by Tom McNamara / May 01, 2018
With all the monthly subscription services vying for your attention these days, you might not have room for another. But if the steady march of Marvel movies has gotten you interested in the comic book medium, Marvel Unlimited is a promising place to start, offering up over 20,000 books for $10 a month or $69 a year. Let's see if it's worth the price tag.
The largest Marvel Comics library on the Internet: The company says that over 20,000 comic books are available, with more added each week. This is pretty impressive for $10 a month. It's not as impressive as Kindle Unlimited, which has about 1.5 million books on tap. But as a special-interest library, 20K is a very healthy number.
See the birth of famous characters: Within a few taps, we were reading the first issue of Uncanny X-Men, which originally came out in 1963 and featured work by legendary artist Jack Kirby and writing by Stan Lee himself. Many of the characters that we see these days on the movie screen were invented right here. In physical form, this issue would be a treasured relic among collectors. Now you can download a pristine copy in an app and read it whenever you like, over 50 years later.
We did notice that the app defaults to showing the most recent issues first, so we had to reverse the sorting to see a series from the beginning. This is a small hurdle, but something to be aware of.
Much cheaper than buying comics: Marvel offers this massive library for just $10 a month, and there was a promotion during our testing to get the first month for $5. You can also sign up for $69 annually, which works out to $5.83 a month, putting it in the same price range as a single book. You can also do "Annual Plus" for $99 a year (working out to $8.25 a month), which includes a 15 percent discount on book purchases and some physical swag. Why would you buy the comics when you can pay a flat monthly fee for access?
Free previews to let you judge for yourself: In addition to the free 7-day trial, Marvel also provides free sample comics that you can read without having to sign up for anything. They are usually previews (the comic equivalent of a movie trailer), but the first issue of Infinity Gauntlet -- the basis for the Avengers: Infinity War film -- was also free to read. Just go to the free issues section, click on one of them, then click on the Read Sample button. The comic will then load in your web browser. You don't even have to give them your email address.
Digital releases are delayed by half a year or more: You won't get the freshest comics via Marvel Unlimited, presumably to cut down on piracy. The company says that additions to the Unlimited library are held back by at least six months. If you want to catch up on the comics that the Marvel films are based on, that's not a problem. But any comics with stories emerging from the films won't show up right away. However, the Annual Plus subscription does at least give you a 15 percent discount on those purchases.
Limited offline downloading: Your offline reading library is limited to a dozen books, which is fine for a commute but not so great for road trips or vacations. This is not unusual; Kindle Unlimited lets you keep no more than 10 books at once. But those 10 books could take weeks or months to read, depending on your tastes. You could read all 12 of your downloaded comics in the time that it takes to complete a single novel. So if you're traveling, you'll have to be stocked up on a fresh set of books every time.
Needs a device with a large screen: While $10 a month is a steal for this much content, comics don't look that great on a standard mobile phone. The 5.5-inch 1080p screen of an iPhone 8+ is barely enough, and that's viewing in Landscape mode, which lets us zoom in on a section of panels at the cost of missing out on artwork that takes up a full page (sometimes two). We'd strongly recommend viewing on a tablet or a computer monitor (preferably one you can rotate into Portrait mode) for better text legibility and enjoyment of the visual details. A 4K TV would arguably offer the best format, but you need additional tools for that; for iOS, you need an Apple TV 4K linked up to your phone via its Screen Mirroring feature; for Android or a Google Chrome browser on your PC, you'll need a Google Chromecast Ultra.
Account creation annoyances: The sign-up process has one of those steps where you need to create an account name, but the system doesn't tell you that a name is already in use until you've submitted one. Your user profile isn't viewable by other Unlimited customers, so only you will see it. Its only purpose appears to be administrative. But until you figure out a unique nickname for yourself, the doors to this library are firmly barred. By not accepting your email address as your user ID, the service creates a needless obstacle that's probably costing its customers. This is not a huge deal, but it makes the experience feel less polished.
There are a few quirks in Marvel Unlimited's user experience, but the sheer size of the library, its accessibility, and the value on display more than make up for it.