Review: Marvel Comics App for iPad

I want to read comics again.
I was an avid reader of comic books from about the ages of 10-16 years old, right up until I figured out what girls were and how to talk to them.  I still read them after that, just not as much, and I stopped wearing Spider Man T-shirts in public.  Eventually, I just stopped going to the comic shop and buying them at all for some reason.  My iPad was then delivered on April 3rd, and the first app I downloaded was the Marvel Comics app. My love for comic books was immediately rekindled.  

Other than a few free issues, each issue will cost you $1.99. There is absolutely no discount for buying multiple issues at a time.  Five hundred plus issues are currently available.

Nuts & Bolts


The front page of the app contains just what you are used to if you're at all familiar with the app store.  You can select featured, new, popular or free comics.  There is an excellent browse function on the front page. It allows you to browse by categories as basic as series, or as super-geek specific as creator or story lines/arcs. There is also, of course, the basic enter your text search option. Downloads are smooth and quick. For those of you who are up in arms about the lack of cover flow in the iPod on the iPad Marvel has done something that will make you feel a little placated or possibly more angry. Yup you got it, you comics are displayed in a cool looking cover flow format.

The comics themselves look fantastic.  The drawings and colors are so good that it seems villains will pop out and attack you.  As a book reader, the brightness of the iPad is actually a negative, potentially causing permanent retinal damage if you fail to reduce the brightness. Obviously, I am exaggerating but, in my opinion, it is not comfortable. For comic books, the brightness and brilliance of the iPad screen are perfect.  In fact, I believe that all but the most hardcore of purists and geeks would agree that viewing iPad comics is a superior experience to the traditional paper version of comic books, although you do not get the full geek experience of putting them in those fancy protective bags for storage along with your unopened Star Wars and G.I. Joe action figures.

Reading the comics is also an easy and smooth experience.  A single tap at the bottom of the screen gives the option to jump to any of the pages. Marvel has wisely provided two different methods of reading the comics themselves.  You can read them the "traditional way" where you see the entire page on the iPad's screen.  This will require some pinching and zooming which is, of course, seamless and still looks great. However, most will prefer the guided view method Marvel has provided.  Here the app really shines.  It guides you panel by panel, zooming where appropriate. It also prevents you from cheating and looking ahead at the next panel.  Each method moves you forward with a swipe to the left and back with a swipe to the right. You can use the app in portrait or landscape mode. Portrait mode does simulate the feel of a real comic book and feels natural to me. I would bet the that the app was designed with portrait mode in mind. The guided view is very similar in both formats. However, the traditional view looks pretty bad and almost unusable in landscape.

The Future?

This is not Marvel's first move into the non-paper digital future. The company has been a trailblazer of sorts in that regard.  I give them a lot of credit for this. Maybe some of the bigwigs over there have tree-hugger girlfriends pressuring them. Marvel has had their Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited site up for a few years, boasting 7,000 plus comics on it.  I presume they have not transferred all titles over because Marvel uses that "cough, cough" dinosaur-like technology known as Flash.  I also believe that transferring comics to the iPad is more difficult.  The guided view at the website is nowhere near as detailed or accurate as it is on the iPad. I suspect that must take some time and effort. The iPad experience murders what Marvel has on their website.  Maybe Steve Jobs was right about that Flash stuff sucking so bad.

However, at the website, one month of unlimited content is $9.99 or $59.88 for the entire year.  Of course, your subscription from there will not work on the iPad.

The biggest downfall of the app is the cost of comics and the limited content. Marvel gave you the first two issues of the New Avengers for free.  I read the free issues and was immediately hooked.  My braces somehow reappeared, my laser eye surgery was reversed, I really missed my Star Wars action figures, and I was no longer able to talk to my girlfriend without stuttering because she made me nervous. I needed more.  The storyline had about eight more issues, and I wanted to buy them. I expected a "bulk"
discount, which I discovered did not exist. I only purchased the next four issues, not because I was too cheap to pay for eight issues (geeks find a way to get money for their fix), rather only the next four issues were available.  This seemed silly to me. Additionally, no newly published comics are available.  You have to be a geek and make your weekly pilgrimage to the comic book shop to buy those. 

Pros & Cons


• Beautiful-looking comics, a great experience on the iPad, far better than reading
online content.
• Fast downloads.
• Easy, smooth user interface.  
• Cost, $1.99 per issue seems high, $0.99 per issue seems more reasonable. Lack of
bulk purchase discount is just silly.  
• Lack of content, although this will likely be corrected in the coming months.  
• Lack of newly published issues.  You should have a choice between a print or digital
subscription, although this is not the app's fault.


Overall the app itself is fantastic.  The shortcomings only relate to content and pricing, which is Marvel's fault, and I do not want to hurt the fragile egos of the computer nerds who designed the app.  That being said if the pricing and content issues were resolved this would have been a 5 star review.  This is the future of comics, and the competition, namely D.C., had better catch up soon.   Will I ever set foot in a comic book store and buy comics? Heck no!  However, I will definitely be downloading more via the app.

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