Comic-Con 2010: Top 5 comic book apps

Comic-Con 2010 starts today in San Diego, California, and it promises to be the most tech-friendly event yet. The lines between comic books, movies, games, gadgets and tech have never been as blurred as they are now, and such convergence is great for a comic book industry that was previously struggling to find new converts.

Touchscreen devices are an ideal portal for viewing comic books, with swipe and zoom functionality being second nature to both the equipment and end-user. And this hasn't gone unnoticed by major comic publishers and independent creators alike. Therefore, one rapidly expanding area of any app store, Apple or otherwise, is the comic book section.

With digital copies, comic books can have a far wider reach than ever before. No longer does a reader have to track down their favourite title in one of the, rapidly vanishing, specialist comic book stores.

Although collectors will always be want to acquire a pristine, bagged first edition, to store in a sequentially catalogued box, the rest of us life-long fans can annex vital real estate for our lawnmowers, golf clubs and, even, bumper packs of Pampers nappies, as age takes its hold.

And, thanks to lap, phone or desktop delivery, we can keep up with the adventures of the Green Lantern, Captain America and, even, Dilbert completely guilt-free.

So, without further ado, here are our favourite portable device apps to help you maintain a healthy relationship with the comic book fraternity...


Marvel Comics
iPhone/iPod touch/iPad

Obviously, much has been written of this app before, but it's still the flag-bearer, not only for comic book apps on portable devices, but for media portals generally.

However, while the iPhone/iPod touch version is great, with its frame by frame story mode, Guided View, the application really comes alive on the iPad.

So much so that, when we want to show off that particular tablet's skills, it's always the app we pull up first. Even an anti-comic book audience appreciates the smooth and user-friendly ways it plucks content from the servers and delivers it.

It too features Guided View, but obviously makes more use of the ample screen size. Which also allows for a much better full screen normal reading experience, you can read the speech bubbles when in full-page mode without eye strain.

The only criticism is that, since its launch, it has been slow to add titles. Thankfully, there's now a healthy flow of issues, covering many of the main Marvel Universe characters, although they still lag behind on the latest releases. The price of £1.19 per comic is reasonable though, especially as it's considerably cheaper than the print version.

Of course, Marvel Comics uses ComiXology's engine (who's own Comics app covers a far greater range of publishers and titles), but it is the Marvel-centric branding that attracts.

RATING: 9/10


DC Comics
iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad

Where Marvel treads, every fan knows that it's not long before DC Comics follows. So it now has an app to call its own.

And, if it all seems incredibly familiar, that's because it is. It's the ComiXology engine utilised yet again, just with a different focus, and DC-branded buttons.

Therefore, everything that's great about the Marvel Comics app is relevant here, bar one, not inconsequential, thing: There's just nowhere near the same amount of content available, either free or paid-for. Not yet, at least.

That shouldn't deter you from owning both, though, after all, the apps themselves are free. The choice on which gets the most use will boil down to whether you prefer Batman or Spider-Man, Superman or Captain America, the Justice League or the Avengers.

Us? We love them all.

RATING: 8/10


Comic Reader Mobi
BlackBerry/Windows Phone/iPhone (jailbroken)/iPad (jailbroken)

Comic Reader Mobi is, undoubtedly, our favourite comic book application out there. It has full support for ZIP, RAR, CBR, and CBZ files, with the latter two being the common package types for scanned comics.

Obviously, the biggest source for CBR and CBZ comics is the stealy-web - Torrent sites, namely - but these will also be the file types you'll use should you want to scan your own comics. We'll gloss over the legalities for now, and concentrate on the app itself (after all, there are many legally distributed scanned independent titles out there).

There are two great parts to this app: Firstly, its file structure is extremely easy to navigate through. Using proprietary software, downloadable from the website, you can drag and drop files into folders, which can then be browsed through the on-device application's menu system. And secondly, it is the first app that's designed to help phone users read text without having to expand each frame.

Instead, its intelligent lens function lets you tap a speech bubble, which will contextually expand so that you can read the text, without ruining the picture. It sees the edges of the bubble itself, and only expands what's inside. While it isn't perfectly right 100 per cent of the time, it is in the vast majority of cases.

You can also pinch the area you want to expand, which even helps on the iPad when you have a horizontal double-page spread.

The app isn't free, costing 9.99 euros (approx £8.42) for each format, but it is well-worth the expense.

There's one sore point, however; after a dispute with Apple, the official iPhone and iPad versions have been withdrawn from iTunes by the Cupertino giant. The author has also been banned from the service for a year. So, unless you previously downloaded it before the suspension, the only way to get hold of the apps on those devices is to jailbreak your phone or tablet.

We also suggest whinging to Apple to get it reinstated. It's certainly worth it.

RATING: 10/10


Droid Comic Viewer
Android

The Android-only Droid Comic Viewer is similar to Comic Reader Mobi, in that it also allows you to load up your own CBZ, and ZIP files. Unfortunately, it seems to struggle with CBR and RAR filetypes, although some will work if you persevere, and that may depend on the handset.

It also reads its own, proprietary, ACV files, made of JPEG, GIF, BMP or PNG images.

One area where it differs is that it doesn't have any kind of contextual lens functionality, but it does allow you to zoom and scroll through comics using both the screen and trackball. It also has the unique ability to read comic books stored on an SD card.

And there's a nifty page browser, which CRM doesn't have.

Naturally, its biggest draw is the fact that it's the only Android app in our round-up, so, if you have a compatible phone, it's a shoo-in.

RATING: 8/10


Stanza
iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad

The final app worth recommending is actually one that's been around for a while. However, it has only recently added comic book support to its arsenal, as it's only been an ebook reader previously (and was even rumoured to be heading the way of the dodo).

A recent update has added CBR, CBZ or DjVu scan compatibility, alongside its PDF reading ability, so packaged comic books work extremely well on the app.

It's more per functionary than swish, but it certainly allows you to read your comics with the minimum of fuss. There's no contextual lens or Guided View to worry about, just scrolling from left to right, but its speed (and free price tag) puts it up there as well worth giving a go.

And, of course, reading your comic books through Stanza allows you to keep them and your ebooks in the one place - great for an iPad that doesn't multitask (yet).

RATING: 8/10


How about you? Do you read comic books on a portable device? And, if so, what app or software do you use? Let us know in the comments below...