Do Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman work on the iPad? We're giving digital comics a try by reading every title in the so-called New 52.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's an iPad! As DC Comics reboots its entire superhero lineup, we're going to give digital comics a try by reading every title in the so-called New 52. Do Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and DC's massed ranks of caped crusaders work on a screen?
Kapow! Are digital comics any good? Do the comics with the best art work best on the iPad? And are superhero comics really the juvenile sexist tosh they're often dismissed as? From the sumptuous art of Batwoman #1 to the juvenile crassness of Red Hood and the Outlaws#1, the answer to all these questions is yes -- and no.
If you haven't read a comic for a while, now's a good time to give digital comics a try. Just like buying ebooks or music, you can download them anywhere and carry stacks of them in your bag. And they look great -- the iPad's glossy screen show the artwork and colour at their best.
To the app-cave!
To start with, you need a comic-reading app. It's dead easy to buy and read digital comics through apps like ComiXology, which is free and works just like iTunes for comics. You can buy titles from DC, Marvel and loads of other publishers from the store, download them in a matter of moments over the air -- paying automatically with your iTunes account -- and storing them on your iPad. You can search the store by genre, publisher or even the writers and artists behind the comics.
Most comics are between £2 and £3, but there are lots of free taster issues to give you an idea of what's on offer. If you're interested in characters you're already familiar with, then the Marvel and DC characters you know from the movies are all available digitally.
The New 52 consists of 52 titles featuring DC comics heroes, both household names and the less well-known. They all live in the same fictional world, and DC has rebooted each title back to #1 to tie up the past few decades of story continuity into some semblance of consistency and welcome new readers. There are plenty of comic sites such as Bleeding Cool and Comic Book Resources discussing the stories in detail, so here we'll stick to looking at how they work on a tablet.
To read through a comic, you swipe your finger just like turning a page. Each page just about fits on the screen, but most of the time you'll have to zoom in slightly to read the text. But here's the clever bit: double tap, and you go into guided view, which zooms in on a single panel and leads you through the comic, panel by panel, with each tap of the finger.
Zooming in works best when the individual panels are roughly medium-sized and don't overlap -- Green Lantern#1, pictured above, works well for this, with plenty of decent-sized panels and vibrant art to zoom in on.
It takes some getting used to, but we quickly found we were paying more attention to the artwork and following what was going on better -- when we just looked at the full pages we found ourselves zipping through the words without really focusing what was happening in the pictures. Reading like this also rewards you with details you may not have noticed -- such as the mysterious red-cloaked woman who appears somewhere in the background of all 52 comics.
You can set the app to zoom out to the full-sized page at the start and end of each page, so you can keep a sense of where you are, and appreciate the composition of the page.
The composition is important, and throws up the weird situation that the book with the best artwork in the series almost doesn't work on a tablet screen. JH Williams III's gorgeous painted art on Batwoman, pictured above,really deserves to be viewed close up, which the iPad does well. But you lose the impact of his stunningly intricate layouts.
They flow beautifully across the page, creating vistas that are more than the sum of their parts, but in the confines of a screen the impact isn't quite the same. And the overlapping, interconnected panes make it tricky to zoom in neatly.
We're definitely won over to digital comics, partly for the sheer ease of grabbing them and carrying them round, but mostly for they way they focus your attention on the art. Are you a digital comics reader? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And tune in soon for our review of the full New 52 line-up -- same bat-time, same bat-channel!