Developer: Cognito Comics
Price: FREE
Version: 2.0
App Reviewed on: iPad 1

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★½
User Interface Rating: ★★★★½
Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★★★½☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Iran. Depending on the year they were born, people will hear the name of this nation with a variety of reactions. As a child of the 1970s, I remember the 1979 Iranian Hostage crisis and the resulting failed rescue attempt in 1980. The region has always been a hotbed of political and social unrest, however, as is shown clearly in this stunning graphic novel created for the iPad. If born in an earlier era, readers of this true story may have a different perspective of the region.

CIA: Operation Ajax is an interactive piece of sequential art inspired by the investigative journalism of best-selling author, Stephen Kinzer, and his work All the Shah’s Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which was originally published in 2003. In this current app version, readers are treated to a feast of multimedia and comic artwork that might even surpass that of a traditional comic. The music, dialogue, and presentation of the visual story are superb, but what really held my attention and interest across all 210 pages was the story itself.

Adapted for comics by Mike de Seve and Jason McNamara, this motion-comic style graphic novel tells the true story of the first CIA-backed coup which toppled Iran’s democracy in 1953. The story begins earlier, in 1906, when oil was discovered in the desert. A young Winston Churchill, making an early name for himself, proposes that the UK military make the switch from coal to oil energy, a fateful decison for both imperialist England and the world itself. The story continues through the rise to power of the Iranian monarchy, or Shah, the brief rule of democracy with Mohammad Mosaddegh, and the eventual CIA-backed fall of that very same government, setting the stage, ultimately, for the takeover by the religious elite.

This is a fascinating tale, made perhaps more intense by the use of the motion comic style of art itself. Each “page” has sound, movement, animation. It’s more than just a flat comic book. The sound design, by Andrew Scott Duncan, is some excellent work. It has middle eastern flavor, supports the story without overwhelming it, and perfectly underscores the emotional tone of the artwork in every panel. The artwork itself is strong, bold lines and earthy color tones bring out the bleak nature of the events as well as the geography and sense of place.

In all, this is a must-read for fans of comics and history, especially that of the middle east – the pages of supplementary materials, drawn from Kinzer’s own research for his 2003 book, are fascinating to go through. Any iPad owner wishing to show off the state of the app will want to grab this app now, while it’s still free, and use it to showcase the power of the medium.

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