Sunday, January 31, 2016

Amazing Adventures with Marvel Unlimited

I really do think the best way to enjoy reading comics is in the original form, the monthly comic book issue. To me that outweighs the fanciest hardcovers, even the Marvel Omnibus editions, for many reasons: easy to hold in your hands, easier to lift by far (some of them are over 5-6 pounds), and much easier to see double page spreads. However, that being said, at this point in my life continuing to buy hard copies of comics is almost impossible, running out of storage space in the garage. Even worse, lacking the morale to go out to the garage and find the comics I want to re-read!  With my bookshelves full inside the house and the long boxes out of rack space outside the house, I promised my wife I would go digital and try to save some space and money, too.

I've been using Marvel Unlimited for the past few months and fallen in love with it. One reason I was drawn to this was certainly the price: $69 for an annual membership, that is less than $6 a month. Read 2 comics priced $3.99 and it is worth it, but I read quite a lot on it.

There is one big drawback to MU, which is the comics released on it are six months old. Star Wars #7 by Jason Aaron and Simone Bianchi came out in summer/fall 2015, but just appeared recently. New batches of comics appear on Mondays, but they are not only comics from 6 months ago, they could also be comics just getting digitized for the first time. For example, last week Marvel digitized the first half dozen issues of Captain Britain magazine from the 1980s, by Jamie Delano and Alan Davis. I had those and foolishly got rid of them, it was nice to re-read that again.

I am receiving my final box of real comics next week, probably the last I will have for a while, which will contain Secret Wars #9 plus the latest issues of Star Wars and Darth Vader. So it will take me a while to catch up on this six month delay thing for the Star Wars universe titles. But I truly don't mind as using the MU app has allowed me to discover a lot of things I had skipped over the past few years.

Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michale Allred. I totally let this one go, as it wasn't anything like a traditional Silver Surfer comic. After reading all the available issues on MU, I know that was a huge mistake, this is a delightful series, perhaps even more enhanced because I see the connections between this style of story and Doctor Who. It has a lot of humor / heart in addition to space adventure.

Wolverine and the X-Men by Jason Aaron, Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw and others. I ignored this completely when it was published. I have no idea why, it's a terrific young adult type of series, with Wolverine trying to run Professor Xavier's school for mutants. Disaster follows him at every turn, it's more of an X-Men comedy of errors than a traditional hated-and-feared mutants book. I still have a lot to catch up on here.

Old Man Logan (Secret Wars mini-series) by Brian Bendis. It's like a travelogue thru Battleworld with great artwork.

Captain Britain and the Mighty Defenders  (Secret Wars mini-series) by Al Ewing and Alan Davis. I think Al Ewing is a terrific writer who seems to be getting a real chance to take off now. I love this concept, with draws elements from both Ewing's Might Defenders and Paul Cornell's Captain Britain series. I wish this could even go past the Secret Wars.

Now this is just some of the more recent material on MU. What is truly addicting is the old material from the 1960s onward. I saw an issue of Tomb of Dracula highlighted and started reading that plus other back issues. Suddenly struck by a desire to read Fantastic Four #15 where the Mad Thinker's android first appeared? Desires instantly fulfilled. How about Jack Kirby's return to Captain America with the MadBomb story? Ditto. There's no shortage of stuff to read. A Marvel Zombie can spend hours upon hours here. Also, if you are a Star Wars Expanded Universe fan, all of the old Dark Horse Star Wars comics can be found on MU, that is quite a bit of material! More obscure older material is being added. Vampire Tales #1 featuring Morbius was there recently, and I think last week they added Classic X-Men issues (new stories made by Chris Claremont and John Bolton that accompanied the reprints).

I find reading the MU comics on a regular iPad to be about the right size and format. In fact I upgraded to a full size tablet just to read comics; my previous 7 inch tablet was way too small. I don't quite like reading on the computer, I want it to be on a tablet where I guess it simulates the feel of reading a magazine.

Downsides to Marvel Unlimited - besides the six month new issues gap, there are a few. One, the Apple MU app has some bad bugs.  I have not been able to search for creators or titles at all; instead I have to use the browser-based MU to find specific things and add them to my library. I believe the people behind MU know this - I saw an update message that stated we had to delete the app and reinstall it to clear out our caches or something. Seems a bit crazy to me.  Searching for titles in a specific year works better, so if you a great memory and know that the Falcon first appeared in 1969, you can search for all comics published in that year and you will find it. (Aside: it is fun to look at the titles published year by year in the 60s / 70s, astonishing really how few comics Marvel was allowed to release during the old distribution system).

The other bugs that bite me are navigational. You can select certain teams / characters to browse, but due to endless reboots it becomes frustrating. I looked at the Fantastic Four, hoping to find Jonathan Hickman's series, but instead it came up with the Heroes Reborn / Jim Lee issues from the late 1990s. What is equally frustrating is that these bugs have been in the app for a long time, and the engineers working on this are not very capable in fixing them. As someone who worked on the mobile app team at Evernote, I find this shocking.  Putting these bugs to the side, I still find Marvel Unlimited to be an incredible value for $69 / year (and during the last New York ComicCon they had an even cheaper deal). The bugs in the Apple app can be worked around by logging into web based version and searching stuff.

Marvel Unlimited is just, well, marvelous, and the only negative thing really is that it can eat up hours upon hours of time as you explore comics both new and old. Nuff Said!


  1. I suppose Marvel Unlimited is all right for readers, but collectors usually prefer to have the actual published paper format. I'm one of the latter. Omnibus and Masterworks volumes are probably mainly aimed at those who'd like to own a particular series, but couldn't afford the original issues - if they could even track them down. You're right about the charms of an original comic. I bought The Silver Surfer Omnibus volume, pored over its pages, marvelled at the clean reproduction, the perfect colour registration, etc. However, when I wanted to read the stories, I dug out my original 18 issue run and read them one at a time over the course of a few days. Digital comics? Not for me I'm afraid.

    1. Yes, I know what you mean, I have the collector mentality and trying to suppress it before I run out of money and room! :-) I have the Silver Surfer Omnibus, and the Fantastic Four ones, too. I used to have the SS 1-18 but sold those foolishly while in college. I think comics are like time capsules. As you read them and flip through the ads, the Marvel editorial pages, it brings back a sense of wonder.

      Actually I think reading comics digitally can actually lead to buying them in paper. I did that many times already, most recently with Batman by Snyder and Capullo, I just had to appreciate the artwork in paper form.

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  2. I went digital quite a while back when GitCorp released several volumes of Marvel Comics runs on DVD. They included complete runs (up to the time they were released around 2007) of titles like Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Captain America, Iron Man, The Hulk, and The X-Men for the amazing price of around $40.00 apiece. Insane! Over 500 digital comics for $40!! And these were the original complete comics scanned in high resolution with all the ads and letters pages.

    I have all of them (which totals over 4,000 comics) all downloaded on my computer that I can easily access at any time. You can even transfer them to a Kindle or iPad for reading on the go, or in bed, etc. I highly recommend them, (if you can find them).

    I sold off most of my original comics after I got these discs, and I have to tell you I don't miss the hardcopies, because since the digital files are scans of the original comics, it is almost like reading the real thing.

    1. You had my attention when you said they had the ads and the letters pages! Those things are part of what make a silver/bronze age comic unique. Great that you got those.