Image Comics is confusing. Most of us still associate Image Comics with early-90s Liefeld-ian cheese, but a lot has changed at Image since their “glory” days.
Over the past decade they’ve transformed themselves into a far more interesting company that publishes a strange mix of comics from new indie creators, legendary indie creators who’ve been around forever, major names from DC/Marvel who are doing their own thing on the side, and yes, even Rob Liefeld, Marc Silvestri and other 90s Image stalwarts with nothing better to do.
Each month Image’s release list runs the gamut from embarrassing 90s-style exploitation, to hard edged crime stories, to bloody horror, to earnest indie drama — in other words, it’s a complete mess. In can be hard to pick the gems out of such a wildly varied catalogue, and in the end most people don’t even bother trying, which is a shame because Image is actually publishing some very good stuff. Here are some series being published by Image right now that deserve your attention…
Note – As you may have gathered from the title of this article, The Walking Dead isn’t on this list. Why? Because it’s the one Image comic everyone actually reads. Plus it’s better in trade anyways.
The Bulletproof Coffin – Truly strange, but kinda great, The Bulletproof Coffin is the kind of stuff Grant Morrison used to write before he confused “just leaving half the plot out” with innovative storytelling.
So, let’s see if I can explain this series…a guy named Steve Newman is sent to clean up a dead man’s house and finds a treasure trove of old comics from obscure publisher Golden Nugget Publications. As Newman reads one of these comics, we’re treated to a 50s or 60s style comic-within-a-comic starring characters such as Coffin Fly, The Red Wraith and The Unforgiving Eye. Newman eventually realizes these comics somehow tie into the murder of the guy who owned them. Also, these comics Newman reads are, in story, created by David Hine and Shaky Kane, who also happen to be the creators of The Bulletproof Coffin.
So yeah, it’s mind bendy stuff, but not in a frustrating “god-dammit, just tell me what’s happening!” kind of way. A new Bulletproof Coffin mini-series is starting this month and the first mini is available in trade.
Elephantmen – This book is essentially about were-elephants and hippos tryin’ to make their way in the world in a futuristic Los Angeles. Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, writer Richard Starkings plays his goofy concept completely straight, which gives the book a very unique feel. Sure, there’s funny stuff, but there are also a lot of moments between these talking hippos and rhinos played for deadly serious drama.
Also, the series’ art has been consistently beautiful, with guys like Moritat, Chris Bachalo and Chris Burnham having worked on the book.
Mudman – Owen Craig is a normal teenage kid who happens to have incredible mud powers! That’s really all there is to this series — no wacky high concept here really, but these days not having a wacky high concept is almost a high concept itself.
This is just basic, well done superhero storytelling by Paul Grist, the super talented guy behind Jack Staff. There have only been two issues so far, so getting on board shouldn’t be an issue for most folks.
Fatale – So, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ various crime series have been some of the best comics around for years now. Well, now the two have taken their noir thing over to Image and added monsters to the mix! Hey, works for me.
Chew – Tony Chu is a detective who gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. What this means in practice is the guy has to eat a lot of disgusting s–t to solve most his cases, including a lot more human flesh than he probably anticipated consuming when he joined the force. This is the kind of high concept that could go horribly, horribly wrong in the hands of a writer not firing on all cylinders, but thankfully Chew writer John Layman has been consistently on his game throughout the series.
Chew does a great job of balancing it’s quirky and gruesome sides, rarely becoming too cutesy or sickening. It’s also pretty damn funny — I’ve laughed out loud at many an issue, which is something comic books almost never do for me. Basically Chew feels like a great HBO/Showtime/AMC series that somehow took a wrong turn and ended up in comic book form. Unsurprisingly it’s going to be made into Showtime TV series, so get on board now so you can say you were reading Chew before it blew up.
Savage Dragon – Erik Larson has quietly built up one of the most impressive streaks in comics history, writing, pencilling and inking every single issue of Savage Dragon since 1992. That’s 180 straight issues by a single guy.
Don’t get me wrong, not every issue is great, but there have been more than a few handfuls of great ones along the way, and while some issues may be rough, Larson makes up for that with pure ambition. Larson hasn’t just created a single memorable character, but an entire universe filled with hundreds, if not thousands, of unique characters, and there’s no corporate interests or team of editors controlling what Larson does with them. If he wants to kill off major characters left and right (and then never revive them), he can. If he wants to suddenly change the tone and genre of the book, he can. Savage Dragon has been a gritty 90s comic, an Avengers-style team comic, a Jack Kirby tribute cosmic comic and a comedic family life comic depending on Larson’s mood.
Basically, if you’re tired of DC and Marvel comics that aren’t allowed to change the status quo — that aren’t allowed to have any real stakes, then maybe this is the series for you.
How about you folks? Image doing anything right now that you’re particularly liking? Let us know in the comments!