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by adam mathes
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13,000 Marvel Comics for $5

Marvel’s digital subscription service, Marvel Unlimited, now has an iPad app. (Previously, the service required a desktop web browser and internet connection to read anything.)

For $5 a month (if paid annually, $10 if paying monthly) you get access to thousands of issues of the Marvel back catalog in digital form on your iPad.

They claim to have over 13,000 comics in the service currently.

Problems

The app does have problems.

First, it has a severe limitation: you can only download 6 comics at a time for offline viewing. This is fine for a short commute, but useless for say, an airplane ride.

The reader itself doesn’t offer a way to full hide the toolbars and chrome, making it a less clean iPad reading experience than most other comic readers on the platform.

It’s impossible to sign up for the service from the iOS app – or even a call to action how to do it on the web. (I know this is because of App Store policies, but it’s still annoying for a new customer.)

The app seems to hang occasionally and be unable to refresh catalog data quickly or at all – it looks like it loads large amounts from the server each time rather than caching a large metadata database and updating it later, perhaps an architectural mistake they will fix, or perhaps the load is larger than they anticipated. The user reviews as of today are filled with complaints about how the app isn’t quite there yet.

But it’s definitely functional, and I was able to read comics on it.

The details in some sense don’t really matter because for $5 a month you can read almost any Marvel comic on your iPad. The main exception is comics released in the last 6-12 months are not included, presumably to stop cannibalization of their existing new comic sales and subscriptions, but there’s other stuff missing as well. I think, in part, some of the back-catalog may not be digitized well yet.

There’s also not nearly enough organization or support for things like reading orders, chronology, and setting up a “read list.”

Conclusion

If you are interested in collecting comics, physical or digital, this is useless. If you’ve given up on that and just want to read comics, it’s amazing, though the app needs polish.

If you want to read Marvel comics – a lot of comics – this service is amazing. It’s exactly what I wished Marvel would sell for years, and now they finally do.

Marvel Unlimited essentially says – you shouldn’t buy (or even pirate) Marvel back issues – you can get access to all of them for $5 a month in a more convenient package.

I’m excited to use it, and eager to see it develop. I think this sort of service is the future of comic distribution.

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