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Image Comics: The 15 Best Titles (In The Last Five Years)

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Image Comics: The 15 Best Titles (In The Last Five Years)

To call Image Comics a creative powerhouse would be a bit of an understatement. For 25 years the visionary publisher has acted as a creative sandbox for the best and brightest the industry has to offer. Long-running staples of the industry, such as “The Walking Dead,” “Savage Dragon,” “Spawn” and “Witchblade” all emerged from the publisher and have since become household names.

RELATED: Indie Rundown: 15 Comics You Should Be Reading Right Now

Although Image may have established itself on such long-running titles, it continues its reputation as an innovative publisher by having a robust catalogue of comics from old and new talent alike. No matter what the year, you can be sure that some of the best new comics to come out will be from the creator-owned curator. With this in mind, CBR has scoured our comic book collections to bring you our favorite Image titles to come out in the last five years. All the selected series have been chosen and ranked based on their originality, popularity and quality.

15. ZERO

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Writer Ales Kot has a well-earned reputation for creating some of the weirdest comics on the rack. Kot’s comics aren’t so much stories as they are a bundle of raw, exposed ideas, brought to life and given just enough structure to make sense to the reader. His 2014 spy fiction comic “Zero” was certainly no exception. Although deceptively more linear than Kot’s other creator-owned offerings, “Zero” still carries the hallmark of the writer’s previous work.  It moves fast, doesn’t hold your hand and makes no apologies for, at times, being downright confusing. It also happens to be surprising, emotional and takes risks few other comics would dare to.

One such risk the series takes is its absence of a regular artist. Each issue of “Zero” features a different artist, relying on colorist Jordie Bellaire to provide the book with a visually cohesive style. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but “Zero” deserves a place on this list for two important reasons: its originality and for being a textbook example of the edgy storytelling that Image gives a home to.

14. VELVET

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Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting’s spy thriller, “Velvet,” is the perfect comic for people who don’t usually read comics. Both creators at the top of their games, Brubaker and Epting imbue “Velvet” with an undeniable quality. Even if you don’t usually like spy fiction, it’s almost impossible to not like “Velvet.”

The series follows the titular Velvet Templeton, a Miss Moneypenny-style character who works as a personal assistant for the director of the “Allied Reconnaissance Commission,” or A.R.C. When A.R.C’s best secret agent is killed, Velvet — who it turns out is a retired super-spy — is framed for the murder and goes on the run to clear her name. This fresh take on “James Bond” sets the stage for Burbaker and Epting to play around in the genre while exploring and deconstructing existing spy-fiction tropes. More importantly, the freedom afforded to them by Image allowed the pair to tell a straight-up spy story, something both creators dabbled with during their time on “Captain America.” Only this time, they didn’t have any superheroes getting in their way.

13. JUPITER’S LEGACY

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When it comes to big name creators, it doesn’t get much bigger, or more polarizing, then writer Mark Millar. Having spent many years re-inventing Marvel’s biggest characters, Millar now spends his time creating his own. With a few notable exceptions, almost all of Millar’s creator-owned books have found a home at Image, including “Jupiter’s Legacy.” As well as Millar, “Jupiter’s Legacy” also features another industry heavy-weight in the form of artist Frank Quitely. Together, this A-list pair have created a brutal, yet surprisingly emotional, superhero story.

Following Superheroes and their descendants through the generations, the comic acts as both an exploration and love-letter to the genre. The story starts with idealistic caped crusaders in the 1930s before jumping forward to the self-indulgent, celebrity-like heroes of the modern era. Although certainly not subtle in its depictions, “Jupiter’s Legacy” is both shocking and stunning. An industry sales beast, “Jupiter’s Legacy” already has a spin-off — “Jupiter’s Circle” — and a sequel.

12. THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE

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The follow-up to 2011’s “The Strange Talent of Luther Strode,” “The Legend of Luther Strode” was superior to its predecessor in every way. This was mainly due to the comic’s creators, Justin Jordan and Tradd Moore, having time to hone their skills and “level up” so-to speak; and man does it show. Surprisingly masterful for two creators so new to the industry, “The Legend of Luther Strode” was a fine-tuned gut-punch that hit shelves in late 2012.

Picking up a few years after the previous miniseries, “The Legend of Luther Strode” began Luther’s journey to redemption. After living in the shadows as a vigilante, Luther was forced to come out of hiding in order to stop the death-cult loyalist known as the Binder. Despite the immature humor and extreme-gore, the series had an undeniable optimism and sincerity to it. Effortlessly dancing between barbaric displays of ultra-violence and quiet, emotional moments, “The Legend of Luther Strode” was everything good action comics could and should be.

11. THE FADE OUT

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A flawless execution of an often misunderstood genre, “The Fade Out” was 12 issues of pure, unadulterated noir. Brought to us by the unstoppable creative team of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, the pair proved once again that they could do no wrong. Radiating with moody atmosphere and historical accuracy, “The Fade Out” first made its way onto comic racks back in 2014.

Set in the world of late 1940s Hollywood, the series followed Charlie Parish, a troubled screenwriter still haunted from his time in the war. After an up-and-coming starlet is suspiciously murdered, Charlie finds himself trying to solve the murder while falling deeper and deeper into his own self-destructive behaviors. Although certainly a dark read — if you were hoping for a happy ending you certainly won’t find one here — “The Fade Out” is masterfully written and beautifully drawn. Over the series’ 12 melancholy issues, Brubaker and Phillips continually remind us why they are two of the best in the comic book business.

10. SOUTHERN BASTARDS

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When “Southern Bastards” first hit shelves in 2014, it was universally praised for its unapologetic depiction of the modern south. Both simultaneously a love letter to and a condemnation of America’s south, “Southern Bastards” is a book that doesn’t pull its punches. This scathing yet intimate look at the region and its cultures seems warranted since both of the comic’s creators — Jason Aaron and Lason Latour — have personal history with the region.

Hooking readers in with the strong thrust of crime fiction, “Southern Bastards” follows the inhabitants of Craw County, a town under the rule of a crime-lord by the name of Coach Boss, who also happens to be a winning high school football coach. Although the strange ways of the town make sense to those who live there, things begin to unravel when the old Sheriff’s son — Earl Tubb — returns to town. Nothing is sacred as Aaron and Latour air their personal gripes with the south. Racism, religion, football and even fried apple pie all come under the cross hairs of “Southern Bastards.”

9. OUTCAST

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Image partner Robert Kirkman — he was invited to become a partner due to his success and passion for creator-owned comics — has a knack for creating comics that last the test of time. Testament to this are his creator-owned series like “Invincible” and “The Walking Dead,” both of which are well over 100 issues strong. Although it may not be as old or as long-running as the two previously mentioned comics, “Outcast” — co-created by Kirkman and artist Paul Azaceta — is well on its way to being just as successful.

Debuting on comic book racks back in 2014, “Outcast” took the horror sub-genre of demonic possession and turned it into a serialized comic. The series follows Kyle Barnes, a man plagued by his loved ones becoming possessed, as he searches for answers. Unlike “The Walking Dead,” which was a well established comic book series before it became a television show, Kirkman worked on the comic series and televisions series of “Outcast” simultaneously. With already one season of the show and 25 issues of the comic in the bag, it’s unlikely “Outcast” will be disappearing anytime soon.

8. DEADLY CLASS

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Rick Remender and Wesley Craig’s “Deadly Class” simply oozes with a weird mix of nostalgia and disdain for the ’80s. The perfect palate cleanser for those who didn’t click with Remender’s work on “Captain America,” “Deadly Class” is Remender at his gritty best. Throw in Craig’s tight line-work brought to life with heavy, bold inks and you have a book that is not to be missed.

Set in 1987, “Deadly Class” follows Marcus Lopez, a down on his luck teen who finds himself enrolled in the “King’s Dominion School for the Deadly Arts.” Like the name implies, King’s Dominion is a training facility for the world’s top assassins. Although still plagued by a generic array of teenage problems — think bullies, classwork and crushes — Marcus’ issues seem far more pressing in light of the life-or-death stakes of King’s Dominion. Given that “Deadly Class” is soon to be a television show,  there has never been a better time to dive into the series than right now.

7. PAPER GIRLS

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Who would have thought that a weird sci-fi series with a child cast and an ’80s setting would go onto be a huge hit. And no, we are not talking about “Stranger Things.” Before Eleven, Dustin, Lucas, Will and Mike peddled their way into our hearts, “Paper Girls” was intriguing and confusing comic book readers with a different group of bike-riding pre-teens.

Written by fan-favorite creator Brian K. Vaughan with breath-taking art by Cliff Chiang, “Paper Girls” made its way into comic stores in late 2015. Without much to go on, other than the substantial name value of its creative team, readers weren’t sure what to expect when they dived into the first issue. Over 10 issues later and we still aren’t sure what exactly is going on. We mean this in the best way possible. Although deliberately cryptic, “Paper Girls” is able to avoid drifting off into a sea of time-travel shenanigans and convoluted sci-fi cliches through its great character work. A character piece at heart, “Paper Girls” uses its ’80s setting as its hook, never letting it become a crutch.

6. LAZARUS

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In “Lazarus,” writer Greg Rucka and artist Michael Lark deliver high-concept sci-fi with an emotional core. Debuting in 2013, “Lazarus” is set in a dystopian future where the world is divided into financial boundaries, each controlled by an exceedingly rich family. In order to help them control their territory and prevent the population from rising-up, each family has a scientifically enhanced protector and super soldier at their disposal, known as a Lazarus.

Forever Carlyle — the Lazarus of the Carlyle family — is the series protagonist and the closest thing the comic has to a hero. No stranger to writing interesting and deep characters, Rucka brings all his skills to bear to make the genetically-enhanced Lazarus a compelling and very human character. Bringing the dystopian-world of Lazurus to life is the emotive and gritty art of co-creator Micheal Lark. Lark’s line work is the perfect companion to Rucka’s story, making “Lazarus” a distinctive and unique take on the idea of a broken-future.

5. SEX CRIMINALS

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Not just any publisher would be open to releasing a book called “Sex Criminals,” but Image isn’t just any publisher. Comics would never be the same after the first issue of “Sex Criminals” hit shelves in 2013. Luring readers in with a hilariously ludicrous name and premise — when Jon and Suzie have sex, time literally stops — the series was surprisingly not short on laughs and innuendo. What was surprising, however, was the book’s honest and sincere exploration of sex and sexuality.

Brought to life by writer Matt Fraction and artist Chip Zdarsky, “Sex Criminals” followed John and Suzie, two time-stopping bank robbers. Although marketing itself as a playful sex-comedy — which it certainly is — the series has delicately tackled heavy issues ranging from love and relationships all the way to mental illness and, for some reason, the creative process of its writer and artist.  There is really no other book remotely like “Sex Criminals,” and it is horrifying to think that without a publisher like Image, it probably wouldn’t exist.

4. WAYWARD

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First hitting comic racks in 2014, “Wayward” takes Japanese mythology and gives it the “Buffy” treatment. After moving to Japan to live with her mother, teenager Rori Lane finds herself caught in the middle of a conflict between humanity and the mythological monsters that once ruled Japan. After rounding up other teens with special abilities, Rori goes to war against the creatures and the “Old Japan” that they represent.

Sounds like a simple enough idea, right? Fortunately, “Wayward” creators Jim Zub and Steve Cummings manage to ground the story through realistic and well researched depictions of Japan and Japanese culture. Unlike some other stories about Japan by western creators, “Wayward” is highly authentic and manages to portray life in Tokyo in a delightfully mundane and realistic manner. This is no doubt due to writer Jim Zub’s exhaustive research and the fact that series artist Steven Cummings lives in Tokyo. “Wayward” isn’t just a fun and addictive read, it is cultural exchange in comic book form.

3. RAT QUEENS

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Pitched as “Bridesmaids” meets “Lord of the Rings,” Curtis J. Wiebe’s “Rat Queens” manages to meld the best parts of both to create a truly unique and irreverent series. First hitting shelves in 2013, “Rat Queens” has featured an array of artists including Roc Upchurch, Stjepan Sejic, Tess Fowler and more recently, Owen Gieni.

The series follows Betty, Dee, Violet, Hanna and — later on in the series — Braga, a band of butt-kicking mercenaries known as the Rat Queens. Filled with anachronisms, “Dungeons & Dragons” references, jabs at the fourth wall and plenty of salty language, “Rat Queens” is not your average fantasy romp. It’s not trying to be the next “Game of Thrones” or “Harry Potter;” instead, the book plays out like a great “Dungeons & Dragons” session, radiating with a sort of cocky self awareness. “Rat Queens” knows exactly what it is: a beer guzzling-ly, wizard cussing-ly, ogre stabbing-ly good time!

2. THE WICKED + THE DIVINE

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Amazing things happen when writer Keiron Gillen and artist Jamie McKelvie work together. “The Wicked + the Divine” is certainly no exception. No pun intended, but Gillen’s witty scripts and McKelvie’s tight line work are a match made in heaven. This tale of gods, mythology and music follows a group of individuals known as “The Pantheon,” each member of whom is a reincarnated god who craves adoration and praise from their human followers. The difference is, instead of showing up in churches or answering prayers, these gods take to the stage to play music to their adoring fans.

Released in 2014, “The Wicked + the Divine” seamlessly blends mythology and the modern obsession with celebrity. Drawing inspiration from pop-culture and prominent figures in pop-music, from the very first issue, “The Wicked + the Divine” didn’t just feel relevant, it felt vital; a timely and important exploration of our obsession with youth, fame and immortality.

1. SAGA

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You didn’t think “Saga” wasn’t going to make the list, did you? Well, let’s be honest, you really can’t talk about Image’s more recent offerings without mentioning “Saga” once, or possibly several times. Written by Brian K. Vaughan with art by Fiona Staples, “Saga” has been a hit ever since the first issue dropped back in March of 2012. Mixing romance, sci-fi and fantasy together, this space opera continues to impress old and new comic readers alike.

“Saga” follows Marko, Alana and their daughter, Hazel; a new family trying to find their place in a hostile galaxy. In “Game of Thrones” fashion, the story starts with these three central characters before widening its scope to introduce us to a fascinating cast of compelling individuals. Staples’ energetic and expressive art is the perfect companion to Vaughan’s honest and irreverent scripts. Planets dance across the page, character’s emote with nuance and weird creatures almost seem real. If you’re not already reading “Saga,” then you really should change that!

What’s your favorite Image book in the last five years? Let us know in the comments!

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image comics
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