Marvel Unlimited

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I’ve been using the Marvel Unlimited service for a few months, and now that I’ve cooled down from the initial excitement (“OMG there are so many comics to read here!”) I feel like I can talk about it with a degree of impartiality. (So you can subscribe too! Get it, it’s great!)

The Basics
Marvel Unlimited is a service that gives subscribers unlimited access to a catalog of digital Marvel comics both old and new. By “new” here I mean issues as recent as six months ago, so if you want to read titles the day (or week, or month) they come out, Unlimited will not help you with that. (Do you want them to put comic shops out of business? Don’t be a monster!)

Current pricing is $9.99 per month or $69.00 per year (US). (There’s also a $99/year tier that includes special incentives for more hard-core fans, such as invitations to Marvel events, a Rocket Raccoon figure, and extra discounts on purchases.) The subscription has worked to my financial benefit, because until now I was buying more than that amount in graphic novels. I still buy some, but not as many as I had been.

I’m using the service on an iPad Air, but it’s also available using a web browser or mobile app. In my opinion, a tablet like the iPad is the best way to read digital comics. When reading on an app, you can download up to 12 total issues and keep them available when you’re offline. That’s super handy, and has been a workable number for me.

The App
The Marvel Unlimited app for iPad works pretty well, though not as smoothly as the comiXology apps. (I’m using version 2.1 as of this writing.) You can browse for comics by series, character, creator, date, or event (such as World War Hulk). The search function is a good one, and it will find your search term wherever it appears in a title—so that searching for “spider” will result in hits including “Amazing Spider-Man,” “Giant Size Spider-Woman” (she sounds like trouble), and “Ultimate Civil War: Spider-Ham.”

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After reading an issue, the app presents links to buy the issue, read the next issue, or jump to a related series. I’ve found most of these options to be handy. (Bet you can guess which one I haven’t used. Hey, I’m already paying for the subscription!)

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One feature I haven’t used is the Reading Club, though I probably will when I’m looking for something new to read. This is a collection of titles recommended on the most recent “This Week in Marvel” podcast.

Marvel recently added a “Discover” section that looks promising. It’s a collection of featured curated groupings of titles, such as recent event collections, key issues for a popular character (in the screen shot below Ultron is one, due to his appearance in the upcoming Avengers sequel), and artist and writer spotlights.

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I’ve encountered a lot of glitches in the app, some of which have tested my zen-like demeanor. It crashes at times. Sometimes only the first few pages of an issue will download, until I restart the app and try again. For about a week the app would try to exit out of reading an issue if the tablet was rotated to change orientation (though this bug was fixed). A small number of issues are missing text from their speech bubbles, and some have invalid publication dates (showing up as year “0002”). Once or twice both my Library and my downloaded issues completely vanished, only to be restored a few days later. Every Sunday the app’s “new this week” section will go blank, until the new issues appear the next day. Finally, I can only download 11 issues for offline reading, instead of the promised 12. Marvel Unlimited tech support confirmed that this is a known bug that they’re working on (when they answered my complaint, a few months after I sent it).

Let me clarify now, though, that these bugs are just occasional annoyances that don’t hurt my overall enjoyment of the app. I feel like I’m getting plenty of value out of my subscription.

The Comics
My absolute favorite thing about Marvel Unlimited is how well it facilitates reading an entire Marvel event storyline. Unlike reading graphic novel collections, you can be sure that you’re reading all the tie-in issues in the correct order, because they are ordered by publication date. (And you’re not saddled with buying those few issues of Heroes For Hire just so you can follow the storyline of Civil War.)

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Hey, here’s an example of a great update to the app, and an indication of ongoing support: while taking screen shots for this post, I noticed that some events are now displaying the issues in a “suggested reading order”, as below. Nice.

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Marvel says there are over 13,000 comics in Unlimited now, and they add more every week. My understanding is that in addition to adding “recent” issues (the ones turning 6 months old), they also add more titles to the back catalog.

Personally, my reading has been about ¾ classic titles and ¼ recent ones. I think this is mainly because I have so much old Marvel to catch up on. (“What If” is in here! And “1602,” and “Secret Wars,” and “Tomb of Dracula,” and “Marvel Zombies”!)

This stuff is just about all I read in my first two months as a subscriber. I’ve since emerged from my cave and started reading other things again, but I still read enough Unlimited titles to make it well worth the price.

My Suggestions
I have a few ideas for features I wish Marvel would implement for Unlimited. (Don’t worry, I already submitted these to the proper authorities.)

  • The app provides an easy way to read the next issue of a title after finishing an issue, but it would be nice to also have a quick link to the previous issue. (Such as when you go to read an issue and realize you picked the wrong number, or didn’t finish all of the last one, or maybe it’s just me that does this, leave me alone!)
  • I’d like to be able to lock the screen orientation, so it doesn’t switch from portrait to landscape whenever I accidentally tilt the device.
  • I’d like to be able to add a group of issues at once to my Library. So, for instance, when viewing an event that contained 20 issues, I could easily put them all in my Library.
  • The ability to subscribe to titles would be great. So, for instance, any time a new issue of “Fantastic Four” is added to Unlimited, it could go to my Library automatically.

Now will someone please talk DC into doing something similar for their digital catalog? I was primarily a DC fan until I found Marvel Unlimited!

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