David Hawkins at What Culture! asks Can Marvel Digital Comics Conquer The Comic Readers of the World?

The Marvel Comics apps for Chrome, iOS and PSP let you read a large swath of the Marvel back-catalogue online or on your Apple/Sony devices. You can subscribe for \$60US a year, and read a lot of classic Marvel comics, as well as a selection of the new stuff.

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“You wouldn’t like me on a tiny screen”

David has been collecting printed comics for 20 years, and says he was spending hundreds of dollars on comics in a month before trying out the Marvel Digital route.

I too have been going digital, but I’ve been coming at it from a different direction. As an Android user, I discovered the Comixoligy comic store before I discovered the Marvel store. For the uninitiated, the Comixology store offers comics from a range of publishers (except Marvel) on iOS devices and Android, as well as through your browser. For the first time in my life, I’ve been enjoying comics the way I imagine most of my comic-loving peers used to when they were younger.

I’m going to go through my experience with Comixology as it compares to the Marvel experience using the couple of dot-points David used:

Price

I’m a comics late-starter. I’ve always loved the idea of comics, but never had the disposable income to spend on them. As I’ve gotten older and gradually come into a bit of spare cash, I’ve found comics have gotten more expensive to match, and the value I perceive from them has decreased. When I was a kid and could get my hands on a comic here or there, I was always somewhat disappointed that they were so chock full of ads, and never finished an arc in the one I happened to have then and there. For most comic-book nerds, the huge sweeping arcs are the draw card to buy the next one, but for a poor Aussie kid, the chances of seeing the next story in the saga was exceedingly slim. Comixology offers a number of free comics including a back-log of FCBD comics, and first issues from popular series. The remaining comics start from 99c up to \$5 for some of the more esoteric comics available, but are very fairly priced compared to their off-the-shelf couterparts.

Range

Range is the first point where Comixology beats the Marvel store hands-down. Take a look at this list of publishers. There are 46 publishers of varying popularity and quality, and most tellingly - DC gets pride of place on the web store. I don’t know which came first, but it makes sense that DC would use Comixology’s infrastructure rather than build their own to compete with Marvel. The remaining contributors are a diverse bunch, including Dark Horse, Image (publishers of my current favourite comic Chew), and even Comixology’s own brand.

*Marvel on iOS only…

Age

This can vary a bit on the Comixology store. Like David, I was worried all I would find would be old comics, but I’m finding a nice mix of old and new. Every week seems to bring a release of old classics such as Batman #1 through #25. I recenly got to read the (sadly ridiculous) Green Lantern: Emerald Twilight Saga during a movie inspired Green Lantern 12 price sale. On the flip side, I’ve decided I’ll use my new-found comic-powers to actually read some history-making comics as they’re released, and I’m following DC’s latest universe editing Flashpoint story as it unfolds. I think it’s a few issues behind (at writing I’ve read #2 in the main story), but this is only to be expected - as David points out, “You are never going to get the newest comics that are currently sitting on the shelves. If you did you would find many small comic stores going out of business”

Search is search. I’m 99% certain that the reason I haven’t found certain comics using the built-in search is that they just aren’t in the store. One neat feature of the Marvel store that the Comixology store is missing is a “search by character” feature to bring up all appearances of certain characters. With just the Marvel universe to cover, this might be more straight-forward than keeping all the various “Ultraman” characters from every comic publisher in order, so it’s no real surprise. On the other hand, the mobile app lets you browse by genre, creator, publisher and story arc and the web interface integrates these into the search feature, so you can find all of Alan Moore’s work (well, everything they have) in an instant.

Ease of Use

The mobile interface has a few quirks navigating the store, and the web-app is Flash-based and feels clunky at times. These are minor quibles though, as the comic reading experience is first class. Using Guided View\^TM\^ Technology (that name is pulled straight from the app’s marketing), single panels and pages are carefully cropped and shown as big as your display will allow and carefully edited for clarity and dramatic impact. Compared to the Marvel reader, this is far-and-away the biggest and most important difference between the two experiences.

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Atomic Robo![]()

After using Comixology’s reader, I found the Marvel version clunky and inelegant. Both guide your reading across the page, but only Comixology seems to know what it’s doing. Admittedly, this is only a software upgrade away on the Marvel store, but at the moment it’s a big difference. Tellingly, I also find myself wishing to read paper comics a panel at a time now - I find I enjoy it just a little more not to be able to see the secrets revealed further down the page until I get there.

Experience

I haven’t been a comic collector long. My earliest experiences with comics were devouring my Uncle’s Duck Tales and Mickey Mouse comics whenever I visited him, but I never had comics to call my own until I started making select purchases at comic sales when I could. I enjoy pulling them out now and then including a fun Deadpool special that’s essentially “Back To The Future” with Spiderman, and a collection of goofy Amalgam comics that I’m stupidly happy with. However, my collection leaves a lot to be desired, and I’m annoyed I haven’t had the chance to read some of the important stories that make up my favourite comic universes. So I can’t really compare reading comics on a tiny screen to the joy of poring over a freshly minted book, as I’ve really only done the latter recently on a very low-key scale. Additionally, my first chance to read some classic tales like The Dark Knight Returns and the Spiderman Clone Saga were thanks to my oddly well-informed local library, but they’ve been bound in hard cover or omnibus versions, so it’s not the same thing true comic collectors experience anyway. As someone just coming into comics though, the experience of the Comixology store and reader has been revolutionary. The prices are what I used to wish comics would be at the local store and, most compelling of all, the titles are all ad free.

DC available on iOS too!

I’m not sure if Marvel or Comixology will conquer the readers of the world, but they offer a new way to consume comics if you aren’t hung up on having them on paper. Digital comics are here, and Comixology offers a classy hassle-free way to get your fix.