Marvel Vs DC: Two iPad Comic Apps Go Head to Head

It’s a battle that’s raged for decades: Marvel Comics versus DC Comics. Who has the better heroes and villians? Could Batman take on Iron Man and win? Who’s better: Superman or Thor? Well we don’t have the answers to those big questions, but we do have a way for you to find out.

Both Marvel and DC have iPad and iPhone apps available on iTunes right now, both with different experiences – even though they’re produced by the same company. So out of the two, which one do you get? Is there one app better than the other? Follow along, true believer, and find out for yourself.

The iPhone Option

Alright, let’s just get this out of the way right now: You don’t want the iPhone versions of either of these apps. Why? Comics are meant to be read full size, not on a tiny screen, and the navigation system is clunky. You start off zoomed in to the text, then flick to expand to the full panel or the next text bubble. Although this is great in a bind, it’s just not convenient. Pretend it doesn’t exist and let’s move on to the good stuff.

Start off zoomed in on text, then flick out to see the big picture. See? You don't want this.

Start off zoomed in on text, then flick out to see the big picture. See? You don't want this.

Marvel Comics

We’ll start by talking about the Marvel Comics iPad app. For reference, both of these apps are based on the ComiXology platform, so the bones are all the same: Each app has a home page for your downloaded comics, one for the store, and one for settings. But it’s the content where things change.

The landscape view of the Marvel Comics iPad store.

The landscape view of the Marvel Comics iPad store.

The Marvel store breaks down into four sections: Featured, New, Popular, and Free. Each one has a splash page at the top, then a list of individual comics that you can buy. Just click on a price, and a window appears with a breakdown of the comic. Then you can see a preview, find it at a local comic shop, or buy it right there by entering in your iTunes password. Everything is done via in-app purchasing, and just like everything purchased on iTunes, you get a bill after a few days. If you decide to purchase a comic, then it downloads right away and gets stored locally on your device in the “My Comics” section.

Portrait view of the Marvel store, and of a page in a comic.

Portrait view of the Marvel store, and of a page in a comic.

The real difference between these apps comes in the free section. Marvel is similar to a drug dealer: They like to give you the first comic in a great series free, then charge you for every additional issue. For example, I’ve never been a fan of the Avengers. But when The Ultimates No. 1 came out for free on the app, I downloaded it and got hooked. A few hours later my wallet was $28 lighter. It’s an interesting ploy. As for DC? Well, we’ll get to that in a minute.

Two page spreads look amazing in landscape mode on the iPad.

Two page spreads look amazing in landscape mode on the iPad.

The other big difference is in pricing. Most of Marvel’s comics stick around $1.99, with a few rare variations. There’s the occasional $0.99 issue, and a few rare $2.99 models as well. These are few and far between though, so expect to pay $1.99 for each one you download.

DC Comics

Now let’s talk about Batman’s brand, DC Comics. The system works the same as Marel’s, but this time the interface is mostly in blue tones, instead of the dark black found with Marvel. Same rules apply here too: My comics, a Store, etc. Now it just comes down to which brand of heroes you prefer, right? Not so much.

DC's iPad store looks just like Marvel's, just blue.

DC's iPad store looks just like Marvel's, just blue.

The biggest gripe with the DC store is the free comic selection. Where Marvel is the drug dealer, DC is the stingy convenience store owner who keeps yelling at the kids for reading the comics on the stand. The free comics at DC are typically just 2 page affairs, with one shots like “The Origin of Robin” and “Origin of General Zod.” Sure, there’s the occasional free issue, but they’re definitely few and far between, unlike Marvel’s regular six comic lineup. It’s pretty crappy.

Portrait versions of the DC store and a page in the comics.

Portrait versions of the DC store and a page in the comics.

Then there’s pricing. The rules are pretty much the same here as on Marvel’s store, with lots of $1.99 comics to be had. But on DC’s, there are more $2.99 versions than ever. So what’s the difference? As far as I can tell, both apps charge higher prices for newer comics, particularly those released around the same time on all platforms. DC has some $0.99 models as well, but they’re also hard to find. You can look at it one of two ways: DC wants to take as much money from you as possible, or they want to offer the newest books out there, whereas Marvel wants to rehash old stuff. The choice is yours.

The Verdict

So this all comes down to the same thing that the comic book wars have been about for decades: Which brand do you like more? If you’re a Batman and Superman kinda person, go with DC. Prefer Spider Man or Captain America? Go with Marvel. But if you’re neutral about the brands, the better of the two apps goes to Marvel. Their free selection is much better, with consistently good free titles being offered every Wednesday.

The only other real issue with both of these apps is a lack of 4.2 updates. As of 12/14/10, these apps weren’t updated to allow for multitasking, making it really annoying if you want to switch between reading a comic and checking your e-mail. I’m sure this will be addressed soon, but a few weeks into iOS 4.2, and there’s nothing new to report.

Regardless of which one you choose, if you’re a comic fan, expect to spend some cash. I’ve personally downloaded substantially more comics than I ever would have expected, and have built up quite the collection. But the best part is that I no longer have to buy bags and backers. Instead, I just have to make sure I’ve got enough storage onboard my iPad. Thank goodness I have a 64GB model. Excelsior!