IDW’s e-comic app and a review of “G.I. Joe: Cobra”

IDW e-comic app

My first comic book mission this evening with my new iPod Touch came via the app IDW Publishing unveiled with the launch of the iPad.

First, the iPod Touch isn’t a great outlet for reading comics; in portrait, it’s essentially useless. It’s passable in landscape, splitting the page into halves. The panels are an acceptable size and the text is readable, but it’s a lot of scrolling; particularly on pages without a lot of dialogue.

That said, IDW’s app isn’t bad. The selection of the two titles I was interested in – G.I. Joe and Transformers – is good, with the ongoing series for both appearing to only be about an issue behind the print versions. I just picked up Transformers #5 this weekend; the app sells digital editions up to #4. G.I. Joe is on issue 14; issues zero through 13 are available in the app. So, not too bad. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly the digital issues are added.

Navigating the app is totally intuitive, until the point that you launch a book. I’ve managed to do it twice, but I’m still not entirely sure how to read a comic and then get back to the library without quitting and relaunching the app. There’s a particular gesture that does it, but I haven’t figured out how to repeat it yet. 🙂 (UPDATE: Figured it out; it’s a tap to bring up the menu).

Recent issues are $1.99, and older stuff goes for 99 cents. All four issues of the “G.I. Joe: Cobra” miniseries were available for 99 cents each; I bought all four.

Review: “G.I. Joe: Cobra”

The primary G.I. Joe series published by IDW has taken some heat for being a slow build; the book didn’t get into direct conflict between G.I. Joe and Cobra until it was into its second year, instead focusing on the buildup. At the outset G.I. Joe knows something big is brewing out there; they know that something called “Cobra” is behind it; but that’s about it. The “G.I. Joe: Cobra” miniseries represents the Joes’ most blatant attempt to learn more about Cobra; they send an operative named Chuckles undercover, first to discover Cobra and, eventually, infiltrate the organization.

It works, but what Chuckles finds isn’t really what he had expected. It’s similar to the big reveal once Sydney becomes a double agent for the CIA in the first season of “Alias.” Jennifer Garner thinks she’s got the dirt on the entire SD6 operation, not having any idea that SD6 is just one cell in a global network of SD organizations. Similarly, after making some horrific sacrifices for the sake of “the mission,” Chuckles rises to a point in the Cobra organization that he thinks he’s in a position to take it down. But ultimately he discovers that his knowledge is limited to a single branch of the organization called the Crimson Guard, that his cover was unknowingly blown months previously and he’s been played a fool by the Crimson Guard commanders — a clever, modern and believable reimagining of the “crimson twins,” Tomax and Xamot.

I really enjoyed the story. The first two issues do a great job of setting the stage; it’s a slow build, but the fourth and final issue is really good and sets the tone for what is surely a very good followup series, cleverly called “G.I. Joe: Cobra II.” The first two issues are on IDW’s app store, and I’ll probably get ’em.

However, I had some nitpicky problems with how some parts of the books were laid out. I noticed some similar issues in IDW’s “Transformers” series, so I’ll be curious to see if it’s an ongoing problem with IDW’s books. I think it’s a limitation of the size of the books; without any emperical evidence to back it up, they feel shorter than the books I read when I collected seriously in college. As a result, there are occasionally some pacing issues; scenes will change without an indicator of the switch, leading to some confusion about the flow of events. It’s minor, but I had to backtrack a few times to make sure I hadn’t accidentally skipped over a set of panels; and the navigation needed with the app made this more of a pain than it probably should’ve been.

I’ve had the trade paperback of “G.I. Joe: Cobra” in my Amazon shopping cart for a few weeks now; my experience with the e-comics was overall positive, but it’s not to the point that this will be any sort of replacement for print books. The electronic version doesn’t contain any of the cover variants, for instance. But it’s a great way to download a book on the cheap and use it as a reading copy.

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