It’s been a busy week for the big two, with a couple of major announcements from each company. First up was the appearance of a new dedicated area in the Apple iBooks Store for Marvel Graohic novels. A handful of titles have been available for a while now, but with this announcement and it’s appearance on the front of the iBooks store it’s a major move for Marvel. Their relationship with Apple has been every strong over the years, with their iPad app one of the showcase titles at the launch of the the first iPad back in 2008. However they have taken a bit of a back seat in the world of individual digital issues since then with Dc really leading the way thanks to their prominent position with their dedicated store on the ComiXology app. Perhaps this is a reflection of the House of M’s long term strategy for digital content on the iPad, preferring to prioritise collections rather than individual issues. If that is the case then there aren’t many better places to develop that plan than in the iBooks store.

Currently there is a good, but not comprehensive, collection of titles on there, featuring all your favourite Marvel characters and some classic titles like Marvel Zombies and Mark Millar’s Ultimates at the competitive prices of £5.49 per volume. Alongside these are more recent titles such as Dan Slott’s recent Spiderman books and Brian Bendis’ New Avengers, however how regularly these are updated and filled with new content has yet to be seen. And it will be interesting to see if other publishers follow Marvels lead and join up with Apple.

Meanwhile, DC have not been resting on their laurels and have released a new app showcasing their Vertigo imprint. As is the case with a lot of other title specific apps (Walking Dead, Transformers etc) it is just a re-skinned version of the Comics app, however it is loaded with some of the best titles of the past 25 years. Already on there are complete runs of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Garth Ennis’ Preacher and Warren Ellis’s Transmetropolitan alongside more recent titles like Adam Hughes and Bill Willingham’s Fables and Mike Allred’s iZombie. As with the main app there is a great section outlining which books are worth checking out and so If you’ve never read any of these infamous titles then this is a great way to check them out and really shows how great the digital medium is as a way to collect classic comics together in one place.

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

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.

When I was growing up my favourite book was a hardback called Marvel’s Fifty Fabulous Years.  It was a complete history of Marvel comics (up to that point) and I must have read it cover to cover a dozen times. One of my favourite sections was about the process a page takes from pencils to inks to colours to print. The page itself was from an issue of Ghost Rider drawn by Mark Texeira, but the panel I was most interested in was the colouring, which was done by a mulleted maestro named Gregory Wright.  This was in the pre-digital world where Greg was painting with a brush and ink before picking and annotating the colour separations by hand for the printing process. Over the years, I noticed the name Greg Wright appearing on several of my favourite comic books, most notably on the Erik Larsen run of Amazing Spider-man (my favourite ever comic run) and the early issues of Savage Dragon at Image. So when I saw him appear on Twitter last week I thought I would say ‘Hi!’. Greg was very gracious and actually replied to me as he was getting used to Twitter and so I took the chance to ask him some questions about what he had been up to and how he felt about the world of colouring in this new digital age.

Todd McFarlane’s Spiderman #1 is one of the featured titles on Marvel’s iPad app this week which got me feeling rather nostalgic. You see, growing up as a comics fan in the 90s, the most iconic book for me wasn’t Amazing Fantasy 15 or Action Comics #1 it was  Spiderman #1. I’d been  a Todd McFarlane fanboy from the moment I first picked up Amazing Spiderman #317 and saw Venom and Spidey go back and forth while surrounded by Todd’s trademark webs. His pencils were so exciting and dynamic and the weird poses he had Spidey contort into were just mind-boggling and unlike anything I had seen before. So, as his run on ASM came and went,  the prospect of seeing Todd not only drawn but also write, his own title was a fanboy’s dream come true.