Marvel unveiled an updated version of its Marvel Unlimited service on Thursday, complete with the launch of a new line of digital comics featuring Marvel characters in a webcomic-esque vertical scrolling format. Promising around 100 such releases before the end of the year, the so-called Marvel’s Infinity Comics mark the company’s latest attempt to break into the digital and webcomics markets — something it’s struggled with in the past.
Anyone else remember 2018’s Marvel Digital Originals program, or 2012’s Marvel Infinite Comics? Yeah, I didn’t think so. Still, Infinity Comics represents one of Marvel’s largest online pushes to date. But while there’s much to be said for the promise of the format and the platform, what about the comics themselves? Are they, you know, actually any good?
Who is making Marvel’s Infinity Comics?
With 27 issues of multiple series released at launch, there’s understandably a wealth of creative talent working on the Infinity Comics. The most high profile creators are likely the team behind X-Men Unlimited — Jonathan Hickman and Return of Wolverine artist Declan Shalvey — but other creators on various titles include Alyssa Wong, Gerry Duggan, Skottie Young, Gurihiru, Mark Russell and Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men co-host Jay Edidin. There’s a lot of talented people working on these comics.
What are Marvel’s Infinity Comics about?
Judging by the launch line-up — X-Men Unlimited, Giant-Size Little Marvels, Captain America, It’s Jeff, Shang-Chi, Black Widow, a revival of early 2000s romance title Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, and a preview to upcoming print series Amazing Fantasy — it’s clear that Marvel is looking at these titles as introductions for new readers to get into Marvel’s comic output, mixing characters and titles currently enjoying MCU attention with some evergreen favorites and titles spinning out Marvel concepts in webcomic-friendly genres. (It’s Jeff is, of all things, a silent humor comic featuring the baby land shark from West Coast Avengers and Deadpool.)
While each of the series have their own storylines and tones, it’s obvious that the line as a whole is all about making Marvel seem more attractive to fans who aren’t already reading Marvel comics. And when the only way to read these new comics involves signing up for a subscription service offering 27,000+ Marvel comics, that isn’t necessarily the worst idea.
Why is Marvel’s Infinity Comics happening now?
The timing of the launch is curious. While it appears, on the face of it, to simply be happenstance that the new iteration of Marvel Unlimited, complete with Infinity Comics, dropped when it did, it arrived one day after the debut of Wayne Family Adventures, the first in a series of collaborations between DC and Webtoon announced back in August. For that matter, Marvel’s announcement comes on the heels of DC ramping up its own digital comics program with new content available exclusively on its own subscription service DC Universe Infinite — suggesting that Marvel has been paying attention to its Distinguished Competition in the last few months.
Given the fact that the Infinity Comics eschew the traditional digital comics page for the vertical scroll format popularized by incredibly success webcomic platform Webtoon, it’s likely that Marvel and parent company Disney are also looking to attract an established comics audience that has so far stayed away from Spider-Man’s friendly neighborhood — Webtoon has more than 15 million readers daily, a number that significantly dwarfs Marvel’s own fanbase in terms of its comics output.
Is there any required reading?
As introductory comics, each of the Infinity Comics titles are pretty much plug-and-play, as long as you’re willing to overlook some details and go with the flow. (If you’re not already familiar with the majority of the characters in these comics, tough luck, because they aren’t really introduced per se in any of the issues to date — but, at the same time, if you’re not familiar with Captain America, Wolverine, or even Shang-Chi, why are you reading anything on Marvel Unlimited?) The one place this isn’t the case is the five issue Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane series, which specifically refers to, and ties in with, the 2005 print comic series of the same name. Thankfully, you can find the back issues elsewhere on Marvel Unlimited. Look, it works!
Are Marvel’s Infinity Comics good?
The first wave of Infinity Comics are a mixed bag, going from the deeply enjoyable — Kelly Thompson and Gurihiru’s It’s Jeff is an utter joy, and I hope that it runs for a long time — to the perplexing. (Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane, why are you here? That series ended more than a decade ago!) For the most part, they’re … OK. Only a couple of them really take advantage of the vertical scrolling format, and of those two, one — hi, X-Men Unlimited — runs the idea into the ground, taking it from novel to overused in record time. Yes, yes, we get it; you can have really tall images now, that’s great. Now please do something with those tall images that isn’t “Wolverine climbs or falls down something for awhile.” (No, an extended back-and-forth where Wolverine punches the same guy doesn’t count.)
As might be expected from creators working in a new format, there are kinks that clearly need to be worked out; the pacing of almost every issue feels sluggish, with very little actually happening, despite the amount of time required to scroll through the entire thing. Similarly, there are clear problems with the mechanics of scrolling and spacing to be worked out on the visual side, with almost entire screens’ worth of near-blank space between scenes at times.
One would hope that Marvel’s Infinity Comics would launch fully formed, with each issue a gem that shows off the potential of both Marvel’s characters and the creators’ ability to play with the so-called “infinite canvas” of a vertical scroll — and I’m sure that many at Marvel shared that hope. But the reality is somewhat disappointing. (Aside from It’s Jeff, which really is pretty perfect from the start.) What there is, however, is a strong start that suggests that, if Marvel sticks with the program, there’s the potential for some great work down the line — once everyone has figured out just how to make it all work.
One panel that popped
Really, it’s all about Jeff.