For anyone who has spent more than a few minutes talking with me about comics or reading any of my columns, you’ll know that passive-aggressively throwing shade at Marvel is something of a hobby of mine, and, to be fair to me, they absolutely deserve it. Much like Walmart or Microsoft, Marvel has essentially bullied their way to the top of the industry with tactics that aren’t necessarily unethical, but certainly are ruthless and have the potential to damage the long-term health of the comics’ industry as a whole. Further, they also have a number of practices that infuriate me personally (it’s entirely possible that some of them won’t offend you, however), which is why I stopped reading Marvel altogether a few years ago despite being a Marvel fan for most of my life. It’s not easy to go cold-turkey on something that you genuinely love, but these were the grievances which were enough to push me away from the publisher:
- The price-gouging: Both individual comics and trades are way too expensive in comparison with other publishers.
- The constant renumbering: It creates confusion among readers, destroys a sense of history, and hurts a brand in the long-term in favor of short-term return.
- Flooding the marketplace with comics: I’ve covered this one already.
- The double shipping: Essentially, this sends the message to readers that artists are interchangeable, because no one is capable of maintaining an accelerated pace. If this keeps up, we’ll never have another Stan Lee/Jack Kirby run on Fantastic Four or a legend Chris Claremont/John Byrne Uncanny X-Men run.
- Reliance on gimmicks over story: Oh what, you really thought that Doctor Octopus was going to stay in Peter Parker’s body?
- Overabundance of “event comics”: For anyone else, this should be stating the obvious: you can’t change the status quo if you won’t let things settle down long enough to actually establish a status quo. There have been 17 “event comics” in the past ten years, can you name even half of them?
- The lack of diverse creators: Bad enough on its own, but even worse when it occurs alongside cultural appropriation.
- The defensive and usually mean-spirited reaction anytime anyone has the gall to disagree with them: Go spend a few minutes at Executive Editor Tom Brevoort’s Tumblr and tell me this isn’t true.
That said, I was forced to re-evaluate my Marvel embargo last month when I got, essentially, a free trial for Marvel Unlimited.
The idea of a Netflix-type service for comics is so brilliant that it’s amazing that it didn’t catch on sooner. First of all, Marvel has a wonderful library of comics, and considering their spotty nature of collecting back issues, it makes the great classic Marvel stories more accessible to readers. Most important, however, is the competitive price; you can get a year’s membership for a mere $69. To illustrate just how good that price is the X-Men: Battle of Atom trade paperback, which is just one of the stories that I read during my trial month, costs more than a third of that of a year’s membership to the service. For anyone on a limited budget, it’s almost impossible to beat.
That’s not to say Marvel Unlimited is all roses. The most obvious disadvantage is the delay, although, as a trade reader, I’m used to waiting six months anyway. It’s also worth considering that Unlimited costs a little less than $6 per month, which is essentially one and a half Marvel comics. Those who can’t wait are going to have to pay a premium for their impatience. Additionally, as Tyler discussed several months ago, the guided reading feature is less than stellar; often the panel-to-panel reading will cut out some word balloons in some panels or part of the image in others. It also doesn’t cover the full screen of your mobile or tablet device, rendering it somewhat pointless anyway (and it is vastly lagging behind ComiXology, but then again the cost is significantly cheaper). The limitation on the number of comics that you can read offline is odd and somewhat annoying, but manageable. However, the Marvel Unlimited app itself is quite buggy, as I often needed to refresh my library several times before my offline selections would appear (despite having already downloaded them to my device). The app would also constantly ask me to sign in despite showing that I was already logged in. Admittedly, it’s still relatively new, but Marvel really ought to make fixing the various glitches a top priority.
While Marvel Unlimited doesn’t address all of my complaints with the publisher (or to be honest, even most of them), it is a genuinely good idea that is a step in the right direction for the publisher. While some might say that I’m sacrificing my principles by embracing Unlimited before all of my problems with the publisher have been resolved, I personally believe that good ideas ought to be rewarded. Thus, I’m on-board with Marvel Unlimited for now.