Sunday, June 15, 2008

Digital Comics Shopping Guide

UPDATE: When Marvel solicits were announced Tuesdays, it was revealed that they will be releasing their own DVD-ROM collections. So after you read this, hop over to Tuesadys post for the full story. We now return you to the regularly scheduled post...

Sorry for the inconvenience. Because I love you, my readers, and because all these darned "give gifts to other people" holidays are finally past us, I'm going to talk about things that you can buy for yourselves. Namely, comic books for your computer.

First, a note to DC Comics--where the hell are you on this? Marvel is eating your lunch, Paul Levitz!! Even if Marvel's products aren't perfect, they're still much better than NOTHING!

Anyhoo, for Marvel-heads, there are two options available, and one of those is fast becoming unavailable.

The latter are the DVD-ROM sets put together by GIT Inc, covering the entire runs of such classics as Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Captain America, Incredible Hulk, etc. Marvel did not renew GIT Corp's license, so they could push their own online digital comics, and the sets are no longer in print. You can still most most of the readily enough on Amazon or EBay, and even at your local comics store. But you'd best act fast if you're interested in this option, because they won't be around forever. Already the Iron Man set is almost impossible to find for less than $90 (list is $49.99 for most), and I imagine that as the other sets sell down, they'll also get more expensive.

The other method, of course, is Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, the online subscription service that gives you access to tens of thousands of Marvel's comics in an all-you-can-eat style, for $4.99/month if you pay annually, or $9.99 one month at a time.

So what are the differences? The DVD-ROMs give you depth, while MDCU gives you breadth.
When GIT Corp promised you a complete collection, well, they mostly mean it. The Fantastic Four collection has every single issue and Annual for the Fantastic Four from #1 all the way up to the first couple of issues of 2007. Captain America has his complete run from Tales of Suspense (including the Iron Man stories from those issues!!) and all the various volumes of Captain America, up until the death of Cap in Volume 5 #25. Let me emphasize, though, that it's not 100% of everything...while they have all of the Annuals, they don't have the Giant-Sizes that Marvel published in the 1970s, many of which contained important stories (especially the Avengers!). Stories that cross over into other titles can be frustrating, because you won't get the part that appeared in some other title. Also, spin-offs, mini-series, one-offs, and oddballs aren't included. Still, you get a lot of bang for your buck: over 500 comics in the Cap set, 750 (!) in the FF/Silver Surfer set, for a hell of a lot less than it would cost to get those things in trades/ Essentials/Omnibi.

MDCU, by contrast, is not nearly as complete. Right now, you really can't get complete runs of titles. As opposed to 543 issues and 32 Annuals for the FF from GIT Corp, MDCU offers fewer than 200 issues of the main FF series, and only 4 annuals. More comics are being added every week, but if you're interested in complete runs, this may not be the way to go for you.

But, oh, the breadth!! MDCU does give you most of those mini-series or Specials. And whereas each GIT Corp set is focused on one mag, while you subscribe you have EVERY MDCU comic available to you...over 2,700 at last count. Virtually every title Marvel has ever published has at least some issues represented. And as I's all you can eat, so if you want to read thousands of comics a month, well, I envy your free time, but more power to you.

So, completists should look at the DVD-ROMs, browsers the MGDC.

Permanence and accessibility is another factor to consider. Once you own the GIT Corp sets, they're yours forever, obviously. But with MDCU, you can't actually download them. You have to view them online through your browser, so obviously you need an internet connection going for the service to be useful. If you want to access these on the road, you might have some trouble, whereas you could just pop in the DVD with the other option (or burn it straight to your hard drive if you have room...the FF disc is less than 8GB). Also, once you let your subscription lapse, you can no longer access the issues. So, if you're a read-it-once-and-done type, MDCU might be your best option. If you want it forever, GIT Corp is the way to go (unless, of course, you plan to subscribe to MDCU forever...).

The quality of the comics on screen has a big difference. GIT Corp took actual copies of all the comics and scanned them. So, especially with older titles, the quality was limited by the condition of the mags available to them. Note, for example the first page of FF#1 below, complete with fading, somebody's stamp inside the cover (!), and other deterioration. MDCU, by contrast, went back to "the original files" to create their online offerings, which means clean, clean, clean. I've presented their version of that same page below, as well.

FF #1, GIT Corp DVD
FF #1, Marvel Digital ComicsThat difference in procedure does lead to one more difference in product, as you saw. GIT Corp scanned the entire comic, so you get EVERY single ad, every single letter column, every single Bullpen Bulletin, every back get the entire published book. MDCU only gives you the story pages, nothing else. Do you find that kind of thing a nostalgia trip, or do they just get in the way of your enjoyment of reading the book? Decide how much those type of things matter to you before you decide which to invest in.

Printing? GIT Corp does allow you to print out pages, but a (not terribly intrusive) Marvel watermark will turn up on each page. MDCU doesn't allow printing, but of course you can do screen caps and print those...but that's a lot of work. Who wants to print out whole comics, anyway??

The interfaces are different, but both come from Adobe. (Info note: I'm looking at these on a 19" monitor with 1280X1024 resolution...please take your own screen into account when reading the next bit) GIT Corp uses a straight Adobe Reader format, which most of you are plenty familiar with. You cannot alter the two-pages-at-a-time format, which can be a drag. My screen is big enough to show the pages at 100% size...if yours isn't, you have the standard Adobe Reader magnify tools, but that can make panel navigation very tricky. It's a very functional interface, but very basic, and no bells and whistles. Also very annoying...each menu choice opens a new Adobe window, so by the time I choose Fantastic Four, decade, year, and issue number, I've got 5 seperate Adobe windows open...very sloppy.

MDCU uses Adobe Flash to view the books within your browser. One drawback--the entire comics can take 30 seconds to a minute to load completely, depending on your internet connection. You have a choice of two page or one page mode, but if you do one page you will have to greatly reduce your magnification to fit it on your screen, and the stupid application will NOT remember your magnification settings from page to page!! Yuck. Fortunately, one more option is provided: "smart panels," which essentially blows up one panel or row of panels at a time, and you can you use your arrow keys to navigate back and forth. Pretty nifty, but unusual panel structures will confuse it, and sometimes it just acts herky-jerky and clunkity. See screen caps of Captain America #100 in both formats below. Oh, yeah, and MDCU gives you freakin' ads! I hope that's only on the free samples, and not when you subscribe, because giving us crap ads for crap movies when we've already paid our bills is crap, Marvel!

Cap #100, GIT DVD
Cap #100, Marvel Digital ComicsSo you've got 2 formats, neither perfect, each with pluses and minuses, each of which fits the needs of some users and not others. For those who are interested, hopefully I've given you the info to help you make an informed decision, if you're interested.

And DC, where the hell are you guys? It's the 21st century!! Do you know how much I would pay for a Legion of Super-Heroes DVD-ROM??


De said...

Thanks for doing a comparison of GIT vs MDCU, Snell. As far as secondary prices go, Iron Man (the last regular disc offered) and Civil War (a Diamond exclusive) are probably the most "insane" right now at $90 and $80, respectively. However, even at $90, it still works out to less than 20 cents per Iron Man comic.

There was a post over in the GIT forums as to why there are no DC DVD-ROMs. It has something to do with royalties to creators that DC pays out every time work is reprinted. I truly wish DC could find some way to offer their stuff on DVD-ROM, even if it was just the Golden Age material (like when they had microfiches a decade or two ago). I'd eat that stuff up with a spoon.

Siskoid said...

Great post!

Do I want the ads? Not especially. But I would really want to have the letters pages.