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Comics 411: Image Comics Turns 30

March 9, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
Spawn Image Credit: Image Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed our Feel Good Comic Books Here’s what some of you had to say:

Earl Chatterton: “Vol 1 of Excalibur. Although there were darker elements (Poor Courtney Ross!), this Chris Claremont/Alan Davis book was such a colorful, often absurd addition to the Mutant franchise. The Cross-Time Caper was gleefully bonkers, with the characters put in odd situations that sometimes weren’t explained. Nightcrawler in drag? KItty Pryde dressed as a buffalo? Captain Britain turned into a duck? Alan Davis is my favorite comic artist, and his run on Excalibur is the reason. Also made Kitty my favorite female Marvel character.”

El Atomico: “Groo the Wanderer used to make me laugh”

D2Kvirus: “I’ve recently got into A Thing Called Truth entirely because I need a little cheering up

Even though it’s obvious that one of the characters has terminal cancer…”

aejhaa: “Fraction’s Hawkeye is amazing – in that vein people should check out his Jimmy Olsen series, it funny, and almost satirical and just a fun read.

As a Green Arrow fan, I’d be remiss not to mentions Green Arrow rebirth series from rebirth issue until the 38th issue (including annual 1) by Benjamin Percy. It’s, in my opinion, the best rebirth book that finally has a left wing Oliver Queen and deals with many current day issues and really made me a fan of Green Arrow and comics books in general.”

Great stuff and thank you to everyone who commented last week! Too many great comments to list so go and check it out! This week we discuss…

Image Comics Turns 30
OK, OK, I know the actual 30th anniversary of Image Comics isn’t until April 2022, the month Youngblood #1 debuted, but I wanted to get this in before everyone else. 

For an Independent, 30 years is quite the achievement. Image Comics has been the home for some of the most popular and most creative comics in history. I don’t think new fans understand the impact it has and the environment it was born in.

You may or may not know the origins but in the early 1990s, comics creators Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld and Jim Valentino were having dinner with Malibu Comics editor-in-chief Dave Olbrich and the conversation turned to Olbrich expressing interest in publishing comics created by them. Around this time, Larsen, Liefeld, Valentino and several other freelance artists were growing frustrated with Marvel’s work for hire policies. Their primary complaint was that the artwork and new characters they created were being merchandised heavily, with the artists receiving only standard page rates for their work and modest royalties on sales of the comics. A standard way of doing business since the beginning of comics. In December of 1991, the group approached Marvel president Terry Stewart and demanded that the company give them ownership and creative control over their work. Accounts vary as to whom this group included, but the result was Marvel refusing to meet their demands.

Thus was born Image. Todd McFarlane (Spider-Man), Jim Lee (X-Men), Rob Liefeld (X-Force, Deadpool), Marc Silvestri (Wolverine), Erik Larsen (The Amazing Spider-Man), Jim Valentino (Guardians of the Galaxy), Whilce Portacio (Uncanny X-Men) and Uncanny X-Men writer Chris Claremont. Marvel’s stock fell $3.25/share when the news became public. The comic book industry was changed and Image has survived and thrived.

Image has evolved a great deal in the 30 years of its existence. I wanted to cover some of the highlights and let you fill in the blanks below.

We have to start with Youngblood. Love him or hate him, Rob Liefeld knows how to sell himself and his books. Youngblood was the first series published by Image and the best selling independent comic at the time of its release. Youngblood was a high-profile superteam sanctioned and run by the government. Youngblood was based on Liefeld’s idea that if superheroes really existed, they would be treated much the same way as movie stars and athletes. The premise sounded cool at the time but the execution didn’t live up to the hype. The series wasn’t popular with critics and a spotty publishing schedule hurt it with fans but I still remember it fondly.

How about Spawn? I still remember buying the first issue off the rack. Considered one of most important Image books of all-time, Spawn #1 sold close to 1.7 million copies and remained Image’s top-seller a few years after the series debut. Albert ”Al” Francis Simmons was a highly trained assassin who was murdered by his employer and former friend Chapel. He sold his soul to Malebolgia, one of the many rulers of Hell, in order to see his wife, Wanda Blake, again. Malebolgia had other things in mind for Al and sent him back to earth with no memory as a Hellspawn, one of his soldiers, to do his bidding. A really fun series that has had its ups and downs when it comes to storylines but it remains influential even today.

Perhaps the most consistently entertaining book they have has to be Savage Dragon. Erik Larsen has been writing and drawing The Savage Dragon for over 260 issues and I’ve read it pretty much consistently from the beginning. It’s one of those books that I pick up and enjoy but I forget to include it in my “best of…” picks. Not sure why. The Dragon is a large, finned, green-skinned humanoid whose powers include super-strength and an advanced healing factor. According to Larsen, the series is aimed at “older Marvel readers who are about ready to throw in the towel on comics altogether. It’s the missing link between Marvel and Vertigo. More mature than Marvel; less pretentious than Vertigo. The kind of comics [he wants] to read. [The] book is really self-indulgent.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Remember Wildcats/WildC.A.T.s? I’ll admit that I picked this up because I loved Jim Lee’s artwork. The premise revolved around the centuries long war between aliens called Kherubim and Daemonites. The cast was cool with characters like Spartan, Zealot, Grifter, Voodoo, Maul, Void, Lord Emp, and Warblade. It’s been tweaked quite a bit over the years and I’m getting the urge to go back and read it again to see how it holds up.

Then we have The Walking Dead. I picked up the first collected edition and was hooked right away. For some reason I wait till the issues are collected before reading so I have to work to avoid spoilers from the single issues. Funny enough, I don’t like The Walking Dead television show.

A more recent but welcome addition is Saga. Another series that I was late picking up. An epic space opera/fantasy series created by writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples can be best described as beautiful. It depicts two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series. I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of hype about this one and urge you to pick it up because the hype is warranted. Need more? The comic was described in solicitations as “Star Wars meets Game of Thrones,” and by critics as evocative of both science fiction and fantasy epics such as The Lord of the Rings and Romeo & Juliet.

Astro City. I love this series. While it has found a new home, it got its start at Image. Astro City is an anthology series that focuses on a large cast of characters, from small cameo roles of a few panels to full center stage attention spanning several issues. Most of the characters live within Astro City, a center for super-powered beings and most stories take place there. In its first three years it received major industry awards for best new series, best ongoing series, best writer and best covers. The hook of Astro City is that it explores how people (regular,heroes, and villains) react to living in their world. From Samaritan reflecting on his life during a typical day to the initiation of a “kid sidekick” hero, each story is masterfully told and positively entertaining.

I consider Invincible a modern day classic. I remember getting the first collected volume of this and kicking myself for not knowing about it sooner. Invincible is the teenaged son of Omni-Man, an extraterrestrial superhero of the Viltrumite race. Inheriting his father’s superhuman strength and ability to fly and he has sworn to protect the Earth. He has had trouble adjusting to his newfound powers and coping with the reality of his origins. Such simple origins that delves into complex stories, characters and brutal action. My love for this is so strong that I splurged on the hardcover Invincible: The Ultimate Collection editions.

The most underrated series but one that exemplifies the Image spirit is The Maxx. Created by Sam Kieth with co-writer William Messner-Loebs, The Maxx was weird. In a cool way. I think it was a trippy adventure about a homeless man who doubled as a monstrous hero in an alternate reality created by a woman’s subconscious. Yeah.

I could go on and on and don’t have time to do justice to <bPowers, Deathblow, Pitt, A Distant Soil, Brigade, Gen13, Supreme, Wetworks, Prophet, Shadowhawk, Tribe, and a couple of others. Hopefully you’ll make up for it in the comments below. What are some of your favorite Image series over the years?

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!