, a very small sample of his work during the Silver Age of comics.
Also from the storefront, you can access comics you've downloaded to the iPad and modify the app's settings. Comics in your library can be sorted by recently downloaded or recently viewed at the poke of a button. Inside a comic, moving through its pages are a breeze. You can swipe them -- swipe left to move forward or right to move back -- or tap the left or right sides of the screen with equal effect. Poking the top of the screen displays tool bars for jumping around in the comic, closing it or reaching its settings menu.
A feature that the reading-glasses set, such as myself, will appreciate is the ability to double tap a panel to enlarge it. Once enlarged, you can tap it to advance to an enlarged version of the next panel. Double tapping an enlarged panel returns to the full page view.
Settings in the reader are of the basic variety. You can toggle animating transitions, manage storage of your titles and toggle notifications pushed to you from Marvel.
Not for Collectors
The DC reader is very similar to Marvel's, except it isn't always as responsive. For instance, when you try to display the menu bars within a comic by tapping the top of the screen, the bars don't always appear on the first tap ... or the second tap ... or even the third tap.
Browsing DC's storefront using the fixed search categories was disappointing. Most of the reader's library is dedicated to newer titles. You won't find any work from Silver Age legends like Carmine Infantino or Gil Kane, although there was a Joe Kubert issue of Batman in the reader's mix.
DC has made some improvements in the settings section of its reader over Marvel's. If you register your copy of the reader, for instance, you're informed that any comics you've purchased will always be available to you from comiXology.com. That should relieve any anxiety about losing comics downloaded to the iPad. What's more, the website gives you access to your comics across platforms. The transition animation has been modified, too, by adding the ability to customize the length of the transition.
Comic readers are an excellent way to stay on top of the latest story line in a favorite title. You can turn on automatic notifications so you never miss an issue in a series. Of course, I don't think they'll be much of a collector's market for electronic comics in the future. However, whenever you purchase an e-comic, there's also a "Buy In Print" button on the purchase page. When you tap it, it will give you a list of comic book purveyors in your area where you can buy a print version of the title that may have more value to posterity than your electronic one.