Comic-Con, the annual four-day extravaganza in San Diego that attracts more than 100,000 comic book and science-fiction enthusiasts, begins Thursday. With these apps, even fans not going to the show can tag along with Spider-Man and Superman or, if a hostile Klingon approaches, ask Scotty to beam them up.
(iOS, Android; free)
Hundreds of digital comics featuring Spider-Man, Iron Man and other superheroes in the Marvel universe can be downloaded and read with this app. New comics are available the same day paper versions go on sale. Most comics cost between 99 cents and $3.99 to download, but there is also an assortment of free comics. In addition to the standard page-by-page view, comics can be read in "animation" mode for a more cinematic experience.
(iOS, Android; free)
Comic book aficionados who don't find Spider-Man all that amazing often tout the heroes in the DC stable, where Superman and Batman have foiled supervillains for 75 years. This official DC app works like the Marvel app -- developer ComiXology created both. DC has made its enormous archives available, so if you want to catch up on the Man of Steel from the beginning, his debut in Action Comics No. 1 from May 1938 can be downloaded for 99 cents. That's a super deal, considering an original paper version of Action Comics No. 1 sold for $2.2 million in 2011.
Comic Zeal Comic Reader
The Marvel and DC readers work only with the comics downloaded via the app. For those who have digitized their own paper comics or have digital comics from other sources, this app not only serves as a reader, it organizes the collection. Android users can check out the less robust but serviceable Perfect Viewer (free).
Star Trek Communicator
(iPhone, Android; $0.99)
This official Star Trek app turns your phone's screen into the image of a closed Star Trek communicator from the original series. Flick your wrist and it "opens" to reveal the communicator (accompanied by the chirping sound every Trekker knows well). Press a button and you'll hear the voices of the original Enterprise crew. If you want to boldly go make a call to Starfleet Command, the app can take the place of your phone's dialer.