What if I told you that for the price to two or three comic books a month, you could read ALL the comic books?
There are just two caveats. It’s Marvel Comics only. No Image. No DC. And the biggie — every issue’s at least 6 months old.
That’s the bargain you make with Marvel Unlimited. You get immediate and on-demand access to a vast catalog of some of the most popular characters in pop culture’s modern mythology. Just none of the new stuff.
It wouldn’t work for music. You wait six months to hear that diss track, and you’re already four rap beefs behind. But would you do it for comics? Would you trade your current new comic day haul for a dated, yet unlimited, pull list at a fraction of the price?
I’m coming off a year of having a Marvel Unlimited gift subscription, and now that I’ve gotten the email reminder letting me know that next year’s payment is coming due, it’s time to decide: Will I keep it or cancel?
Reading the pros and cons might help you figure out whether or not to put Marvel Unlimited on your holiday wish list.
First a little bit about me: I used to buy comics every week.
Each Wednesday, I’d pop into my local shop and grab a few floppies off the shelf. I couldn’t afford to buy everything I wanted to read, but I was in deep enough to have actually had real live conversations with other people about bags and boards.
Then I moved to a town that didn’t have a comic shop within 40 miles. That was the end of that. I kind of miss the boards. I can live without the bags.
Enter Marvel Unlimited.
For an entire year, I’d have free access to all the Marvel Comics I’d missed and more. All those books that I couldn’t afford to add to my weekly haul, I could read those now, too. Any classics I’d neglected to read over the years — I could binge read all of that stuff.
So here’s what I’ve learned.
Like a lot of streaming plans, Marvel Unlimited will cost you $9.99 by the month. But if you pay for the entire 12 months in advance, you can choose between a couple of perks. You can pay for the whole year and cut your cost to just under $6 per month OR take a smaller discount of just under $1.75 off per month and get a loot box of exclusive merch and other discounts when paying the full 12 months up front.
I was gifted the Plus membership with the perks for $99, and in addition to the digital access, I received an interlocking set of three Infinity War-themed variant comics, a 6-inch Tony Stark Marvel Legends action figure, a Captain America and Spider-Man pin set and an iron-on Thanos patch.
That patch went straight onto my Marvel jacket and made me feel pretty smug walking out of the Avengers: Infinity War fan screening with proof I was on team Thanos.
This year’s Plus Membership Kit includes two variant comics, a Fantastic 4 patch, a Thing pin and a Venomized Punisher Legends figure. Plus, you get a 10% discount at the Marvel online shop, which is worth at least a quick browse.
The list of titles and issues is massive
The volume of books available is almost indescribable. Sure, some completionists will whine about which random comics aren’t published on the service, but the existing selection amounts to more than anyone with a job could ever realistically read.
Just like at the comic book store, each week, a new crop of issues hits the app, and along with the newest stuff available, classic titles are also added, usually a whole run of older books in sequence.
Whether you are relatively new to comics or even if you’re a regular Wednesday Warrior like I was, there is a lot to find. The app offers curated reading lists sorted by character, series, events or creators.
Inspired by Season 3 of Daredevil and feel like reading the best of Bullseye (while choking back tears over the Netflix cancellation)? There’s a list for that. Really feeling Jason Aaron? From X-Men to Thor, see all his greatest hits in one place.
Now, here’s what you won’t find. It’s obvious since I already mentioned it, but it’s worth noting that some of the best books on the shelves aren’t included here. You’ll have to go elsewhere for your Walking Deads and Justice Leagues. Neither will you find any of Marvel’s hard R titles, so most of the Max stuff is out. I learned that when Jessica Jones Season 2 hit, and I couldn’t find her original Alias series.
Reading is the easy part; keeping track is hard
As long as you’ve got the hardware, reading is a great experience. If you have a smaller device, you can read issues one panel at a time, automatically zooming in to get an ideal view of text boxes and bubbles.
I prefer to use a 10-inch tablet to look at the full page. That screen size is the closest thing to reading a real hard copy of the book. So if you’ve got an iPad Pro or one of these, you’ve already got an ideal set-up.
I tried reading on my laptop through the browser, and the panel-by-panel view looked nice. It’s an acquired taste since it’s such a different experience than looking at the physical page, but the real problem with website browsing is surfing for titles and keeping track of your progress. It’s a nightmare.
Definitely stick to the mobile and tablet apps. There you get a row of your most recent titles labeled “currently reading.” That will essentially be your reading list, though it is limited to the number of books it will display at one time.
As you scroll through each issue, the app automatically progresses you to the next chronological issue of a given series. It only really becomes a problem when you come across one of Marvel’s random renumberings or relaunches — or a multi-title crossover — and have to go searching around to make sure you read everything in the right order.
Binging is best
Some of the first series I read already had a year or two of backlog before I started. Aaron’s Doctor Strange. Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Black Panther. Star Wars. I blazed through those as if I was watching Making a Murderer marry Black Mirror and give birth to Stranger Things.
And when I caught up to the place where Marvel Unlimited cut me off, here’s what I realized: The true nature of humans is bingeing. I’m pretty sure beings and binge have the same Latin root.
After reading entire arcs without interruption, it feels like a step backward to limit myself to just 22 pages of a given series every month. So here’s what I started doing. Once I caught up, I dropped a series. I started reading something else. And I didn’t come back to the first series until it had built up another three or more issues in the bank.
I used a service whose biggest drawback was waiting for new stuff, and I artificially made the wait even longer. And it improves the experience.
I can’t be on Twitter joining the discussion on that week’s truly new releases. And while that would be murder if we were talking about a movie, for comics, it’s not a dealbreaker.
I’m sticking with Marvel Unlimited. It helped me go from being in a town bereft of comic shops to having tons of books at my fingertips and for way less than I was paying to collect hard copies.
Not having access to the newest books can be a bummer, but if you can get over that, steer into it. The only thing left to decide for me is whether I still want to opt for the Plus package. Either way, I feel like I’m getting a bargain.