Marvel Unveils Digital Comics Reader 3.0

Marvel has announced the release of a new and improved version of their Digital Comics Reader this morning, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to take their word for it.

That’s not my way of saying I didn’t check it out; I’ll take any excuse I can get to muck about with some digital comics in the middle of a workday. All I mean to say is that, if Marvel has made major changes to their reader other than some look-and-feel improvements, I cannot tell what those changes are. As far as I can tell, it works the same way it did the last time I used it, which was admittedly some time ago. Maybe a day-to-day user of the product would find the improvements more obvious.

Mind you, the fact that it works the way it works isn’t a bad thing. The first time I ever saw the interface, I remember hissing and making a cross with my fingers in a vain effort to protect myself from it, but since then it has grown on me a great deal, either due to programming modifications or the creaky, glacial process by which I open my mind. I think you’d probably dig it if the idea of digital comics appeals to you at all. In addition to the typical one-page or two-page views, Marvel’s reader also has a “smart panel” mode that moves the page around the screen in a way that mimics how you would move your eye around the page. It’s pretty intuitive, although every time I use it my heart goes out to the poor intern that’s sitting in a cubicle somewhere designating “smart panels” on page after page after page. It sounded like a good job when he took it! Now he’s scanning his 400th page of JMS Civil War tie-ins and envying the dead.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

I am glad to see Marvel making this kind of investment in digital comics, but I still haven’t made an investment in a subscription. I am sitting in the center of the bullseye of the target audience for this product, I love the reader, and it’s only five bucks a month… but I just can’t do it for two reasons.

First: I’m sure that by the time my kid has a laptop, she will be in a world where all of her mail and music and movies and school papers will be on a Google server a thousand miles from here, but dammit, I don’t want to buy access to a comic; I want to buy a comic. Even if it’s just a file, I want the file on my hard drive where no one but me can decide to arbitrarily take it down. I cling to the concept of ownership.

Second: Marvel’s selection still completely misses the point. We’ve talked about this since the day they launched the service. The reader gives you access to thousands of old comics when what so many of us are actually clamoring for are day-and-date releases of the new ones. It’s like Sony creating a PS4 that only plays Atari cartridges. I understand that they don’t want to cannibalize the comic shops’ business– and I don’t want my guy to go out of business either– but in their attempt to please everyone they’re spending millions of dollars to create an online dentist’s waiting room. (They must know that, right? They must know that’s the only thing keeping them from owning the market and killing piracy utterly. Or am I just assuming my tastes are everyone’s tastes, when in fact all of you would love to spend five dollars a month to finally get access to all those House of M tie-ins?)

I cannot bang the drum loudly enough about new releases, but I would still recommend Marvel’s digital reading experience if you’re feeling nostalgic (which is sort of ironic, now that I think about it). You don’t have to take my word for it: Marvel offers a handful of freebies so you can see for yourself. Check it out, and let me know how offbase you think I am.


  1. The menu for showing the Iron Man comic looks almost dead on to what Longbox is doing. I’m sure there are massive differences. Shame they don’t have the idea of new releases up for every week yet. I would totally be on board the Marvel Reader more so if that was the case.

  2. I might even sign up for the sake of getting access to old comics, but last time I looked*, you couldn’t get entire runs of old comics.  You could get random issues that didnt’ necessarily line up with anything.  I might be willing to read that way looking through the quarter bins, but if I’m going to pay good money for a subscription service, I’d like to be able to actually look up something I want and then read it.

    *(This may have changed since the last time I checked out the Digital Reader, someone please tell me if it has).

  3. I feel largely the same as Jim on this.

    Actually, for the first year of Marvel DCU I was a subscriber. I bought a yearly subscription, and tried to use it as often as possible to plug gaps in titles I’d missed and issues my LCS had sold out of by the time I got to the store. And in that resect it was fine. But the lack of NEW content was quite annoying.

    I also find that the majority of time I have to read comics is when I’m travelling. On a bus. On a train. On a Plane even. All times when you are not able to access Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited – because acheiving a steady internet signal is not possible. And that’s my biggest bug bear. I want to paay for, download, and read a comic at my leisure. Not whilst forced to being connected to the internet.

    Marvel do not offer that service.

    Nor do they look likely to embrace it any time soon. Every single book in their weekly releases can be stolen by the end of each Wednesday via a bit-torrent site, but Marvel won’t damn well let you pay for a download.

    And that was my chief reason foir not renewing after the first year. I’d read all the old books I really wanted to.

    Well… actually that’s not really true either. I’d read all but the odd issue or two of several runs I’d wanted to. You see, I don’t know if this has chaged now, but in year one almost EVERY run had intentional holes in it. Why? Who can say. There was always a link to a trade of the issues in question, but having paid Marvel for the service already didn’t exactly make me want to pay AGAIN for the trade. And that was probably the biggest reason I got out, if I’m being realistic.

    I hope for those who do still enjoy the service, though, that the new Reader is a little less buggy. I had to empty my internet cache, delete all my cookies, and reboot my PC every other day in order to get the bloody think to load in pages at all.

    All in all I had a very bad experience with Marvel DCU. It’s a noble gesture, but the act of a comic book company trying to sidestep what really needs to be done to adapt towards the real current market.

    Direct Digital download will overtake the medium of comics in the next 5 years. There really is no sense trying to compromise.

  4. If it was a buck to download a comic, there are some I would buy that way. Some I’d rather have in my hand on paper. It wouldn’t necessarily kill the direct market, but it would probably hurt it somewhat.

  5. The images still look like utter crap. Open up Astonishing X-Mwn #1 and it looked muddy as hell. Go download any decent pirate issue and it is night and day. This is pathetic.

  6. I love Marvel’s Digital service. I bought one year access for $60. In the first week, I read more than $100 worth of trades. I share my account with my wife and she loves it as well.

    It’s great that the Marvel reader is Flash-based so any computer can access the library without having to carry around anything more than my netbook.The reader works very well. The options are nice, especially the smart panels which work wondersfor netbook users. My only complaint is that I cannot rotate the reader on the screen.

    I would like for Marvel to expand the service to include more current comics. I would happily pay $12 for a 1 year digital subscription on top of the $5 a month access to the complete library.

  7. eww. digital reader. I’ll pass. Prefer to hold my books, but still, congrats marvel.

  8. Still not impressed by this reader.  The images look jaggy and the smart panels are clunky and at some points jerky (jerking away from the page and snapping back to the new place).  A much more elegant implementation of this "smart panel" stuff is found on Comixology on the iPhone.  Go read Walking Dead #1 on that to see how smart panels can be.

    I can’t wait to take Longbox for a spin.  That’s really what i’m looking forward to the most.  Then i could keep up with a book and get the trade later for a hopefully better than AmazonIST price. 

  9. I’m not big on digital comics and would rather have something tangible. Having said that, Marvel digital comics are still a good idea. I would love to preview new comic that I was unsure of buying and agree marvel isn’t doing enough but they’re off to a good start.  $5 a month for accress to thousands of comics is a good deal.  I don’t subscribe anymore but this winter I signed up when I got snowed in for over a week.  I had no new comics to read and I signed up and read several comics I never read before.

  10. I love digital comics, probably read 1000 by now of Marvel’s comics from the 60s.

    This is better than other companies, because it has the only comics that matter: MARVEL!

  11. I second what DWarren is saying. Somewhat obtuse panel-to-panel reading, and it wasn’t as intuitive as their first pass at a digital reader. It’s usable though, I guess. Maybe worth the subscription if you read A LOT of Marvel but tradewaited most of it.

    I’m chomping at the bit to start with Longbox, though.

  12. Seconded. Longbox excites me far more.

  13. They still haven’t fixed the bug where you log into the site and you open a comic and it only shows you the first 5 pages and tells you to subscribe to see more!  They need to revamp the website along with this upgrade to the reader. Even after I log in, the site still shows me all these notices asking me to subscribe, it’s badly designed. Subscribers who log in should not see any of that stuff.

  14. That’s STILL happening, IroncladMerc? That is frustrating. They really do need to sort kinks like that out.

  15. @IronCladMerc: Which browser do you use? I use Firefox on Windows and Ubuntu and have not run into that problem.

  16. Yeah…still not interested. Wake me up when you they have high quality and downloads.

  17. They certainly don’t supply the sharpest of images on Marvel DCU. Especially with older issues.

    There’s also an issue with speech balloons, which are treated as a seperate element on the page. If you happen to have a larger monitor the balloons often become misaligned on the page. That was one of the many issues that doesn’t appear to have been resolved since they launched the service, but as they don’t appear to have any real procedure for feedback it’s very hard to report bugs.

  18. I use both Chrome and Firefox 3 and both have the same problem. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough to be annoying. I’ve raised a ticket with Marvel support and all they had to offer was to try logging out then back in. That does work, but I wish they’d just fix their system once and for all.