WandaVision’s first season is just about to end, but Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Black Widow, Loki, Justice League, Suicide Squad, The Batman, GCPD, and Peacemaker are just around the corner — and that doesn’t account for other series outside of the main Marvel and DC Universes like MODOK, Titans, or Harley Quinn.
There are more superhero TV series and films debuting in 2021 than seemingly ever before, and it might have some people wanting to dive into comics. WandaVision has led a few people on staff to dig into past Vision and Wanda Maximoff-centered storylines, for example. I’ve started reading Kieron Gillen’s Eternals run leading up to Marvel Studios’ film. Whatever reason people may have for wanting to begin reading comics, there are a few different ways to do so.
Comics can be a costly hobby. New issues are typically $3.99 each, and if someone is reading eight or nine different series at any one time, those fees can add up week after week. Don’t think of this guide as a recommendation for which series to dig into. If you’re looking for that, Susana Polo, the comics editor at our sister site, Polygon, runs a weekly rundown of books she’s reading and recommends. (It’s an essential part of my week, and it helps me figure out any single issues I want to pick up or start a series I might enjoy.)
Instead, this is a guide to the different subscription methods that are available for people who want to consume a number of comics at once and do it in a cost-effective manner. These aren’t the only options, but they’re some of the easiest. There are three primary comics subscription services:
- Comixology Unlimited ($6 a month)
- Marvel Unlimited ($10 a month or $70 a year)
- DC Universe Infinite ($8 a month of $75 a year)
It’s a really, really good time for people to start getting into comics because of the subscription models that exist. If you’re just getting started, I recommend Comixology Unlimited because it has the most diverse options as well as plenty of the big mainstream stuff. (Comixology is available as an add-on through your Amazon Prime account.) There are more than 25,000 comics available.
There are opportunities to read fantastic series from publishers like Vertigo (Sex Criminals, Sweet Tooth, The Invisibles) or Image Comics (The Fade Out, Blackbird, Fatale, and Kick-Ass), alongside top Marvel (Captain America, Iron Man, Immortal Hulk, Hawkeye, etc.) and DC series (Batman, Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, Justice League Dark, etc.).
What I love most about Comixology Unlimited is being able to explore any type of book. I will often click on a publisher, like Valiant or Dark Horse, and search through what’s offered via the Unlimited subscription. At this point, if there’s a trade paperback available (this is a term that refers to a number of single print issues, between four and 12 issues, but usually six) for someone to read. For example, if someone wanted to read Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, they can do so by reading through different volumes that collect a number of single print issues. It’s the best way to find older gems that people may not have heard of before, especially if they’re new to comics.
One downside to Comixology Unlimited is the Marvel and DC Comics offerings may feel less than ideal for dedicated fans. When I was trying to read a number of back issues for WandaVision, specifically (and after I saw a Tumblr post about an old Incredible Hulk arc from the ‘80s I wanted to check out), I realized I was still going to have to buy a bunch of it. While there was plenty I could read for free — all of House of M is part of Unlimited, for example — to read the entire history, I was going to have to use Marvel Unlimited.
Marvel Unlimited has more than 27,000 digital comics for people to read. You can download up to 12 comics to carry with them at any given time, and Marvel’s team (alongside recommendation algorithms) will curate a series of books that surface when looking for something to read. It’s a great app to dig into classic tales, and some of the best runs for popular characters like Iron Man and Captain America. There’s also the Star Wars universe for people to explore.
The biggest downside affects new single issues. Currently, new issues in ongoing arcs like The Amazing Spider-Man or The Eternals get uploaded to Marvel Unlimited three months after they first come out. So roughly after the first three issues of a current run are available, they’ll start popping up in Marvel Unlimited. That’s not great news for anyone who’s trying to stay current with a number of Marvel titles. (These issues can also be purchased on Comixology for $3.99 or $3.39 with the Comixology Unlimited discount.)
I’d say that Marvel Unlimited is best for anyone who really wants to dive deep into reading nearly every single comic Marvel has released over the years. If your goal is to get through all of the various Spider-Man comics that have been released since 1962, Marvel Unlimited is your best bet at doing it for the cheapest price.
DC Universe Infinite
The same is mostly true for DC Universe Infinite. This used to be DC Universe, a service that had some comics but also a couple of TV shows (Harley Quinn, Teen Titans) and some older DC movies. When HBO Max launched, the TV shows and films moved over to the WarnerMedia streaming platform, and DC Universe relaunched as a comics-only platform called DC Universe Infinite.
In an effort to make DC Universe Infinite feel a little special, DC Comics did a couple of new things. The company committed to carrying back catalog titles from “Vertigo, Black Label, and Milestone comics imprints,” according to Polygon. There will also be exclusive DC Comics titles that live exclusively on DC Universe Infinite. The platform currently offers more than 24,000 comics. Like Marvel Unlimited, new releases are not available right away. They’ll hit DC Universe Infinite six months after being released.
Again, both Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe Unlimited are great for people who want to read as many past comics featuring their favorite superheroes for a cheap monthly price. They’re not great for anyone who’s looking to only read the newest stuff. Your best bet is using a digital retailer — or supporting your local comic bookshop if physical prints are more your thing.
What seems wholly inevitable is that both Marvel Unlimited and DC Universe Unlimited will be offered in a bundle with Disney Plus and HBO Max, respectively. The entertainment conglomerates that own all of these properties want people to stay in their worlds — hence all the new movies and TV shows on streaming services. When that happens, it’ll be way easier for people to watch an episode of something like Loki and then dive into the character’s history.