Both Marvel and DC have decades of history and hundreds of characters. This is great if you like to get fully immersed in a fictional universe, but finding and buying all those comics can get real expensive, real fast.
Fortunately, both DC and Marvel have made their vast collections more accessible through online services: DC Extended Universe (DCEU) and Marvel Unlimited. By paying a monthly or yearly fee, you gain access to thousands of digitized comics stretching all the way back to the companies’ earliest publications.
Sounds great, right? Especially if you’re, say, a contributing editor on a book-themed website and need access to large volumes of comics in order to do your job. (If you’ve read almost any of my articles, you’ve definitely seen me discuss and post panels from comics I read through these services.) But if you haven’t yet taken the plunge, it’s sensible to wonder what it costs and how much you’re getting for your money. Hopefully, this article will answer some of your questions.
For the next few hundred words, I’ll be reviewing the perks offered by each service, how much it costs, and even compare the two services, all to help you decide which one is right for you — or if you think it’s worth springing for both of them like I did!
Note: All of the commentary here is based on my personal experiences with the services’ annual subscription options. They also offer monthly and, in Marvel’s case, annual plus.
DC Extended Universe
This one is the more basic of the two services for reasons I’ll explain in the next section. While they used to offer access to DC’s TV shows through this platform, all shows have since been moved to HBO Max, so you now only get access to their comics through DCEU.
But as I said, DC has a lot of comic book history behind it, so if you read a lot of comics, you’ll get a lot out of the service anyway. This includes stories from the very early days (though the scan quality on these can be a little fuzzy) to ongoing titles. Newer issues generally become available six months after their official publication.
I like the interface of this service much more than Marvel’s: it’s nice and easy to use, and it automatically keeps track of what books you’re reading — just log in, and there they are. You can even stop in the middle of an issue and it’ll mark your place so you can jump right back in.
Just based on my personal taste in comics, I’ve noticed greater gaps in DC’s service than Marvel’s, particularly with regard to Silver Age stories. But they still have more good stuff on there than I could possibly read in a lifetime, so it’s hard to complain (but I do anyway).
Current price: $74.99 annual subscription
First off, because this confused me a little: Marvel Unlimited is distinct from Marvel Insider. Insider is a free rewards system that grants you a certain amount of points for each activity you perform on marvel.com. Reading a comic is 50 points, for instance. You can use these points to purchase digital prizes like comics, wallpaper, and access to exclusive behind-the-scenes videos.
I don’t use Insider: as I recall, I only signed up because they kept bugging me about it and wouldn’t let me read comics through Unlimited until I did. But hey, if collecting digital prizes sounds good to you, what do you have to lose? (Also, if you sign up for Marvel Insider first and collect 75,000 points, you can get a month off a new Unlimited subscription.)
As for Unlimited, I like it less than DCEU. For starters, their user interface is kind of terrible? Unlike DCEU, they don’t automatically save your place in a comic. And heaven help you if you try to use their search engine: I just did a search for “Amazing Spider-Man 149” and got a bunch of nonsense like this.
I usually end up plugging my request into an internet search engine, e.g., “marvel.com amazing spider-man 149.” That works pretty well.
Just going by the comics I’ve read, I feel like Marvel has better scan quality on very old comics. They also, however, have engaged in some frankly ugly recoloring of certain issues, most notably during Walt Simonson’s run on Thor. This doesn’t happen all that often, though (again, based only on what I’ve read).
Current price: $69 annual subscription
Which One Is Better?
I’m going to give a cop-out answer and say that it depends on what you’re looking for.
Both sites offer essentially the same service for approximately the same price, but Marvel’s is more difficult to navigate. With DCEU, it is so much easier to read and search comics. On the other hand, when combined with Marvel Insider, Unlimited gives you the chance to earn lots of additional points for digital prizes that may appeal to die-hard fans.
Both services add new comics on a regular basis, so you get more for your money all the time. Individual, physical issues of current comics go for around $4 or $5, so it’s worth the price of admission if you read more than 14-15 comics a year. Even if you’re a dinosaur like me who prefers reading physical comics, it’s easy to recognize the value and savings of signing up for one or both of these services.
But really, it comes down to whether you prefer to read Marvel comics or DC comics. I imagine that’s the driving factor behind most people’s decision. Rest assured that both DC and Marvel will give you plenty of reading material for a reasonable price.