Review: Marvel Unlimited 2.0 for iPad

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Marvel Unlimited promises a Netflix-like all-you-can-eat subscription to a library of Marvel back issues. I find this idea far more appealing than spending $2–3 for a digital comic within ComiXology, so I decided to give Unlimited a shot last month.
While I really did want to write a glowing review of a service that provides me with far more comics than I can handle, it has to be said that Marvel Unlimited has its issues.   

Back Issues

One of the biggest perks of Marvel Unlimited is that editors have managed to make the gigantic Marvel Universe somewhat navigable. My $10 subscription lets me read anything in the app as long as I have an Internet connection, although there’s also an offline option for downloading up to 12 issues (great for long subway rides).

I still want to see what “M-Day” is like, but I’ve been able to make my way through most of the “Civil War” storylines thanks to how the app lays everything out. You can search by character, series, and even major story arc. Publishing dates beneath each issue also help you discern the difference the Moon Knight comics from 2006 and the re-launch of the series in 2010.

The 2.0 update to the app added a native interface, faster overall performance, and some fancy multi-media effects for certain issues. The latter addition is interesting for adding sound effects and ambient music, but because these are only available on a small subset of issues, these new features haven’t really impacted my experience much. The most interesting recent addition comes in the form of Smart Panels, which attempts to guide you through an issue panel by panel, complete with dramatic dynamic zooming. When Smart Panels work, they feel downright cinematic. Unfortunately, they can also crop out entire paragraphs of text, so I opt to read without them, unless I’m just skimming a series. 

Bad Issues

Marvel Unlimited works most of the time, but it often fails to deliver in the strangest and most disruptive ways.
First up is the buggy history functionality. The app tries to remember which comics I read last, but it fails very very often at this simple task. I tend to read 6–10 issues in a single sitting, but find that the “You Recently Viewed” section almost never remembers where I have stopped.

There’s also the unfortunate bug that disrupts the loading and downloading of comics. Most issues are about 24 pages long, but every once in a while the app refuses to load any more than the first three pages of any comic I try to view.

Then there’s the offline bug that doesn’t show any of my downloaded comic covers, even though I downloaded the issues in advance for the express purpose of reading them without an Internet connection. The app is sadly also unaware of what content has been downloaded. One example of this is the time I finished Astonishing X-Men #1, had the app offer to move me to issue #2 (which I also downloaded), and then ask me for an Internet connection to download the issue (d’oh!).

The Only Game In Town

The litany of bugs in this app are annoying, but they aren’t showstoppers. I just wanted to be clear that the app can be quite frustrating to deal with at times, but the ability to catch up on X-Men, Iron Man, and The Avengers in one app is just too good for me to pass up. So I will be renewing my subscription for at least one more month, despite these bugs.  

The thing is, if you’ve been looking for an affordable and legal way to get back into the comic book world on your iPad, there’s currently nothing else besides Marvel Unlimited. 

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2 thoughts on “Review: Marvel Unlimited 2.0 for iPad”

  1. I noticed on the App Store that people are having issues with zooming, particularly while in landscape.

    What I am most curious about is the depth and completeness of their offerings. Suppose I’m interested in reading Spider-Man from the very beginning. Is “Amazing Fantasy” #15 there from 1962? And then I would want to see if “Amazing Spider-Man” was also there starting at #1 in 1963 and onward. Is each and every issue there and in order? And then where does that end? I don’t think that they would include the most current issues that are on the new comics shelves. Or do they? I would first use that title to test completeness.

    The problem I have with services like Netflix and Hulu is that they tend to be incomplete, having many things for a temporary amount of time. I like to read and view things from beginning to end.

    It’s sad that Marvel is not offering a more convenient experience than piracy. Ten dollars per month for everything they offer past and present would very much be worth my while and my time. But the experience has to be there and from what I gather from your article it simply is not. I hope they improve in the future.

  2. There are holes. Amazing Spider-Man seems to have at least 700 issues, according to Wikipedia. However, Marvel Unlimited shows issues up to #440 or so, and even that isn’t all 440 in a row. 373 comics show up in the actual available list (though the list does start from #1).
    I’m OK with the idea of an incomplete-but-growing library, but I do think the bugs make the whole experience feel quite silly at times. It’s so awfully abrupt to have a comic start on page 3, especially since the cover and the synopsis take up the first two pages…

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