Superstar artist Bryan Hitch’s Real Heroes sees the king of the rubble-strewn panorama fill in the gaps between the epic double page spreads with something a bit more than a few nice celebrity portraits in his new mini-series from Image Comics. But will his words be as powerful as his pencils when all is said and done?

Over Christmas you might have seen the incredible video of a Morgan Freeman iPad painting from digital artist Kyle Lambert. Well not everyone has been as big a fan of it as we were, and our interview with Kyle has been used as a part of the back and forth. We run down the Twitter spat.

It’s always a good day when you find out that there’s a new Bryan Hitch comic coming out, and it’s even more exciting when you find out it’s going to be his first foray into writing. The artist behind the awesome Ultimates and Americas Got Powers is finally getting behind the writers desk with Bryan Hitch’s Real Heroes #1 and it will be hitting the apps in March next year, but we’ve been given a fantastic preview from Image Comics.

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

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 been a milestone week this week as Image Comics celebrated their 20th anniversary. As a comics fan growing up in the early 1990s, I was a massive fan of all things Image and so it fills me with a great sense of pride and nostalgia to look back on what they meant to the comics industry and to me personally. As a kid my heroes weren’t sportsmen or movie stars, they were comic artists. I worshipped every pen and ink stroke of Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen and Rob Liefeld. I knew every panel of early issues of Spawn, Savage Dragon and Youngblood and still do to this day.

So when these three super-artists left Marvel in 1992 to form a new company alongside Jim Lee, Jim Valentino and While Portacio I had no idea what the significance was, or why there were doing it, just so long as I could get new and exciting books from my heroes – and what could better than them writing and drawing their own titles? I didn’t understand that they had left Marvel to pursue creative autonomy and would shape the future of modern comics by putting the emphasis on the creator rather than the corporation, I was more interested in searching high and low for every new Image release I could get my hands on.