The Ultimate Guide to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited

1,440 comics.

That’s how many issues my Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription says I’ve read since signing up 2 years ago.

At approximately 25 minutes per issue, that number suggests I’ve spent around 660 hours, or 25 full days reading Marvel comics online. I’ve been married for a year and a half, and I don’t think I’ve even spent 25 full days with my wife.

So yeah, I was a little surprised when I saw that number. Just doesn’t seem right.

In fact, I can just about guarantee I’ve spent way more time on Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited.

Update – 3/3/13 – If you’re looking for information on MDCU following Marvel’s website changes, I cover that in depth in this post

Update – 3/8/13 – Big news for information about the new Marvel Unlimited App. This post provides an overview of the service and was written prior to the app’s release.

Update – 10/10/14 – My most recent update on the service, in which I answer: Is Marvel Unlimited still worth it in 2014?

You Can’t Fight Love

Before I dive into the details of my experience with MDCU, I’d like to make it very clear that I’m not affiliated with Marvel in any way. I’ve never even been to New York, and my favorite ongoing right now is Scott Snyder’s Batman. (Sorry, Hawkeye. Runner-up, dude, I swear.)

English: Logo of Marvel Comics
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I get this out of the way now because what follows will frequently, inevitably, disgustingly read like a giant corporate love letter. Is the common man supposed to think big bad Marvel is a little bit evil? Probably, but I love this service and I don’t care who knows it.

There are problems, and I will address them, but for the most part?

Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited is almost impossibly awesome.

If that’s all you were looking for, you can sign up or learn more here. They’re actually running a promotion where you can get your first 30 days free.

For the rest, here’s what I’ve learned in 2+ years with MDCU.

Is Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited Worth The Price?

Let’s start with the basics.

We have a product in MDCU which purports to offer “Over 10,000 digital comics!” They then proceed to offer said product at the following price points:

Annual Subscription: $59.98 ($4.99 a month)

Monthly Subscription: $9.99 a month

It doesn’t take Good Will Hunting to see value here.

Will missed a comic deal. Poor Will.

Before I knew about Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited, I was trying to catch up on 2000-era Marvel events through trade paperback collections. I still like actually having the books in my hands (more on that under the ‘reading experience’ heading), but financially this gets challenging fast.

For starters, the average trade paperback collection is about six issues for $15. This will vary, of course, but let’s say you find a cool site like Discount Comic Book Service and are able to snag even a full trade for $7. This is about best case scenario, unless you’ve recently drugged Stan Lee and are hording his stash, in which case, stop it. Put Stan back. Now.

Stan Lee 1973
I don’t care how awesome he is. Put him back.
Ok, thanks. As you can see, even at $7 a pop, you can only buy 8 trades for the price of one year of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. And that’s ignoring things like “tax” and “reality.”

Simply put, you’re never going to find a financially viable way to keep up with the volume of comics available on MDCU.

To hammer the cost effectiveness of MDCU home one more time, Marvel says I’ve read 1,440 comics on MDCU. Again, I think that number’s probably low, but let’s say I was able to find each of those issues for a dollar. Crazy value, right? I just snagged Ultimate Spider-Man 1-10 for a buck each.

Hoozah-Celebrate-Ultimate-Spider-Man

So even at that price point, you could alternatively sign up for 24 years of Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

The final pointer I’d give on price is that Marvel frequently offers MDCU at a discounted annual subscription rate. This winds up being in the realm of $40. If you’re feeling patient, I’d recommend signing up for their e-mail newsletter and waiting around for the next windfall.

The Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited Reading Experience

Clearly the price is more than reasonable, but ultimately that’s contingent on a couple things:

1)      Can I read the comics I want?

The answer to the first question is fairly easy – when Marvel says they have over 10,000 available comics in their Digital Unlimited library, they really aren’t kidding. You want to knock out Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil or Peter David’s run on Hulk? Have at it. Looking to read Secret Invasion and every tie-in in one sitting? Be my guest. Feel a sadistic urge to punish yourself Chris Claremont’s recent Excalibur? You can do that too.

Death is but a word
But… Grant Morrison just… How is Magneto even… GAHHH?!!!

The catch is this: Marvel’s Digital Comics Unlimited does not include the most recent additions to the Marvel catalogue.

To be very clear, MDCU is not the equivalent of Marvel digital comics on Comixology. Hop on Comixology and you can (theoretically) buy a digital version of the new Hawkeye the day it comes out. You can not do that with Marvel Digitial Comics Unlimited.

Honestly, the service catches up a lot more quickly than you might think. Mark Waid’s Daredevil #12, which came out in April of this year (2012) is already in the bank. Again, for the price, that seems like great speed to me.

Nonetheless, if your goal with this service is the newest comics available instantly, and you feel like you’ve read all past comics you really want to, then I do not recommend MDCU.

BUT, if you’re like me and have only recently developed an unhealthy obsession with the art form (I feel like I can call it art around you. We’re all friends here, right?), then this library is exceptional.

I won’t list out all the arcs I’ve been able to enjoy since subscribing, but I have found virtually every issue of every comic book arc I’ve sought out. I think the only exception is Brian Michael Bendis’s Alias and Garth Ennis’s Punisher.

That’s it.

There will be occasional odd jumps in which issues are available, but this is fairly uncommon, and almost unheard of with newer arcs. They’re pretty good about which issues to leave out, too. For example, Marvel might skip over some Hulk issues pre Peter David’s awesome 80’s run, but I mean… if you’re that much of a completest, I feel like we might need to talk.

End of the day, if you’re excited about catching up on all the great Marvel runs you may have missed, and want to do it in the most convenient way possible, MDCU is for you.

2)      Is reading online through MDCU enjoyable?

The second part of reading experience is the actual methods Marvel uses to present your comics. In short, Marvel loads each comic book through a Flash player. You are then able to click through the comic at your leisure, letting Marvel’s smart panel technology take you from panel to panel.

Reading marvel comics online
Sample MDCU reading experience, brought to you by Psycho man

In general, reading like this is very easy to get used to. You’ll need a desktop/laptop (more on that in a minute), and an internet connection, but most of the actual user experience is self-explanatory. Additionally, you only need to be connected to the internet to load the comic. Once loaded in the flash player, you could technically carry your laptop to an internet-free area (see also: my apartment a year ago) and read the loaded comic no problem.

The issues:

Although the ‘smart panel’ technology works most of the time it will occasionally throw you way off the mark, or zoom you in way too close, or simply go the wrong panel or off the page. Again, this is not the norm, but it does happen enough that it’s worth noting. The good news is you can simply grab the comic and adjust. It’s a moment’s annoyance, like Kim Kardashian (because you’re annoyed but then you realize she’s so cute) or an empty Wheat Thins bag (assuming you bought a box with two bags and just have to open a new one now. If not, I take it back, and I am sorry for your loss).

Oddly, dialogue balloons are also frequently off the mark on the first page of an issue. They will then straighten out as you continue reading. This is hardly an insurmountable challenge on a desktop (just drag and click around), but it’s a real pain on the iPad.

Other than that, the only real downside is that holding an actual floppy or trade paperback just feels better. From the sleekness of the page to the subconscious joy of ownership, I would rather hold an actual comic book six out of 10 times, every time.

Finally, and I’ll save more on this for another time, reading online through Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited is… well, limiting. When you hold an actual comic in your hand, it’s frequently designed so that splash pages take maximum effect, or so that you can really soak up the artwork and panel design. You just miss out on that experience with MDCU.

If you’re in it for the story (which I am 98% of the time), you’re golden. But cool layouts and incredible artwork can be much harder to appreciate through the online reader.

Everyone’s Got Their Devices

This one’s been a big focus for me on Comic Book Herald, inspiring this post on how to use MDCU on iPad or iPhone.

The crux of the issue is that the MDCU flash reader is not accessible through standard iDevices. While there are ways around this it’s kind of a turn off to the whole subscription option. As I’ve mentioned previously, if you have Infinity Gauntlet available to you through your MDCU subscription, you sure as heck aren’t going to want to shell out $15 for an iPad version on Comixology.

Fortunately, this is on its way to becoming a non-issue. Marvel announced only last week that their new MDCU reader is in Beta testing. The reader operates on a subdomain (reader.marvel.com) instead of using the Flash application. In other words: it’s perfectly accessible through iPad, iPhone, or iRobot (flaunt what you got).

I’ve been playing with the Beta version right now and it is very buggy. As it stands, I wouldn’t recommend this for iPad reading any more than I’d recommend Vegas odds on the Bears right now (no chance we make the playoffs after a 7-1 start. Sometimes I just don’t know, man). I’m optimistic Marvel will get the bugs worked out and get this reader up and running sometime first or second quarter 2013, though.

In the meantime, I remind you again, that you can get your iPad fix now for just a few bucks.

Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited: The Verdict

At this point, I feel like we’ve covered most relevant concerns to help you decide if MDCU is right for you.  If you’d like to give it as a gift, you can do that here.

For more official information from Marvel, check this out. Marvel lets you sample a few pages of comics before you commit if you have doubts about the reading experience.

If you still aren’t sure, here are some additional assorted details I’ve found during a couple years with Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.

  • Load Times – One of the major downsides to MDCU is how long everything takes to load. I’ll occasionally click a comic series and wait for several minutes, which on the 2012 internet is unheard of. Then again, if you think of it in terms of waiting a few minutes for over 10,000 comics, it’s not so bad. I kind of wish Marvel would sink some resources intso site speed in general, but it’s problematic for MDCU. You’re going to have slow load times. Bring a book.
  • Sharing Your Account – Technically speaking, you can share your MDCU account the same way you can share any username and password. Find someone you trust, and give it to them. Mostly, though, you will not be able to use your MDCU account at the exact same time as another user. This is not 100% consistent, but in all likelihood you will get signed out when a user from another IP address starts digging into Deadpool or whatever. That said, once a comic is loaded, and you’re reading through the Flash player, you won’t even know you’re logged out until you go back to the comic results page and click on the next issue in the series. From there it’s just the matter of re-entering your info, and wash and repeat.
  • Reading Suggestions – In a lot of ways, Marvel’s suggested reading could use a revamp. The “Related Digital Comics” section isn’t so bad (if you’re on Deadpool #50, they’ll pull other Deadpool arcs for you to read), but the “Readers Who Liked This Digital Comics Also Liked” section is kind of hilariously random. Readers who liked Deadpool #50 will also like House of M #7? Deadpool isn’t even really in House of M… so is the implication that readers who like good endings to a series will want to immediately read another good ending to a major event? Again,  Marvel has good intentions here, but it’s not quite the suggestion engine of something like Amazon (amazingly spot-on based on the insane amounts of user data they must have). To Marvel’s credit, they have recently organized issue-by-issue timelines for major events, helping new readers navigate the Secret Invasion landscape and so on. This is a real nice perk when you search your MDCU collection by ‘event.’
  • Social Community – I kicked things off with my recorded number of MDCU reads, and it’s stuff like that MDCU could really make a lot cooler. I had to dig to find that number, but the ability to rate comics and mark them as read has a lot of potential for a social community of MDCU readers. Unfortunately, that’s not really the case right now. Comments on specific issues are locked within isolated issue pages and don’t get a lot of action. How about a comments feature immediately after reading an issue through this new reader in development? Seems like interested MDCU users could have a lot more discussion about their favorite books instead of taking to the popular comic forums or places like G+ communities.
  • Comic Book Search – The most practical way to search for comics currently is by series. If you know the series you want to read, you can easily find something like “Ultimate Spider-Man (2000-2009)” and clearly plow through issues  #1-#133. You’ll hit the occasional “Ultimate Six” tie-in or annual issue (and you’ll just have to know to read that series in between USM issues without Marvel guiding you there), but mostly series reading is easy. Unfortunately, sorting by publish dates is a mess. In my experience this is horribly designed. In a lot of ways, it’s the reason Comic Book Herald exists (helping you know a proper chronological order for your comics). Just know that heading in; it won’t really hinder your experience much, but it is a flaw in the MDCU armor.

So the verdict? I love Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. I can read all the Marvel comics I want in an incredibly convenient system. At the impossibly low price, I can more than put up with the few issues I’ve mentioned. I hope they continue to make the product better (and the new non-Flash reader indicates they’re listening to user concerns and changing markets), but even if not, 2 years with MDCU and I’m happier than ever. For a comic book geek, it’s just like heaven.

9 Replies to “The Ultimate Guide to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited”

  1. Good review of the system. My only gripe is when ever Marvel does an update to its site, a lot of features seemed to get misplaced. I.E. Today I can’t figure out how to see if I’ve read a book, or where to view my ‘must read’ list.

    1. Thanks, man, I appreciate the comment.

      I just looked now, but the update today looks pretty huge. Marvel totally redesigned the entire site, including the MDCU section. They’re clearly still working on it, but you basically get an error page when you click the link that actually says MDCU now.

      Marvel says on that link above that a new member section is coming soon, which could be cool. Assuming that’ll have all the ‘must read’/’I’ve read it’ info you’re talking about… or at least I’m really hoping so 🙂 All in all, this could be a good thing – site’s needed an overhaul for a while, hope this one delivers.

  2. I’ve been a subscriber close to 2 years now, my subscription will end in June and I will not renew, happily. I enjoyed the comics the first year and forgave the technical issues all in faith that the .com folks will improve the experience, but nothing has changed since my sub in June 2011. The site has changed for the worse if anything. Issues include, not being able to leave comments to news articles (although the service/feature is there, when you submit your comment the site pops up an error saying “comments are unavailable at this time” – and this happens 99.99% of the time), the forums are primitive (lack of board features, like a bbs from the early 90’s), character/mu profiles are incomplete and many missing/corrupt pages, and most importantly, the MDCU is completely gone from the website even now as of this writing. So, I paid $60 for what? Absolute garbage. Their support doesn’t even exist so if you try to get help you will not even get a email response from them. I really hope, and I’m quite a forgiving/easy going person, that there is some sort of class action lawsuit filed against Marvel.com for this travesty of service (or lack of). Btw, I tried to find my list of favorite comics and must reads – all gone, no where to be seen.

    1. Interesting take on Marvel’s dot com offering. I have to say I’ve had a better experience, but I can see a lot of where you’re coming from, and it’s a bummer that you’ve been let down so much. A lot of times it feels like Marvel.com is rarely the best source for information/discussion of the Marvel universe, and that definitely feels like a depressing missed opportunity given their position.

      One thing I would add is that MDCU is not actually gone after the site redesign. When logged in, you can still access these comics by browsing through Marvel’s entire list of comics (you can filter by MDCU only to narrow the playing field some). At this time, the redesign has wiped out info relating to comics you’ve read, rated, or saved, but Marvel claims to be working through this issue. Ideally, MDCU will relaunch with a nicer, faster look and feel, as well as all saved info maintained. Might be wishful thinking, but time will tell.

  3. I have been reading the free comics on Marvel.com for years. I read most of them on my phone and tablet. I have the free marvel app, and it works great. It is much like the website. I am thinking about signing up for the unlimited. Does anyone know if you can download all of the available comics with the mobile app or is the app limited?

    1. The free comics on the Marvel app won’t exactly carry over to the Marvel Unlimited app. The Marvel app is more of a Comixology off-shoot, while Marvel Unlimited is its own little unconnected beast.

      The Marvel Unlimited app allows you to read all the comics that are in the unlimited catalog. So 10,000+ or whatever the official number is. So far I haven’t had any problems accessing comics through the app and this includes some more recent stuff (Hickman’s FF) and a little older (Galactus’ first appearance, Kraven’s Last Hunt, etc).

      So basically, the Marvel app and the Unlimited app aren’t connected (to my knowledge), but the Unlimited app is pretty comprehensive. Give me a shout if that doesn’t answer what you were looking for, and happy reading!

  4. So its been a year since you have published this.. I am so interested in reading comics.. i am completely new to this rabbit hole and well i dont know anything. Since i am not as rich as tony stark and i cannot really get every issue out there (since i like physical copies).. do you really recommend this?

    I was thinking of getting the marvel unlimited service and then start getting Marvel Now! in physical copies.. i dont know 🙁

    1. It’s a good question, and you’re right, this Marvel Unlimited review could use an update 🙂

      The short answer: I very much still recommend the service, especially for someone new to comics. There are so many great issues available. I have a guide here of some ideas on where to start.

      If you’re unsure, you can always try out the service for one month before subscribing annually. Marvel also frequently has free trial issues that I would recommend testing.

  5. When you have a marvel unlimited account, you have acces to more comics, but can you read those comics for free? (Excluding the monthly/annual costs) or do you only get acces to more comics and still have to pay for each. (Sorry for bad english, i’m not a native speaker)

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