Developer: Marvel Entertainment
Price: FREE (individual issues are $1.99)
Version Reviewed: 1.0
Device Reviewed On: iPad

iPhone Integration Rating: ★★★☆☆
User Interface Rating: ★★★★☆
Re-use Value Rating: ★★★★☆

Overall Rating: ★★★½☆

While the jury is still out on whether or not the iPad will make a successful content creation device (although, truth be told, I’m writing this review on my iPad – touchscreen keyboard and all – and it feels pretty darn good) there is no doubt whatsoever that the iPad is the pinnacle of media consumption devices. But while having music, films, IMG_0001magazines and games at my fingertips is great and all, I really want… comic books. Apple knows this. They know there is a demand for the four-color wonders of the modern world, and thus they have promoted the heck out of the new Marvel Comics app for the iPad. And while the app could do with some significant improvements, I for one am glad to see comics taking back what’s rightfully theirs.

Anyone familiar with the Comixology app on the iPhone will feel immediately at home within the confines of the Marvel app. Like iTunes, it’s a store and a viewer combined. At launch, users are greeted with a bright loading screen that serves as a quick reminder of how dynamic colors are on the iPad, and how good comics will look on the large screen. From there, you are taken to the storefront, replete with newest additions to the catalogue, featured items and the requisite search feature. Fortunately, there are quite a few comics offered for free for first-time users, including the first two issues of New Avengers, the beginning of Jeph Loeb’s Red Hulk storyline, and the first issue in what looks to be a landmark run on Fantastic Four by writer Jonathan Hickman. These few freebies seriously whet any comic book lover’s appetite for more, which is of course the very reason Marvel is giving them away.

The store interface is pretty standard stuff, which is not an insult by any stretch. The reader aspect of the app, however, really shines. Readers can choose to view and read a comic in standard page mode, IMG_0003using multi-touch to zoom in on hard-to-read captions, or they can opt for the guided mode, which dynamically shifts and zooms from panel to panel (sometimes zooming in and out of a large splash page for effect). Both are viable presentation formats with pros and cons. It’s pretty slick to follow a story panel by panel, and you certainly don’t get anything spoiled by seeing the entire page at one glance, but it does feel like you are reading a comic the way someone else wants you to read it, rather than allowing your eyes to focus on what they want to see when they want to see it.

Another complaint is the lack of newer titles. There are a few recent issues, but it’s not like the Marvel app is going to supplant your weekly Wednesday trip to the comics store. As a HUGE comics fan with no room to store a warehouse of longboxes, I’m hoping to see comics become available as readily as music and books on the iPad. With only a smattering of newer issues in the Marvel app, and no signIMG_0008 whatsoever of DC comics coming to the platform anytime soon, it seems unlikely that comics publishers will learn from the music industry’s missteps.

A final note must be said about the price of these digital comics. While $1.99 is certainly cheaper than the absurd newsstand prices of comics these days, it still feels too high. Like iTunes before it, digital comics will hit critical mass much sooner if the $0.99 price point is set as the standard. I see no reason why comics shouldn’t be priced competitively at $0.99, particularly since they sidestep the considerable expense of printing and shipping. C’mon Marvel! Show some vision!

The Marvel Comics app is clearly a step in the right direction for the comic book industry, and it’s thrilling to see it make such a dramatic entrance to the world of iPad apps, but it’s also a work in progress, and it looks like we will still have to weather quite a few growing pains in the coming months and years.

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