Let’s Get Digital! – The New Marvel.com

Over the past weekend Marvel rolled out a new version of the Marvel.com website. From the perspective of digital comic fans the most important thing will be what they’ve done with the pages relating to Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. For the uninitiated Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited (or Marvel DCU) is a subscription based digital comic service based solely on the web. For a subscription of $9.99 a month (or $4.99 a month if you pay annually) you get unlimited access to all of the comics on the site, over 8000 at the last count.

Whilst Marvel have gone through three versions of their Flash-based reader application this is the first major overhaul for the site itself and hasn’t been entirely seamless. First of all they’ve changed the URL of the DCU service, I know it sounds minor and it is, but it’s an annoyance for any subscriber who has bookmarked the page. The other major problem is that performance is poor, sometimes extremely poor, even on a good spec PC with good internet connectivity. It’s improved since the weekend though so hopefully Marvel’s web team are on top of it.

Enough of the downsides, let’s take a look at some of the improvements/changes.

The one that I found the most useful is “Digital Comics I’ve Read”, an area of the site which lists the total number of comics you’ve read (292 thanks for asking) and then has a breakdown issue by issue of which books in particular titles you’ve read. Listing only those titles where you’ve read at least one issue I think this is fantastically useful as with 8000 comics listed I certainly found it hard at times to remember whether I’d read certain issues in a larger run. This makes it a real doddle to pick up where you left off in a series and I know it’s going to be getting a lot of use by me, although it’d be nicer if it made clear which books were available online in a more direct sense than having to click from here to another page and then search.

The main landing page has changed dramatically, at a guess I think Marvel are trying to make more of an effort to link up their various product offerings. On this one page you’ve got the latest DCU updates as well as links to details for iPad/iPod/iPhone and PSP downloads. In changing this they’ve done away with their old menu which had series and character links as well as “Recent Releases” and “New this week” (can’t remember exact name). Now we have a scrolling view of Digital Comics Released This Week but also links to the calendar for the current month, past month and two future months…these actually just pre-populate a date-range search in the much enhanced search engine and once you do the search it seems a bit sluggish but it’s kinda cool to be able to see that Howard the Duck #9 will be out on 28th Jan 2011. This is the change that’s going to take the most getting used to for me.

Speaking of the search engine here’s a quick run through…you can browse and search by:

  • Date or date range added to Marvel DCU
  • Series
  • Character
  • Creator
  • Event

You can also filter on lists, so having browsed for all books with Cable as a character I can then filter by original release date, series title, age rating etc. A nice touch is that the site highlights where there are free issues with that character available.

The site allows you to highlight “Must Read” books, to read at a future point in time, which is nice…so did the old site and I’d be less annoyed if they had carried all of these across as I’ve lost probably 150+ books I’d noted to read at a later point!

In summary they’ve added nice features but at the detriment of performance (I’m on 50Mbps cable and using a pretty good spec quad-core, 4GB RAM Win7 PC) and with a UI that doesn’t quite work yet. I’ll be honest though, if the site performance was crisper I might find it easier to use.

If you want to check it out head over to http://marvel.com/digital_comics/

Author: Dave Williams

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