Netflix for comics
Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited in a browser.
Marvel Comics offers a unique approach to reading digital comics: A subscription service called Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. Originally launched in 2007 on the desktop (and requiring Adobe Flash), it's now compatible with the iPad. There's no app--everything works within a Web browser--but there are still some bugs to work out.
For $10 a month or $60 a year, Marvel DCU is like Netflix for (Marvel) comics. Like Netflix streaming, you won't find hot new releases on Marvel DCU. But there's unlimited access to more than 10,000 individual comics. If you just want to read through back issues of classic Marvel comics, and don't really care about what's happened in the past couple of years, it's an interesting option. The subscription doesn't give you access to read those issues in the iOS app, however.
It's about content
Even if the iPad is a nigh-perfect comic-reading device, and its comics apps are all perfectly good, the whole thing falls down if there are no comics to read. In the early days of digital comics, publishers were reluctant to release their digital issues at the same time they hit local comic-book stores. This artificial scarcity was an attempt to prop up the often-precarious businesses that still form the bulk of comic sales.
However, in the past couple of years that dam has burst. Almost every major comic from Marvel, DC, and all the independents, is available digitally on the same day that its paper equivalent appears in comic book shops. On Wednesdays (the day new comics are usually released), I find myself scanning the "same day as print" section of the Comics app and buying way too many comics.
If you, like me, are a comics fan from the era where Marvel and DC dominated so utterly that the indie comic scene was more of a curiosity, you will be delighted to discover that there are numerous independent comics that are made by the very best creators in the business, and most of those comics are available in one or more of these apps. I'm a big fan of Robert Kirkman's teen-superhero series Invincible, Brian Clevinger's Atomic Robo, and Joe Hill's Locke and Key.
Speaking of piracy...
If you've heard about CBR and CBZ files, it's most likely been in the context of pirated comics. Now, not all of the comics out there in CBR and CBZ format are pirated, just most of them. Still, if you happen to have some files in those formats--and I'll admit to having loaded my iPad up with some comics that are stored in paper form in my house--there's an answer for you, too. I'm pretty happy with bitolithic's Comic Zeal, which handles CBRs and CBZs with aplomb. There are a bunch of other good ones, too.
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