Update 1.5.17: There’s a new review of MU for 2017!
This week’s question comes from Shai, in the comments of my original Marvel Unlimited review.
So it’s 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 🙁
Don’t be sad Shai, and other would-be Unlimited subscribers! I’ve got your answer right here:
The Artist Formerly Known As Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited
Way back in the ancient times when I started Comic Book Herald (we had to walk to our websites uphill both ways in the snow, and selfies hadn’t even been invented yet – it was a simpler time), one of the first popular posts I wrote was about this new, relatively unknown service: Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited.
MDCU as it was known at the time was a web-browser only comics subscription service. For an annual fee of $59.99 you could read over 10,000 Marvel comics. And if you wanted to read on your smartphone, you just needed an inventive flash-based hack and a severe addiction to comics.
In many ways, a lot has changed with Marvel Unlimited (they lost the ‘digital comics’ part of the acronym, presumably because the DCU is already kind of a rival universe). Just three months after my initial glowing review highlighted the lack of a mobile option, Marvel released the Marvel Unlimited app for freebies.
While the app has had more than its fair share of detractors (yours truly included), it’s primarily a beneficial and positive development. As I’ve said before, tablets are the role comics were born to play (what?) and an easy free Marvel Unlimited app makes the service immensely appealing to fans with tablets.
Is There Any Reason You Would Hesitate To Recommend Marvel Unlimited?
I’m rephrasing the question because my short answer to “Would you still recommend Marvel Unlimited” is a resounding yes. I really recommend it, even at the increased price of $69.99 a year. If you’re worried about what to read, I have a list for that.
I have a few qualms with the service as a whole, such as missing issues in the middle of runs, increasing annual rates (you don’t get grandfathered into a better annual rate) with a weird inability to apply promotions (if you’re already signed up but find a better deal), and of course, the Android app dilemma (since, greatly improved!).
For the most part, these issues are nothing more than slight inconveniences in one of my favorite services of all time. Here are the types of reasons I would actually caution signing up for Marvel Unlimited:
You Don’t Like Older Comics or You’ve Read Most of the Marvel Universe
Marvel Unlimited is most useful for anyone who wants to catch up on a vast, overwhelming library of 10,000 plus comics. It’s for readers who want to consume every story ever told.
It’s not great for readers who want to keep up with the latest and greatest in Marvel publishing. If you want to know what’s going on in Amazing Spider-Man right now, Marvel Unlimited is not the service for you. Your best bet is going to be picking up Amazing Spider-Man issues from your local comic shop, or digitally through Amazonology.
Now, if you can wait 6 months (or so), even the newest comics are added fairly regularly. For example, you can totally start diving into Secret Wars, Marvel’s event of 2015 (just make sure you have a Secret Wars reading guide at the ready).
But again, Marvel Unlimited is not Spotify. You can’t tune in the day of a new release and find what you’re looking for (speaking of which – how on earth does Spotify get away with that? Not complaining, just amazed).
You’re Only Going to Read Using the Marvel Unlimited Android App
(Ed Note: The Below has improved mightily since the time of writing. If you’re an Android app user, things are looking much better these days. Nonetheless, below will give you a sense of the type of issues you may encounter with MU.)
At SXSW, Marvel announced significant changes to their iOS app. Panel to panel transitions improved dramatically, as did the ability to transition from one comic to the next in the series.
Now, these changes have been mentioned as “upcoming” for Android. As we all know, though, Android just about always gets the short end of the stick. As of right now, as I write this, the Android app is really frustrating.
If you sign up for the purposes of reading comics on your Android device, you’re going to be disappointed. Plain and simple.
There are workarounds, such as reading through a web browser instead of the app (if you’re always reading while connected to Wi-Fi), and at the end of the day the app does work. I use the Unlimited app on my Samsung Galaxy S4 daily, and though it requires a lot of pinching and zooming, it does work.
I wouldn’t fully dissuade you from the service based on all this, but I would highly recommend you test the app on your devices before the annual subscription. Even at its best, the technology requires the patience of our saint Alicia Masters.
You Don’t Have a Tablet / Smartphone to Read Comics On
This one feels somewhat snobbish, and to be clear, I used my laptop for the first 2 years of my subscription. A laptop will work just fine.
My hesitation recommending it, though, is that every recent development in Marvel Unlimited is focused on tablets (in particular the iPad). Marvel Laptop reading has been using the same “Beta Reader” for over a year. At this point it seems like that beta reader was designed more to enhance the tablet the experience than it was ever meant to improve laptop reading.
The simple answer here is that tablets make for a better single page comic reading experience. The width of a laptop screen makes a single page of comic narrow and small, and the smart panel reading can be a less pleasant way to navigate a story.
Again, though, I’d recommend some of the free sample options before you commit. It’s possible you have no problem with reading on your laptop. And I’d recommend this guide, if you’re in the market for both Marvel Unlimited and a tablet.
It’s All About the Comics
In the end, you know why I’ve been a loyal Marvel Unlimited subscriber for nearly five years? The comics! Where else am I going to get to read every Marvel comic in the history of Marvel comics for less than $100 a year? My local library or a bittorrent? Even then, only maybe, and I’m left either sitting in the children’s section or behaving like a criminal with a pet cashew.
There are absolutely ways I’d like to see the service improve. No doubt. But in the meantime?
Make mine Marvel Unlimited.