Marvel Comics for iPad: Hands-on Review


Video and screengrabs in this post: a first hands-on experience of the free Marvel Comics app for iPad, produced with Comixology (who produced a popular iPhone app). Word is that more than 500 titles will be available through the application at time of launch on Saturday. The pre-launch copy of the application I'm testing shows many titles offered at $1.99, and a number of selections also available for free. All the Marvel classics are here: Avengers, X-Men, Hulk, Spider Man, IronMan, Captain America, and a number of newer titles. User interface details of note: the ability to finger-flip through, page by page; scrollable bar of thumbs for all pages at the bottom of the page view, so you can skip ahead easily; double-click to zoom into an individual frame and finger-flip forward to advance frame by frame instead of page by page.

First impression: I like it. Scrolling is intuitive, brisk, and elegant. I'm amazed at how smooth. The store interface makes sense to anyone familiar with iTunes and App store. Flipping and reading, one luminous full-color page at a time, I do not miss paper. When zooming deeper into single frames, to scroll frame-by-frame, transitions (with "animated" option selected) feel almost cinematic— but sometimes zoomed-in art is not as crisp and high-res as I'd like (it varies by title). Unless I'm missing something, no way to view two pages at a time, as you might with a paper comic. I didn't miss that detail, but others might. And some comics were designed and drawn by the artist with that view option in mind. I'll be interested to see how the app and the content available for it evolve.

Video walkthrough link. (YouTube / Boing Boing Video)

More screenshots taken from a review unit in hand, after the jump, with page-by-page browsing from an Iron Man title written by Warren Ellis.












  1. “User interface details of note: the ability to finger-flip through, page by page; scrollable bar of thumbs for all pages at the bottom of the page view, so you can skip ahead easily; double-click to zoom into an individual frame and finger-flip forward to advance frame by frame instead of page by page. ”

    I guess I have to turn in my geek card. That’s all gibberish to me.

    All that aside, though – $500+ for a comic book reader? Really?

    1. You navigate pages with finger swipes or a single click on the left or right edge to turn back or forward, respectively. Or you can scroll through the thumbnail bar at the bottom for faster, jump navigation. Artwork is zoomable with a quick double-click or two-finger pinching. When zoomed in to a single frame, finger swipes or single clicks navigate frame to frame rather than page to page.

      1. hmmm…that’s not the point. our right to criticize doesn’t come after we’ve bought it.

    2. Have you never used an iPhone or touch?

      The brilliance of Apple touch interface is the fact that it’s just obvious when the device is in your hand – varies for third party apps – but writing the process is unwieldy.

      But if you still don’t get it after holding the thing and using the app, then yeah, time to shred that geek cred card. Maybe your motor skills one, too. ;P

    3. If it was only a comic reader then, yeah, $500 would be a bit much. Instead it does a lot of stuff AND displays comics.

    4. If it were just a comic book reader, I would agree. But for a comic book, web browser, HD movie viewer, book reader, low end game machine? Really? Yeah… that makes more sense.

  2. i wonder if old digital issues will ever have any collector’s value… a buck ninety nine seems steep tho, but that just might be me.

  3. Terry, if you didn’t get the gist of the video, or understand some of what she said, it means you have options for a comic book experience. One that is millenium past the experience I had while a child, with Sargeant Rock, Conan, Ghost Rider, Iron Man, Spiderman, and Silver Surfer.

    Oh, and the price of the APP is “free”.


    1. The app might be free, but the content more or less isn’t. That’s like saying iTunes is free. Sure, the program is free but you’re going to be paying for most the content it provides.

      1. Thus why this app and many other apps for iPad, iPhone, Mac, PC are called ‘Stores’. Its like saying – I can walk into this papershop/newsagents for free, but I have to pay for the magazines on the shelf. Whether the items you’re buying for these stores are considered expensive or not is another matter, its up to the administrators of the app, in this case, Marvel.

        I agree that digital media like this should be around 99 cents, but I understand that the artwork doesn’t create itself.

        This app is designed to give you digital content that you can carry about with you, much like PanelFly and other comic readers, one of the main aims that Apple are targeting is modal shopping on the go, as well as gaming and supporting informative apps. The iPad is just a tool to make content more available for the consumer in what ever the format the creator intends to put across.

  4. Just wondering what Marvel plans on doing to make this worth people’s money. I think this app is obsolete as soon as someone releases a a CDisplay style app for the iPad. When people can get the same or similar experience for free, people won’t want to pay for it unless it’s value and convenience can make it worth it to a majority of people.

    I don’t think anyone can argue that a device like the iPad is the ideal way of reading a comic if a physical copy isn’t an option, but I think that comic companies might want to look towards an ad supported cost system that at least partially, if not fully, subsidizes the cost for the user. Or a monthly subscription service like netflix or something of that nature. I don’t think that a per comic unit price is ideal.

    1. KBPCarl has a good point that I have wondered about. How to defray costs so the user/reader is willing to take a chance on a new title and really get the most out of it. Monthly isn’t a bad idea. I know Marvel was doing something like that for some kind o digital comic subscription, but people sitting at their computers didn’t really do it. Oddly, it’s the wide screen versus the tall screen for printed material problem. Ipad can be held easily and it looks clean and crisp. The central problem here is one of distribution. As paper, printing, and distribution channels have become more expensive, comic prices have gone up. As they went up, less people could afford them (or as much variety). Readership starts to go down, so the ad space is worth less money. So prices HAVE to go up to cover the costs right? Well then readership goes down again. and on and on.
      So how do I get tons of great content on Hulu for free? It costs millions of dollars to produce that content, but it’s free. This is the other problem. So much variety for free, it’s harder to part with money for a 20 minute read. $4 is getting more absurd and even $1.99 for a digital download is on the edge of fair, considering there will be zero printing shipping costs. I would prefer a cheaper cost or an ad based option perhaps. How do you retain you comic collection? What if you ipad or hard drive breaks? Can I pay once and sync some content up on my I Phone? Or do I have to buy one or both versions?
      It’s gotta feel worth it.

  5. You might miss the 2-page view when an artist designs a layout meant to be viewed that way. It certainly happens a lot in modern mainstream comics. If it’s not an option, it should be, like in the current Comic Book Reader software available on pc’s.

    The view-one-panel-at-a-time feature is cool for zooming in and scrutinizing artwork but nobody should read a comic book like that. Part of the artistry of comic books is the design of a page as a whole.

  6. This is a solid step forward. Look, Gabe Newell (Valve guru) once said that pirates are just undeserved customers. Lots of people who pirate comics do so because direct market comic shops aren’t nearly as widespread as they used to be. Even in large cities, finding a good comic shop can be a challenge. Add to that the price (1.99 for a digital comic is a lot more appealing than the 3.50 or 3.99 some books are going for now) and storage of single issues and you can see why lots of people pirate.

    Giving people day and date, reliable and affordable e-comics could not just address the scanners and pirate, but appeal to people who might never have walked into a comic shop.

  7. Oh, and I wish it were a buck per e-comic. I only buy trades as it is but I’d start buying single issue e-comics for a buck a throw.

  8. The Comixology app for the Iphone already does this, and does it for many more publishers than just Marvel (although Marvel is on it). Generally $1-2 per issue.

  9. You’ll be able to spot iPad users by their one giant muscular wrist.

    I’m pretty sure there will be a class-action against Apple in 10 years for swipe-related RSI.

    Why would I want to do that giant movement over and over again just to flip pages, or worse, frames?

    1. Like those muscular mice-wrist heavy desktop mice users have, or laptop trackpad users?

      It’s not a huge paradigm shift for the actions and movements, just how those movements interact with the device. Unless you’re using it really awkwardly finger gestures are less likely to cause strain – if my iPhone experience is anything to go by.

      1. Using a mouse or a trackpad, most of my arm is supported and at rest. The iPad and every other tablet (as well as touchscreen monitors) seem to require holding your entire hand in the air and off the screen all the time (otherwise you’d be triggering it).

        Maybe Xeni’s gestures are exaggerated for dramatic effect, but that looks to me like a whole lot more effort to operate than any mouse or trackpad.

        When I read an ebook on my phone, I can change pages by touching my thumb at the corner of the screen, a tiny movement by comparison to this.

        I want to relax and enjoy whatever I’m reading, not worry about the effort and mechanics of reading it.

    2. So…are regular comic books and magazines sued because people have to flip the pages with their hands?

  10. The problem is that Marvel themselves offer a subscription service where you can read any comic that they’ve digitized for $60/year. That’s a good value. But paying $1.99 for 22 JPGs that don’t require paper, ink, or gas is not a very good value.

    It may be that the idea is to drive new people to buy singles and trades rather than make life convenient for purely digital readers, but I can’t see that working in the long-term. (Especially since, as others have said, Marvel’s competition is pirated scans.)

    1. But paying $1.99 for 22 JPGs that don’t require paper, ink, or gas is not a very good value.

      The paper, ink, and gas are a miniscule part of the cost of producing a comic. Compare to newspapers, which require an order of magnitude more of each and sell for a buck. (Granted, the paper quality is lower, and the printing is generally single-process, but the point holds.) You’re paying for the story and the art; the medium doesn’t make much difference to the costs.

      If I pay an artist $100 to draw a picture, and I expect to sell about 100 copies, it doesn’t much matter whether I sell photocopies (which cost a dime apiece) or JPEGs (which are free); I’m still going to have to charge around a buck apiece to break even.

    2. “But paying $1.99 for 22 JPGs that don’t require paper, ink, or gas is not a very good value.”

      So the work artists and writers put into the product have zero value to you? It’s like you’re doing a cost comparison between a print publication, and a box of paper and some pens at OfficeMax.

  11. It looks promising but I’ll hold off getting one until they figure out a way to stop the iPad from making bystanders unnecessarily shake their cameras.

  12. So, a gushing review of a device, followed by two gushing, lavish reviews of two of its apps? I know people say this about popular sites pretty much every day, but was a shark just jumped?

    On a more serious note, I don’t see what’s impressive here. Multi-touch is neat, but hardly new. Yes, someone’s finally made a hand-held device you can read comics on without your eyes bleeding. But why on earth is that worth the price tag? I’d rather get a PS3, or heck, a whole modest desktop system.

    1. So, a gushing review of a device, followed by two gushing, lavish reviews of two of its apps?

      How dare they like this device and two apps for it! What’s the standard, one dislike for every two likes?

  13. I’d rather get a PS3, or heck, a whole modest desktop system.

    Go for it. The people with iPads will be doing things on their device you will not be doing with yours. Just as you will be doing things on your console/desktop that they will not be doing on their iPad.

  14. You know what amazes me? That someone is willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a computer and scanner so that they can invest hours of work making copies of comic books for the amusement of owners of expensive viewing devices who will inevitably complain about how overpriced comic books are.

  15. New Titles should be 1.99, but old titles? 1.99 for a 20 year old scanned comic book? .99 at the most, really the old stuff should be sold as a package, like X-men issues 1-25 for 1.99.

  16. You’re making Cory cry, Xeni. Quick, post something with the word “steampunk” in it.

  17. “no way to view two pages at a time, as you might with a paper comic. I didn’t miss that detail, but others might.”

    Um, yeah, that’s a deal-breaker, actually. Some comics are written specifically in that format. A lot of Bendis’ comics, for example, use a two-page spread where you read left-to-right across both pages. POWERS drives me crazy because I often can’t tell whether he’s doing 1-page or 2-page until I’ve already gotten out of sequence halfway down the first page. They need to provide this 2-page ability AND have the comic auto-select either 1-page or 2-page format after each “turn of the page” as needed before I’m going to plunk down money on this.

  18. I like the idea of reading comics on the ipad, and would consider getting one to do so, but at $1.99 for a single issue I’ll keep buying TPB collections instead. I’m wondering if Marvel supports all of the subscription issues in ipad format for no additional cost?
    If they lowered the price to 99 cents an issue I’d be sold.

  19. The person who’s doing this review, doesn’t know how to use the app, there’s no page flipping like a book or swiping for the marvel app, you simply hit the left or right part of the screen to go back and forth inside the transition story board of the comic.

  20. Reminded me of the electronic comic Tom Hanks pitches to the toy company in Big. (John Heard pwns him.)

  21. “You’re paying for the story and the art; the medium doesn’t make much difference to the costs.”

    I can understand that for current series: you have to pay the talent. But what about older, out-of-print comics? Those production costs were paid for as much as 30, 40, or 50 years ago. I don’t think it costs Marvel $1.99 per issue to scan them into a digital format.

    I’d like to see much lower prices for vintage comics, like $0.99 or less. I think a lot of people would buy them at that price, and Marvel could actually make some money off the 70 years of material that’s been sitting around.

    1. I can understand that for current series: you have to pay the talent. But what about older, out-of-print comics?

      Oh, absolutely. If I were running the company, I’d set the price lower for comics that had already paid themselves off, just like book publishers do when they release trade paperbacks. Marvel would be mostly be taking sales away from resellers, not themselves. The fear may be that having a vast, cheap library of older titles would cannibalize sales of expensive new titles, but that’s just a guess.

      Anon @49, that only works if they still sell enough physical copies of the books to pay their costs. If they lose a physical sale for every digital sale, the digital sales need to carry their share of the burden. (I imagine it’s somewhere in the middle — opening the digital market increases sales overall, but does cut into print sales some — but, again, I’m guessing.)

  22. No two page layout and that landscape view did not impress me. I’m sticking with print. Though I do think it will be interesting to see the comics that will eventually be made specifically for the ipad.

  23. I look forward to comic creators designing and laying out specifically for devices like the iPad. I think that could open up whole new concepts in what a comic can be. My own legacy concept of what a “comic book” is doesn’t exist any more anyway. They aren’t printed on pulp. They don’t have those cool dot screen colors. The white borders around the boxes and text balloons are gone… So doing away with two page spreads and other holdovers from the print medium at this point don’t bother me that much.

    Just give me really cool drawings that tell interesting stories and don’t take themselves too seriously and I’ll be happy. In the meantime, there are tons of public domain golden age comics for me to download and enjoy. The iPad displays them better than any other portable device, and I don’t need to fiddle with slippery plastic bags or brittle newsprint.

    1. Comics printed on newsprint with Ben-Day Dots definitely still exist. While I could see it being a novelty akin to some of his animations for This American Life to see Chris Ware in a panel by panel view, I wouldn’t want to read Acme Novelty Library on this thing. Rucka and J.H. William’s Detective Comics? It would be terrible. I am interested to see the tablet form explored by comics artists, but this reader specifically while having some novel ideas is nowhere near a print killer for me.

  24. By the way, a couple of those illustrations are hideous. Hopefully, the comics will live up to the software better than that.

  25. Regarding costs, I think the assumption is that since all of these comics were created for print and ported over to the digital realm, the writers and artists have already been paid for creating the work for the print piece. I agree there should be some royalty fee structure, but I’m also in agreement that it should be closer to $.99 or less, rather than $1.99. My reasons are: 1) there is no collectible value for digital editions (e.g. no 2nd printings, no grading based on condition as it is purely digital. 2) It can be duplicated for no additional cost to marvel and doesn’t degrade like traditional printed comics 3)itunes music store has pretty much standardized on $.99 a song. Why not make it easy for users? You could have premium comics or annuals that are $1.99, but keep the prices low.

  26. I have a huge collection of comics on my iPod Touch. Not my preferred way to read, but great for traveling if I don’t bring my netbook, or for situations where I unexpectedly have some down time. I like that on BoingBoing, people are pointing out that Marvel hasn’t provided anything new to anyone, whereas the mainstream press is calling this a technological step forward. It’s just a content-distribution deal. The iPad doesn’t do anything with comics that currently-existing tech isn’t already doing.

    I’m assigning some comics next week for a class, just so students can get a sense of the medium, and I’m making a range of works available to them, having them DL Comic Rack. But this is the first they’ve heard you can read comics on your computer. If anything Marvel’s move will draw attention to the fact that there are better (free) options available, and comic content will have to get cheaper. The biggest problem at this point is just the landscape orientation of most computer monitors. That’s all the iPad really has going for it vs. reading on my netbook.

  27. iTunes doesnt do 99 cents a song, new songs are now $1.29. A song does not equal a comic, a tv show might, which is $1.99 on iTunes.

  28. Now for the Fantagraphics catalog. That’s what I want to see. Love & Rockets, Palestine & the Complete Crumb on the iPad.

  29. Comic zeal 4 is a very excellent ipad comic reader that will read any format- from a cbz to a stack of jpegs, for anyone who is worried about a nightmare future where kids won’t be able to trade comics.

  30. This is exactly the sort of thing that would lead me to pick up an iPad. I’ve been reading digital versions of The Walking Dead on my laptop but can only imagine how much more comfortable the experience would be on a tablet device.

  31. $1.99 is too expensive for a comic book that has no resale value and is in a device-constrained format, and WAY too expensive if marvel has any hope of stopping the death march of the comic industry. if they had any faith in their product they would be selling back issues for a quarter and ninety-nine cent (or less!) per issue subscriptions to current series.

    look, the app is great; the comics look great. the ipad is an incredible comic-reading experience. readers will flock to this new medium if given a chance to appreciate it. but unless the price comes WAY down, i’m just not interested.

  32. Hi could you tell me please how I make my own comics/ I liked how the comics looked in the marvel app, is there a source code out there? been looking everywhere…

  33. There is a comic app in the iTunes app store that lets you convert and read .cbr comic files. It’s called Comiczeal.

  34. I just tried the app on my iphone. It seems OK, but how big are the comic download files? They seem HUGE, even through wifi. A typical .cbr or .cbz file is 15MB – 20MB but this seemed like a very big download

  35. The great thing about print comics is that not only do you have a “work of art” but that art can go up in value. I think if they offered this in addition to a print subscription at a slight premium it may do better. That way collectors could safely store their books and still get the pleasure of reading them when ever they wanted.

  36. The prices for the Marval Single issues on itunes has really made me hate Marvel comics as just another greedy corporation.

  37. HI, I am new in using Ipad to read comic. I have bought several comic from Marvel Ipad APP. I found in the setting that there is a space limit of 500M in the system. I dont know it is the limit in the ipad or limit of what. I bought only a few volume and the memory reach 200M already. the system tells that some series have to be deleted when the limit reach. I cant really understand is that when I buy the comic reach 500M, the old one that I have buy has to be deleted from the Ipad? I cant keep them forever?

    Pls help to make clean how can I keep my copy of download from Ipad so that it wouldnt be deleted


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