Marvel Comics for iPad [Free - iTunes link] and iPhone [Free - iTunes link] finally brings one of the big two old media giants to the mobile age -- albeit kicking and screaming. And... this is the future of comic books. They look gorgeous on that big 1024x768 screen. There's a ton more functionality shown off in the video below but they get the core experience right and that's the most important thing.
There are other comic book stores and readers for iPad, and we'll be looking at them, but Marvel deserves huge kudos for even entering this space -- unlike DC which continues to sit on the sidelines, treating the digital revolution as confusingly as their cross-over events. (What?)
Now I'm a comic book geek from way, way back. Among my first comics were the now-Classic Dark Phoenix Saga from the X-Men. I love Marvel and I want to love this app. In many ways I do, but it makes me as angry as it does happy.
So if you just wanted to know about the app itself, stop reading and go get it. It's free. If you want to hear me rant because I care, read on after the break!
First and foremost you can use this app to finally, legitimately, read digital versions of some of Marvel's vast library of titles. A pretty tiny amount, however, given the size of that library. It will build over time, no doubt, but I have a sneaky suspicion their faustian pact with comic book retail shops will keep it hamstrung for a long time.
Evidence of that exists in the "buy print version" and "find local retailer" options in the app. Will Time Magazine's app direct you to the closest newsstand for a print copy? I don't want to store 1000s of comics in plastic bags anymore, thank you very much, and while the option is nice, a simple order from Amazon is nicer. I feel for the retailers, of course, but the world is changing around them the same way it changed for floppy disk makers. Marvel should be leading the charge into the mobile age of comics, not tip toeing on eggshells or tripping over fear of the future. (Ironic for an industry that made its fortune giving us incredible views of the future...)
And this manifests for the casual user how? You can buy all 24 issues of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday's brilliant Astonishing X-Men series right in the Marvel Comics for iPad app for $1.99 each. Two problems with that 1) the series was 25 issues and they don't seem to offer the Giant Size final issue! (Imagine getting Matrix off iTunes without the last 10 minutes!) and 2) while you could have bought each printed issue separately, you also now have the option to buy collections, 4 softcovers of 6 issues each, 2 hardcovers of 12 and 13 issues, and an Omnibus of all 25(1) issues. Discounted bundles would be smart, but being able to buy collections (including the bonus material!) would be wonderful. (iTunes doesn't sell TV like this either, but TV is longer form and the precedent for collected volumes isn't there).
Another pet peeve that I'll rant on is the need for a Marvel.com account to download or buy issues. I understand they do it because their scheme is to keep the content on the Marvel.com cloud, but in-app purchases via iTunes would have been so much better. I don't want another account, thank you very much, let alone an account per-publisher. Imagine if you needed separate Warners and Disney accounts for movies, a separate Random House account for books. That kind of thing should be consolidating, not expanding.
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