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Oct 12

X-Men Unlimited Infinity Comic #1-4

Posted on Tuesday, October 12, 2021 by Paul in x-axis

X-MEN UNLIMITED INFINITY COMIC #1-4
by Jonathan Hickman & Declan Shalvey

So here’s a thing that exists!

A few people have asked me about this book. Mainly, “will you be annotating it”. The answer, obviously, is no, for reasons which will be very very obvious to anyone who’s actually read it.

The Infinity Comics line is a series of digital-only exclusives for Marvel Unlimited subscribers. You can’t buy them separately, and it wouldn’t even be possible to print them as conventional comics. What they are is vertically scrolling comics in the model of Webtoons, optimised for viewing on a phone.

When I say “optimised for viewing on a phone”, I’m not kidding. You can read them on a tablet if you really want, but I wouldn’t. The lettering is enormous, and the app fills the whole screen – which is unlikely to have precisely the same dimensions as a phone screen and means that you often find it’s impossible to view in one go everything that the artist plainly intended you to see. (Artists might want to be a bit more cautious about what they assume to be the dimensions of the screen, to be honest. It’s not like all phones are the same shape either.)

You may be wondering what happens if you try to view them on a laptop. Well, you can’t. They have a page, there’s a “Marvel Unlimited” icon and a “view online” message, but no functioning link to actually view them. I’m assume nobody’s written the code yet to display them properly.

To be honest, it’s not a flawless experience on phone either. Particularly infuriating is that if you’ve read an issue before, the app can’t recognise that you finished it. So it takes you to where you left off – i.e., the end – and then you have to manually scroll back to the top of the story to read it again. You can’t even double-tap the top of the screen to return to the start. Sort that out, guys.

And while you’re at it, sort out the search format that only lets you call up an entire title and then makes you scroll down through every single issue in order to get to the one you want, and also pauses to load the next batch of covers every 25 issues or so. Because it’s absolutely infuriating when you’re trying to reach Uncanny X-Men #407. Why can’t I just search for Uncanny X-Men #407? Issue numbers exist for a reason. Why don’t you let me search by them?

Where was I? We’ve had the occasional digital exclusive before – the name Infinity Comics refers back to the 2012 line of “Infinite Comics”, which were basically just comics designed to be read in Comixology’s Guided View mode. A line of subscription-only comics is another matter, though. That’s new, I’m pretty sure, and an intriguing attempt to add value to the Marvel Unlimited package. Which, to be fair, is good value to begin with – it gets you the entire Marvel line on a three month delay, apart from Savage Avengers and the Conan books. But hey, you want more, this is … well, it’s more.

At the same time… Marvel are clearly not up for putting anything on Infinity Comics which would be essential reading for other titles. That’s understandable. It’d stretch loyalty and annoy more people than anything else. Some of them are really just fill-ins, like the Shang-Chi story. If you’re going to read any of them for the actual story, rather than the novelty factor, the one to go for is the Captain America Infinity Comic by Jay Edidin and Nico Leon, which is a proper story, actually about something, well paced, and has some good examples of how to use the format for storytelling.

Compared to the rest of the Infinity books, X-Men Unlimited is more closely tied to regular continuity. But that’s not saying much. Here’s what actually happens in these four issues: AIM abduct three mutants. Wolverine rescues two of them. They get away with the third.

So… yes, there’s a dangling plot thread left there, which is presumably going to be picked up by someone at some point. Maybe in a regular title, maybe in a future arc of this book. Mind you, the next arc is by a completely different creative team and focusses on Nature Girl – and it does actually seem to be an important story for her, which still makes it pretty marginal for the X-books as a whole.

But this isn’t meant to be a plot-heavy exercise. It’s an extended action comedy sequence, and it’s having some fun with the format. So issue #1 opens with a ridiculously long panel that scrolls down the whole length of the S.W.O.R.D. space station – the sort of thing you can only do in vertical scrolling comics, but also the sort of thing that seems gimmicky. Still, in a purely formal sense, you can tell a lot of thought has gone into this. The action is laid out so that the top-to-bottom scrolling makes sense; some of the Infinity books are clearly struggling a bit with the storytelling conventions, but this one designs the action to fit the format, and makes clever use of differently sized panels to control the rhythm.

It feels like panels designed to be read in motion. Foregrounding the vertical scrolling to quite that degree overshadows the plot (such as it is), but it does achieve the real goal, which is to say “hey, there are new tricks we can do in this format and they work”. Webtoons has been around for years, but this is a new format for most Marvel readers and this is the highest profile creative team of the first wave. They’re the shop window and by god are they going to sell you the joys of this format.

The details of what actually happens… well, you’re either on board with Hickman’s sense of humour or you’re not. There’s ridiculously contrived layouts in the AIM base; there’s an absurdly extended repetition gag with Wolverine beating up an AIM guy for information (which is silly, but a good piece of visual pacing); there’s an AI losing utterly banal memories as Wolverine hacks away at it. That kind of thing. It’s plainly not meant to be taken at all seriously, and I thought it was all cute and amusing enough.

To be honest, the “people falling downwards in a scrolling panel” thing is getting a bit repetitive by issue #4, but there are other less gimmicky things in here that do show the potential in the format. And the other stories in the line don’t return to that well quite so often, which is a promising sign.

Is it worth getting a subscription just for the Infinity books? Not really. But then again, the regular Unlimited service easily justifies the price already, if you have any use for a back catalogue service at all. As a bonus for subscribers and an incentive for waverers, this a respectable format with some decent creative teams working on it. On its own rather niche terms of showcasing the product, Hickman and Shalvey’s launch story is a success.

Bring on the comments

  1. Si says:

    Yeah, you get pretty sick of shafts by the end.

    And Marvel Unlimited has always been a fantastic service with a terrible delivery. It’s almost funny by this point how they don’t fix anything, they just add more problematic features.

    Here’s one thing though. I don’t know if this is canon or whatever, but Wolverine kills a huge number of humans in the story. So many humans. That’s one of Krakoa’s cardinal sins, right? If nothing else, Sunspot’s going to notice, right? He knew those guys on a first-name basis.

  2. Jason Powell says:

    It’s about time someone took the limits off of infinity.

  3. Si says:

    Actually just last night I was reading a comic on Unlimited, and it had all of the problems that digital has with print comics: text too small, splash pages, a great big double-page montage that’s hard enough to follow in print, and near-impossible when shrunk down to fit on a tablet screen. Guided view is great, but the comic has to be drawn by an artist that knows what they’re doing, with guided view in mind. Otherwise you just get ugly, mismatched frames, some greatly magnified, others stretching ribbonlike off the screen.

    I don’t know if this scroll-down format is the answer or not. I haven’t read any Webtoon stuff yet. Reilly Brown mastered the art years ago on Comixology’s version, but there’s very few who seem to be able to match his work. But I’m sure there’s a balance that can be found, for comics that look good in print and on a tablet screen.

  4. Col_Fury says:

    Yes, Marvel Unlimited needs to fix their search . But in the meantime, the workaround I use is do a google search for “Marvel Unlimited Uncanny X-Men #407.” Click the first result and BANG! You’re right where you want to be.

    But yeah, I shouldn’t have to use google to easily find the book I’m looking for on a website. But it works! 🙂

  5. neutrino says:

    @Si
    Defense of self and others is permitted, and X-Force has a license to kill anyway.

  6. Alastair says:

    I found the new comics fun, it’s Jeff was nice and sweet, and the cap story was very good. Jay showed really good knowledge of the character who is not the brand they are most associated with (it was more my cap then the recent run).

    But the App update has been a real mess losing the search by year function, and the search filters makes it really hard to follow cross title stories, like most of the 90’s x-men.

  7. Joseph S. says:

    In a recent interview with Battle of the Atom, Shalvey announced he would be writing and penciling an upcoming arc. Hickman allowed him a lot of creative freedom, he further explained. For instance, the script only said three mutants had been abducted, and Shalvey chose who he wanted to draw.

    Haven’t read the Cap story yet, as I hadn’t heard Jay was writing. His Cyclops one shot was so good that I will be sure to check that out.

    It’s Jeff was cute, too. Why not, right?

  8. […] Paul O’Brien reviews the frustrating experience of Jonathan Hickman and Declan Shalvey’s X-Men Unlimited/Infinity Comics #1-4. […]

  9. neutrino says:

    In an interview, Jay Edidin said he was inspired to write it by the “1619 Project”, that right and left historians have called inaccurate. The 1619 writers had to stealth edit their claim that the real founding of America was when slaves washed ashore in 1619.

  10. ASV says:

    That is at best a highly misleading summary of how historians have discussed the 1619 Project.

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