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DC’s comics app is clunky competition for Marvel Unlimited

Impressions of the familiar DC Infinite service

Wonder Woman battles the Cheetah above the caption Showcase: Wonder Woman vs. the Cheetah Image: DC Universe Infinite

DC Universe launched in 2018 as an ambitious experiment combining a streaming TV/movie app with a comics subscription service. For a competitive monthly fee, users could stream what seemed like every DC Comics-based film and TV project under the sun, as well as flip through a decent and expanding chunk of the comics that inspired them, plus new original television content like Titans and Doom Patrol.

On Thursday, Jan. 21, the service relaunched as DC Universe Infinite, a slimmer and less ambitious service, but one that’s ultimately more functional. There’s even still original content — but of the comic book variety. But will subscribers keep showing up without the video backlog?

Meet DC Universe Infinite

The home screen of DC Universe Infinite Image: DC Universe Infinite

The biggest change from DC Universe to DC Universe Infinite is, of course, that it is definitionally less infinite. No movies, no cartoon shows, no television series — all of DCU’s exclusives and prized content possessions are expected to migrate to HBO Max, with a few having already made the jump.

Bringing the app in line with rival company Marvel’s Marvel Unlimited service, DC Universe Infinite will host a continuously updated library with DC’s new releases hitting the app six months after they are released to shops. (Shortly after DC announced DCUI, Marvel announced that Marvel Unlimited’s waiting period would shrink from six to three months after release, but who’s counting?)

DC’s wide slate of daily digital first comics — announced in the wake of the Diamond Comics shutdown and still going strong — will hit DCUI three months after launch. DC has also committed to expanding the app’s library, with back catalog titles from the Vertigo, Black Label, and Milestone comics imprints. And as an extra tease for the comics completionist, DC Universe Infinite will also soon host exclusive, new, original DC Comics titles.

But that’s just the changes in content. The app itself has changed as well.

A mini DC Universe Infinite review

While I’m a little worried about the migration of DC Universe’s implausibly comprehensive TV and movie library to HBO Max (as of this writing, many shows, from SuperFriends to Static Shock to Lois & Clark, are still in limbo), their absence from DC Universe is an immediate boon to the app’s legibility. The search function no longer has to sort and present several different types of media with their own display structure for a simple query like “Batman.”

That said, the app’s search function is still as clunky as it was before transition, with no options to sort or filter results. Searching for “Batman” puts curated lists of events, story arcs, and character introductions at the top, followed by a seemingly random assortment of 20 single-issue comics in no particular order, and a seemingly random assortment of 20 comics series, also in no particular order. It’s difficult to imagine the kind of reader this display was created for. It’s too incomplete to serve someone who knows exactly what they’re looking for, and overwhelming and poorly organized for anyone who doesn’t.

For the user who does know exactly what issue and number they’re looking for, the place to go is the Comics section — accessible alongside “Home,” “Search,” “My DC” (account options, etc.), and “Community” and “Shop,” both of which direct to external webpages. Tapping on “Comics” displays an exhilarating list of every series available on DC Universe Infinite, with options to sort by Age, “top characters,” artist, and writer. The character, artist, and writer filter options are quite few at the moment, but will presumably be expanded. (Though one wonders at what point it will become a pain to scroll through all of them.)

A list of comics series on DC Universe Infinite, filtered by “Superman” Image: DC Universe Infinite

The Comics tab does boast sort functions: A-Z, Oldest to Newest, and the reverse of both are a good start. But, unhelpfully, the app’s A-Z sort function sorts numbers by digit instead of by value. My first experiments with the app lead me to sort A-Z, scroll to Detective Comics, and tap to open a list of every issue of the 80-plus year old series. All good so far. But in A-Z sort, the issue list begins with 1994’s Detective Comics #0, and leaps to 1945’s Detective Comics #100, sorting #27 after #200, #30 after #299, etc. In order to get the sort right, you’ve got to switch it to Oldest to Newest.

All that said, the app scrolls beautifully without loading pauses, even through long lists of comics with unique cover art to load and display. DC Universe Infinite also now loads an entire comic when you first open it, instead of loading a page at a time when the page is turned. App users still have the ability to create their own curated lists of comics, there’s more robust widget functions for iOS users, and in a silly addition that I nonetheless immediately took advantage of, you can choose from a variety of DC Comics character likenesses to replace the default DC Universe Infinite icon on your home screen.

A list of alternate DCU Infinite icons for the home screen Image: DC Universe Infinite

All in all, DC Universe Infinite is only less clunky than DC Universe because it is wrestling with less content to display. But the competition isn’t exactly fierce in the space. Marvel Unlimited has its own frustrating problems. Sometimes a page in a comic just won’t load until you exit and reload the entire book. Its tag system, while robust, always seems to have weird holes in it. It’s in desperate need of a graphical facelift. And with both services, I always really wonder who loves reading comics enough to shell out for a subscription, but still craves the curated reading lists each app pushes so prominently.

With DC Universe Infinite Marvel and DC have reached much closer parity in the subscription-based comics library arena, but the calculation for them both is the same. They’re the only service out there offering this content in this form. The clunky app is just a part of the price.

Which, by the way, is $74.99 per year or $7.99 per month.

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