SPOILER WARNING: This article contains several spoilers from “Image United” #3
“Image United.” While that statement aptly fits as the title of the six-issue crossover event miniseries written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Image Comics founders Erik Larsen, Whilce Portacio, Rob Liefeld, Jim Valentino, Todd McFarlane and Marc Silvestri, it also accurately represents the events found in the latest issue to hit comic stands.
In “Image United” #3, the villains of the Image universe banded together to attack the Youngblood Headquarters on Liberty Island. However, while originally scattered across the globe, all the Image heroes – including Savage Dragon, Witchblade, the new Spawn Jim Downing, Cyberforce and Shadowhawk – joined with the members of Youngblood and the recently debuted Fortress to beat back the attack.
With the most recent issue now in stores, CBR News continues its ongoing conversations with Kirkman and the various Image founders in an exclusive commentary track giving the behind the scenes look at the creation of the series. This time, we spoke with Kirkman and Erik Larsen about the latest issue, featuring the destruction of an American icon and the near devastation of the Image heroes.
CBR News: This issue begins with a Shaft talking to Fortress and we immediately get this double page spread that basically says, “Here are the stakes. If we fail, it’s literally hell on Earth.”
Erik Larsen: That’s right. [Laughs] You said it exactly right. ‘Nuff said.
Robert Kirkman: [Laughs] I mean, it was cool to get back to Fortress here and have him talking about those visions that he’s had and to remind people what’s at stake here. When you do these big crossovers, you want to have big consequences, and I think hell on Earth is a fitting consequence for all these heroes failing. And this is some kickass work by Mr. Todd McFarlane on these pages along with Larsen’s amazing layouts and that Fortress head by Whilce on there. Another thing about this two-page spread is that it’s kind of a testament to what “Image United” is all about – with all of the different artists collaborating on the page. Whilce’s face blends in perfectly with the layouts that Larsen did and the Omega Spawn drawing by Todd – and all of those people in the crowd that no one was willing to draw except for Larsen, so you got all these Larsen people running around.
Larsen: I always get stuck with all the shit work. [Laughs]
Kirkman: There’s a building in this panel. Who drew the building? Larsen. [Laughs] It all comes together. I get this book and I look at it and I’m like, “That’s a kick ass two-page spread.” It just looks really cool and yet it was done by three different artists. It’s pretty cool.
Erik, looking at this spread, you drew all the little people, but then Todd gets the Omega Spawn. Were you kind of like, “I wish I got that. I drew all the little people, dang it.”
Larsen: [Laughs] Yeah. It’s not all as glamorous as it seems. Somebody has got to draw the other stuff. It’s pretty much impossible to write a story that would just be six guys doing their six guys all the time and nothing else. So there ends up being other stuff that needs to get done and any one of us can get to do that stuff.
In the pages that follow, it really feels like this is the Image Universe uniting. We have all these villains attacking Youngblood HQ and everyone starts showing up: Dragon, Witchblade, Cyberforce. This is that moment that everyone was kind of waiting for – what was it like putting together these pages with all these various characters on it?
Kirkman: I need to add that they’re attacking Youngblood Headquarters and destroying it because no one wanted to draw it. [Laughs] This issue was a little easier to plot because thus far, I would have flowcharts and lists of people’s names and characters and try to go, “Okay, this character can do this” or “Oh wait, that character has appeared in 13 panels this issue, so I should try to figure out a way to make this a little more even.” It’s harder to write a story that makes sense while also juggling to make sure everyone is getting equal page time. Just because the way schedules are, I don’t want to lean too heavy on someone if I can help it. This issue was a little easier because everyone was almost on every page. So, it’s like, “Screw everyone. You all have to draw!”
Larsen: And that’s why it’s so damn late. There we go. [Laughs]
Kirkman: Ohhh. You asshole. [Laughs]
Larsen: It’s not all your fault. [Laughs] Compositionally it gets to be somewhat of a nightmare because it’s not necessarily drawn in the dimensions that it ought to be. In other words, the first guy isn’t necessarily drawing the guy who is in front. Sometimes, it’s like, “I’m going to draw this guy in the back.” Then it gets to the next guy and the next guy and the next guy, and eventually somebody is going, “You drew somebody in the back anticipating there is going to be something in front of your guy. But there isn’t something in front of your guy.” Now somebody has to go in and patch in the little pieces that are missed here and there. It can be a lot more labor intensive than it looks.
There are two double-page spreads here, both showcasing all the characters finally together and fighting in front of the Statue of Liberty. It looks like everyone had their hands in drawing these pages. That said, was this an instance where you knew these two spreads would be in this issue so you could start drawing them first, to get the ball rolling so you could concentrate on the other parts of the book while these pages were being passed around?
Larsen: You would think that we would plan ahead in that way, but no. [Laughs]
I generally do the pages in order because what can happen when you do things out of order is that you can end up laying things out in a similar way because you’re not doing pages next to one another. So, you can end up having this one page and if you flip the page, there is a three-quarters head in the same position as a three-quarters on the previous page. So it looks like a weird flip it cartoon. So, you kind of have to do it – at least for me – I have to do it in order just so I don’t end up having those weird similarities between one scene and the next. So, no. We didn’t start that one way ahead of time and get everybody going on it as we should have. [Laughs] Sorry.
Kirkman: [Laughs] When I’m writing, I figure that with the artistic team that I’m working with on this book, people are going to be expecting awesome two-page spreads. So I try to work them in. Having this fight at Youngblood Headquarters and throwing a hundred bad guys at a hundred good guys, it’s one of those essential elements to a big crossover that you kind of expect. But “Image United” has the unique element of everyone drawing their own characters, [creating] this hodgepodge of all these different art styles being put together. It’s really just amazing to see it all come together. It could have been a nightmare and it could have been a disaster and it could look really disjointed, but I’m always amazed when these pages come in and, if you don’t sit and pick out the nuances of everyone individual styles, it just looks like a cool comic book page. It just really comes together in a really strong way. I think it’s a testament to how much work these guys are putting into these pages and how serious they’re taking this and how they’re really pulling their sleeves up and figuring out ways to make it work. And also that Larsen is doing his layouts and helping out again.
Larsen: It is a lot more seamless than I was expecting it to be, in all honesty. I was thinking that you would be sitting there going, “Whoah. Look at that Todd McFarlane guy standing next to a Whilce Portacio guy. Those guys don’t look like they belong in the same world.” It hasn’t been that. It’s a lot smoother than I was expecting it to be.
Kirkman: Yeah. We had discussions early on about, “You know, these pages are going to look really weird.” But then it’s like, “Oh, that’ll be part of the charm. It’ll be the story where nothing looks like it fits, but it’s really neat.” We were totally prepared for it to look like a Frankenstein’s monster of a comic, but it’s really come together in a way that I don’t think any of us could have expected it to.
There’s a line here, where the new Spawn is fighting Chapel and the new Spawn says, “Who are you?” Robert, as the “newcomer” to the group, is that a little bit of you in there, feeling like there are all these characters and you’re not always quite sure about how to handle all of them?
Kirkman: That’s actually a little bit of continuity, because Spawn and Chapel have a very involved history with each other. Originally [when Image launched], all the Image guys were like, “Aw yeah. We’re going to make all our guys interact.” So, Al Simmons was an assassin who was murdered and came back and sold his soul, and eventually it was decided that Chapel was the guy that killed him. But for legal reasons, Todd McFarlane couldn’t do a Spawn movie that featured Chapel, who was Rob Liefeld’s character. Liefeld wanted to do a Youngblood cartoon that had Chapel in it. Eventually another thing was invented where it was actually this guy named Priest that killed Spawn. It was a kind of cool thing that everyone knows about.
And this Spawn isn’t the same Spawn, because it’s not Al Simmons, it’s Jim Downing. I thought it would be kind of cool to see these two characters that have this almost convoluted, intertwined history and play on that a little bit. I try to pepper in some continuity here and there in as many panels as I can as we’re doing our big climatic fight.
Larsen: Somebody grew up reading Image Comics. [Laughs]
Kirkman: I’m a bit of a fan. Guilty as charged. [Laughs]
There’s a point here where the Statue of Liberty comes crashing down. This is a pretty iconic scene in disaster films. The Statue always comes down it seems.
Kirkman: When it gets down to it, [the Statue] is kind of ugly. [Laughs] It’s a big, green thing, and is that a crown? What is she wearing? No one dresses like that anymore. It’s kind of an eyesore. I think writers just want to get rid of that damn thing, right?
Larsen: Yeah. That’s it. [Laughs] And what does that mean anyway? Liberty. Pssh.
Kirkman: I don’t think Erik drew the Statue of Liberty.
Larsen: I think it was Rob.
Kirkman: Originally, we had talked about sticking Jim [Valentino] with the Statue of Liberty.
Larsen: [Laughs] You’ve got one guy. Draw the Statue, damn it. Maybe he penciled it. I don’t know. It’s a mystery.
Kirkman: We don’t know. That’s how this book comes together.
Near the end, the Image characters get beaten down, but Dragon actually gets impaled. Is it coincidence that Dragon gets impaled in the issue that Erik drew or were you getting some joy out of Erik drawing his own character getting stabbed?
Kirkman: That’s actually a fun thing. I’ll give you some inside information about that. Everyone was supposed to get screwed up, but Larsen was the only guy who was like, “I’ll let my guy get screwed up. That’s fine.” Everyone else was like, “I want my guy to look cool at all times. So, he’s not going to get quite as beat up as Dragon.”
Larsen: [Laughs] My guy gets better. That’s part of his gig. He can heal up from some stuff. He can take more punishment than some of the other guys can. You mess up one of Marc’s broads and they’re not so pretty anymore.
Kirkman: Ohhh! [Laughs]
Just when you think things can’t get worse, they do. There’s this double-pager where a huge explosion takes place, but with the lightening and shadows, you were able to have everyone in silhouette. I guess that helped in the case of not having to worry about another spread that needed to be passed around to everyone?
Kirkman: [Laughs] Good answer. Tell me more.
Larsen: It was like, “How can we minimize this nightmare? What can we do?” [Laughs]
Kirkman: Those silhouettes were all drawn by the individual artists.
Larsen: Yes. It still has to run the gauntlet. Can’t have me putting the wrong number of spikes on Spawn. [Laughs]
Kirkman: Anyway, silhouettes all aside, I have to say that this double-page spread is goddamn amazing and it’s all [colorist] Nikos Koutsis. All that lightning and all that texturing and all that glowing – it really sells the moment and I have to hand it to him because he really did an amazing job on this spread.
The issue ends with Omega Spawn showing up, which is pretty much one heck of a cliffhanger ending. Was it just the obvious choice for you to close this issue on?
Kirkman: Well, Omega Spawn looks pretty damn cool, and anytime you can end on a Todd McFarlane splash page, I’d go for it. Also, I thought it would be a cool moment to have all the Image guys fighting all of the Image bad guys and it reaching a climactic moment and then having him coming in and knocking everyone out and basically saying, “If you thought this fight was something, wait till you see what’s next.” I want to set up Omega Spawn to be this huge, amazing powerhouse and I think we will be seeing that as the series progresses.
Larsen: Yes. Yes, we will. Very much so. He’s a badass. [Laughs]