If you haven’t tried Marvel Unlimited yet, you owe it to yourself to dive in and give it a shot right now — or at least before the end of the week.
I say that not as a shill, nor as any kind of champion of digital comics. I’m still a physical guy myself, and probably will be until there’s some standard format for digital that addresses ownership concerns and the like, or until my wife gets tired of multiplying longboxes and forces me to make the switch. The only stuff I have in my comiXology library is courtesy of the codes that come in some physical issues, and I know I have some that I let expire without ever entering.
No, the reason to check out Marvel Unlimited right now is the incredible value proposition it represents thanks to Marvel’s SXSW deal. The first month of the service is only $0.99 with a special code as long as you sign up before March 14. Considering it’s typically $9.99 a month (less if you sign up for a whole year), that’s a big discount. And while the monthly subscription will auto-renew at the end of the 99-cent month for the regular price, you can simply cancel it before that happens if you desire.
A buck is a pretty small price to pay for access to thousands of comics from throughout Marvel history. We’re talking about issues from the very beginning all the way up to relatively recent stuff like some of the Infinity tie-ins. The Marvel Unlmited app isn’t as nice or user-friendly as comiXology, but it’s something that isn’t bothering me all that much for the equivalent of a few cents per day. One thing I do know: I need as large a screen as possible to read digital comics. It’s hard to appreciate artwork on a smartphone or small tablet.
So with the help of my trusty iPad Air, I decided to see how much Marvel history I could absorb in 30 days. It’s not about simply reading as many comics as possible — I have a job, a family and multiple writing gigs, so the timing for just going hog wild isn’t ideal. But I figured I could use the vast Marvel Unlimited library to catch up on some stories that have simply fallen through the cracks in my fandom or tak strolls down memory lane with issues I don’t feel like fishing out of storage. My goal is a post every day for 30 days with a different theme each time.
And I’m starting out with …
Why I read it: It’s the granddaddy of events, the first time Marvel used a limited series to draw together a bunch of characters for a self-contained story that also had consequences within the heroes’ own books. It doesn’t have the best reputation as a story in and of itself, but there’s no denying its significance as Marvel and DC both seem to just careen from one event to the next in the 21st Century. As kids, my brother and I somehow only managed to buy one issue, which was #8: the one where Spider-Man first acquires his black costume, and in a manner of speaking, the first appearance of Venom.
What I thought: I’m not upset I read it, but Secret Wars isn’t a fun ride the whole way through. Part of it is due to the weird range of characterizations by Jim Shooter that has some characters come off very well and others look like complete morons. In other words, this is a pretty good Captain America story, but an awful Wolverine story. Spider-Man also looks very good throughout, befuddling the entire X-Men contingent at one point and easily thrashing the much stronger Titania. Professor X and the Human Torch also look like jerks more often than not.
While I generally prefer the amount of information in older comics to today’s more decompressed style, it can be bad sometimes too. In Secret Wars, that happens because of too many info dumps and recaps, almost like Marvel didn’t trust people to read the entire mini-series. There are issues with the ending too — the tricking of the nearly omnipotent Dr. Doom works (and foreshadows similar tactics used against Thanos in Infinity Gauntlet), but then the tale just kind of ends.
I feel like I’ve seen better from Mike Zeck, who handles art for most of the series. Some stuff just looks muddy, though that could be because of the transfer to digital.
And with this series down, I had only one logical stop to make next …
Secret Wars 2
Why I read it: After the original, might as well take in the sequel, right? Part of it was perverse fascination, as this series has an even worse reputation among comic fans than its predecessor, and I didn’t buy any of it in my youth. Marvel went for something different here, using the mini-series (nine issues long, which is unusual) to promote the tie-ins instead of the other way around. Readers still get angry to this day at this approach, but they are also upset when tie-ins are insignificant to the larger event. It’s kind of a no-win situation that makes you wonder why comic companies feel tie-ins are necessary. Oh, that’s right. That sales thing.
What I thought: This is really a character study masquerading as an event, and a wildly inconsistent one at that. The idea is that the Beyonder comes to Earth looking to experience life and get to the bottom of desire, which is why he gathered the heroes and villains together for the first Secret Wars series. His adventures in trying to figure out the meaning of life lead to some entertaining scenes (like when Luke Cage explains that money makes the world go round, and Beyonder turns the Heroes for Hire building to gold as payment) and a whole bunch that just seem to drag on.
There are too many tie-ins to tackle in one day, and I’m not even sure how many are on Marvel Unlimited. But I feel pretty secure in saying more interesting things happen in some of them than in the main book. The real star of the story is the Molecule Man, who’s actually become a pretty likable guy despite having ridiculously insane power levels. I could have read just the parts with him and skipped everything else, but then this would have been a one-shot.
The art by Al Migrom is also less than scintillating (plus, the Beyonder’s outfits are totally 80s!). Secret Wars II is something I can at least say that I’ve read, and I have the feeling this won’t be the last story to make me feel that way over this month.
But hey, only 99 cents, and that was the point of this exercise. One day down, 29 to go …