Many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and the DC Extended Universe) are still unaware of how to get into reading their favorite superhero’s adventures in comic books.

The thought of finding a local comic store, digging through back issue bins, or buying TPB collections at the local Barnes and Nobles are daunting to many. Even ordering issues or TPB’s on Amazon proves difficult, as the question comes up over and over again: Where do I start?!?

What many casual superhero fans might now know is: There’s are two library of Marvel and DC titles available in a digital subscription format. And both make for affordable ways to get into comics, either for reading adventures from the beginning (or from several different eras) or for diving into the very latest comics (though “latest” needs some clarification).

Let’s break it down:

Marvel Unlimited originally launched as “Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited” in November, 2007 (though it became much more streamlined and “mobile device” friendly in 2013). The current price for the service is $9.99 a month or $69 a year (and with a savings of $50, it just makes so much more sense to pay for this service annually). There’s also an “Annual Plus Membership” tier, for $99 a year that provides (in addition to the access to the Marvel library of comics) provides you with select merchandise and invites to select online events involving Marvel creator (currently the merchandise involves a “Marvel Legends Nova Figure” and a “Rocket Raccoon pin”). So these perks are only for the diehard fans, and not really worth it if your main goal is to just have access to as many Marvel comics as possible. New comics are added to the service 3 months after the comics are published in print.

DC Infinite originally launched as “DC Universe” in September 2018, and the catalog of comics was really secondary to the main feature at that time: it was a streaming platform with access to several DC movies/TV shows (including originals like the live action “Titans” and “Doom Patrol”). In January of 2021, the streaming service was dissolved and all of the TV shows and movies moved to the “HBO Max” streaming service, and the comic library was renamed “DC Infinite”. DC Infinite has a price of $7.99 per month or $74.99 annually. New comics with DC Infinite are added to the app 6 months after they are published in print. There’s also an “Ultra” tier of $119.99 yearly, which allows you to view new comics just 1 month after it’s published in print. Also with “Ultra”, you will get access to more “mature” titles from the “Vertigo” and “Black” imprints in DC’s library, and also the ability to read TPB collections (not just single issues). That is admitedly much more “bang for your buck” than what Marvel is offering, but $120 is a bit pricey. “To each their own” and all that, but I’m content with waiting 6 months for the latest issues.

Both services allow you to try out the service for free for 7 days (and there are often discount promos available if you pay monthly). Both allow you to read comics on a computer though they are designed best for use on phones and tablets. Marvel has actually started a line of comics designed for mobile phone use: “Infinity comics”, stories that are mean to be read by swiping up or down on your phone (not the standard “left to right’ experience of reading a paper comic book). These “Infinity comics” are a mixture of original stories, or revised existing comics altered into the “mobile phone” format; some people like them, some people don’t (as they don’t feel like “essential reading”), and as such, I don’t see them as a strong “selling point” for the app.

Screen shot of my current reads in DC Infinite.

Though designed for use on mobile apps and tablets, both services are also available on computers (via browser). Having said that, the browser interface of DC Infinite is much more aligned with the format on the mobile app, whereas navigating the library of comic series on Marvel’s website is more difficult (as it doesn’t match up with the format of the mobile app). Both services allow you to switch between reading panels or reading full pages – and if you read “full page” format, you are able to zoom in however much is needed (which is helpful for splash pages with a lot of activity going on).

screen capture of reading Superman comic in “panel” mode.

Now, the downsides: Marvel Unlimited doesn’t have a way to create custom reading lists. Yes, you can save comics to your “My Library” section, and filter your selections there. But with the story structure of crossover events (with an event in one title influencing what happens next in another titles0, there’s still not a way to put all parts of a crossover in a “reading list” and just read through them in order.

For DC Infinite, there’s not a way to search by publication date. If you want to read multiple Marvel titles, in Marvel Unlimited, you can enter a date range and just read them in order that way. DC wants you to read by the character or by the title. You can pull up “Detective Comics” and “Batman”, but what if you want just “90’s Detective Comics/Batman” (in case you’re wanting to read the classic “No Man’s Land” crossover storyline from the late 90’s)? And typing “No Man’s Land” in the search brings up the TPB collections (which I can’t access without the “Ultra” tier membership). I can track down the individual issues, but it’s much more cumbersome.

Of course, neither of these services equal “Digital ownership”. When your subscription ends, if you haven’t renewed, you lose access to the library. In the last decade and a half, buying digital copies of comics on Comixology (now via Amazon Kindle) – on the same day as the print comic is published – has become a popular alternative for those without access to a local comic store.  There’s no “subscription” model with those purchases, you own those forever.  But with the rising costs of print and digital comics, having access to the entire library of DC and Marvel is proving more and more to be an exceptional alternative.

A photo of an X-Men comic in “full page” mode on my tablet

You can’t beat the selection of comics available with either services. If you’ve been watching “X-Men ’97” and are thinking “Man, I’d like to get into reading the X-Men, but don’t know where to start”, with Marvel Unlimited, you could go all the way back to the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby start of the comic in the 1960’s, you could read through Chris Claremont’s acclaimed run from the 70’s and 80’s, or you could read the 90’s “Gold Team/Blue Team” material (when the comic was arguably at the height of it’s pop culture standing), or jump ahead to the start of the “modern” era of X-Men with Grant Morrison’s run on “New X-Men” starting in 2001. Or if you just want to mimic the effect of “picking up your monthly reading material at the local comic shop”, just start reading the newest issues of X-Men and following along each month with the latest issue (though you might need to review recent material from the last few years, in order to get up to speed). Or just look for a recent “Issue #1” for a character you’re interested in and read forward from there.

So which of the two streaming services is better? I think there’s great value in both services, but if you really press me, I’ll probably side with Marvel Unlimited. But that’s mostly because I’m personally a life long Marvel fan, whereas for the longest time my knowledge of DC was limited to the “Batman” corner of DC.  “Marvel Unlimited” allows me to search by publication date and the “My Library” section is perfect for my needs in exploring Marvel history. But I like DC’s promotion of the latest comics with their services (and the “Dawn of DC” line of comics has proven to be a great entry point for new readers). Also, a 3 month wait for new releases with Marvel is better than 6 months with DC (and I just can’t bring myself to pay for the “Ultra” tier).

You really can’t go wrong with purchasing either (not if your goal is to indulge in as many comics as possible). Look for “Marvel Unlimited” and “DC Infinite” in your mobile device or table’s app store.

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 Many fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (and the DC Extended Universe) are still unaware of how to get into reading their favorite superhero’s adventures in comic books. The thought of finding a local comic store, digging through back issue bins, or buying TPB collections at the local Barnes a  Read More