Thursday, February 4, 2010

Image Comics - An Introductory Primer

Image Comics, the poster boy for the 90's extreme comics, has seen drastic shifts in focus throughout the past decade and quickly became my favourite publisher, mostly based on the quality of the books they are publishing but I also have a bit of history and nostolgia towards them.

I grew up with Marvel and DC, but I compare that to being raised by your parents and on their values for most your life only to find your own way and likes and dislikes, which is how I began reading various Image titles. I’ll always love what stories and characters Marvel and DC have created but Image is the company that fits me so well.

As such, when Kirk suggested I do a primer on various Image comics for his readers at the Weekly Crisis, I jumped at the opportunity to introduce a new audiance to the comics and characters I love and to show off how Image, as a company, has grown and changed since those 90's era origins.  Hit the jump to see a small cross section of the comics I recommend from Image and a brief primer on each!

Andrenn Jones brings you today's guest post intro primer on Image Comics.  Andrenn is a comic fan and blogger who you can read more from at his personal blog, New Age Comics with Andrenn, or at Comic Book Revolution, where he contributes on a regular basis.  You can also follow him on Twitter @Andrenn.

Image Comics - An Introductory Primer

Current Team: Robert Kirkman (writer) Ryan Ottley (artist)
Where to Start: Invincible Returns #1 (February 2010)

Synopsis: Invincible is Mark Grayson, the half-human/half-Viltrumite (a race of Supermen-like beings) son of Nolan Grayson, who was also known as the super hero Omni-Man before turning on his friends and family and trying to conquer Earth.

One part Spider-Man, one part Superman in premise, over time, Invincible has become his own hero and has been through a lot. He's set out to make a name for himself by fighting crime, has been affiliated with the government, fought aliens, robots and everything in between and, after recently defeating the Viltrum agent Conquest, Mark has even helped rebuild the world from devastation caused by his own evil dopplegangers from alternate dimensions.

Currently, he is trying to work up some money to move out of his mother’s house and move in with his current girlfriend, Atom Eve, who was recently revealed to be pregnant with Mark's child. A war is also looming with the Viltrum empire as they seek to conquer earth and Invincible is going to be in the middle of it all.

Comments: Invincible has easily become one of the most beloved Image comics out there right now and is even the current poster child from Image, being featured on their site's banner and in other promotional material.  And, really, it seems that when people think of Image they think of Invincible. Even his costume and emblem looks like their logo!

It’s definitely my favorite title from the company and each month is an exciting read. I know people who have had a long seeded resentment of Image comics such as Spawn and Youngblood who would never touch those titles nowadays but they still love Invincible. For many it’s been the first Image comic they have read and for others it’s the only Image comic they will read.

Invincible isn’t for the squeamish though. While it never gets quite as gory as Kirkman’s other Image book, The Walking Dead, it can still get really violent and bloody. Recently, Invincible nearly killed a man by headbutting him relentlessly until he looked like a pile of red paste. It’s a violent spectacle at times, so that may turn some of you off a bit.

I have to mention Ryan Ottley’s art. It’s absolutely gorgeous. Ottley has been on the title since the early years, taking over after the original artist, Cory Walker, couldn’t keep up with the schedule. Since then, Ottley has really made his mark on the book and he succeeds both with great action and strong emotional work. He’s really given Invincible a unique look like no other book out there.

Verdict - Must Read.  Invincible is definitely a title I recommend highly each month. While it may not always be perfect, it’s not just the best Image title out right now, it’s one of the best titles on stands and I give it my highest recommendation of all the Image Comics on this list.

Current Team: Todd McFarlane (Writer) Rob Liefeld and Various Others (Artists)
Incoming Creative Team: Will Carlton (Writer) Szymon Kudranski (Artist)
Where to Start: Spawn #200 (Time of Release Unknown)

Synopsis: Al Simmons, the former Spawn has blown his head off. Doing so has awoken Jim Downing from years of being in a coma. Jim has been hunted by Heaven and an angel has mentioned he is a member of Heaven. It’s all a big mystery as Jim tries to piece the puzzle together and reclaim his lost memories all while living with his former nurse. Jim has also realized his Spawn power and is starting to control it.  Meanwhile, various people try and control what’s going on from the shadows, building an even larger mystery around the new Spawn.

Comments: Honestly, it’s not a great time to be reading Spawn. I know many will say something to the effect there was never a good time to read Spawn or some other typical response, but the book has had its moments and is a personal favourite of mine.  I mean, you don't publish close to 200 issues straight of just any comic without it maintaining some level of quality, yet people still act surprised at the mention of this book.

While I love the title and I’d love to tell you all otherwise, but my original statement still rings true - it's not a great time to be reading Spawn.  Ever sine I started reading comics on a regular basis, I’ve read and loved Spawn, but right now, Spawn is a mess I can’t really find anything to recommend.

However, ever since Todd McFarlane returned to his creation, it seemed like things where looking better then ever with a new Spawn, new direction, and new level of enthusiasm and excitement around the book again.  But with delay after delay, it’s just lost all of that energy it built and McFarlane really missed an opportunity when he fired Brian Holguin from doing scripts. McFarlane is a good writer, but Holguin is a master and he can take even a dull, boring talking heads comic and make it fascinating and fun to read.

With a new creative team coming with Spawn #201, tentatively slated for sometime in 2010, it’s hard not to hope for some change in the current level of Spawn and possible return to past heights. Right now, though, not so much. Still I’ve seen the new artist and he’s good though so far his art looks a bit too dark. If the colourist can lighten it up a little bit, then I think we’d at least have a good looking comic.

Verdict - Check It. I still say check out Spawn, especially if you haven't read anything with him in it since the 90's, but do so with great caution. Right now, the book seems to be in turmoil and is unsure of what it wants to do. If you want classic Spawn, check out the Origins Collections, those are great. Or if you want to catch up with recent events, pick up the first volume of Endgame and continue on from there

Creative Team: Ron Marz (writer) Stjepan Sejic (Artist)
Where to Start: Witchblade #131 (October 2009)

Synopsis: The Witchblade is the balance between good and evil. It is a mystical gauntlet that will choose a bearer and it has done so for thousands of years. Sara Pezzini is the latest bearer. She is a New York Cop and has a simple life outside of her super heroics, doing detective work, dating her partner Gleason and raising a child. Sara recently fought to make the Witchblade whole again after it was split between her and a friend Dani. Dani has gone off and now is the host of the Angelus force while Sara is getting used to life again with the Witchblade.

Comments: At one point, I considered Witchblade one of the best ongoing series each month, but that was a while back, shortly before the big “War of the Witchblades” arc in mid-2009. Since then, the title has definitely lost some of its magic but has still been an enjoyable read each month.

Witchblade has always been a fun read. Great characters and lots of great action. Marz excels at both and can take just about anything and make it work for the story.  One thing that’s really worked is the romance between Sara and Gleason. Rather then them meet and then date for five issues and have them fall in love as is the standard for most comic book romances, Marz has been taken a slower and more realistic approach to their relationship. It’s been long building and just now did Sara admit her love for Gleason. It feels real and makes you care more about the characters and their relationship.

I have to mention the gorgeous art by Sejic. It's amazing stuff and he somehow manages to keep it up each and every month without delay, even doing most events and side projects related to Witchblade. A great artist that can actually get the books out on schedule, now that’s awesome. He’s signed on until issue #150 but Marz has talked about working with him beyond that point.

I was going to mention the T&A aspects that Witchblade has shed for the better, but that was already handled very nicely by Mike Panetta, so go check out his gust post for the Weekly Crisis if you want everything I would have said about the supposed cheesecake factor of the book and more.

Verdict - Buy It. I give Witchblade a strong recommendation. Great characters and all around strong writing, gorgeous art and it’s a tonne of fun to read each month. While no longer my favourite comic each month, it’s still one of the best comics out there right now to me.

Jersey Gods
Creative Team: Glen Brunswick (writer) Dan McDaid (artist)
Where to Start: Jersey Gods #1 (July 2009)

Synopsis: Deep in space, there is a planet of gods. Barock is one of those gods. Barock is an uptight, by the books kind of guy. Zoe is a high maintenance Jersey girl. When they help each other during an attack by one of Barock’s old enemies on a mall they soon fall for each other. Barock has new moved to earth and he and Zoe are engaged to be married.

Comments: While a young title set to end with issue twelve, Jersey Gods has quickly become one of my favourite comics. Definitely one of the best new titles out there and my personal favourite new ongoing series from 2009. This title has had lots of great energy and been a blast to read each month.

Brunswick has interjected a lot of personality into the characters, making every scene between the main characters a blast to read. The cast is diverse and always interesting to read about. Barock isn’t perfect and nor is Zoe, but it’s the way the two play off each other and others that makes the cast so much fun to read each month.

I should mention that the relationship between Barock and Zoe has been somewhat rushed. Though that is part of the series premise whereby these two are our main characters and we follow their adventures after they've fallen in love and now live together.  While the initial meeting and engagement are a little rushed, how that relationship is portrayed and how it has grown since then has been a joy to follow.

There’s also some obvious Jack Kirby influence here as well with the planet full of gods.  Brunswick takes some Kirby-esque themes of gods in space and turns it into his own creation and makes something great out of it.  McDaid’s art even has a Kirby feel to it.

Verdict - Buy It. Jersey Gods does a brilliant job of balancing comedy and action. This series is very much a super hero story but it still never misses a good job and Brunswick’s humor is very clever and tons of fun. If you’re craving a fun super hero story with great comedy, fun characters and a unique feel then this is the perfect book for you.

Creative Team: Robert Kirkman (Writer) Ryan Ottley (Artist) Todd McFarlane (Co-Creator/Inks) Greg Capullo (Lay-outs)
Where to Start: Haunt #1 (October 2009)

Synopsis: Daniel Kilgore is a priest who’s rude and cruel, sleeps with hookers and has a major hate on for his brother. Kurt Kilgore is a CIA Agent with a heart of gold but is also a perfect killing machine. Daniel also hates his brother, Kurt, even though he sees him for confessions and absolutions.

At their last confession Kurt confessed about a mission where he was to set to free a scientist who had been doing experiments originally on cadavers, but he finds the scientist has been experimenting on live humans. Kurt kills the scientist and frees the experimented on humans. Shortly after the confession, Kurt is captured, tortured and then killed when someone comes looking for the notes and information on the doctor he killed.

Kurt's ghost bgins haunting his brother Daniel, even warning him of danger. One night, while Daniel is staying over at Kurt’s widow's place, two assassins enter to look for the notebook and Kurt's ghost possesses Daniel, creating the supernatural hero Haunt. Together the brothers have to find some common ground and try to figure out this mystery.

Comments: I'll admit, Haunt had a rough start. The first issue was not Kirkman’s best writing. Poor pacing, weak, generic character archtypes and a far cry from his Invincible or Walking Dead work. It was still a solid, somewhat enjoyable read but Kirkman definitely could have done better.

However, Haunt has come a long way in the past four months. Kirkman has slowly added that extra layer of detail and depth that has made a world of difference in the quality of the book. He’s given us a great mystery that is exciting to watch unfold. He’s also developed both Daniel and Kurt beyond their one-note, stereotypical origins (a priest with bad habits and a killer with a heart of gold originally are now much more complete and developed than those early issues).

I should address the obvious comparisons everyone makes about Haunt being some combinaton of Spawn and Spider-man. I’ve addressed this in the past, but nothing is 100% original. Batman was heavily inspired by a movie called “The Bat” and took from Zorro and other early vigilantes as well. Just because Haunt has some similarities to Spawn or Spider-Man doesn’t make it a rip off or clone. To judge it by its look alone or the fact Todd McFarlane was involved is unfair.  There are obvious influences, but Haunt is its own beast and has differentiated itself from those influences from the onset.

Verdict - Check It.  Fans of Kirkman should definitely give this series a try. Similar to Invincible, it’s not for those who shy away from gore or over the top violence but it makes it work well and the violence is not the focus nor the only driving force of the story. If you read the first issue and were turned off by this series, I highly recommend you give Haunt a second chance as it’s turning out to be one of the best new Image titles out there and has taken significant strides forward since that debut issue.

Image United
Creative Team: Robert Kirkman (Writer) Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Valentino, Marc Silvestri, Whilce Portacio (Artists)
Where to Start: Image United #1 (November 2009)

Synopsis: All of the villains of the Image Universe have banded together under Omega Spawn, the former Spawn, Al Simmons, after he died and took control of Hell. It's up to a young boy, calling himself Fortress after finding a mysterious armour, to unite the heroes before his visions of the end of the world come to pass.

Comments: All right, I’ll come clean on this one.  Image United is pretty much for the diehard of the diehard Image fans.  If you don’t like Image Comics or haven't really read anything beyond Invincible or Chew, you will not like Image United. This is a comic made for the fans that grew up with these heroes like I did. Image United is guilty of being a comic made to appeal to that hardcore Image fanbase that loved Spawn and Savage Dragon and wants to see those heroes teaming up and drawn by their creators. In short, it's Marvel vs DC for Image fans.

One of the hooks of Image United is that six of Image's founders unite to draw their creations. Any character from Spawn is drawn by Todd McFarlane, anyone from Shadowhawk is drawn by Jim Valentino and so on for each artist. So if there’s a scene with Savage Dragon teaming up with Cyberforce and beating up a Youngblood villain, Erik Larsen drew Dragon, Marc Silvestri drew Cyberforce and Rob Liefeld drew the Youngblood villain.

It's amazing seeing all of these artists come together, contrasting the various styles and just seeing how great it all looks in this eclectic mishmash of art styles. Even Liefeld does a good job here, which is saying something.

But what about the story? Well it’s really simple. Good guys fight bad guys with a big mystery threat behind these events pushing everyone into action. Nothing new as far as comics are concerned and nothing too amazing as far as what one could expect from Robert Kirkman. It's a spectacle story and accomplishes what it sets out to do.

Verdict - Check It. There is some strong appeal to Image United for readers both new and old. However, ifl if you didn’t like Image before, Image United won’t change your opinion. It’s a solid read with gorgeous art, but more a guilty pleasure for the fans in the same vein as Marvel vs DC or other such events.


So ends the Image Primer. There are far more comics I would have liked to talk about or mention, such as The Walking Dead or Chew, and may do a post on them sometime in the future, but I hope you all found this helpful or enlightening in some way.  Image has changed a lot over the years and isn’t the same company it once was and has moved beyond many of the stereotypes and prejudices people hold against it from the 90's era. Characters have evolved and the world has become a massive and exciting place that’s perfect for new readers and exciting for all.  

Feel free to share your love for any Image Comics you read in the comments below or, if you aren't reading anything from Image, let us know what you've tried and why it didn't appeal to you.  Maybe we can suggest something better suited to your tastes. 

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Ethereal said...

I've been reading all the Spawn issues, starting at Issue 1. I finished issue 50 today. I had the read latest McFarlane return, and it got me pretty excited so I started at the beginning. That being said, Delays suck. There's no background on the new creative team. I don't know to be excited or scared.

Haunt has gotten alot better since the first issue. I'm keeping with it, espcecially with Capullo coming on over Ottley. Lots of good stuff here.

Image united, I'm on the fence on. I'm not particularly excited about it, mostly because it hasn't done anything in the first couple issues except telling readers that Spawn is evil.

I don't read any of Image's other stuff. I plan on reading Witchblade after I'm done with reading all of Spawn and/or the end of Image United. Whichever comes first...

Anonymous said...

I tried reading Invincible after Kirk's reccomendation, but I find it to be a low rent version of Ultimate Spider-Man. It's as if Spidey had Superman's powers. I don't find it all that clever. The art is great, but the writing is cliche ridden drivel.

Scott said...

An Image primer, without the Walking Dead is odd. For me Invincible and Walking Dead are the only must buys here. Everything else that Image puts out really depends on personal taste. Despite that fact, one of the things Image does best is short creator owned stories that feel fresh and new. Anybody reading FF or Secret Warriors should really go check out Hickman's Image work.

Andrenn said...

@Ethereal: Witchblade is in a good place to jump on, simple fun 2 to 3 part arcs right now.

@Anonymous: I disagree with your opinion but I see where you're coming from. Hopefully you'll give it a try again sometime in the future because it really is worth it.

@Scott: Sorry, I don't read Walking Dead. I've been meaning to pick up the Hardcover Collections but that's it. Also I've heard good things about Hickman's Image stuff, been tempted to check it out after seeing how awesome he was on Secret Warriors.

Flip The Page said...

whilst this is a good primer, it's basically focused on the 90s style comics (ignoring youngblood and savage dragon for some reason) and isn't fully representative of the diverse stuff from image like Hatter M, Chew or Phonogram.

Still it's thorough in oovering what it does cover, so i can't complain

Kirk Warren said...

@Flip The Page - I chose the title for him, so you can blame me if it isn't as complete as you'd expect a primer to be. It's why I went with 'introdcutory primer' instead of straight up primer. I probably should have went with a different title for the post, so apologies to Andrenn and anyone else expecting the entire line to be covered.

Stagger Lee said...

When Image started out back in 1992, the hype was so phenomenal that I bought the seven founders' books... for like three issues. Youngblood #1 is probably the worst comic I've ever read, and the others weren't much better. Alan Moore had fun runs with Violator, Wildcats and Supreme, but other than that Image was for the longest time the best example of the value of great writers. Iroonic that now that they attract better writers, the superstar artists are no longer that interested. Seems like the CrossGen and Gorilla fiascos made creators more cautious. But qualitywise, Image has never been in better shape than right now.

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