Best iPad app for comic book buying: Comics review

"It's not quite iTunes for comic books yet, but Comics and the comiXology apps like Marvel and DC are getting terrifically close."

Comics is the best app for buying comic books -- and graphic novels -- on your iPad. Well, that's not exactly true. Comics is one of the best places to buy comics, but the developer, comiXology also makes dedicated versions of the app for Marvel, DC, Dynamite, IDW, Image, and other publishers. They claim over 16,000 titles, more than enough to delight anyone's inner Sheldon. Comics itself has a great selection of titles from several of their partner publishers and, taken together, the comiXology apps are everything you need to get your weekly fix of new releases and classic back issues alike.

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When you first load up Comics, or any of the dedicated comiXology apps, you're taken straight to the store and will have various options up top for featured titles, new or recently added title, popular or best-selling titles, and sometimes free titles as well. Browse your way through or use the tabs at the bottom to jump to series (like trade paperbacks, they're several issues collected into one easier-to-manage edition), story arcs (related issues you still have to buy and keep separately -- why not just make these into series, folks?), creators (if you're looking for specific titles by your favorite artist or writer), as well as the option to search, and My Comics/purchases to see what you've already bought.

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There's a ton of content to be found. Comics proper has a good sampling of titles from the various publishers. The dedicated apps for Marvel, DC, et al have loads of current stuff, most of the popular arcs and series from the last few years, and a smattering of classics (though why I can only find something like Batman: Year One as a set of individual issues in a story arc and not as a collected series is irksome -- fix that DC!).

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When you find something you like, just tap the price to buy, same as you would in iTunes, and the familiar in-app-purchasing system takes over. Your comic issue or collected edition is downloaded straight into the app and made available on your reading shelf.

Pricing is okay. Individual issues are often $1.99 though some newer/hotter titles are $2.99 which is too high. As Steve Jobs told the music industry a decade ago, their competition is free -- price things fairly and make them easily available and the market will flourish. Also, while Marvel offers true collections in their series, DC doesn't seem to have embraced that yet which is baffling. (Prices for the Marvel series range from $6.99 for smaller, more obscure 130 page collections all the way up to $24.99 for large, popular 330 page collections like Planet Hulk). There's also no subscription model, let alone all-you-can-eat offering.

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The reading experience is excellent. Pages are shown one at a time, or side-by-side for double-page spreads. You can also double tap to "zoom in" and show only one panel at a time. There's no page flipping animation but swiping between pages is a breeze. You can also tap to bring up the controls which let you get info on the title, go to a thumbnail view of all pages, pull up the option for transition speed, letterboxing, etc. and get help on how the reader works.

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You can't load your own comics, or comics you've bought in PDF form (for example, on Marvel's extensive DVD volumes), but that's what apps like Comic Zeal are for.

Overall comiXology has done an amazing job. Marvel, DC, and the other companies are also tepidly inching their way into digital confidence. It would be nice to have everything all in the Comics app and not need the separate Marvel, DC, et. al apps, for example (could you imagine if Warner, Sony, etc. were all separate iTunes app clones and we couldn't keep our music or movies in one place?). It would also be great to see the bigger collections, absolutes, omnibuses, etc. available, discounted the way they are for trade paperbacks in comic book specialty shops. (Speaking of which, the comiXology apps go out of their way to point out where you can go buy real-world paper versions of the comics, which is both awkward and charming.)

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The good

  • Excellent availability of titles, especially in the dedicated apps
  • In-app purchases are quick and efficient
  • Reader is fluid and functional

The bad

  • Having dedicated Marvel, DC, etc. apps is annoying, all content should also be in the main Comics app
  • Can't load your own comics into the reader


The bottom line

It's not quite iTunes for comic books yet, but Comics and the comiXology apps like Marvel and DC are getting terrifically close. If you're a general fan, get the Comics apps proper. If you're a Marvel or DC purest, get the dedicated Marvel or DC apps. If you love everything, get them all. With day-and-date new releases and an expanding back catalog of classic stories, Comics makes iPad the premiere device for any comic loving geek.

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Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • It frustrates me that there's not a "all inclusive" subscription model for any of the comics companies. While not many people would be willing to pay $200 for a yearly subscription that would allow one to download as much as a user wants, there are a few of us out here.
    DC & Mavel - I won't buy your comics at 1.99 a pop, because I'd rather have a hard copy at that price. But if you want to create a "super subscription," let me know.
  • When DC and Marvel Finally digitize their entire historical catalog and let the comic book shops (the ones with longboxes of moldy old paper) they will start getting a Lot of money from me.
  • I meant to say to let those comic book shops 'die.' Stupid comment system without editing power.
  • Meanwhile, people have done that for them (somewhat) on torrent sites. Like Rene said, that's their competition. Best to have a massive library and try to sell all you can eat subs to it. I see two markets, the current stuff, and the back issues. I'm more of a back issues guy similar to buying full seasons for tv shows.
    But on the subs thing. Those comics in the past decades have more than paid for themselves and performed their duty (i'm sure not rebuying them at today's prices). This is a nobrainer to get yet more revenue out of them just waiting for new generations.
  • The sales slay me. I'm such an addict.
    Turns out to be cheaper than the 40% off that my local comic shop offers for trades and hardcovers - per issue, anyway.
  • The trees would thank us for it
  • I like the new UI better than the old one, may not include a subscription model but at the very least they could get notifications working
  • no dice at the prices they're charging. It's flat out robbery.
  • Whilst the current iteration of the app is a nice and pretty robust product, the one ongoing concern I have with it is the lack of any form of backup. So yes, purchasing and reading is easy, and I don't have shelves stacked with comics to store. But if the company goes belly-up, or a publisher chooses to withdraw from the app, there is no guarantee that my purchases will continue to be available. In effect it is a long-term rental rather than a purchase.
    Using the old app it was possible to copy the .gif files out of the iPad file structure and create a backup, but with the new app the files seem to be encrypted. This issue really ought to be listed under "the bad" as there is the potential for people to loose a lot of money in the future if things go south.
  • And remember that with your $1.99, $2.99, or $24.99 purchase that you haven't purchased anything - just the right to read that issue or collection.
    In fact the publishers can revoke your purchase at anytime without reason and you are left with nothing - read sections 5 & 6 of the terms and agreements.
    So visit your local brick and mortar comic book shop and buy a comic book - a real one - that you can own and share for the same price as a virtual book.