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.

Back in September we spoke to artist Peter Krause about his iPad artwork as well as his work on the brilliant Irredeemable from BOOM! Studios. Since then, he has unveiled a fantastic new digital project, Insufferable,  which he launched alongside Irredeemable writer Mark Waid  via their new website Thrillbent. Telling the story of an aged super-hero and his problematic former sidekick,  Insufferable is released weekly via the Thrillbent website, and  feature a fantastic mix of gritty superhero story-telling mixed with brilliant and innovative artwork and interactive transitions. We wanted to find out more about how Peter went about putting his story together and just what was involved in this new venture.

As interactive books and comics get more and more sophisticated the boundaries between them are getting even closer. One title which is hoping to blur the lines even more is Bottom of the Ninth by animator Ryan Woodward. Hailing it as the world’s first animated graphic novel (as far as he knows), it combines Ryan’s love of comics, animation and baseball and looks set to be one of the true ground-breaking titles for the iPad in 2012.  I got in touch with Ryan as he finished off the final finesses  ahead of it’s Summer release and did my best to get to the the bottom of Bottom of the Ninth.

Back in March we spoke to George Lentino, publisher of Moonshot Digital Comics, who was setting out his plan to revolutionise the world of digital comics with “innovative, experimental and down-right fun to read comics”. Well the first title,  from that stable, Deluge, is about to be released with the team of film-maker turned writer J.D. Oliva and artist Richard Clark at the helm. After hearing about all the great things that George had planned for his new line of digital comics, I got in touch with J.D. to ask him about his inspiration for Deluge and just what exactly the Moonshot Digital experience entailed.

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

What would you do if you felt the quality of comics on the iPad wasn’t up to scratch? Most people would just grumble and moan and keep buying inferior books, but publisher Russell Willis took matters into his own hands, created his own comics platform inventing the ‘deluxe digital graphic novel’. Taking existing books from some of his favourite writer/artists, Russell developed his own publishing platform along with his Panel Nine app development team in Tokyo, approaching the artists in question to record an in-depth audio commentary to give the books that extra layer of interactivity.  After the success of his first release, From Hell artist Eddie Campbell’s Dapper John , he has followed it up with hard boiled crime drama Kickback from V For Vendetta artist David Lloyd. We got in touch with Russell to ask him how he came up with the idea for the deluxe graphic novel and what he think s makes this format so great for the iPad.

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