By Jason Snell
November 28, 2014 7:58 AM PT
Gift Guide: Marvel Unlimited
If you or someone you know loves, loves, loves Marvel comics—and especially if we’re talking about someone who doesn’t buy many or any comics the week they’re released—I highly recommend the Marvel Unlimited service.
It’s like Netflix for Marvel comics. (And only Marvel comics—I wish other publishers would offer a service like this, but they don’t!) For $10 per month or $69 annually, you get access to more than 15,000 comics in Marvel’s library. Read as many as you want.
To read the comics, you’ve got to be on the Internet—though you can offload 12 at a time onto any device, so even if you’re out of range or on an airplane, you can have access to the equivalent of two trade paperbacks worth of comics.
The selection on Marvel Unlimited is pretty great. There are classic runs from all of the comics you’d expect—Fantastic Four, Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men—plus newer books. In fact, Marvel seems to be posting most of their comics with a six-to-nine month lag. I buy a handful of brand-new Marvel comics on Comixology every month, but most of their stuff just doesn’t appeal enough for me to pay $3 or $4 per issue. Once that stuff hits Marvel Unlimited, though, I’m all over it.
The economics of a service like Marvel Unlimited are pretty simple: If you read enough comics in a year to make it worth $69, it’s a service worth getting. I’ve had it for two years now, and have no regrets.
Recently I spent a weekend catching up on last year’s Infinity event, written by Jonathan Hickman. (It was surprisingly good!) Marvel Unlimited provided a suggested reading order for the entire event, which was a huge help. All told, there were 22 comics in the main sequence of the event. Most of those comics are now for sale on Comixology for $2, meaning in a weekend I read $44 worth of comics. It adds up quickly.
And not having to weigh whether a particular storyline or plot synopsis is worth several dollars opens you up to exploration. I’ve read numerous excellent runs of comics that I never would have bought, based on stray Twitter recommendations. (Brubaker and Fraction’s Immortal Iron Fist and Mark Waid’s Daredevil, to name two.)
When the service launched, it only worked in web browsers and was Flash based. When the iOS app arrived, it was usable but really ugly. It’s come a long way since then. The app is more stable, does a better job of pre-loading issues as you start to read them, and there’s even a Smart Panel mode that—while not as good as Comixology’s Guided View—still does a decent job of guiding you from panel to panel if you prefer to read that way.
And when you get to the end of an issue, it prompts you to immediately jump to the next issue. (Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer you the next issue in an event, which would’ve been nice when I was reading Infinity.)
Marvel Unlimited isn’t perfect. The app still has a few bugs—the inability to zoom properly on two-page spreads when in portrait orientation bugs the crap out of me, and it still crashes a little too often. The catalog of comics is still missing some classic issues (only the first eight issues of John Byrne’s Alpha Flight, really?), though in the past couple of years they’ve filled in many of the holes—all the Uncanny X-Men issues I missed are now there.
If you’ve got a comic fan who likes Marvel on your gift list, or you want to do yourself a solid, I highly recommend Marvel Unlimited. I wish Marvel’s distinguished competition offered a service like this—it might actually get me back into DC comics for the first time since I was a teenager.
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[Get into the buying, er, holiday spirit by reading our gift guide!]