Digital Disorientation in Batman #5

Batman #5There’s been a lot spoken about the way Batman #5 played with the comics form, but before I really get into this I will state that even if the panel layout had been completely conventional, this was the best single issue of a comic I’ve read in my life. If you’re not reading this amazing Batman run from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, I don’t have any way to express how sorry I feel for you. Sort it out!

As you will know if you follow our podcast, we’re steadfast converts to digital in terms of single issues – which in my particular case is quite fortuitous since there’s no comic shops around here. So I was quite perturbed when I read the following tweet from iFanboy’s Josh Flanagan:


And he’s not the only one who thought so.

This thread on the DC boards says that the digital comic has “Unacceptable Orientation Problems”.

This one seems to indicate ComiXology has actually been refunding people.

And there are many similar sentiments to be found all over the place.

Well I would like to say: Au contraire, Internet! You are wrong on this one.

When I first read that tweet, I messaged Snyder and Capullo saying that I don’t know what all this was about yet but that I hoped they hadn’t forgotten that for many, visiting a comic shop isn’t actually an option. Capullo immediately replied:


Cut to my experience reading it, and as you turned the tablet around, the swipe controls for Guided View would become confused and you’d find yourself swiping the wrong way a few times, causing immersion, confusion and disorientation at the moments when Bruce was feeling most lost.

I found myself thinking “Woah, hang on. I’m lost. Have I gone back on myself? What’s going on? Where was I? Where am I? I’m going round in circles, damn you, tormentors!” just like Batman was, with Snyder and Capullo playing the part of the Court of Owls themselves.

Indeed, the stuff the guys did with the way it reads digitially is far more impressive than “turning the comic around while you read it” which has been done before and when you think about it, isn’t really that impressive.

I then had a thought. Pity the poor desktop readers! They can’t turn their monitors around. They’d actually have to read it upside down. Suckers! But while recording our podcast the other night, I tried it and realised that not only are comics just as easy to read sideways or upside down as they are right way round, but that this was another spin on providing the disorientation that was different to tablet but still superior to the paper experience.

If anything, this shows the limitations of the paper form, rather than making a case for it. Contrary to what I have read everywhere else, I believe the guys were actually making a stronger case for digital and that tablet specifically was the superior way to read the book. There’s no way that the tablet experience was just an unexpected side-effect of what they did on paper.

Batman crazy!

What’s really clever is that they accommodated every format. Whether you read on paper, tablet, smartphone or desktop, it disorientated in a different way.

If you think the whole thing was a gimmick that you didn’t need, that’s fair enough. But saying the disorientation added a layer to it only, or more effectively on paper is nonsense. The only possible criticism I have is that the rotation lock business should have been explained somehow at the front of the book itself. As an iPad user for 6 months, I didn’t even know I could do that, and if I wasn’t lucky enough to have one of the creators explain this I probably wouldn’t have been able to get the most out of it, or I would have had to come out of the story halfway through to fiddle with the settings.

I would assume Mr. Flanagan hadn’t read the digital version when he tweeted. Indeed, I haven’t read it on paper, but I’d suggest it’s far easier to imagine the paper experience without having done it, than the other way around.

I hope ComiXology doesn’t reorient the panels like some people are asking them to, or at least that users are given the option to do so without the update being forced on us. This might be the most perfect comic of all time just the way it is thanks very much. The idea that ComiXology might be issuing refunds for selling this masterpiece to people makes me sad.

To hear us talk about Batman #5 in more depth, check out Ep. 19 of our podcast.

Want to add to the debate? Email or find us on Twitter at @thwippingboys



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