A while back we reviewed Marvel Comic Book CD-ROM Library (Vol. 1), comprising a single CD-ROM with electronic reprints of 100 classic Marvel comics, including the first ten issues of Amazing Spider-Man.
That was a pretty good effort, but this next offering in the series raises the stakes many times over. "40 Years of the Amazing Spider-Man" is an eleven-CD-ROM mega-box that packs every issue of Amazing from March 1962 to December 2003. That's over 500 Spidey comics! Plus, there are a few more improvements tucked inside this release that you ought to know about...
It's interesting to compare the contrast between this 11-disc blockbuster and the preceding single-disc Marvel Comic Book CD-ROM Library (Vol. 1). Both are produced by Topics Entertainment, and there's only a year between them. But there's a world of difference between the two.
Even before you open the pack, there's a cosmetic difference in the packaging, with a jump from the small format 7.5" x 5.25" profile mini-box for the earlier offering, against a full-sized 9.5" x 8" box. I guess the extra 10 CDs justify the pack... although I suspect they could have squeezed all the discs into the smaller box.
Opening the box, there's the impressive wedge of 11 discs. The plain red label isn't quite as flashy as the multi-colored graphic artwork from the earlier set, but the sheer bulk makes up for that. Of course, a little bit of math shows that the increase from 100 comics to 500 comics can't completely explain the need for eleven times the data storage, so clearly there's a change in the digital format between the two generations.
Indeed, the earlier offering used the rather little-known "DejaVu" format, where the new "40 Years" set uses good old PDF for its files. The viewing mechanism is slightly simpler too. The DejaVu files on the older disc were one file per page, embedded in an HTML document, suitable for browsing with Internet Explorer. The "40 Years" simply puts each issue in its own PDF.
The first disk includes Mac and Windows installers for Adobe Acrobat Reader. They recommend Acrobat 6, but my Linux version of Acrobat Reader 5 worked just fine. I tried "xpdf", which is a different PDF viewer, and it couldn't handle the watermark, but it's no hardship to use Acrobat. At least the Mac and Linux users of this world can access the files!
So what of the actual comics? Well, this is where the really good news starts. The images in this new set are far, far superior to those of their predecessor - in two ways. Firstly, the comics in this new set are scanned from physical printed comics, with all the classic coloring retained. The images in the previous set were taken from the Black & White photo archives and were digitally colored. The colors and overall effect of the real comic scans are vastly superior.
Secondly, the images in this "40 Years" set are complete, including advertisements, letters pages, and front and back covers! The entire comic is reproduced, soup to nuts. Combining those two factors, it's easy to see why the images take twice as much disc space per comic book!
The overall effect is as good an electronic comic-reading experience as you are ever likely to enjoy. Personally, there's nothing that can quite replace the genuine look, feel, smell and sound of a forty-year-old comic. But given that there just are not enough original 1960's Spidey comics to go around, this is a superb substitute.
This is an excellent set. You couldn't ask for more quantity or quality in an "Amazing Spider-Man" digital comic book collection. Well, maybe just one thing... it would have been nice if the Amazing Annuals were included also.
But putting that wee problem, it's still pretty clear that the folks at Topic have laboured hard over this one, and done themselves proud. If you're looking to re-live those classic Spidey comics without spending squillions, then you should really think seriously about picking up this collection. Plus, this format takes up a heck of a lot less shelf space than a rack of 500 paper prints.
Amazon have a listing for it, but strangely they don't have any for sale. So, if you are serious about grabbing a copy, the folks at Topics recommended TalesOfWonder.Com.
Highly recommended, four-and-a-half webs. I'd give it five if had included the annuals, and if they could just find a way to give the box that musty old-comic smell.