Important Update – 2/23/13 – Since writing this post, Marvel has introduced a new Beta Reader that makes reading MDCU comics on iOS a concern of the past. If you want to learn more about that option (which again, is still in Beta and not necessarily available to everyone yet), I’ve written about it here and here. Otherwise, all of the following how-to is good as gold.
Important Update 2 – 3/15/13 – Marvel recently announced their Marvel Digital Unlimited iPad/iPhone app! The flash trick below will still work for things like Marvel: Avengers Alliance, but if you’re purely looking for comic reading, you just need the app!
I’m saving a full-on dissertation for another time, but Marvel’s digital subscription option is my primary form of comic reading. It’s not flawless, and it’s not better than holding a fresh comic or graphic novel in your hands, but we’re talking over 10,000 comics on your computer at all times, including all major events like Civil War, Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars… the list goes on. It’s the best thing in my life that isn’t cheese spread. Or my wife. And I only say that because I think she might read the blog from time to time and better safe than murdered in my sleep.
If you’re currently enjoying Marvel’s DCU (digital comics unlimited, or as the rest of us know it, blatantly obvious attack on the Dreaded Competitor), you’ve probably noticed one fatal flaw: you can’t use your subscription on an iPhone or iPad. I’ve spent the last couple days testing out a workaround.
So the situation is this: Marvel’s DCU uses a flash-based application as their Desktop comic reader. Apple’s mobile devices do not allow the use of flash, for a variety of very poorly explained reasons. Therefore, to read our comics on the go, we need something that allows us to read flash on our iProducts.
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Unfortunately – and this is a huge unfortunately – Marvel hasn’t developed the workaround within their Marvel Comics App. This app only allows you to download digital comics that you buy within the store. It’s good for reading very new comics, but if you already have access to Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet through your digital subscription (and your $60 annual fee), you don’t want to pay $20 for the digital download. You already have access! Why would you want to pay again?
So until Marvel rolls out a feature for reading Marvel DCU within their app (and why they wouldn’t want you to stay obsessed with their world as often as possible is beyond me), here’s what you have to do:
Accessing Flash Comics on Your iPhone or iPad
Step 1: Purchase Photon Flash Player Browser for iPad ($4.99 one-time fee) or Photon Flash Player Browser for iPhone ($3.99 one-time fee)
Step 2: Browse using Photon, sign into your Marvel DCU account, and click the comic you want to read.
Step 3: On the comic load page, ignore the text about downloading Adobe and click the lightning bolt in the lower righthand corner. Feel free to yell “Take that!” regardless of your surroundings.
Step 4: Enjoy the pants out of your comics.
That’s it. Seriously. Four or five bucks and the plight of the flashless is no more.
Is Photon Good For Reading Marvel Comics (on an iPhone)?
Update 11/27/12 – When I originally wrote this post, I had only used Photon for my iPhone. I have since upgraded to Photon for iPad and it is significantly better. If you’re looking for iPad specific analysis, you can skip down to the iPad heading below. Otherwise, keep in mind that the below is based on an iPhone experience.
Well… it works. That’s about the closest I’m gonna come to a ringing endorsement. And if that’s all you’re looking for, an app that lets you at least access your comics for on-the-go reading, I’d recommend giving Photon a shot.
End of the day, reading these comics on your home computer, or on an app like Comixology, is going to make for a better reading experience. BUT, that’s understandable. Photon for the iPhone is for “I can’t stands it no longer!” situations. If you’re there, then here’s what you need to know.
— Only use the Lightning-bolt icon when you’re ready to load the flash app for your comic reading. Using the “flash icon” slows down the browser a noticeable amount. This is because Photon needs to connect to a remote server to load the Flash content.
— There’s gonna be some lag time. Like I was saying, Photon is doing some workarounds that are going to take a little bit of time. So far, the lag hasn’t been terrible, but don’t go into this expecting immediate response times.
You can only have one window open at a time. As far as I can tell, you’re limited to just one screen at a time. So you can go to Marvel.com, load your comic and go about your day, but you can’t open a few comics at once. This is particularly annoying when you’ve just finished a comic because you’ll need to click the “back” arrow a few times to get back to the Marvel website and choose your next comic. The load will take a little bit of time. Again, Photon is not exactly a Safari alternative for any other sort of situation. Update – Photon now complete with separate tab browsing!
— You can’t click out of Photon while reading your comic. It will reload the flash and you’ll have to click back to where you were in the book. So if you want to make a quick Evernote halfway through, it’ll have to wait.
Steps for Marvel Comic Reading on iPhone using Photon
Actually reading your comic is going to take some adjustment. Here’s the best method I’ve found.
1) Click the lightning-flash to load your comic
2) Click the “full-screen mode” icon in the upper right corner.
3) Rotate your iPhone horizontally. (iPad won’t have this problem, but with the iPhone the text gets super small. Again, desperate comic addicts need only apply.)
4) Use the “mouse pointy clicker” icon (the 2nd of the 3 options, in the middle)
5) Set your clicker to the “next panel” arrow. Click and let Marvel Comics “smart panel” technology take over.
6) Read. Eat, too, if you must.
If you’re on an iPhone, you’ll be very reliant on Marvel’s “smart panel” reading experience. This thing carries you from panel to panel and is generally reliable. That said, you’ll hit some points where you just can’t read a panel clearly. And unfortunately, you won’t be able to use “magnifying glass” reading option here.
A final bonus kink: I’ve been unable to listen to music players of any kind while using Photon. This is annoying. Both Spotify Premium and my iPod stopped playing once I started Photon flash applications. Definitely a flaw here.
Is Photon Good For Reading Marvel Comics (on an iPad)?
The short answer? Yes. It’s really, really, very much the best way to read your Marvel DCU motherload of books. And honestly, considering Marvel DCU is already borderline highway robbery (shhhh don’t tell them), $5 is kind of a steal for the convenience.
I was actually kind of blown away how much I enjoy reading my digital comics on the iPad at home. I figured my laptop would always suffice, but it’s actually very nice to have the lighter iPad for reading in bed and such. As you can imagine, my wife is as thrilled with this development as I am.
Many of the same Photon-specific pointers above apply for the iPad (for example, don’t ever switch out of photon for another app in the middle of a comic or you’ll lose your place) but here’s my major iPad-specific tip:
If you plan to read a particular series for a while, I recommend opening the book details page and holding the “read it online” button until you get the option to “Open Link in new page.” This will open a new tab for your comic (yay for that feature) and ultimately proves a lot more time efficient than the standard Browse MDCU by series. Load times on that are pretty rough, so you’ll be much better off leaving the book details page open as a tab and scrolling issue-by-issue as needed. I did this for the first 100 issues of Ultimate Spider-Man over the Thanksgiving holiday (I talked to my family, too, I swear) and it works great.
The Final Verdict on Photon for Marvel Comics
I’ve only used it on my iPhone, so my opinion is pretty heavily tied to that device. Photon promises to do one thing well, and that’s deliver Flash to your iDevice. It does that as promised.
The actual comic reading experience is not flawless (particularly on the iPhone), but if you’re like me and have a long commute with plenty of time to read some comics, it’s a great workaround.
My day with Photon today? Jim Starlin’s 2003 Thanos 8-9 on the morning train, #10 at lunch with some pizza, and then numbers 11-12 on the train ride home. A little extra Thanos for four dollars? That’s what I call a bargain.
If you’ve found this post helpful and think Photon might be a nice app for you, I ask that you please head to the Apple store through the links below. I’ll get a little kickback off the purchase, and then I don’t have to panic as much about the day my wife realizes this ‘hobby’ is operating at a net loss. Thanks!
Andrew Wheeler says
On mdcu I got a popup yesterday asking if I’d like to use the new beta reader. Check your Account Settings for it – I now have an option to turn the beta reader on and off.
The beta reader is flash-less, and currently appears tuned for large tablets in portrait mode. It’s nearly tolerable on my Xoom, always crashes on my iPad 1, not usable on my 13″Mac book air, and probably great on an iPad 3 or 4, but I don’t have one to test it with.
Outside of crashing and sluggishness, the “smart panels” don’t work well — the panels aren’t zoomed, so you have huge black borders and a tiny panel. Other than the iPad 1 browser crashing, these just seem like beta code issues – I’m quite hopeful!
Just saw this today. Kind of exciting!
I need to play with it some more, but so far I’ve had pretty much the same issues you mentioned. iPhone reading is a total bust and iPad 2 load time and accessibility is BAD. Of course, we are talking Beta here, so no worries at this point. Looking forward to testing it out some more and seeing how quickly this becomes our long overdue Apple answer.
Thanks for the feedback on this! If Marvel gets this right, the Digital subscription is going to be a no-brainer in 2013.
I purchased the Marvel DCU while at the Marvel booth at the New York Comic-con because the guy there told me that the iPad/iPhone version was very nearly completed. He was guesstimating a December/January release of this.
They were also discounting it 20% and giving away a free Doctor Doom with Infinity Gauntlet action figure (yay!) to everyone that signed up that day, too — so that was a win/win… Now I just gotta wait ’til they get that up and running. Although, for $4 I think I’ll give your option a try, too…
Nice, thanks for the insight! That’s definitely one of the bigger knocks I have against Marvel DCU right now. Just so much more convenient to pull up comics on the iPad while I sit on the couch watching football (my troubles are deep and wide).
Feel like with Dr. Doom wearing the Infinity Gauntlet you’ve already made a profit here, but think you’ll enjoy Marvel DCU. Four bucks isn’t a bad temporary solution until Marvel rolls this out :). Hoping it rolls smoothly into existing accounts, too.
I’ve noticed this problem for sometime and have been wanting to try Photon but have been cautious. Thanks for the informative article.
Glad it helped some! It’s definitely a worthwhile investment if you’re on the road a fair amount and don’t have desktop access. I think Photon could see a number of improvements (easier zoom, lag time), but for the price, it gets you the comics you need.