Demythify: Image Comics Welcomes Marvel & DC Writers, Blade Runner Meets Toy Story & Image United

Thanks for popping by and checking out my weekly Monday Demythify column.

I was around in 1992 when celebrated Marvel artists Jim Lee (of X-Men), Rob Liefeld (of X-Force), Todd McFarlane (of Spider-Man), Erik Larsen (of Spider-Man), Marc Silvestri (of Wolverine and X-Men), Jim Valentino (of Guardians of the Galaxy) and Whilce Portacio (of X-Men) left that publisher to start their own independent publishing under the “Image Comics” banner.

Image United was planned as a six-issue mini-series with most of the Image Comics founders- minus current DC Comics Co-Publisher Jim Lee who sold WildCATS and his whole Wildstorm company to DC Comics – on art and bringing their signature Image Comics creations to the project. Each creator would pencil their characters in the series: Rob Liefeld on Youngblood, Todd McFarlane on Spawn, Erik Larsen on the Savage Dragon, Marc Silvestri on Witchblade, Darkness & Cyberforce, Jim Valentino on Shadowhawk and Whilce Portacio on a new character called Fortress who was to debut in his own series after Image United wrapped its 6 issues up. Whilce was deprived from using his Wetworks stable since it was part of the Wildstorm properties sold to DC Comics. Lastly, the writer of the mini-series was Robert Kirkman, the company’s newest partner, who was bringing his creation Invincible to the party. The first issue of Image United shipped in mid-2009 with its first three issues hitting shelves by August 2010. No other issue has shipped nor has Whilce Portacio’s Fortress solo book, that I remain eager to read, hit shelves yet. This is likely due to the Fortress story springing from the end of the Image United mini-series.

No word has come out of San Diego Comic Con (SDCC) 2012 on Image United #4 nor the “Image United Interlude” bonus issue or from the blog Image Comics set up for the mini-series. Three books in four years? 🙁

However, while I eagerly await the end of Image United and the beginning of Portacio’s Fortress series, at SDCC 2012 we learned about Portacio’s next project. He joins writer Glen Brunswick of Jersey Gods infamy to bring readers “Non-Humans”, a October 2012 comic book series that is described as “Blade Runner meets Toy Story”.

Here’s how writer Glen Brunswick explains the premise in more detail:

    The inciting incident or event happens three years from now in 2015 — A NASA probe brings back a strange disease that infects the entire globe causing a huge number of familiar toy and toy-like objects to come to life. The action takes place in 2041 — after the Non-Humans have been living among us for twenty-six years.

    One of the basic questions that “Blade Runner” asks is, “Are androids actual beings or merely constructs?” It leaves the viewer with plenty of misgivings about whether or not society has the right to eliminate them — perhaps, in fact, they are too human to kill. Non-Humans are created much in the way that a human mother gives birth to her child. That is to say that they come from us — the stuff or DNA of our brains. Somehow our personal traits are combined with a spark of life that allows our toys to become sentient. In effect, these live toys are even more human than androids since they actually are a reproductive product of us. Which begs the question, “Does society have the right to eliminate a new partly human life form if it may pose a threat to society?” A good number of Non-Humans are full of anger and violence — they are deemed a threat. Under these circumstances, the police are ordered to hunt them down and destroy them. On the other hand, some Non-Humans function quite well in society — once they are registered they are allowed the limited rights of an oppressed minority.”

Check out the preview pages below.

SDCC 2012 by all measures was a slow news event from the big two publishers: DC Comics and Marvel. Yes, there were some tidbits of news and, beyond the mega news that Neil Gaiman was returning to Sandman, the rest was inconsequential new comic book announcements from them, and overall no real advancement of DC’s New 52 or the Marvel Now initiative. That said, it seems DC’s and Marvel’s efforts at SDCC were to hype their movie franchises: Man of Steel plus Captain America / Iron Man / Thor and more.

Conversely, Saturday turned out to be a big Image Comics days with several new series announced including Non-Humans, writer James Robinson and artist J. Bone’s 5-issue mini-series called “The Saviours“, writer Matt Fraction and artist Howard Chaykin’s “Satellite Sam” and other books.

The Saviours is described by James Robinson (Earth 2) about “this young stoner … uncovers an alien invasion and has to find people who believe him… (complicating things is that) the aliens themselves have many guises.”

Satellite Sam in turn is described by writer Matt Fraction (Iron Man) as a “story of a children’s TV host who is found dead in a somewhat compromising position,” Fraction. “One of the things that’s found is a box of photographs of every woman Satellite Sam has ‘spent time with,’ and out of that box are clues to who he was and ultimately who killed him.” The book’s artist Howard Chaykin (Black Kiss) added that the “idea of conflating the Hopalong Cassidy stuff … with the hardboiled crime stuff really appealed to me.”

With more and more of my monthly reading coming from the “independent” publishers – essentially any company that is not DC or Marvel – like Valiant, IDW, Dynamite and Image Comics, it looks like the whole industry is doing well. There has been a 20% increase in comic book sales in Spring 2012 over Spring 2011 according to Diamond which isn’t only due to DC Comics mega-successful New 52 initiative it’s also due to the diversity among the independents.

The successful formula for Image Comics may not be the traditional super-hero comics genre that DC Comics and Marvel have a stranglehold on, but the quirky different concepts like those announced at SDCC this year. There will always be a place for the Youngbloods, Savage Dragons, Spawns and others at Image, but the company’s growth may well come in its next wave of comics: big-time comics writers and artists from the Big Two that want to try their hand at genre comics that aren’t about capes and spandex.

On its 20th anniversary, it would appear that Image Comics is moving beyond its artist-first origins to something more balanced with seasoned writers and seasoned artists coming together under the Image umbrella. 2012 and 2013 much just be a renaissance for the comics industry. Due not only to DC’s New 52, Marvel Now, Valiant’s return or Image’s next wave, but also due to digital distribution methods that have not cannibalized the market, but actually have grown it, and due to the success of super-hero or comic book based movies which appear to be guaranteed box office draws.

Still read your DC’s and Marvel’s, but also check out Image’s next wave and other independent offerings. There is something for everyone out there.

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