If like me, you love the darkness of classic horror movies – often the cheesier the better – then you might be interested in trying the first 3 chapters of Becoming by Brooke Burgess, published by Arcana Studio. As a fan of horror books, I don’t mind if they’re a little bit silly, in a foreign language, long or short. I can happily read pulpy, sexy shorts from the likes of Guy N. Smith and James Herbert or I can immerse myself in the longer, more thought-provoking tales of HP Loveraft and Brian Lumley. And I love a good horror comic. Whether it’s modern stuff like Dark Horse (my current favourite), Chaos! Comics‘s Evil Ernie and Lady Death, Glen Danzig’s Verotik series or legendary EC Comics from the 50s, I love horror, but something just doesn’t quite work with Becoming.

When it comes to digital comics, it is easy to focus on the new and cutting edge, however, it is also a fantastic medium for rediscovering the past. The Certified Hunt Emerson app is the latest release from Panel Nine, the company who released the audio graphic novels Kickback and Dapper John and who’s publisher, Russell Willis, we have spoken to on the site previously. The Certified Hunt Emerson collection brings together a selection of this infamous British ‘comix’ artist’s work into one place and gives the audience a unique insight into each page thanks to Emerson’s own audio commentary and introductions to each piece which gives the work. Unfortunately there aren’t audio tracks for every strip and you can’t scroll between pages while the tracks play, which is a shame, but it still helps to give the respective pages a fantastic insight as you hear about their intricacies from the man himself.

As a child of the 80s I grew up on a steady diet of Saturday morning cartoons and superheros, and perhaps my all-time favourite was He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Every weekend I would love to see He-Man vanquish the evil Skeletor with the “Power of Grayskull” and it would all be wrapped up with a nice moral message at the end. So it was with some excitement that I started reading the new digital only relaunch of He-Man and the Master of the Universe from DC Comics to tie in with a new on-going series. What was even more exciting was the prospect of a first issue written by the one and only Geoff Johns!

Writer Grant Morrison is a divisive figure at the best of times, garnering passionate fandom and fervent derision in equal measure. For some he is the psychedelic master of twisted fairy tales, the writer of The Invisibles, Doom Patrol and Animal Man who is so adored he warrants his own convention. For others he is a pretentious, egomaniac whose long winded, rambling writing lacks the depth and subtlety of his big name contemporaries like Mark Millar Brian Bendis or Garth Ennis.

As with all ‘celebrity writer’ books, your opinion of Happy will be shaped by your opinion on Morrison. For those in the former camp it will no doubt be viewed as another tour de force that exhibits the same anarchic sense of wit and invention that have instilled his other titles. However for those, who fall into the latter camp it is much more of a challenging read, but one that may surprise even his most ardent haters.

This weeks we’re going to celebrate the diversity of digital comics with two titles that could not be more different, but each of which exemplify what is so great about the medium.

First up is Avengers vs X-Men #10 aka the 3rd Marvel Infinite title. Written by digital comics godfather Mark Waid and with art by Pipedream Comics favourite Reilly ‘Powerplay‘ Brown it features the kind of boombast and spectacle that comes from Marvel’s two top super teams duking it out in a summer crossover epic. Digital specific books often benefit from action rather than subtlety and AvsX #10 delivers this is spades thanks to Brown’s manga tinged artwork and his smart panel designs that he has clearly been honing in Powerplay. With a neat three tiered story that has Scarlet Witch simulating battle scenarios between the Avengers team and the Phoenix possessed Cyclops we get to see all three scenarios play out simultaneously with characters shifting in and out of shots simultaneously with some very neat transitions, giving the whole book an epic, cinematic feel. Brown still has some tricks up his sleeve for the talking head scenes though, and his use of layered pages (rather than sequential panels) along with clever use of eyes moving and heads turning within otherwise static panels give the book an animated feel, without taking away from the comic-ness of them. The balancing act of digital cleverness vs. readability is a always a tricky one but Waid and Brown and co do an excellent job here and have definitely created the best of the Infinite books so far.

At the other end of the spectrum is Thoughts from a Winter Morning by Kurt Busiek and Steve Lieber. Published by MonkeyBrain Comics, there are no superhero slugfests or sophisticated digital trickery in this book, just a man,  a dog and his memories.  This autobiographical ‘slice of life’ book is a sublime slice of Americana that sees Busiek reminisce on childhood past and look forward to the future with the story brilliantly realised by Steve Lieber’s expert linework and subtle use of colour.

In days gone by this would simply have been one of many entries in an anthology that relied on Busiek’s name value (along with several others) to get it solicited and published. (In fact that was how this story first existed in NEGATIVE BURN published in 2004). However thanks to the growth of digital and the opportunities it now gives to smaller publishers like MonkeyBrain to release personal and intimate books without worrying about solicitation and distribution, it can now get to exist as its own entity and enjoyed as such. Sure it helps that it is written by a name talent like Busiek but for every book like this that does, it helps make it possible for other MonkeyBrain titles (like the brilliant Masks And Mobsters, also released this week) to get attention. And it is that open market where quality has room to breathe which is as exciting in the world of digital comics as the large scale advances at Marvel Infinite.

Both Avengers vs. X-Men #10 and Thoughts From A Winter Morning are available on ComiXology

Fresh from his star turn as ‘the other bloke’ in the Avengers Assemble movie, Clint Barton aka Hawkeye is embarking on new series of adventures under the watchful eyes of writer Matt Fraction and artists David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. Barton has something of a chequered past in the Avengers mythos. As one of the few non-super characters in the Avengers roster he has often been used as an emotional exclamation point to give resonance to stories and as such has become something of a sacrifical lamb being killed off more times than Tony Stark has had martinis. But in the wake of his central role in the new Marvel movie and after re-establishing himself as leader of the Secret Avengers covert team he is now set for another re-invention, this time as… an ‘ordinary guy’?!

Instead of just another super-hero spin off, Fraction’s take on the Hawkeye story is to give it a very human heart turning it almost into a superhero indie book. Instead of fighting Thanos and some pan-dimensional beings, this first book focuses on him hunting down a Russian mob boss who is attempting to evict his neighbours from their down town apartment building. There are no building shattering fight scenes here though, just simple, well thought out character and story all within a single issue story arc. For some, this may not sound like the thing of greatness, but it is so well executed that you can’t help but love it. Just like Avenging Spider-man, which has breathed new life into Spider-man by keeping the stories simple and fun, Hawkeye reminds you that comics don’t have to have a universe altering multi-part crossover storyline to be effective. Sometimes a simple story about an off-duty superhero and a dog can be enough!

While Fraction delivers a story of subtlety and depth it is the stylish, almost photographic art of David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth that gives the book it’s real soul. With lingering close-ups and tight panel structures this is closer to the noir tales of Ed Brubaker’s Criminal than Brian Bendis’ Ultimates and that is the biggest compliment a book can get from us. If it continues in this vein, Hawkeye could well be one of the sleeper hits of 2012 and is definitely one of the smartest Marvel books in years.

Hawkeye is available on ComiXology for £1.99 or via the Marvel Comics app

This weeks pull list features not one but five comics, all released by new digital imprint MonkeyBrain Comics. An imprint of MonkeyBrain books, this new line up of titles is an eclectic bunch from children’s fairy tales to post-modern superheroes via supernatural spookiness and more, featuring some of the creme de la creme of current indie talent working on creator owned titles. But what really separates MonkeyBrain Comics from other indie start ups is their competitive pricing. With four of the five titles available for 69p and one at £1.49 (but as a double issue) then these 5 titles cost less than 2 issues of Before Watchmen, so how can you go wrong?!

The new Madefire comic app from Liam Sharp and Ben Wolstenholme isn’t just the cutting edge of digital comics, it’s a completely new format – the motion comic! After speaking to Liam about it back in September last year, this week finally saw the launch of the much anticipated Madefire app and it’s first 3 titles –  Captain Stone is Missing, Mono and Treatment Tokyo. All three are prologues or first chapters to the up-coming titles that Madefire are planning to launch and can be viewed on their completely bespoke viewing platform for free.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just a re-skinned version of ComiXology! Using it’s own bespoke navigation system (the Madefire arrow, which sits on the right hand side of the page and serves as page turner and progress bar) you can view pages literally building in front of you thanks to a series of fantastic animated transitions. There are also cinematic zooms and intricately constructed pages which make the titles feel like much more than just a flat page-turner.  They even use the iPad’s accelerometer on some of the pages (including each book’s cover) to allow you to move elements around on screen while other pages involve 360 degree panoramas that really bring the books to life, but are they any good? Well here is our break down of the first three Madefire titles.

The world is going Avengers crazy this week, thanks to the launch of the rather excellent movie in cinemas, so it seems only appropriate to have a look at a couple of related titles in this weeks Pipedream Pull List, both of which have had an influence on the success and style of the new movie as well as the fortunes of their parent company.

The first is Avengers Reborn #1, published in 1996 by Marvel and was revealed this week by Comichron, to be the best-selling Avengers comics of all time, with a whopping 276,374 pre-orders.  So what was the secret? The Heroes Reborn story arc was Marvel’s first attempt to reboot it’s core titles, and saw them outsource the titles to their former star artists Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee (who oversaw an equally successful Fantastic Four and Ironman reboot) who were now running their own studios under the Image Comics banner. Both had left in 1992 to found Image and create phenomenal sales for their new titles, and Marvel were desperate for a cut of the action and gave these key titles to Liefeld and Lee in order to spike sales. With the storyline idea that the heroes were sent to an alternate reality by Franklin Richards where their histories were updated and amended for a new generation, the Avengers Reborn would see Thor as the man rescued from the ice, rather than Steve Rogers, and would see Loki attempt to outfox the newly formed team to attempt to gain the power of the lost Odin-son. (Sound familiar?)

With a story by Liefeld and fellow Image founder Jim Valentino and art by Liefeld and his protege Chap Yaep, Avengers Reborn sums up everything that was bad about late 90s comics and the ‘Image style’ that had developed. Liefeld’s unorthodox anatomy with his improbably posed female characters and contorted, muscled up monster males reach almost parodic levels in Avengers Reborn. While his  ability to give his character only two facial expressions – shouting and grimacing – give the whole story a very hollow feel. The dialogue is clunky and the story is confusing and cliched, introducing too many characters and not giving them much to do beyond standing in forceful poses and grimace. However, despite it’s flaws, it’s major positive is that it set an interesting precedent of moving away from the established Marvel canon set down by Kirby and Lee and opened the door for later, more successful reboots.

Despite the critical mauling Heroes Reborn suffered it sold well (thanks in no small part to Liefeld and Lee’s involvement), and so Marvel were not put off the idea of relaunching their core titles using ‘name talent’ and six years later in 2002 relaunched the Avengers as part of their Ultimate universe, under the helm of Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. Millar and Hitch had made their name at Image on books like Wanted and The Authority, but unlike Liefeld and co they were on the upswing of their careers, developing a new and gritty style of books that would become the template for the entire Marvel Universe, not to mention it’s movies, rather than rely on past-glories and lots of cross-hatching. Rather than re-write the origin for the sake of it and be ham strung by which character they could include, as Liefeld and Valentino had done, Millar was given a blank canvas and took the ‘classic’ Avengers starting point of Steve Rogers in the ice and updated it for a post-9/11 world. In Millar’s world superheroes were not paragons of virtue, but were global super cops who were the only ones capable of dealing with these world-changing threats and events. Out went the colourful spandex of the 60s and in came leather flight suits and combat chic while the heroes were given real world issues and story lines, rather than just stand around looking pneumatic and grimacing.

The first issue focused on Steve Rogers in World War Two and how he ended up in the ice but this was much more than your standard origin story retread. Set in 1944 it was packed full of action from the start with Rogers literally leaping from a plane into the thick of the action, and would set the tone for the new world which these characters would inhabit – just as the Captain America movie would for Avengers Assemble. Ultimates #1 focused on a gritty, bloody, rain soaked world, that most importantly realistic.  In doing so, Ultimates would become a bona fide modern masterpiece over the course of it’s 12 issue run and would directly influence the development of the film, not just in the casting of Samuel L Jackson as Nick Fury but also in the updating and modernising of the story and language to reflect modern values and expectations. (Not just drawing them in the current art style du jour!). Thanks to Hitch’s expansive, epic style and Millar’s punchy dialogue it was comics as cinema, before cinema became all about comics, and would help turn around Marvel‘s fortunes making them viable and current for a new generation. This upturn in their fortunes would in turn give them the chance to develop their core characters for the screen and ultimately led to the film filling theatres this weekend.

Avengers Reborn and Ultimates are available on ComiXology for £1.49 each

We’re going a bit retro for the pull list this week thanks to ComiXology‘s re-issue of the first 5 issues of early 90s classic Tank Girl. With its anarchic post-punk, new wave, art school spirit, Tank Girl was one of those books that seemed to transcend comics when I was a kid and became one of those characters (along with Death from the Sandman) that managed to appeal to comic fans and non-comic fans alike – especially amongst the gothy/emo teenage girls in my high school. Creator Jamie Hewlett would go on to greater commerical success with Gorillaz, his pop band team-up with Blur’s Damon Albarn, but for those in the know he was always the creator of Tank Girl first and foremost.

With its surreal and quirky pop art visuals and take no shit main character it was very much a comic of its time, so how does it stand up to the test of time? It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly 25 years since TG first hit the pages of Deadline magazine, but the pages feel as fresh and vibrant as ever. In the cleaned up world of digital comics, they retain their gritty fanzine feel, but at the same time the artwork is clear and crisp and you can zoom in to really check out all the fine detail in every panel.

Even in these early stories there is still so much texture and excitement in every page that it’s great to be able to enjoy these books on such a clear screen as the iPad. However in the process it loses none of it’s attitude and free spirit – this isn’t like listening to a digitally tidied up version of Sex Pistols! If you’re already a fan then you may end up seeing some details that you never noticed before, but if this is your first time checking out Tank Girl then prepare yourself to be immersed in a hyper-kinetic world of riot girls, super tanks and randy kangaroos that is unlike anything else before or since.

Tank Girl #1-5 is available on ComiXology for £1.99 per issue