Most of the comics marked as “free” on Marvel’s website are actually only free with the purchase of “Marvel Unlimited,” the company’s Netflix-for-comics service. Some, however, are absolutely, 100% free to download and read. Of the actually-free comics, many of them are preview issues. They’re only worth downloading if you’re looking for a comic-reading experience that feels like consuming a third of a Chili’s sampler. None of the choices are particularly good on their own — mozzarella sticks, artichoke dip, Clone Wars — but somehow getting bits of them on one plate makes them seem more dynamic.
And they actually are. Marvel Digital Comics, when read on the company’s website, are quasi-animated. Each panel begins with no dialogue, rendered in greyscale, until the reader clicks next on her browser. Then, panels illuminate one by one, flooding with color while dialogue pops up. It’s a unique reading experience — less than ideal but less than horrible.
The truly, undeniably free full comics on Marvel’s website are few, but there are a couple gems available.
If you’re a Marvel fan, but you’ve been living in your basement the past couple years, you should definitely get started on Kamala Khan. The Muslim teenager with bendy limbs and “embiggening” powers enjoyed a long solo run before being inducted into the “All New, All Different Avengers”, and her origin story is too fun not to read. Her youthful energy feels like early Spiderman, and it’s genuinely funny. The free preview feels much too short, and that’s a good thing.
She’s coming to the big screen in 2018, and hasn’t been officially cast yet. If you want in on the angsty discussions of why Jennifer Lawrence is a bad choice, read up on Carol Danvers’ revamped solo run. Captain Marvel, as opposed to Ms. Marvel, is an adult, a soldier, and a worldly member of the superhero elite. Dexter Soy’s art feels contemporary and fresh — Danvers’ short haircut sticks out her space helmet like a blonde mohawk — but somehow Kelly Sue Deconnick’s writing feels like classic Marvel, full of intrigue, run-ins with other big superheroes (the free issue features Captain America) and a serious tone. The full first issue of Captain Marvel is available, for free, on Marvel’s website.
Marvel’s Netflix-informed version of Jessica Jones is, predictably, a huge departure from the original character. Oddly, the Jessica featured in the comic’s cover art is clearly Krysten Ritter, but the face of the hero inside looks like ‘90s era Jessica. Also, the art is so dark that it’s hard to tell what’s going on in some scenes, which is more of a Daredevil-type problem. Daredevil actually appears in the first issue of the Netflix-Marvel crossover. Although the story in this free issue doesn’t quite stand on its own, it’s so much fun to hear Jessica Jones say, “the Devil in Hell’s Kitchen…never met him, but I do like the sound of him.” We like the sound of a crossover episode, and this comic is a nice tease.
Following the Secret Wars saga, a band of younger, more ethnically diverse superheroes pick up the Avengers mantle and begin the tumultuous process of becoming a team. The roster in this introductory, free, issue includes Ms. Marvel, Nova, Thor (Jane), (young) Invincible Iron Man, (black) Captain America, (young, black) Spider Man, and The Vision. A weaker company would make a pandering debacle out of a lineup like that, but the personalities of characters like Captain America and Ms. Marvel are so much fun to watch as they percolate together. The All New, All Different Avengers may be Marvel’s attempt to reach a millennial audience through our new values, but the story holds. This one bodes well for the rest of the series. Check it out.