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An Exclusive Preview of Dark Horse’s Digital Comics Site, Live in January

When Dark Horse announced their all-new digital comics initiative at New York Comic-Con, they promised a proprietary store that would neatly side-stepping Apple’s App Store, comics priced at $1.49 for single issues and up to $5.99 for collections, simultaneous print and digital releases for certain titles, a library that was viewable on iPhones, iPads, and desktop computers, and a full launch in January 2011.

We’re getting close to its launch, where it will initially offer over 150 items for sale, and now ComicsAlliance has your first look at those titles — and why the Dark Horse store may end up being better than how the Big Two is currently offering digital comics.Dark Horse’s store is a notable addition to the world of digital comics for a few reasons. The price for a single comic is a maximum of $1.49 across the line, significantly lower than DC’s max of $2.99 and Marvel’s max of $3.99. Rather than offering single issues alone, as most major digital comics publishers do right now, Dark Horse is offering readers a choice of three types of items: comics, discounted bundles of comics, and graphic novels. One-shots, graphic novels, and other reading experiences appear to be priced according to their length, rather than format.

While the prices of comics and one-shots are a flat $1.49, graphic novels and bundles are priced a little differently, and not entirely the same across the board. Eric Powell’s The Goon: Chinatown costs $3.99 despite being a handsome 128-page hardcover in print, but Adam Warren’s Empowered, a 248 page softcover in a format a little larger than your average manga, is $5.99. This means that In print, Empowered is cheaper than Chinatown, but the reverse is true digitally.

Bundles of comics range from $2.99 to $5.99, with packs of three issues generally costing $2.99, four issues costing between $3.99 and $4.99, and five costing $5.99. Judging by the bundled pricing of Grendel: Behold the Devil, the first bundle of four issues for a comic might be priced at $3.99, while further bundles of four would be $4.99.

We’re still over a month from the official opening of the store and actually getting to examine the reading experience, but judging by Dark Horse’s launch titles — listed in full at the end of the article — they certainly aren’t going to be hurting for content. The list is an interesting cross-section of Dark Horse’s library, with a solid mix of titles with crossover appeal or simply a high level of quality.

Mike Mignola’s BPRD and Hellboy series are well represented in this first offering, with the equivalent of eight trade paperbacks on sale. These series have done a lot for Dark Horse’s reputation as a publisher of comics worth reading, with relentlessly high quality work from Mignola, John Arcudi, Guy Davis, Duncan Fegredo, and Richard Corben.

A few Joss Whedon comics are going to be available, but the biggest gun of all, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, is not yet available. Dr. Horrible, Serenity, and Fray, a sequel (of sorts) to Buffy, are going to be available, however, so it’s fair to assume that Buffy is being held back for a release on its own. Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a particularly dedicated and vocal online fanbase, and saving the digital release of the series until later is an easy way to almost guarantee domination of a day’s news cycle for free.

Mass Effect: Redemption, Terminator: 1984, Terminator: 2029, and Troublemaker Volume 1 all represent the same type of comic: one that is reaching beyond the direct market. If typical comic fan picks these comics up, great, but they’re primarily aimed at a much wider audience. Mass Effect: Redemption is a spin-off of Mass Effect, a hit story-driven Xbox 360 role playing game. Mass Effect has a fanbase that’s hungry for more tales from the game and are willing to pay money for downloadable content to get it. Why not offer them comics as well?

Troublemaker is a fascinating choice and a clear play for the bookstore market. This two-part graphic novel is based on a series of novels by best-selling author Janet Evanovich. Evanovich and her daughter, Alex, wrote the graphic novel, while Joëlle Jones drew it. Rather than being a non-essential story (in terms of canon) like Mass Effect: Redemption, Troublemake is part of the ongoing plot of Evanovich’s Barnaby novels. If fans of Evanovich want the whole story, they have to make a pit stop in comics land before getting back on the novel highway. Offering it digitally is, therefore, a no-brainer. Consumers who may not be used to reading comics can then purchase the book for $5.99, a drop in the bucket compared to the prices of your average hardcover, which is often closer to twenty dollars.

The rest of the list is a testament to Dark Horse’s versatility and willingness to try new things as a publisher. Evan Dorkin and Jill Thompson’s Beasts of Burden is available, a critically-acclaimed, more or less all-ages friendly book about animal detectives, and it’s launching alongside Empowered, Adam Warren’s self-described “sexy superhero comedy.” Conan, a comic franchise with an impressive artistic lineage and history, stands right alongside Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s The Umbrella Academy, an entirely new property in the world of comics. And then, of course, there is Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai, which is simply a master cartoonist doing his thing.

There are a few notable absences, but considering that so much of Dark Horse’s line-up is creator owned (like Frank Miller’s Sin City or Paul Chadwick’s Concrete), licensed from other companies (like Aliens, Predator, or Star Wars), or manga (Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf & Cub, Hiroya Oku’s Gantz or CLAMP’s Cardcaptor Sakura for example), it’s likely that there are tangled rights issues to be solved before they are made available for sale online. When we interviewed Michael Gombos, Director of Asian Licensing for Dark Horse Comics, about Dark Horse’s manga line in August, he said that, “…on some projects, there are as many as seven different rights holders, and many of them have designs for what they’d like to be doing in regard to the digital aspect… We’ll be doing what we can to offer our titles digitally.”

Overall, Dark Horse seems to understand exactly what will make digital comics a success: convenience, portability, depth of library, and most of all, price point. It’s easy to justify a buck fifty for comics or ninety-nine cents for a first issue. Getting an entire trade for six bucks, when the print version retails for eighteen dollars, is the kind of deal that’s hard to pass up. Having your prices low enough that impulse buying is a very real possibility is a good idea in anyone’s book. As a first stab, this is a pretty good selection. There are a wide range of genres here, with representation for several different age groups and audiences. We’ll be very interested to see how Dark Horse’s store works out in the future.

Baltimore: The Plague Ships
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issue #2 through #5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues: $5.99

Beasts of Burden
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #4: $1.49 each
Bundle of all four issues: $3.99

BPRD: Hollow Earth
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issues #2 and #3: $1.49 each
Bundle of all three issues: $2.99

BPRD: Plague of Frogs
Issues #1 through #5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues: $5.99

BPRD: The Dead
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issues #2 through 5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues: $5.99

BPRD: Dark Waters
One-Shot: $1.49

BPRD: Night Train
One-Shot: $1.49

BPRD: Soul of Venice
One-Shot: $1.49

BPRD: Something Under the Bed
One-Shot: $1.49

BPRD: Dark Waters, Night Train, Soul of Venice and Something Under the Bed
Bundle of all four issues: $4.99

Conan
Issue #0: Free
Issues #1 through #15: $1.49 each
Bundle of issues #0 through #3: $3.99
Bundle of issues #4 through #7: $4.99
Bundle of issues #8 through #11: $4.99
Bundle of issues #12 through #15: $4.99

Criminal Macabre
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues: $4.99

Dr. Horrible
One-Shot: $1.49
The TPB (includes 5 stories): $3.99

Empowered
One-Shot Special: $1.49
Volumes #1-#3: $5.99 each

Falling Skies
NYCC Custom Comic and installments #1 through #4: Free
Installments #5 through #7: Free

Fallout: New Vegas-All Roads
Preview: Free

Fray: Future Slayer (by Joss Whedon)
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #8: $1.49 each
Bundle of issues #1 through #4: $3.99
Bundle of issues #5 through #8: $4.99

The Goon/Hellboy crossover
One-shot: $1.49

The Goon Volume 6: Chinatown: $3.99

Grendel: Behold the Devil
Issue #1: Free
Issue #2 through #8: $1.49 each
Bundle of issues #1 through #4 with the #0 issue: $3.99
Bundle of issues #5 through #8: $4.99

The Guild
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issue # 2 and #3: $1.49 each
Bundle of all three issues: $2.99

Hellboy: Almost Colossus
Issues #1 and #2: $1.49 each

Hellboy: Box Full of Evil
Issues #1 and #2: $1.49 each

Hellboy: Almost Colossus and Box Full of Evil
Bundle of all four issues: $4.99

Hellboy: Christmas Underground
One-Shot: $1.49

Hellboy: Corpse and Iron Shoes
One-Shot: $1.49

Hellboy: The Wolves of St. August
One-Shot: $1.49

Hellboy: Wolves, Corpse and Christmas
Bundle of all three issues: $3.99

Hellboy: Seed of Destruction
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #4: $1.49 each
Bundle of all four issues: $3.99

Hellboy: Wake the Devil
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issues #2 through #5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues $5.99

Kull: The Shadow Kingdom
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #6: $1.49 each
Bundle of all six issues: $5.99

Mass Effect: Redemption
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #4: $1.49 each
Bundle of all four issues: $3.99

Serenity: Float Out one-shot: $1.49

Serenity: Those Left Behind
Issue #1: 99 cents
Issues #2 and #2: $1.49 each
Bundle of all three issues: $2.99

Serenity: Better Days
Issues #1 through #3: $1.49
Bundle of all three issues: $3.99

Serenity: The Shepherd’s Tale: $5.99

Solomon Kane: Castle of the Devil
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #5: $1.49 each
Bundle of all five issues: $4.99

Joss Whedon’s Sugarshock (one-shot): $1.49

Terminator: 1984
Issues #1 through #3: $1.49 each
Bundle of all three issues: $3.99

Terminator: 2029
Issues #1: Free
Issues #2 and #3: $1.49 each
Bundle of all three issues: $2.99

Troublemaker Volume 1: $5.99

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite
Issue #1: Free
Issues #2 through #6: $1.49 each
Bundle of all six issues: $5.99

Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Issues #1 through #6: $1.49
Bundle of all six issues: $5.99

Umbrella Academy: 14-page Free Comic Book Day story: Free

Usagi Yojimbo: Yokai: $5.99

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