Marvel & DC: Comics in HD

When I was a kid, I used to take two city buses to reach the local comic book store, then another and then I’d walk a mile or so to my parent’s office so I could get a ride home. Eventually, I moved on to another hobby and sold my collection, but I didn’t really want to — they were just taking up too much space.

Today, there are tons of great comic apps on the iPad, and most of them are built by Comixology. The big two are really the ones everyone talks about: Marvel and DC Comics. Almost two years ago, I introduced you to the two apps. Today, with the advancements made with the new iPad, things are much, much better. Let’s compare the two titans of the industry after the jump.

A Primer

When the iPad was first released, reading books and magazines on the device was a natural fit. And then came comics, and we all saw what we were missing. Before, we had faded newsprint with poor ink quality and faded colors. But now, it was alive with color. Even comics from the ’50s and ’60s looked great, and I personally spent a good chunk of cash building a new collection — and I’ve loved every minute.

A non-HD title on the left, HD on the right.

A non-HD title on the left, HD on the right.

But when the new iPad was released, there came another wrinkle: the Retina display. Now, text that was slightly blurry before was crisp and tight. Colors became even more vibrant, and the details became so specific that you could see every little tweak and pen mark on the page. The result is pretty sweet.

How They Work

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s talk about the basics of the Comixology system and how it applies to both Marvel and DC’s apps. To download any comic, you first need to establish a Comixology account. They don’t need your credit card info or anything like that, but they do need your name and email address, that way they can send you updates.

The storefronts have identical layouts, with featured titles up top and scrollable smaller sections for other releases.

The storefronts have identical layouts, with featured titles up top and scrollable smaller sections for other releases.

Once you’re signed in, you can purchase any comic you want using the in-app purchasing system. It works pretty much as you’d expect: tap the price, confirm the purchase, enter in your iTunes password and wait for it to download. The original version of these apps required you to wait for the download to finish before you started reading. Now you can read the comic right away, although you might have to wait for individual pages to download if you’re a fast reader.

The Free Stuff

Obviously there are some pretty major differences between the character lineups between Marvel and DC, but the apps are different as well. It used to be that Marvel had a pretty solid selection of free comics, at least one or two per week. Now, you’re lucky to find one per month, and even then it’s a throwaway or promotional item for some product you don’t want. It’s a bit disappointing.

DC offers a Digital Sneak Peek book which gives you lots of content for free.

DC offers a Digital Sneak Peek book which gives you lots of content for free.

However, DC has a book named DC Comics Digital Sneak Peeks that includes a few pages from every release during that week. So even if you don’t read Justice League, you can catch a few pages and see if it tickles your fancy. This is also nice when there’s a crossover between books, because you can catch up on little bits here and there.

The HD Part

Certain books are labelled “HD,” which refers to the higher resolution at which they were scanned. But can you tell the difference? Kind of.

Comics have come a long ways.

Comics have come a long ways.

I found that sometimes the text was easier to read, and occasionally the color in older books looked a bit better. But really, the difference isn’t so substantial that you’d hate a non-HD book and love one in HD. There isn’t a premium associated with HD comics either, so there’s no advantage or disadvantage financially. Ultimately, all of these comics look amazing, tweaking the DPI a bit for HD versions just doesn’t have that huge of an impact.


Both Marvel and DC have lots and lots of content to work with, and it seems like there’s always something new happening in each app. Both of them have weekly releases, most of which are the same day as print. The prices reflect that unfortunately, so sometimes you’re paying $3.99 for a new book that will dip in price after a few weeks. And then there’s the vast catalog of older content that they upload on a regular basis. I have no idea how many books are actually in each app, but it’s got to be in the thousands.

Some titles come out on the same day as their print counterparts.

Some titles come out on the same day as their print counterparts.

But back to the pricing thing. $3.99 for what is essentially a PDF is a pretty big rip, and yet I find myself paying for it quite often. In my case, it comes down to convenience and a lack of patience. I don’t want to hustle down to the comic book store once a week to see the new titles; it’s much easier for me to download the book right away. And since I get hooked on some of them, I want to know what happens next as soon as possible. In some cases I’ve waited it out, but when the new Batman is released? Game over.

The Downsides

Some purists will argue that there’s no way to install your own scanned comics into the app, similar to an iTunes library for your collection. Although there are other apps that fill that need, none of the Comixology offerings that I’ve used offer that feature — and it shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, they’re trying to sell you comics here, not let you upload your own stuff.

You won't find everything, but some classics are definitely available.

You won’t find everything, but some classics are definitely available.

You’re not going to find everything you want here, either. For example, if you’re jonesin’ for a little Return of the Dark Knight by Frank Miller, you’re gonna be out of luck. Certain titles just can’t be found. Now that doesn’t mean they won’t be available at some point, it’s just a matter of when.

Final Thoughts

The biggest downfall for me with collecting comics was the space. In my tiny bedroom, I didn’t have room for twelve boxes of comics, but that’s what I had at one point, and I had to sell them to move forward. But today, I can have all those comics and more on my iPad, and I can remove and re-download titles to accomodate for the storage on the device. It’s about as perfect as it gets.

If you’re a comic book fan and you’re OK with paying for digital titles, then you can’t go wrong with either app. Sure, you might be paying a premium for a file, but the added convenience — for me, anyways — makes it well worth it.