Digital Comics Weekly: Five Comics You Should Be Downloading
Digital comics are exploding onto the market right now. Already, there are thousands to choose from across a number of services. Between ComiXology, Graphic.ly, and Marvel's Digital Comics Unlimited service, you're looking at somewhere between 200 and 300 new digital comics going up every week. There's a lot to sift through -- some of it good, some of it bad -- but ComicsAlliance is here to help, so we'll be picking out five digital comics each week that you should be downloading, with helpful links to each one.
1. Name: New X-Men: Riot at Xavier's
Creative Team: Grant Morrison (script), Frank Quitely (art), Tim Townsend (inks), Chris Chuckry (color art)
Platform: Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (Web)
Format: Four issues (#135, #136, #137, #138)
Why: This is, all things considered, probably the best X-Men story of all time. The X-Men are about growth and youth, power and control, and hate and love, and these four issues took all of those concepts to their logical extension. Cyclops and his crew were created to be a paramilitary unit. What do the kids of todays do? How do they rebel against that? Is Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence a viable one? Morrison and Quitely dug in deep, and the result are these four nearly perfect comics. Quentin Quire and his crew are intensely relatable, the very picture of teenage insecurity and the frustration at a world that is nothing like our parents told us it would be. It's got all that plus a great love triangle cliffhanger featuring Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Emma Frost.2. Name: Dark Reign Zodiac
Creative Team: Joe Casey (script), Nathan Fox (art), José Villarubia (colors)
Platform: Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited
Format: Three issues (#1, #2, #3)
Why: During Dark Reign, Norman Osborn made supervillainy legit. He took it corporate, and worse than that, he made it part of the government. Osborn took one of the most amazing ways to express yourself and get rich quick and turned it into a tool of the man. While this is great for Osborn and his friends, what about the normal, everyday villain? What about the people who get off on crime, and don't much like to see their hobby mainstreamed? That's what Zodiac is about, and Casey and Fox go all the way in with their idea. It's bloody, ugly, and wonderful, a burst of old-school ultra violence and villainy set during a period where the villains were too busy having meetings in boardrooms to actually get any killing done. This is villain comics done right, with the perfect mix of mean and nasty. You need this comic in your life. Even the lettering is great.
3. Name: Bulletproof Coffin
Creative Team: David Hine (story/script), Shaky Kane (story/art)
Platform: ComiXology (Web, iOS, Android)
Price: $1.99 each
Format: Six issues
Why: Shaky Kane and David Hine know how to have fun, and they know how to do it while creeping you out. Bulletproof Coffin is the story of Steve Nyman, a clean-up man and pop culture collector. He's the guy who comes in and empties out your house after you die, disposing of the junk and keeping what looks nice. One night, Steve Neumann happens across a few comics that shouldn't exist. Immediately after, he spots two men in black watching him. Soon, Steve Noman finds himself in the middle of something he hadn't expected. The comics not only shouldn't exist, but begin affecting Steve Norman's real life. His family, his dreams, all of them become subordinate to the stories in the comics, or perhaps part of the stories. Which is it? What's real? (Preview)
4. Name: The Killer
Creative Team: Matz (story/script), Luc Jacamon (story/art)
Platform: Graphic.ly (Web, iOS, Android)
Price: $1.99 per issue, or $6.99 for volume 1 and $9.99 for volume 2
Format: Ten issues or two collections
Why: This French import is interesting. It's not as action-packed as its title may suggest, choosing instead to focus on the thoughts and methods of the titular killer, but it's still plenty tense. The killer falls victim to both "one last job" and betrayal, but the way the killer comes across as both not that bad of a guy and a murderous bastard is interesting. It's a little ambiguous in execution, and hesitant to make a hard judgment on his lifestyle. The art is very straightforward and avoids flashy action movie cliches, which is always nice to see in a story like this. This is simply good crime comics, putting the mindset and emotions of the characters on an equal footing with the part where people get shot in the head and die. It's a pleasant surprise.
5. Name: The American Way
Creative Team: John Ridley (script), Georges Jeanty (art), Karl Story (inks), Randy Mayor (color art)
Platform: ComiXology (Web, iOS, Android)
Price: $1.99 per issue (#1 is $0.99)
Format: Eight issues
Why: Cape comics that tackle racial issues, even basic ones, are generally a hot mess of condescension and over-simplification. Superman can't punch racism out and win the day, so I've grown to view cape comics that try to address racial politics with a jaundiced eye. The American Way, a Wildstorm joint from 2006, was a pleasant surprise. Rather than trying to fix racism, this series took it head on, addressing what would really happen if superheroes existed in the '60s. There are no easy answers here, nor any platitudes to make you feel better about how your race has affected your life. There is, however, some great action, some interesting twists on a history that we all know, and some interesting political action. Most amazing of all is the fact that Ridley and Jeanty manage to stick the landing by creating a satisfying ending whose reach doesn't extend beyond its grasp. I've pushed this comic on half a dozen people I know, and all of them have dug it.
If you're new to digital comics generally, here's a quick review of the basics:
There are a few things you need to know. You no longer need an iOS device (you know: iPad, iPod, iPhone), but you will need an internet connection, web browser, and, usually, Flash. Generally, you don't get to actually own your digital comics. You're paying to read them, and while this has been a fairly smooth process this far, that may rankle for some readers.
There are a few major players right now. Listed in alphabetical order, and the formats they support:
ComiXology (iOS, Web, Android)
Graphic.ly (iOS, Web, Android)
IDW Comics (iOS)
Marvel Comics on Chrome (Web)
Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (Web)
There are others, but none so influential as these right now. As more major players debut (Dark Horse's digital comics service, for example, is due this year), I'll update the list.
Functionally, not a lot. Most of them allow for panel by panel reading (or a variation thereof) or page-based reading. The main differences are in selection. Frustratingly, certain comics are offered on several services, but released at different times. Marvel alone offers five choices. Most other publishers keep to one distribution method (usually ComiXology or Graphic.ly), and if they don't, they tend to keep their stuff mirrored across the various methods. If you want DC Comics, you're using ComiXology, for example, but Boom! Studios has comics on both. For Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, you'll have to pay a subscription fee. It's essentially Netflix for comics, however, so that may be worth it for you.
Personally, I use a mix of all the services, which is far from an optimal configuration. Poke around and see which one you like the most.
You got me, man. They just kinda come out willy-nilly. Marvel has a weekly schedule, with an option for viewing the next month's releases. That's as close as you'll get to a release schedule. To see what's new on ComiXology, subscribe to this RSS feed. Beyond that... well, things could use a little improvement in this area.