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.
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.
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.