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

This week’s must-have digital comic was actually released last week, but it’s so good that there is nothing this week that can eclipse it. As you’ll no doubt have figured out, we’re big fans of Jonathan Hickman with The Manhattan Projects nominated for the Pipedream Pull List last month. However his latest book Secret, also released by Image Comics has exceeded even that and proves that Hickman is much than just a superhero writer as this new crime/espionage story is up there with the top dogs of the genre and goes to prove that with a compelling story you don’t need to rely on cosmic punch ups to make a great comic.

Secret starts with a bang as we join the middle of a house invasion where a man is being tortured for information by a ski mask wearing bad guy. With dramatic use of monochrome and strong red highlights, Ryan Bodenheim’s art is tightly woven but brilliantly simplistic. The opener is tense and brutal without relying on gore and ultra-violence and this feels like a theme for the rest of the book. One of the real shining lights in the book is the colour design by Michael Garland. Like The Manhattan Projects, it uses a very limited, monochrome palette with highlight colours to show emotion or certain characters and their actions, and again it works to great effect in Secret, alternating between warm yellows, cold blues and violent splashes of red.

The remaining plot is a tightly wound story of cross and double cross as our home invadee attempts to cover his tracks and is persuaded to hire a private security firm and it’s maverick investigator Grant Miller to prevent the information he revealed to embarrass himself or the company he works for. This may not sound like the most riveting of plots, and describing Miller as ‘maverick’ almost does him a disservice, but the story slowly builds throughout the issue and introduces layer after layer of plot until all the main characters are introduced and you have no idea who is the hero and who is the victim. Apart from a few scenes of action like the home invasion and a later assassination, much of the story is told with talking heads in corporate office and so it is a true triumph that this book is so compelling when set in such a sterile and lifeless environment.

With a final page reveal that makes you desperate for the next issue, Secret was a genuinely surprising book and at a time when so many super star writers are producing new titles this stands head and shoulder above them as one of the very best.

Secret is available on ComiXology or Image Comics’ app for £2.99

Depending on which part of the world you live in, America’s Got Powers is either the new book from celebrity comics fan and UK chat show host Jonathan Ross OR the new book drawn by Ultimates/Authority super-artist Bryan Hitch. It’s a curious pairing because the majority of comics fans probably won’t know (or care) who Ross is and the majority of Ross fans probably wouldn’t bother going to the trouble of searching out a comic by him. However it has managed to get them some mainstream press (such as this article in the UK Sun) and thanks to Hitch’s status as one of the true event artists working in comics at the moment this has the feeling of something very exciting.

When it comes to celebrity comics writers, there tends to be two extremes: either there’s Kevin Smith, whose run on Daredevil and Green Arrow helped revitalise the books and made a genuine contribution to those titles; Or there’s Guy Ritchie whose Gamekeeper book nominally involved him and was done purely for marketing reasons for the start-up Virgin Comics and had no real substance. Fortunately AGP falls much more into the former camp, with Ross more than acquitting himself as a comics writer (perhaps he’s been getting tips from his Hollywood script writing wife, Jane Goldman!) and having cut his teeth on the critically well received Turf in Mark Millar’s Clint, gives the whole thing a very polished feel. No doubt this was ably assisted by the experience of Hitch who has worked with the industries’ top names like Millar, Bendis and Brubaker in the past few years, however the story of a Battle Royale style game show with it’s Simon Cowell-esque mentor is clearly something that comes from the world of Ross and his celebrity connections.

The story itself sees super-powered teens pitted against each other for the chance to join America’s first super team (a la Battle Royale or Running Man) and gives the book a much more dynamic sporting feel than the usual punch ’em up superhero books that we are used to seeing Hitch draw. Although this idea of superheros as sports stars/celebrities isn’t new (just check our perennial Pipedream Comucs favourite Power Play for example) it does give Hitch the chance to stretch his artistic muscles with plenty of wide screen shots of stadiums full of people taking in the action as dozens of super-powered teens leap in and out of the frame to take on swarms of killer robots. Add in an origin story that sees a meteor strike in heart of San Francisco (the source of their super powers) and it has the epic big canvas feel that we have come to know and love from a Hitch book.

At a whopping 36 pages, AGP is a bit like a double episode at the start of of a hit American TV series and so should keep fans appetites under control as we wait for the next instalment. Hopefully the combination of part-time writer and notoriously late-running artist won’t get us waiting for too long, however with the debut story arc covering all the main bases of establishing the character America’s Got Powers is a fantastic first look at what could be a genuinely intriguing series.

Americas Got Powers is available on ComiXology or via the Image Comics app for £1.99

It’s pretty much a one horse race for must-have digital comic this week, with Marvel releasing the first of it’s new Infinite Comics. Avengers vs. X-Men Infinite #1 is the lead in to this summer’s epic crossover over starring their two big franchises going at it and is the first to exploit the new guided view technology which Marvel is claiming will revolutionise the world of digital comics. It’s written by Mark Waid who is leading something of a digital comics vanguard at the moment and has stunning art by Stuart Immonen that really begins to exploit the new features of the Infinite Comics.

As a first issue it’s all about showing off the new techniques they have developed and showing the world that this is something out of the ordinary. For a start, it’s in landscape format rather portrait and rather than the standard panel by panel view we are now familiar with on ComiXology they’ve upgraded it with smart transitions that sees panels blend together and word balloons appearing sequentially after the initial characters in order to give the artwork maximum effect. There are some great depth of field effects used as characters drop in and out of focus depending on their emphasis in the story giving the book a real animated/movie feel and while panels animate on one side of the page, other panels also change with characters eyes moving to follow the action.

All of this works great for dynamic action packed books like this, but how it will work on larger scale projects and multi-issue series has yet to be seen. In many ways it could end up being like the current vogue of 3D movies, offering a lot of bang for your buck in short bursts but adding little to the overall feel of story telling. The story of AvsX Infinite #1 is certainly not one for the ages, but works as a great way of showing off what can be done if given the means to do so. As fans of books like Powerplay, seeing this is not something new it’s merely done on a flashier, more expansive stage, however as a first step in the new digital revolution it is certainly an exciting time to be a fan of digital comics, especially when viewed on a new high resolution retina display.

Avengers vs. X-Men Infinite #1 is availble on ComiXology and Marvel for 0.69p

Winter Soldier #2It’s another strong week for digital comics this week with the finale of the court of Owls storyline in DC’s Batman #6, a new creative team on Avenging Spider-man and another edition of the brilliant Transformers Autocracry from IDW hitting the digital newsstand. However for this week’s absolute must-read we are going to nominate a book which should really have been chosen a couple of weeks back when it was launched and that’s Winter Soldier by Ed Brubaker and Butch Guice from Marvel Comics.

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of Brubaker’s creator owned series Fatale and Criminal here at Pipedream Comics, but that doesnt mean we ignore his ‘bill paying’ books like Captain America. Producing some of the best written stories coming out of Marvel in the last few years, Brubaker has helped breath new life into a character which could have ended up as something of a walking talking cliche in the new millennium. From the death of Captain America storyline, through to Bucky becoming the new Cap and beyond, they were all handled expertly as Brubaker tied his character in complex knots of conspiracy and intrigue, weaving disparate elements of the plot together into something that felt fresh and exciting. He followed that up with his recent run on Secret Avengers , which for a while was one of Marvel’s best kept secrets, (but has unfortunately gone a bit left field under the stewardship of Warren Ellis) however with Winter Soldier it is a return to that clandestine, spy-based style that made the early issues of Secret Avengers so exciting.

The story follows Bucky Barnes and his attempts to regain the memory of his time as a soviet super soldier (the titular Winter Soldier) and his relationship with the Black Widow. In the current arc the Red Ghost is releasing Soviet Super soldiers who have been sleepers since the end of the Cold War and it is up to Bucky and the Widow to stop them, and hopefully find out some more about Bucky’s past in the process. It’s like Tinker, Tailer, Soldier Spy but with added explosions.

The story is made darker and more brooding by the mixed-media artwork of Butch Guice. With plenty of ominous, shadowy characters lurking in complex, intricate backgrounds, Winter Soldier is that rare thing, a comic book for adults that doesn’t rely on explosive violence and extreme language to get it’s point across. Instead it relies on clever, well written stories and well paced, purposeful artwork. Oh and there’s also a 400 pound machine gun toting gorilla, but hey, it is still a Marvel comic – you’ve got to have a bit of fun in there too!

Winter Soldier is available on ComiXology or the Marvel Comics app priced at £1.99

It’s a been a strong week for new releases from big name creators this week with Image’s Thief of Thieves by Robert Kirkman and Garth Ennis’ Ninjettes from Dynamite both hitting the apps. However both of these failed to stand out when compared to the technicolour adventures of a boy named Finn and his stretchy, magical dog called Jake! That’s right, this week’s digital must-have is Adventure Time #1 from Boom Studios.

Based on the equally bonkers Cartoon Network show (which I have to confess I have never seen) Adventure Time is a tripped out journey to the wonderful World of Ooo where 13 year old Finn and his magical dog Jake have to thwart the plans of the evil Lich who wants to destroy everything. Along with Finn’s friends the Desert Princess (not the Dessert Princess), the Ice King, Princess Bubble Gum and Marceline the Vampire Queen Adventure Time‘s mental mix of surreal humour and eye-popping visuals (thanks to the brilliant Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb) may not be for everyone, but it is a true one of a kind book that will definitely warrant a second reading, if only to get your head around what the hell just happened! With a tone somewhere between Ren and Stimpy and Spongebob Squarepants you won’t read a weirder book this year, but it has a strange charm to it and a sense of true originality which you rarely get in comics, and for that reason I cannot recommend it enough. Plus, you get a great back up story by the very talented Aaron Renier, all about Prince Bubblegum which feature a scene with an elephant and a cinnamon bun in a sauna what more could you ask for?!

Adventure Time is available on ComiXology and via the Boom! Studios app for £2.49

The great thing about digital comics is that there isn’t one way to publish your story. Whether you’re distributing through a major company and keeping to a strict monthly schedule or you’re self-publishing online and releasing it whenever you feel is right, there’s no hard and fast rule about how best to release your work to the public.One prime example of doing things differently is the brilliant Cow Boy from Chris Eliopoulos and Nate Cosby. We spoke to Chris back in August when Cow Boy was still in it’s infancy and so it’s great to see it finally appearing online, and it really has been worth the wait. Chris and Nate have taken the bold step of offering pages from Cow Boy free on their site cowboycomic.net while also offering dedicated readers the option to pre-order a hard cover print edition which will be published by Archaia Press.

The guys overs at IDW Publishing have created a great niche for themselves in the digital comics world thanks to their awesome series of apps and titles featuring big names from G.I. Joe to True Blood. However it is with Transformers that they have had their most success, so much so that this week sees the launch of this digital exclusive series, Transformers Autocracy.

With gorgeous art from fan favourite artist Livio Ramondelli and a story by Warcraft writer Chris Metzen alongside seasoned Transformer author Flint Dillie, it focuses on the early days of Optimus Prime (here referred to as Orion Pax) on Cybertron, before the war. Working alongside familiar names like Bumblebee, Ironhide and Hound, as a kind of Cybertron Police Force, the story looks set to reveal how Prime came to be the great leader we all know and love – there is even the promise of appearances from Megatron and other Decepticons, but as allies rather than foes! Essentially, it’s a bit like X-Men First Class but with Autobots instead of mutants!

At a mere 8 pages, there isn’t much to get your teeth into, but it certainly whets your appetite for more, and with only two weeks until the next instalment (and a bargain price of 69p an issue) you won’t have long to wait. Plans are to have the story line run through into June and also to tie in with the continuity of new titles More Than Meets The Eye and Robots in Disguise so there should be enough to keep both hardened Autobot-fans and nostalgic geeks like myself happy well into the summer.

Transformers Autocracy is published by IDW Publishing and can be downloaded from either their own app or via ComiXology’s Comics


Is there a better team in comics today than Sean Philips and Ed Brubaker? Whether it’s the pot-boiled noir of Criminal or the post-modern super-villain antics of Incognito, they are truly masters of their craft. Now it’s time for them to turn their attention to the supernatural horror genre with brand new title Fatale. It features the traditional tight and complex Brubaker storyline blending time-travel, horror, whodunnit and classic noir. Flipping from the 1930s to the present day with seamless, mind-bending brilliance the story would be nothing without Philips stylish visuals. Tweaking his trademark stark, monochromatic style to a more pulpy 30s style it features much more of a dynamic feel than the tight close-ups of Criminal, however it is subtle touches of former Hellboy and BPRD colourist Dave Stewart that really helps give Fatale that gothic feel.

As with all Brubaker/Philips story it is difficult to get your head around this latest world in just 32 pages. Not because it is complex and unwieldy, but because the themes and subjects involved are so expertly weaved into the story. By the time you reach the final page you are only just getting started and are left wanting to read the next instalment as soon as you can. Fatale is the kind of book that will reward repeat reading as you pick up more and more with each reading as the story progresses from issue to issues, so make sure you get on the Fatale band wagon now as this will be on everyone’s ‘Best of 2012’ list by the end of the year and will be selling out in print before you know it.

Fatale #1 is published by Image Comics and is available on Comics or the Image Comics app for $3.50