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 growth of digital comics apps for the iPad has created an exciting new market place for independent comics publishers. With regular sales promoting titles from smaller publishers, ComiXology does a great job of getting it’s readers to check and out and sample new titles with the convenience of a digital download. One such title which I was tempted to check out for the the first time recently is The Sixth Gun from Oni Press. A supernatural western it combines all your favourite elements of the classic wild west with a brilliantly gothic under current that would make HP Lovecraft or Mike Mignola proud. The man behind the title is writer Cullen Bunn, who you might be more familiar with from his run on Marvel’s Fear Itself, so I got in touch with him to ask just what the effect of digital sales are having on books like The Sixth Gun. 

The aura of a number one issue has diminished to the point of meaninglessness over the years. Whether you blame the multi format 90s where every major franchise got rebooted and relaunched or the the post-DC52/digital boom of today where there seems to be a dozen new series launched every week,  the aura of a first chapter on a journey has lost some of its magic. However just as every journey has to start with a first step, so every great comic story must start with an issue 1, which brings us to this weeks digital must-have – Saga #1 from Image Comics.

Unlike other big name writers who seem be getting a new series every other week, the start of a new Brian K Vaughan book is still something to behold. The man who created the mind bending Y: The Last Man and who helped fine tune the brilliant Lost was never going to give you a dull book but Saga is something truly exceptional. Covering epic issues of love, fate, politics, religion and loss with a generous dose of epic space battles and kings with TVs for heads the only thing which I can compare it to is the brilliant Sandman by Neil Gaiman – but in space! Just as with Gaiman’s sprawling epic, it is the combination of intelligent narrative and stunning art that makes this book stand out from the rest. In the hands of a lesser artist the could become tacky or trite, but with the deft touch of Fiona Staples it has a mature dignity that helps mark it out as something truly special. Both the characters and the world they inhabit are perfectly crafted and with the psychedelic hand drawn lettering gives it a unique feel that even Mssrs Gaiman and McKean would be proud of.

Stretching to a substantial 44 pages, the story follows Marko and Alana and the birth of their daughter into the midst of an intergalactic war. She’s a winged ‘angel’ he’s a horned ‘devil’ although it’s far more complex than those obvious stereotypes would suggest. With the two parents on either side of the conflict, this is also more that just your usual doomed love storyline as Vaughan has created a complete universe of trouble for the characters to negotiate – not to mention the trials and tribulations of parenthood. It’s not all doom and gloom though and there is a  generous dose of surreal humour and some eye popping visuals as well which make Saga well worth checking out for anyone looking for something different to the normal superheroes or space operas this week.

Saga is available via ComiXology or from the Image Comics app for £2.49.

In the macho world of super hero comics, it’s easy to forget that back in the Golden Age, romance stories were just as popular as the action adventure stuff. Even the greats like Jack Kirby cut their teeth doing romance books, but in the modern day they’ve become something of a rarefied breed. Thank goodness then for Love and Capes which combines the kind of modern superhero stories we know and love with a healthy measure of romance, and a generous dash of good old fashioned gags. Previously available online at LoveandCapes.com or in print from IDW, it is now released on ComiXology.

Love and Capes follows the adventures of Mark (aka super hero the Crusader), and his new girlfriend, book shop owner Abby. But unlike your trad superhero books, Mark reveals his secret identity to Abby in the first chapter, which allows writer/artist Thom Zahler to poke fun at  the traditional obliviousness of other superhero girlfriends. (There’s no Lois and Clark style stumbling around the fact our hero’s girlfriend can’t recognise him when he takes off his glasses here!) Taking a knowing (and loving) swipe at all manner of super hero cliches it focuses on the blossoming relationship between Abby and her new super-boyfriend, covering everything from super-powered ex’s to secret origins and weaknesses, making for a fantastic, hilarious read.

To find out more about Love in Capes and it’s new digital lease of life, I got in touch with Thom Zahler and asked him just how it felt to have a whole new audience about to get to know his characters via the iPad?

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

Power Play comic coverThis week’s must-have is the brilliant Powerplay by Kurt Christenson and Reilly Brown. A lot of comics claim to have embraced the world of digital, but they only go as far as same day print and digital. The boys on Powerplay have taken it one step further and have actually designed the comic to maximise the iPad’s interactivity. Rather than the standard left to right scrolling of panels, Powerplay takes the panel by panel approach of ComiXology and takes it to its logical conclusion by getting rid of individual pages all together and just letting you scroll through one panel at a time. Now this might not seem the best way to read a book, but it’s been designed so that in key places in the story panels begin blend together to give it a simple animated feel which is just awesome. Check out the scene where Mac turns to gold and Kris cuts off his hair between panels 28 and 37 to see what I mean.

Apple's NewssatdnThis week saw the release of Apple’s new iOS5 operating system for iPad and iPhone. You might have missed it as it got somewhat lost amongst the tragic news of Steve Jobs passing and the internet backlash against the iPhone 4S, but it is probably the most exciting thing that will happen to digital publishing this year.

After all the weeks and months of talk, it’s finally here. The DC52 relaunch has happened. Whether you agree with their tactics or not there’s no denying they have created a buzz about the comics industry that we haven’t seen in years. Forget Civil Wars, Secret Invasion, or the death of Steve Rogers, Bruce Wayne et. al., this is the most excited I’ve been about a mainstream comic since 1991. Back then I was a wide-eyed 13 year-old and Marvel released Jim Lee’s X-Men #1, now here he is again changing the world of comics, but will it be for better or for worse?

Back in 1991 with the launch of X-Men#1 the comics industry was at the peak of the 90s boom. X-Men #1 sold over a million copies thanks to multiple variant covers in foils and bags and was (And still is) the most successful comic of all time. The aftermath of this was a few more years of boom for Marvel, but would quickly be followed by bust as the bottom fell out of market as a result of over exposure to variant collectors editions. However for Lee himself it would be the catalyst for the formation of Image Comics and a new generation of creator owned titles via his Wildstorm studios.

Fast forward 20 years and Lee is top dog at DC, and he is again relaunching one of the comics world’s top titles in Justice League. But this time, instead of pushing the multiple variants of print editions it’s all about the power of digital. Justice League will not only be a huge selling print title thanks to it’s big name creative team but it is being released and pushed heavily via the DC Comics app and via ComiXology’s Comics. There is no doubt that this will be the best selling digital comic of all time within 24 hours of it’s release and it’s effect on the potential digital market is huge. Lee, a self confessed Apple geek, has clearly learned something from the Cupertino computer giant with his strategy of midnight opening at comic shops, but he is also keenly aware of the impact that digital is going to have on the future of comics.

A lot of industry analysts scoffed when the pricing structure was released and we learnt that the issue 1s would be $3.99 compared to a standard $2.99 for future, but just as Apple don’t compromise on price, neither does DC. Lee, Geoff Johns and co are making hay while the sun is shining and making money from their cash cows while they can, however they are also maximizing the influence their major titles can have in order to create a trickle down effect for the entire comics market. This price won’t deter the hardened comics fans who will buy both print and digital edition and won’t stop Justice League and the others from being the best-selling books of the year. But thanks to the ease of digital purchase, it may just encourage readers to buy other titles from this relaunch once they experience the simplicity and quality that comes from buying Justuce League. Once readers see how easy it is to simply click on Action Comics, Batman or Booster Gold while browsing through the comics app then DC will rely on these readers looking to do the same thing again in 4 weeks time (or when they receieve push notifications from the app to remind them of just how easy it was to buy that initial title) Gone is the need to go into a comic store on release and day and pay with real money, with an app and micro payments a reader can buy every book they want and the bill will magically appear a few days later. This is the tipping point for print and digital and just as Lee was a central figure in the last shift in the business in the late 90s, so here he is a again in 2011. Let’s hope this is the start of a new golden age, not the pinnacle of another boom.

One final question remains though, as a comic is it any good? Quite simply, it’s superb! I’m prepared to concede I am not a massive DC reader, but it is casual readers like me who haven’t read DC titles in years (if at all) who this relaunch is aiming at. Just as Ultimates refreshed the Marvel line up in 2000, so this will refresh and bring in new readers by updating continuity and re-telling, not just origin stories, but early tales of how character met and formed bonds before they had 30 years of back story to muddy the water. As always, Lee’s artwork is bristling with finely honed detail and stunning characters and settings. His Batman still bristles with the grit and edge of his Hush artwork, but it is Hal Jordan’s Green Lantern that is the real star of the book with Jim’s over active imagination crafting amazingly complex backgrounds out of Hal’s super powered creations. But it is also Geoff Johns’ script that is a winner. Mixing humour and character and crafting a fantastic revised DC Universe uncluttered by multiverses and extraneous characters, this is good old fashioned comic book story-telling but with a true 21st century look and feel. Well worth investing your time and money in.

With the number of digital comics released increasing every week, the ComiXology team have released a brand new version of their Comics app. Version 3.0 is a complete overhaul of the old app, with everything from a new look store front to fantastic new browsing and search features that makes the experience of using it more intuitive than before.

When it comes to the best digital comics app on the iPad, there really is only one top dog – ComiXology’s Comics. The iTunes of comics apps, ComiXology are the pioneers of digital comics on the iPhone and iPad and the powerhouse behind Marvel, DC and Images own apps. As I explored the world of comics on the iPad, it got me wondering just how the titles are published and how would I go about getting my work published if I were an indie comics publisher. And who better to ask than the folk at ComiXology themselves. So if you’ve ever wondered what the secret is, here’s the answers, courtesy of ComiXology’s David Steinberger their founder and CEO !