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Marvel Unlimited Updated Review!

It’s been three-and-a-half years since I reviewed Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. I’ve been meaning to post an update for some time, and as I’ve been on vacation these past few weeks — and using the service a lot in my downtime — now seems the ideal time!

(For the TL:DR-types in the audience — I still enthusiastically endorse this service! For those wanting a bit more detail, I offer brief and updated impressions below!)

Marvel Unlimited

First off, the service has a new name — it is now simply Marvel Unlimited, which is snappier, but no less deceptive, as the service is still limited, though considerably improved over my original review.

Technology & Interface

The single greatest improvement in the service was a rebuild that dispensed with Flash and went cross-platform. That’s right, now I can use Marvel Unlimited on my tablet, which dispenses with about a third of my original criticism. Marvel Unlimited’s “smart panel” system isn’t quite so sharp as Comixology’s, but I find single-page mode on an iPad serves me just fine, given that I can pinch/zoom in on anything I want to see in greater detail. The service has been of great value in capturing images for use here at Longbox Graveyard (and the absence of a similar service accounts for much of the relatively paucity of DC Comics features here at my blog … it takes a lot more effort and expense to read DC product in electronic form).

The updated app came with some under-the-hood improvements, too, resulting in faster search and (generally) better stability. The physical search process also seems improved, though some of this might be down to my familiarity with the system, or just lowered expectations. My sense is that Marvel has been cleaning up their search metadata behind-the-scenes, but I haven’t run any benchmark tests, so you are on your own if a routine search turns up twelve separate entries for Don Heck (horrors!).

wow

Heck, no!

A very welcome addition is the option to search by date, which lets me set the Wayback Machine for (say) 1978 and see all the comics on offer for that year. I LOVE this feature, as it lets me dive directly into eras of interest, and even kinda-sorta read books in the order they came out, should I wish to experience a past year on a month-to-month basis. This is an indispensable feature — the kind that makes me wonder how I ever went without it. Well done!

The “Must Reads” search workaround I mentioned in my previous review is no longer available (at least on tablet, which is the only place I use this service now) — in its place is a “Library” option, which is supposed to let you download up to twelve comics at a time to read offline, a theoretically useful feature for plane or car trips.

I say, “theoretically,” because I can’t get the bloody thing to work.

Sad Trombone

Kind of damning to read instructions about how I can read comics offline on the same screen that chastises me for not having an internet connection, no? This may well be down to user error. Or maybe it just flat out doesn’t work.

Otherwise, the experience has improved in every way. Upon completing an issue, the option is available to jump directly to the next issue in line, a very welcome feature for long series re-reads. The ability to rate books or try to share them with friends is gone, and un-missed.

Spotlight

The front-end has nice new features like spotlight sections, with the most recently-released content displayed front-and-center (and alerts about new content rolling onto the system can also be pushed to you via email updates).

Which brings me to …

Content

Content is still king on this app — everything I lauded in my original review of the service is still here, plus seemingly every new book Marvel has published since, with the significant caveat that the system lags approximately six months behind print. You can think of Marvel Unlimited as the home video release of theatrical movies … and just as with the movies, if you can wean yourself of seeing everything when it comes out day-and-date, you can enjoy a lot of content for a fraction of the price.

For your humble narrator — stuck as I am in the year of 1978 — being “only” six month behind the times is so far into the future that it gives me a nosebleed! In other words, I’m fine with it, even for new books. Like many readers, I am looking forward to Marvel’s Even-Newer-And-This-Time-We-Mean-It relaunch … but I will be enjoying it in the Spring, instead of the Fall!

WE REALLY MEAN IT THIS TIME!

very much looking forward to this … eventually

Archival gaps have been slower to close. Marvel’s Star Wars books recently appeared on the service, but frustrating omissions from decades past remain (I am still flummoxed that Marvel’s monster books from the 70s are so few and far between). Very occasionally I will get notice that new issues of an old book have been filled in, but mostly I’ve adjusted my expectations and use the service for reading newer issues.

Here Comes Daredevil!

new-old Daredevil, recently added to Marvel Unlimited

Marvel Unlimited helped me come to terms with my conflicted feelings about Brian Michael Bendis by reading his work in long digital binges (where he shines) — I even bit the bullet and detoured into Battle of the Atom when it interrupted my long 40-issue read of Uncanny X-Men. It would have been nice if those Battle of the Atom issues were threaded one to the next, so I didn’t have to search up each title in order and by hand … but you can’t have everything!

your checklist mocks me

my kingdom for an interactive checklist!

The Future

In a lot of ways, my Marvel Unlimited service has been like a gym membership. There have been times when I’ve used it religiously, and then long gaps when I forgotten I’ve paid for the damn thing. If my credit card had aged out and the service had failed to renew, I might not have missed it … until the time came that I wanted to look as some specific issue of such-and-so, when Marvel Unlimited proves itself very much indispensable. I suppose I could cancel out my sub and pop in-and-out with trail memberships from disposable email addresses, but that is a churlish way to treat this service. There is good content here, and I’m happy to pay for it (and I will keep a candle burring in the window in hopes of DC offering a similar platform someday). I might even double-down and get a retina-display iPad specifically for Marvel Unlimited … or better yet, wait on the super-sized tablets Apple supposedly has in the pipeline, which strike me as possibly the best way yet to read digital comics.

But even with my “old” iPad, I am still a fan of Marvel Unlimited; I think it is worth a subscription, and it is certainly worth a tryout for whatever app is native to your device.

And now, if you will excuse me, I need to return to my Bendis-era Uncanny X-Men re-read. It might be 2013 in that particular series, but it’s all new to me!

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on August 12, 2015, in Other Media and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 29 Comments.

  1. Thanks for the update on this. I dabbled in MDCU years ago when it was new and found it to be fun but frustrating, since I mostly wanted to re-read classic (and not-so-classic runs). There were too many holes to make that possible.

    I may give it another look as a cheap way to keep up on some modern series with occasional visits into the bronze age.

    Like

    • It’s a no-brainer if you have a tablet, even if all you do are read those books you wouldn’t commit to in paper format. For a guy like me, who is curious about contemporary books but has zero desire to buy or own them, the service has become indispensable.

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      • You mentioned your “old iPad” … I have an iPad 2 running iOS 8. Even before belatedly installing iOS 8 is seemed to be getting sluggish, especially in safari. After iOS 8 it has gotten pretty bad.

        Any opinion on whether or not my prehistoric iPad will access the Marvel comics adequately?

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        • I have a 16GB iPad 2, and it handles the service pretty well when I’m on my home wireless network. Crappy hotel wireless usually ends in tears. I keep plenty of memory clear, too — digital comics are pretty much the only thing I do with this iPad.

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          • That’s my experience too. Even at home, if I access my Wifi via my Wifi extender I might not get the response I’d really hope for. On the plus side, MU will work in my computer’s browser

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  2. Glad you followed up your review on this. I’ll readily admit I don’t get the criticisms of the MU app. Yes, it is buggy and at times not-user friendly… but if you’re a comic book fan, you get such tremendous value with the library. Even with the holes (my big buggaboo is they don’t put any of the “mature” MAX line on here, denying me the opportunity to read Garth Ennis’s Punisher Max), I find myself reading comics that I would have NEVER read without this app. Heck, I find myself RE-reading books I wouldn’t bother reading again because it’s so easy to pull them up. I have no idea why DC hasn’t move forward with its own version of this app. It must just be stubborness or fear that it’s going to cut into their bottom line because god forbid that company doesn’t continue to make money from a Watchmen or Dark Knight Returns TPB.

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    • Good catch on the mature stuff, Mark, that is a significant omission and I should have called it out in my review(s).

      As far as DC is concerned, my own little grapevine tells me that DC feels a comparable digital service just doesn’t pencil out so far as profit and loss is concerned. I also expect they’re more keen on protecting their archival print sales, as DC’s bookstore publishing sector seems more important to Warners than the comparable division over at Marvel. Add to this DC/Warner’s historical siloing/resistance to new things/slow moving nature and I don’t expect we will see an unlimited DC digital service any time soon. (Happy to be wrong on all of the above though!)

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  3. I have the same problem with the books in my library, it’s super frustrating, but for the most part the pro’s outweigh the con’s for me, by a pretty wide margin. I finally got around to reading Omega The Unknown and its wrap up in Defenders.

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    • I finally finished Omega via my digital sub, too. Would love to see more 70s stuff there — Gerber’s Defenders, Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One, the monster books of course … so much good content is still lacking. But what is there is still pretty incredible.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I noticed lol I looked for the same things.

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      • On really slow days, I’ll access the app and play “What gaps can I find in MU today?” One big gap I found might interest markginocchio in that Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2 is missing from the app. The conclusion to the Thanos storyline that started in Warlock, went over to Avengers Annual #7, and concluded in MTIOA2 shouldn’t be a hard book to find. Like mark, I suspect that the events in that pivotal issue will be used in the conclusion of Marvel’s cinematic epic, especially with Spider-Man now a part of the Marvel movie universe.

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        • That Annual is a brutal omission. One of my favorite stories of that era — fortunately I still have my originals. That story was reprinted a couple years ago as a floppy edition. Usually that means it will be made available digitally, too. Strange.

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  4. Great review and glad to hear it has improved. Many times I’d love to be able to pluck screenshots and just can’t find the issue in question or have to go to the bin to get it (assuming I have it). This would work wonders for me.

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  5. I had cancelled my Marvel Unlimited subscription when they stopped supporting Kindle, but now that I’ve finally got an iPad (thanks for the hand me down, dad) I’ve signed back up. I think it’s great, but I’d like to see more (Bronze Age) titles available.

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    • There can never be enough Bronze Age for me! I did notice that Marvel was soliciting for trade and omnibus collections of titles like Werewolf by Night, Man Thing, and Monster of Frankenstein for this Fall, so maybe after those books sell-in to the print channel, we will see them rotate onto the digital service. Fingers crossed!

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  6. I tripped here because I was looking to see if you wrote a review for Contest of Champions, the tablet/phone video game I accidentally addicted myself to when TD Bank sent me a free Galaxy in the mail for signing up for their credit card three months ago. (It’s my first tablet since the original iPad, aka iPaperweight.)

    My original plan for the tablet was to use MU, which I currently do on a desktop computer. Not the friendliest of terms, but its serviceable. Once I worked around the annoying aspects of the service, I found it to be an incredible way for me to plow through every issue of Uncanny X-Men hunting for randomly missing issues from my personal collection buried in one of the 14 long boxes stacked to the heavens in the basement, or trips to the library for collected editions.

    Now, with the tablet, I’m able to use that Read Offline feature on my 2-hour commute to and from work (godsend!) and I’m a pig in shit.

    I’ve tweeted to Axel Alonso and Tom Breevort (in both cases, probably not the right person, but I don’t know anyone), and one thing that would make MU infinitely better is if the end of any issue read, in addition to leading to the following issue, also pointed you to the continuation of a story, where appropriate. So, if I’m reading Uncanny X-Men 239, a segment of the Inferno crossover, the end of the story will offer up Uncanny 240, as well as X-Factor 36 (or whatever number it is), which is the next part of the story.

    It would also be a nice bonus if any issues referenced within a story with the editor’s box and asterisk were added, too.

    Anyway, that’s my two cents. MU rules, and so does TD Bank.

    Like

    • They really need to hire a bunch of interns or Marvel Zombies or somebody to cram into a quonset hut in Florida where they do development support for the Marvel Unlimited service to fix their metadata … a new feature like link-threading crossover series would be great, but first they should clean up all the creator credits, so I can search for a specific artist (figuring they did interiors) and instead get a pile of cover artist listings. For starters.

      (That’s my little rant … thought I am using a lapsed credit card as an excuse to take a break from the service for awhile, I look forward to returning to those long binge reads, and maybe I’ll even follow in your footsteps and read Uncanny from #1)

      Be careful praising your bank, though. Next thing you know, you’ll be in here lauding your cable company, and I’ll have to send the Para-Demons out to check if you’ve been replaced by an LMD.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I love the cable company too! Its the one “utility” that we the people have by the balls instead of the other way around. Every year, I call to cancel my account (threatening to go full-stream with Netflix and Hulu, something I actually want to do but my wife is also married to her landline and the seeming ease of a 3-in-1 phone/cable/internet package) and they give me a digital handy and throw some free premium channels and maintain introductory prices at me.

        But yeah, Marvel Unlimited definitely needs Zombies helping out.

        Menawhile, I am effing HOOKED on Contest of Champions. I’m Mojoswork if you play and need a friend.

        Like

        • OK, you’re definitely an LMD! But you give good comment (digital handy!) so you can stay.

          I tried Contest of Champions a time or two, but I found it a little too twitchy for my tastes. I am pretty strictly a turn-based guy (and I will sheepishly admit that I am still playing Marvel Puzzle Quest, despite my Nora Desmond exit from the stage last month … sigh).

          And it is neither here nor there, but I cut my cable cord well over a year ago, and I haven’t missed it at all. I do Netflix/Amazon/HBO Now and I have more shows than I can possibly watch, though I am a year behind on most things (not a problem for a guy who lives in 1978!). Unless you really need live news or live sports, I don’t see much reason to pay for cable any more, no matter who is holding whose balls. Fight the power, brother!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. Instead of all of you sucking on Marvels Unlimited’s plumb sack, you all should be saying that posting complete series with missing issues is the work of a scumbag company, trying to make more money from the slobs who are already paying for the service. It’s 2016, not 2013. If they really wanted to solve this, it would have been done already. It’s an evil way to sell the missing issues. Evil. I would love to pay for this service, hell I’d even be willing to pay a bit more, with the understanding that I would have to wait 6 months for the new issues, hell even longer than that would be alright. But to start reading a past story ark, and then “Hello, it’s missing a bunch of issues”, just isn’t right. Marvel has had enough time to fix this, 2016 fanboys, 2016! Stop being week ass fanboys and start demanding for this to be resolved. They’re just a company, not your boyfriends.

    Liked by 2 people

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