Comics (for Android) review

Comics for Android has a few niggles, but it's the best combination of marketplace and comic book reader on Google's platform.
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Tablets have reignited my interest in a favorite adolescent diversion: comic books. I was out of the loop for quite a while (in this case, “a while” means nearly 20 years) until I started explored a friend’s Comixology library—now I’m hooked. Comixology’s appropriately-named Comics app offers over 30,000 digital comic books and graphic novels that you can read on your Android tablet, computer, and numerous smartphones. The free Comics makes the buying and reading experience a simple and inviting endeavor, even though the library is missing quite a few older books (and Dark Horse Comics’ catalog).

Getting Started
Comixology’s Comics, to put it in the most basic terms, is the iTunes of digital comics. You begin by creating an account. Purchased books are tied to your account, so you can access them from Comics’ multi-platform mobile apps, as well as the Comixology website. In fact, the reading works cross-platform; when I open a Batman issue on a Nexus 7, Comics asked if I wanted to continue where I left off in the iPad app. Those who read on multiple devices will really appreciate that feature.

Even though Comixology’s technology powers Marvel and DC’s own separate digital comics marketplaces, Comics is the place to go if your tastes aren’t tied to a particular publisher. Comics features books from a wide array of publishers both big and small: The Big Two are well-represented, as are smaller houses such as Antarctic Press, Archie, Devil’s Due, Dynamite, IDW, Image, Top Shelf, Valiant, and many, many more. Dark Horse Comics, which is pushing its own non-Comixology app, is notably absent from the Comics marketplace, so you won’t find Hellboy or the new Captain Midnight series, for example. It’s a shame, really. It would be nice to have all the publishers under one roof.

Navigation and Availability
The default screen is the Featured section which highlights sales and new digital releases (you can also view the most recent and most popular titles). Books are available for purchase via the Comixology website on the same day as the print hits brick-and-mortar stores in most cases.

Comics gives you numerous ways to browse books: you can do so by series, story arcs, ratings, publisher, genre, creators, and other criteria. I like the idea more in concept than in execution because the sections are split between Comics’ menu bar and a drop-down box. I would’ve preferred a more unified navigation experience. You can, of course, search using Comics’ built-in search function.

Purchases and Pricing
When you find a book that interests you, simply tap on an issue icon to see an issue synopsis, creator credits, pricing, rating, and sample pages (availability depending on comic) that you can try before buying. Building a collection is as simple as tapping books’ price icons, and waiting for issue, collection, or graphic novel to download. Batman ’66 downloaded in just a few seconds time over my office’s Wi-Fi network. The potent combination of accessibility and ease of use means that comics-heads may have to show some restraint in order to not drain their wallets.

Pricing, however, may deter rampant spending. New digital comics are priced exactly the same as their paper-and-ink counterparts, which from a consumer’s point of view is a tad ludicrous. Each issue of Marvel’s new Super Spider-Man series is priced at $3.99—the same as the physical issues. Plus, there are still several pre-’90s books that are missing in action. Where’s Secret Wars II?

That said, there are a few freebie and $0.99 issues in Comics’ catalog, but $2.99 to $3.99 pricing appears to be the norm (collections, naturally, command more cash). Comics lets you set up alerts so that you know when new issues of your favorite series are in the store—a very cool way to say on top of things.

Should you ever feel the need to pick up a paper-and ink-comic, clicking the Buy In Print option lets you find the nearest brick-and-mortar comics shop by keying in your zip code. Comixology has comics fans covered on many fronts.

The Reading Experience
Comics gives you several ways to read your titles. You can scroll through an issue page by page and digest the story in the same way as you would with a traditional comic. Or, you could use Comixology’s patented Guided View technology. Activated by double-tapping a page, Guided View simulates the flow of reading a comic, by guiding you from blown-up panel to blown-up panel when you swipe from right to left. It’s an incredibly useful feature, especially for comics fans reading on smaller screens such as the Galaxy Note II. It’s also much better than the janky Panel Zoom feature found in Dark Horse Comics’ app.

A handful of comics (such as Batman ’66 and Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted) are built with Guided View in mind. They are similar to motion comics, minus the more annoying aspects (voice work, forced panel movement). Batman ’66, though a solid campy, throwback to the Adam West-era Caped Crusader, didn’t take advantage of the Guided View technology in a manner that didn’t feel gimmicky. It recalled old school 3D movies in which an explosion would gratuitously send a piece of metal hurling toward the audience. Wolverine: Japan’s Most Wanted, however, used the technology to add dramatic weight by fading images in and out of darkness, or panning to objects located just off screen. The technology has potential to enable a new type of storytelling. I’m excited to see how creators leverage it.

Comics has the hookup for those who like to read with their Android devices turned horizontally. The new Fit to Width feature sizes a page so that it fills the entire screen, instead of being a centered, vertical strip with black space on their side. Fit to Width not only makes text easier to read, but also lets you get a closer look at the art (despite needing to do some scrolling, as it doesn’t support Guided View). Users holding their tablets in landscape mode can also enjoy reading two pages at once, though it makes the text a hair difficult to read.

A Marvel-ous App
Tablet-owning comics fans, whether new or returning, should download Comics. The app adds convenience to the comic purchasing and reading process, but some catalog gaps may drive some to visit their local comic shop. But if you prefer reading All-New X-Men without worrying about mylar bags and backing boards, Comics is the way to go.

Comics for Android has a few niggles, but it's the best combination of marketplace and comic book reader on Google's platform
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc