Comic Book Club: On 25 Years of Image Comics


Huzzah!  It's finally here!  Welcome to the debut of the Geek:Life Comic Book Club.  Over the coming months, Comic Book Club will bring you features, interviews, weekly recommendations, news, and reviews, hopefully fast becoming your go-to interweb hotspot for all things new and old in the comic book world.

Now, 2017 may well be the start of something wonderful over here at Geek:Life, however, this February was the 25th anniversary of something even more momentous in the comic book world.  I am, of course, talking about the founding of Image Comics.


Back in February 1992, seven of Marvel's best-selling artists joined together to form Image.  Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino were all becoming household names with comic book fans and yet saw little of the benefits working for the 'Big Two', financially or creatively.  In response to their increasing frustration at corporate interference, Image was born: a publishing house that gives creators full ownership of their works and full freedom over their artistic direction.

Over the last 25 years, Image, which is now the third-largest comic book publisher in the world, has become known for bringing us some of the most innovative and interesting titles and characters, "across every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable, from the finest artists and writers working in the medium today." (Direct quote there from the Image website - they know how incredible they are!)

In this debut of Comic Book Club, join us in celebrating the anniversary by looking at 25 of the best from the best.

The Founding Few

Where better to start than the titles that would be the vital spark to the success of Image. In 1992, Image Comics published three comic book series which remain with the studio today, two of which are still going and one which is getting a glossy 2017 reboot.

1. Youngblood

Created by: Rob Liefeld
Who should read it: Fans of Teen Titans and/or the excess of early 90s superhero comics

imageYoungblood was the very first Image Comics publication and also the very first million-selling Image Comic.  The titular Youngblood is a government-funded superhero team, which includes Suprema, Doc Rocket, Shaft, Vogue, and Sentinel. The inspiration behind Youngblood was one question: "what would happen if superheroes really did exist?"  Youngblood suggests real life superheroes would be treated like celebrities, subjected to fan followings, TV interviews and paparazzi, alongside dealing with saving the world on a daily basis.

Youngblood hasn't always remained with Image, however, it will soon be making a comeback!  Rob Liefeld recently confirmed the superhero team will be resurrected with help from writer Chad Bowers and artist Jim Towe.  If the artwork below is anything to go by, I think this modern reboot is one to look out for.

2. Savage Dragon

Created by: Erik Larson
Who should read it: Fans of Batman, The Incredible Hulk or the 1995 animated series

imageSavage Dragon is all about 'The Dragon', a green-skinned humanoid who has super strength and healing abilities but also suffers from amnesia.  Early on in the series, he joined the Chicago police department, and though he has held various roles across the Image Universe, such as the leader of the Special Operations Strikeforce, he is generally found fighting mutant criminals in the Windy City.

Savage Dragon is now at issue #221 and impressively continues to be written and drawn by the original creator, Erik Larson.  In fact, Savage Dragon is longest running, full colour, American comic book series that features one author/artist.  If that isn't a testament to how beloved this character has been and continues to be, I don't know what is.

3. Spawn

Created by: Todd McFarlane
Who should read it: Anyone that loves a compelling anti-hero

Spawn is the ultimate anti-hero.  Now published by partner studio, Todd McFarlane Productions, Spawn started out as the tale of Al Simmons, a CIA assassin who is double-crossed and murdered by his friend and fellow CIA mercenary, Bruce Stinson (codename Chapel).  His soul goes to Hell and it is here where Simmons makes a deal with the evil being, Malebolgia.  Simmons thus becomes Spawn, a demonic undead creature sent back to Earth from Hell.

Over the years, Spawn has had many iterations, from hellspawn to anti-hero to angel to god.  The series itself is now at issue #270 and continues to be overseen by McFarlane himself, consistently remaining a fan favourite.  If you like your superheroes brutal and morally questionable, then this is for you.

The Robert Kirkman Effect

Robert Kirkman began creating comics published by Image in 2002.  In 2003, he would create arguably the two most popular Image Comics publications to date: Invincible and The Walking Dead.  By 2008, Kirkman had become the first person to be brought on as a partner at Image, and the rest is history as they say.

4. Invincible

Created by: Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
Who should read it: Fans of superheroes, "sci-fi as there is timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff, different dimensions, parallel universes, family drama, horror, romance... it's perfect for anyone that loves comics... full stop!" - @nerdschatting

imageI am ashamed to admit I only recently picked this up.  Broadly, Invincible tells the tale of the teenager Mark Grayson, who has gained the superpowers that allow him to become the superhero 'Invincible' from his father, the extraterrestrial superhero Omni-Man.

It was recently announced that after 14 years (Invincible is currently at issue #134), the comic was going to end by issue #144 with one final arc, 'The End Of All Things'.  In a letter penned by Kirkman to fans, he had this to say:

"When Cory Walker and I created him, and with Ryan Ottley, since he joined the team with issue 8, the point of this series has always been to celebrate what we love about superhero comics, but always put our own spin on it. To play with the tropes of the genre, but twist them into something new, at all times, no matter what.

That is why villains sometimes win, and heroes give up... and eventually stop being heroes altogether... and change happens, and sticks, and characters die, and never come back... no matter how popular they are (we maybe should have kept Conquest alive).

So then, it stands to reason, that if most superhero comics continue forever with no end in sight and over their runs do not, in any way, tell a cohesive story that holds together to form a singular narrative... shouldn’t INVINCIBLE do the exact opposite?"

And that dedication to one of the most compelling and at times subversive superhero stories is what makes it an absolute must-read.

5. The Walking Dead

Created by: Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore
Who should read it: Zombie lovers, horror fans and watchers of The Walking Dead TV series

I don't think people talk enough about The Walking Dead.  Which is, of course, an absolute lie.  The Walking Dead, now at issue #165, has become so ingrained in popular culture due to the success of AMC's TV adaptation, now in its 7th successful season and renewed for an 8th, there isn't any entertainment medium left that The Walking Dead hasn't touched.

Alongside the TV series, there's the spin-off series Fear The Walking Dead, also by AMC, three very well-received video games from Telltale Games, multiple webisodes and novelisations, it's own conventions (e.g. Walker Stalker Con in London), and not forgetting to mention the clothing, Funko POP! series, and other collectibles/random merchandise.  To put it simply, The Walking Dead is everywhere.

And to think, Image almost didn't even take the pitch (a black-and-white horror comic set in the zombie apocalypse was a hard sell in 2003).

For the few who remain completely unaware, The Walking Dead follows Rick Grimes, a pre-apocalypse deputy sheriff, and post-apocalypse reluctant leader of a community of survivors.  As the story progresses, we all soon learn the zombies, or 'walkers', are the least of the survivors' worries.

Not only did The Walking Dead bring horror comics into the mainstream, for me, it reignited my love and appreciation for the beauty of black and white comics.  The TV series has garnered a reputation for being a bit up and down, but please don't let this put you off if you do happen to watch it.  The comic book series is one of the most consistently great I've had the pleasure of reading, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

6. Outcast

Created by: Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta
Who should read it: Fans of the paranormal, slow-burner horrors and watchers of the Outcast TV series

imageOutcast tells the story of Kyle Barnes, an outsider in his community whose family has been plagued by demonic possession his entire life.  As an adult, he enlists the help of clergyman Reverend Anderson, as he goes in search of answers.

Kirkman and Azaceta's Outcast, which started in 2013, and is currently on issue #25, is a terrifying horror comic with very real scares.  It's my personal opinion that this is the best comic Kirkman has written and Azaceta's artistry is sublime.  On release, it was unsurprisingly instantly picked up and adapted into a TV series by Cinemax, which has been critically well received.

If you want to give Kirkman's writing a shot, and find the considerable number of issues / volumes for both Invincible and The Walking Dead intimidating, definitely put Outcast to the top of your reading pile.  Alternatively, just put it to the top of your list anyway!

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