PAUL BENJAMIN: Writer, Editor, Supermodel

Why You Need Marvel Unlimited (but maybe not right now)

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The Marvel Unlimited app is one of the best things to ever happen in comics… when it works.  I’ve had a Marvel Unlimited subscription since 2008, back when it was called “Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited” and was only available for reading on an actual computer. The new app makes for a much more enjoyable reading experience. It’s still buggy, but a huge improvement and well worth the minor hassles.

For about $60 per year, you can read thousands of Marvel comics digitally. I recently read almost the entire run of Peter David’s X-Factor series. That’s nearly 100 issues. At about $12 per six-issue trade paperback, that would be around $192. In just a few weeks, I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth. If I like a storyline enough, I can always buy a permanent copy to grace my office shelves.

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For only $60/year you can read most of the epic Civil War storyline that pitted Marvel heroes against each other for several months.

At its best, Marvel Unlimited lets me read dozens of books wherever I’m connected to the Internet. This was huge while in Uzbekistan where my nearest comics shop was two countries and an $800 flight away. It’s also fantastic for reading across storylines/crossovers. I stopped reading X-Factor around issue #26 because it was crossing over with X-Men story arcs I hadn’t read and I didn’t want to buy a bunch of extra comics just to understand one piece of the story. Now I can read a few issues or the entire crossover without spending any extra money.

On the downside, some issues haven’t been digitized. There’s a gap of at least around six months between when a new issue hits stores and when it goes up on Marvel Unlimited. That’s fine by me since there are so many other great comics to read while I wait. You may also miss out on important parts of a story arc that haven’t been added to the app. The omissions are often inexplicable, such as the failure to include the last issue in a five or six-issue story arc. However, there are so many comics available here, it just doesn’t matter that much. I can skip an issue and move onto the next, or just read other things and then come back to the series once more issues are digitized. If it’s just a single-issue gap, I can read a summary of the issue online and move to the next one. Worst-case scenario, I spend a few bucks to buy the comic on Comixology to fill in the gap.

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Select books to read offline even when not connected to the Internet. It works… mostly.

The biggest problem I’ve had is with the “Read Offline” feature. This should let me save up to six comics to read even when I don’t have an Internet connection. I frequently had an issue where it would only download a few sample pages because they app didn’t know I was signed in, despite the fact that it could see my library which only exists when I’m logged on. This may have been a function of having an extremely slow Internet connection while living overseas as I don’t think it’s happened since I returned to the U.S. I did, however, run into a problem when I tried to remove an issue from my Read Offline list while in an airport and not online. The app somehow lost all of the comics in my Read Offline queue. No more X-Factor until I logged in again!

 

There are a few occasional minor glitches, like issues seeming to load but only showing a black screen, the wrong cover thumbnail showing for an issue, or missing text in a word balloons. These problems are few and far between. I also have no idea how I’m affecting my colleagues’ (or my own) royalties. Are we getting paid when subscribers read our comics via the Marvel Unlimited app? Also, the My Library queue doesn’t display in any discernable order. One of these days I imagine Marvel will make it possible to sort My Library alphabetically.

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Your iPad is a lot lighter than those heavy hardcovers and omnibus editions.

In any case, the app is a game-changer for me. There are more Marvel comics than I can ever make the time to read, all available for the cost of around five trade paperbacks. If you’re easily annoyed by buggy apps, you may want to wait a few months, as improvements are surely coming soon. If you just want to read a ton of comics for not much money, especially back issues from times gone by, this is the app for you!

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