Sagas in Panels #5

Jeff Hargarten

Comparing digital comic subscriptions

Confused about how, when and where to read comics? Uncertain of what titles to subscribe to?

There are some digital solutions to deal with those conundrums and satiate the indecisive comic fan.

Digital comics have grown past their infancy and are far more accessible and appealing than they have been in years past. It’s possible to get digital subscriptions, or even access to an entire online publication library, for a fraction of the cost of traditional hardcopy, snail mail subscriptions.

Sure, digital comics remove the charm of holding an issue in your hands and don’t possess that collector’s novelty. They’re fleeting and usually contingent upon paying for ongoing access, plus they’re often a few months behind the latest issues. But on the pro side, digital comics don’t rot or tear, they cost less and you can take them — meaning virtually limitless issues — just about anywhere using smartphones, tablets, e-readers like Nooks or Kindles or just a plain old laptop. It’s easy to burn a bus ride catching up on issues of “Daredevil,” “Justice League” or “Transmetropolitan.”

It’s also a great solution for new readers who may be simply interested in catching up with storylines or exploring which titles they may wish to get a regular subscription to. And upon choosing said subscription, it’s recently become possible to receive those issues entirely digitally.

The major publishers currently all have some form of digital comic subscriptions or library access, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Depending upon what titles or characters you’re interested in, how much access you want and your price range, one of these plans might be right for you.

Dark Horse Digital

Dark Horse, while smaller than D.C. and Marvel, is home to “Hellboy,” “Star Wars,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Conan the Barbarian.” It also offers some decent digital comics deals, allowing readers to purchase discounted bundles of issues for the price of a single hardcopy, access to its currently-limited-but-expanding digital library and even several free issues. Dark Horse also offers multi-issue collections in digital format, which can be a great deal compared to purchasing dead tree omnibuses and graphic novels.

Dark Horse’s digital editions are great for anyone who doesn’t want to be locked into a subscription or pay for access to huge libraries of which they can only read a small portion.

DC Digital Comics

D.C. has a sizeable online library, which includes digital collections available the same day as print, special single issues for 99 cents, the most recent issues of popular titles and even entire graphic novels.

While they have a growing library, D.C. does not currently offer digital subscriptions and can be more expensive than its competitors since it doesn’t offer fee-based access to its whole library like Marvel. It does have a somewhat disappointing digital comics app for tablets and smartphones, though future upgrades might render it more useful and useable.

Marvel Unlimited

Marvel Comics gets the prize for best digital plans. Not only does it offer digital versions of single issues, new issues and subscriptions, its Marvel Unlimited service is the Netflix of digital comics, offering access to a library of 13,000 issues and growing for $9.99 per month, all available on multiple devices via its mobile app. You can even download up to 12 issues at once for offline browsing should the Internet suddenly become elusive.

What’s available? Pretty much everything. For example, it’s possible to read every issue of Uncanny X-Men from its first in 1963 to the final 544th issue before its recent relaunch.

The drawbacks include delayed release of newer issues, so its library is always a few months behind, which forces readers to purchase either the digital copy or hardcopy from the stands. In that respect, Marvel’s individual digital subscriptions are best for staying current. The app can also be clunky and glitchy at times, leaving the laptop browser experience a better option to read the comics, if for screen size alone.

But for those who care more about delving into Marvel’s vast publication history, calling up favorite issues from the past or don’t mind waiting a few months for the next issue of “Deadpool,” Marvel Unlimited is the best solution.

Comixology

But what if you’re one of those cross-universe comic fans? The kind of person who loves Spider-Man and Batman and wants to read both on your iPad without being locked into paying regular fees to one publisher or another?

Enter Comixology, an online comic library and mobile app that offers access to digital editions from Marvel, D.C., Dark Horse and more. In fact, it offers 40,000 digital titles from 75 publishers, making it a great way to find those obscure comic book gems from independent creators. It offers a good selection of free comics too.