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Keeping up with comic books has been utterly transformed by apps like Comics by Comixology, as you no longer have to hit the comic shop weekly to snap up new issues, wait for graphic novel compilations, or read on your computer screen. Nearly every new notable comic is right there on day one, ready to be purchased and read wherever you please in sparkling digital quality. Marvel Unlimited acts as a complementary kind of service, eschewing new releases and individual purchases in favor of all-you-can-read access (via subscription) to much of the publisher's deep archive of books older than six months. It's a novel and promising approach, though where and how you can read the offerings are current roadblocks to its success.
The Marvel Unlimited app isn't designed to take your money or sell you the service; instead, you'll need to sign up at Marvel.com and choose between paying $9.99 a month or $59.88 for a full year. Before committing, you can read several free issues, or poke around the archive to check out previews of other books. Once you've signed up via the web and signed into the app, though, the 13,000+ back issues are ready to be consumed with an active Internet connection, and there's ample riches within the stockpile. You can browse by series, character, creator, or event (in the case of significant story arcs), or simply search for what you're seeking, and then dig into some classics.
We've grown accustomed to the smooth, minimal approach employed by Comixology, so the cluttered and somewhat sluggish reading experience of Marvel Unlimited comparatively disappoints. A banner displaying the comic's title never leaves the top of the screen, and consequently limits the space available for the comic page itself. On top of that, the large virtual page-turning buttons pop up with even the tiniest tap of the display and hang around until dismissed. While you can read using a panel-by-panel approach – albeit less clear and isolated than what we've seen in other apps – there's no option to zoom into a page to admire the little details of the artwork.
Getting around the app is a messy experience, as well, with browsing results only showing some of the available books at times, incorrect or missing cover images appearing within the results, and some general navigational clumsiness in the mix. One of our biggest qualms, however, is with the limited ability to save only six comics for offline reading. That's not nearly enough to get you though a solid chunk of travel or much more than an hour spent away from Wi-Fi or cellular access, and considering the subscription fee, we should really be able to hang onto significantly more content assuming our accounts are current.
Unless you've carved out a block of time to burn through the excellent Marvel archive (in a location with consistent wireless access), we'd recommend holding tight on that Unlimited subscription until Marvel improves the reader and implements more considerate offline reading options.
The bottom line. Marvel's back catalog is a fantastic resource, but the clunky reader interface and current offline restrictions make the mobile experience less than heroic.
iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch running iOS 5.0 or later
Offers portable access to more than 13,000 older Marvel comics, which is fantastic. Several free comics available, along with previews of others.
Reading experience is clunky and cluttered. Can only save six comics for offline reading. Consistent navigational issues. Can't sign up within the app or use your App Store billing account.