Marvel Comics HD editions sparkle

Spoiler alert! The latest version of Marvel Comics delivers exceptionally high quality new issues in HD format and lesser quality HD versions of older comics. The new HD issues come with a premium price and the app only delivers Marvel Comics. Four stars.


Apple once again chose to promote a newsstand magazine/app, Whole Living for their App of the Week. The magazine was supposed to provide a free preview issue, but I was damned if I could find it. I did find a subscription option, but I’ve been burned too many times by those “subscribe first for free preview” options where you actually have to cancel to keep from getting charged.

If you already read Whole Living and want the iPad version, it probably is worth the subscription price. But I prefer profligate and sedentary living. So I’m reviewing Marvel Comics new HD upgrade as my App of the Week.

Most of the comics apps are upgrading their old issues to HD for the new iPad Retina display and the results are often exceptional. If you’ve ever watched a DVD upsampled for an HDTV, you get the idea. The images are sharper, the colors richer and the text doesn’t blur or break up when you zoom into a panel.

Marvel has gone a step further, however. They are releasing a new line of HD premium issues. These are the equivalent of Blu Ray discs at 1080p. The text remains razor sharp even when zoomed to the maximum and the lines look like lines from vector apps, absolutely clean at any scale. The colors pop off the screen.

The resolutiolution on the new HD Marvel issues is so crisp you can read text with perfect clarity even zoomed in as far as the app can handle.

Older issues will continue to be upscaled to HD, but new releases will carry the HD logo and a premium price of $4 an issue. Is the quality worth the extra dollar? It depends on how much you love comic art. I bought the original issues of the Watchmen, and then the graphic compilation so I could keep the originals in their protective sleeves. A couple of years ago DC re-released the set using the new printing technologies for for a couple of hundred dollars. The difference was spectacular and, to me, well worth the price.

The navigation engine works the same as ComiXology’s. You can zoom to a panel and then swipe from panel to panel without having to zoom out or turn the page. It’s probably the best implemented comic browsing approach I’ve seen on tablets.

However, Marvel comics in HD are still Marvel comics. To true Marvel fans, that means the premium HD is worth every penny. To me, not so much.

The premium HD comics come with a premium price. HD comics start at $4, which is as much as $2 more than other digital HD comics.

I see three basic generations of comic evolution since WWII. The first generation were the DC super heroes modeled on the older characters (or, as some might say, stolen from the original Captain Marvel). I grew up with these. The stories were short and any story arc was built on references back to other stories. There was no real continuity.1

In the sixties, Marvel raised the bar with heroes in existential crisis. Extended story lines were skeletal, but character back story developed with each issue. These super heroes suffered from self doubt and emotional trauma. In short, character drove the storyline as much as adventure. And Marvel kicked DC into a distant second place. But they were still, essentially, super hero stories and I got bored when I discovered real writers like Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor and Saul Bellow.

In the eighties DC retaliated with Vertigo comics and imported British writers like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, gritty noir writers like Frank Miller and comic writers like Bill Willingham who rewrote old characters and introduced new ones into series whose characters could be amoral or indifferent (John Constantine, the Dark Knight, Dream, Doctor Manhattan, Snow White and Bigby the Bad Wolf), if not disturbingly dark, and whose stories developed across dozens of issues. These characters inspired dozens of quality independent comics such as Planetary, Cadillacs and Dinosaurs and the Middle Man.

Marvel never really caught up with the curve. They tried by bringing over Gaiman to write 1602 and produced a few decent revivals. But for the most part they haven’t produced anything to draw me back. Give me a good story any day and I’ll live with lower image quality if I have to.

I’m hoping Marvel Comics will inspire other publishers to follow suit. I actually use ComiXology’s Comics app for my viewer and their publishers seem to be upgrading some of the issues (although not to this degree of depth and resolution). In the meantime, if you love Marvel and graphic clarity is a priority, Marvel is currently producing the best looking digital issues out there.

Fortunately, you can also buy Marvel HD issues from ComiXology’s Comics as well, for the same price. I downloaded two HD issues from the same series and the images seem equally sharp although you can’t zoom in to quite the same degree. You can also keep your entire collection in the same app if you choose.

Jenny Manytoes rates Marvel Comics

Jenny Manytoes would purr next to Marvel Comics. No matter how you cut it, they currently produce the best graphic display on the iPad. If they also carried other publishers they would be next to perfect.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

1To be honest, EC comics developed several lines of cutting edge comics that remain just as entertaining today as they did in the fifties (unlike Superman). But, unlike DC, they refused to cave to the children’s moral guard who prompted the comics code and gave up the ghost. Only one title survived by morphing into a black and white magazine not subject to the code called “Mad Magazine.”back

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About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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