Around the time Dr. Strange hit movie theaters, web advertising hit me up pretty hard for the Marvel Unlimited subscription. The way it works is you pay roughly the price of a video game ($60 for me) and you then are able to read nearly the entire Marvel Comics back catalog as long as the title is more than 6 months old.
As a result, I have spent the last few months mainlining digital comics. I would have died and gone to heaven to have something like this as a kid. In the late 80′s and early 90′s comics were unapproachable due to cost. In fact, following a story line was usually easier in the cartoon shows than trying to afford a subscription to the cross-over heavy Marvel series. Here are the gems that I’ve most enjoyed:
Secret Wars Prologue + Secret Wars (2015) a.k.a. Hickman Avengers
[Reading Order] The original Secret Wars happened when I was a tot, but I remember the action figures and follow on Spider-Man Alien Costume saga. The prolog and kick-off for the 2015 rendition of the Secret Wars story is a masterful bit of storytelling in a universe that tends to focus on character and brand more than narrative. We get to see earth’s mightiest heroes being less than heroic and a good number of planet-vs-planet scale super smash fests. Once you get to battle-world, or whatever it’s called, you can stop. There isn’t much of a reason to keep going. The build up is where all the fun is.
New Avengers and Illuminati comics open with a very finalist Mr. Fanstastic
Civil War (2006)
Fun mostly as a way of understanding how well adapted the Marvel Cinematic Universe is from the comic. Not the best narrative of the list here, but the production value and connection to the movies make it worth reading.
Ain't no party like a super vs super party.
Darth Vader (2015)
With the sale of Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise to Disney, Marvel started pumping out Start Wars comics again. I grew up reading Dark Horse extended universe Star Wars, so these are a bit less epic and willing to change characters and continuity, but well done. A standout in writing and new characters is the 2015 Darth Vader series taking place after “A New Hope.” After losing the first Death Star, Vader’s position as the Emperor’s #1 evil henchman is at stake. A few new characters are introduced who are as interesting as anyone created in the Extended Universe. This is a more recent comic, so not all of it has hit Marvel Unlimited. It’s still worth reading.
Those aren't the droid you're looking for
Avengers vs. X-Men (2012)
This cross-over succeeds at being my favorite rendition of a Phoenix story as well as my favorite super team vs super team slug-fest. This general period of X-Men comics is well done, with the near extinction of mutants and relocation to San Francisco acting as a great reboot of many X-Men themes without being a tired rehash of the same “new mutant girl arrives at Xavier’s School for the Gifted” storyline.
I hear you like supers fighting supers, so we'll do it with every team!
Planet Hulk (1999)
What’s not to love about a John Carter of Mars homage starring the big green guy. This was a nice change of pace for an epic-scale narrative not constantly having to trip over the other characters of the Marvel universe.
Uncanny X-men / X-Factor (1983 to 1993)
I had the great pleasure of powering through all of the X-Men comics that to this point I had only caught glances of hanging out at friends houses and reading trade paperback compilations. To me, X-Men has always been presented out of order and much after the fact. 1983 was a good place to start. Professor X has peace’d-out for space and Scott Summers is absent from leadership to romance yet another soon to be super villain. We get to spend time with the X-Men in what cannot be mistaken for anything other than the 1980s.
They didn't put this in the animated series
There are character driven bits with Storm and Forge that are surprisingly well done. Rogue, Gambit, Jubilee, and many other series favorites are introduced. There are some 80′s heavy aesthetic sections such as a heavy metal inspired Inferno cross-over where New York City becomes hell for a day, David Cronenberg-inspired monsters, and Robocop-influenced cyborgs. The 80′s see the X-Men dispersed, reborn, and then reunified in what feels like one big long-form story arc (something I thought wasn’t possible for X-Men).
Reading ten years of X-Men comics in order was something that would not have been possible any other way (other than torrenting, which I don’t do) and getting all of the connective story between the sections that I did catch as a kid (Chris Claremont & Frank Miller’s Wolverine, X-Tinction Agenda, X-Cutioner’s Song) rekindled my interest in the franchise in general.
The future Blue Team dropping in on Genosha
Was it worth it?
$60 is a minuscule amount of money to pay for the amount of fun I’ve had romping around in the comics of my childhood unrestricted. There are some annoying sections of series missing (specifically X-Factor and New Mutants) that can make following some of the stories difficult. Some of the cross-over navigation could improve and the iPad app needs to be rest every once in a while, but these are all forgivable. If you are a comics fan I highly recommend picking up a year of the Marvel Unlimited service. Now I just wish I could do the same thing for DC comics and a bunch of series from Image.