PIPELINE CELEBRATES IMAGE: DAY THREE
Welcome to the third of five Pipeline Daily columns this week dedicated to Image Comics. It’s a real hodge podge of columns, all centered on the company that is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.
Monday’s column featured an interview with new Image Director of Marketing, Eric Stephenson. Yesterday’s column delved into one of the very many stories from the earliest days of Image Comics, the Hunstman.
Today is the first of a two-part look back at the early days of Image. For the next two columns, I’ll be looking at the first three or four years’ worth of Image Comics solicitations from PREVIEWS and putting together whatever links and thoughts show themselves along the way. You’ll see ads for books you hadn’t thought of in years. You’ll see comics best left forgotten, series given the short shrift, controversies that once raged white hot but are now a distant memory, creators making odd choices, and more. Blink and you’ll miss something. Sit back and enjoy, whether it’s as an historical lesson or a nostalgia trip.
IMAGE: THE EARLY YEARS (PART ONE)
Numbering systems have always been a bit tricky for comics. Where do issues with numbers like 0, -1, and 1/2 fit into any serious collector’s database?
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Leave it to Image to really screw with your mind. Let’s not forget that THE SAVAGE DRAGON had two issues with the same number — #13. That issue was originally part of Image X month in October 1994, where the six Founding Fathers switched titles for a month. Jim Lee drew DRAGON and Erik Larsen drew WILDC.A.T.s that month. Larsen didn’t like the fact that his run on DRAGON would be interrupted with a “fill-in” issue, so he went back and did a “Larsen Edition” of SAVAGE DRAGON #13 in May 1995. The main story ended up a little light, as Larsen worked to throw in some plot bits and pieces that would naturally fit into that one month gap of the overall Dragon storyline.
May 1994 saw “Images of Tomorrow,” wherein select WildStorm and Extreme books jumped ahead to their 25th issue. This included (but was not limited to) BRIGADE, SUPREME, and STORMWATCH. It wasn’t a bad idea. It’s an interesting storytelling device to tell a story in the future and then let the fun be in how the characters wind up getting there. The problem from a retailer’s and reader’s perspective is that the issues were set 14 issues ahead of time. A year later, does the studio go back and reprint the 25th issue? Does the studio assume that the title hasn’t gained any new readers, and so everyone will be up to date with the storyline at that point? Won’t you be letting down fans you may have gathered over the course of the past year if you skip an issue and a part of the on-going storyline?
Let us not forget the troubled growing pains of SPAWN. Todd McFarlane’s issues actually appeared on the stands completely out of order at a time when Grant Morrison and Greg Capullo were filling in with a three-issue story arc. McFarlane took a full page to explain everything in the pages of SPAWN, with a headline of “Todd Can’t Count.”
The story originally scheduled for SPAWN #19 would have introduced the character of The Freak. That story ended up in SPAWN #37, which was solicited with an Alan Moore script for the issue. (By that point, I had given up on SPAWN, so someone else will have to verify that Moore did write the issue.)
SPAWN #19 and #20 were referred to as “the lost issues” in a PREVIEWS ad for October 1994. Tom Orzechowski wrote the issue with Andy Grossberg. Capullo drew them.
Finally, there was Extreme 3000. It started in July 1995 in the pages of TEAM YOUNGBLOOD, where we’re introduced to Badrock 3000. There seemed to be some conflict between the solicitation copy and ad copy, though. The ad copy declared Badrock to be 3000 years old, while the solicitation says (more rightly, perhaps), that he’s 1000 years old and the series is set in the year 3000. This would have led to a new line of comics, but never did.
Interestingly, all the creators (save Todd McFarlane) started their titles at Image with mini-series. Their stated reason for this at the time was that they didn’t know what the sales would be like. If they stunk, they could cut their losses and send their resumes in to DC or something. In retrospect, with titles topping one million to start, it seems pretty silly. After all, these were some of the highest profile creators in comics with loyal fanbases striking out on their own to do their own superhero books. How could it fail? At the time, though, the black and white independent market was soft. The Black and White book and bust of the late 1980s soiled its name. Independent books didn’t sell, whether they had big names attached to them or not. Given that, it’s not unbelievable that the Image Founding Fathers had individual exit plans.
Alan Moore did some work for Image at the time, which he later characterized as an attempt to shoehorn his writing style in with the mood of the day. (For the purposes of this paragraph, I’m not talking about the 1963 books here.) It started in December of 1992 with SPAWN #8, which was part of a series of issues written by Moore, Neil Gaiman (later legendary in lawsuits), Dave Sim, and Frank Miller. In May 1995, he started VIOLATOR/BADROCK, a four issue mini-series with art by Brian Denham. The less said, the better. Another overlooked mini that Moore did earlier in the Spawn universe was THE VIOLATOR, a three-issue mini with art by Bart Sears in mid-1994. It’s quite a funny little romp, including the memorable image of The Clown punching a guy’s head off and getting the head stuck around his wrist. I still can recall the scene from the first issue in which the villain, The Admonisher, scolds the reader that he’s here to give us a really good telling off. Moore brought vampires to life for McFarlane in SPAWN: BLOOD FEUD (June 1995), with art by Tony Daniel, touted at the time as being hot off of X-FORCE. He also scripted THE MAXX #21, and a four-part WILDC.A.T.S/SPAWN mini-series. There’s also a long completed but unpublished WARCHILD mini-series drawn by Rob Liefeld sitting in a drawer somewhere.
Needless to say, none of these will ever compare favorably to FROM HELL. Or PROMETHEA. Or CAPTAIN BRITAIN, for that matter.
Forgotten and unfinished: Kurt Busiek did a series for Jim Valentino called THE REGULATORS. Starring a team of villains, each issue focused on the internal thoughts of a member, questioning what it is they do and why they do it. It’s an early examination of villain mentality that Busiek would later use to great effect in THUNDERBOLTS for Marvel. Sadly, this series’ low sales meant cancellation after only three issues. Ron Randall and Dan Davis provided the art. If you see it floating around the quarter bins at a con someday, give it a chance. The stories still hold up.
At the same time, Kurt Busiek was doing work for WildStorm with SPARTAN: WARRIOR SPIRIT. As I recall, the four-issue mini-series wasn’t all that exciting, but it did feature art by a team that would later become one of my favorites for their term on VEXT, Mike McKone and Mark McKenna.
The same month REGULATORS started, Busiek began his run on THE NEW SHADOWHAWK with artist James Fry. This was, of course, to be followed by a prestige format one shot about SHADOWHAWK, which featured the first book with work in it by both Busiek and Moore.
(Busiek also did a VELOCITY mini-series for Top Cow, and the Image crossover, SHATTERED IMAGE.)
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In December of 1994, Rob Liefeld solicited the now legendary YOUNGBLOOD: YEAR ONE, with script credit to Kurt Busiek. Rob Liefeld was due to pencil this himself. Then he decided to paint it. Then it never showed up.
Now it’s back on again, more than seven years later. Then again, this seems to be a popular time for revivals in comic books. G.I. JOE (at Image) and TRANSFORMERS rate highly in the monthly sales chart from Diamond for pre-orders. The Image 10th Anniversary Hardcover (which isn’t on the list for next week, either) features the return of CyberForce and ShadowHawk. WildCats never truly went away, but gets restarted every couple of years now, although it’s no longer at Image.
If it weren’t for SPAWN and THE SAVAGE DRAGON, there wouldn’t be any books left from Image’s initial launch. If it weren’t for Erik Larsen, there wouldn’t be any books left from the initial launch with its creative team intact. (OK, so Digital Chameleon didn’t last long as colorists on DRAGON. They were just around for just one slightly neon-colored issue.)
I’m not here to crown Erik Larsen as a god of comics, either. After all, he did publish a three-issue mini-series for DART, the sole highlight of which was Colleen Doran’s painted poster in the first issue.
He more than redeemed himself, though, with the other DRAGON spin-offs. FREAK FORCE remains a favorite series of all time to me to this day, as well as being the source of the most original art I own from any one series. Keith Giffen plotted it and Vic Bridges drew it. The STAR mini-series featured the art of Ben Herrera, who is sadly off the comics radar these days. Most notably, two SUPERPATRIOT mini-series were published with art from Dave Johnson, currently doing cover work for 100 BULLETS. Hopefully, his popularity on those covers will spurn enough interest someday in a trade collected the two series.
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One of the more underrated efforts from those days of “Highbrow Entertainment” (Larsen’s brief pseudonym for his comic book collective) was VANGUARD. Slumping sales and the editorial nightmare of rotating creative teams killed the series after only six issues. Here’s a lineup of artists from those first six issues: Tomm Coker, Joe Madureira, Jason Pearson, Rick Leonardi, Angel Medina, and Andy Smith. Artists who were scheduled to do issues after that include Kelley Jones, Frank Fosco (who went on to do Larsen’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES series), Kirk Jarvinen, Jeff Johnson, and Mike Wieringo. The latter three had art printed in the letters column of the final issue. Wieringo and Coker would later appear in separate issues of another series with rotating creative teams: GEN13 BOOTLEG. Original art from Joe Mad’s issue still surface on eBay occasionally. They’re amongst the most affordable of his work, and look pretty good, to boot.
VANGUARD later came back for a four-issue mini-series called STRANGE VISITORS, drawn by CrossGen artist, Scot Eaton.
And how could I forget THE DEADLY DUO, the lovable duo of superheroes run amok, one caught in a past he doesn’t understand and the other caught up in his own delusions of manly grandeur? THE DEADLY DUO #2 (drawn by current CrossGen staffer Andy Smith) was originally scheduled to guest star Pitt, but was redrawn to feature Maul from WildC.A.T.s. Why? Dale Keown’s wildly popular character had made more guest appearances at that point than he had issues of his own series. One can surmise that Keown decided to cut off Pitt’s future outside appearances until he got his own series straightened out. (Eight years later and the world still waits, though PITT is self-published now by Full Bleed every once in a while.) Larsen printed the letter he got from Keown’s legal counsel in the letters column of the third issue.
Lesson learned: It’s a good thing Image had interchangeable large monster men. Of course, if Maul were too busy, then you could have substituted Badrock (from Youngblood) or Impact (from CyberForce).
ONE LAST UNFINISHED PROJECT
Topps released a trading card set in 1995 in celebration of the Founding Fathers of Image. Each had their own subset to highlight their characters and creations. Included in Jim Valentino’s set was a card showing “Ace: The Kid From Outer Space.” The text on the back read, “Take a hooky-playing boy from the planet Razzmatazz who can turn invisible and fly and put him on Earth. The boy meets a young, lonely girl named Ashley, who has just moved into a new town and is tormented by Brick, the school bully. What do you have? Trouble with a capital “T”! Ace is a mischievous prankster whose antics get poor Ashely (the only earthling who can see him) into hot water. Ace, The Kid From Outer Space is a new series (coming in 1995) created by Jim Valentino as part of the Lighter Image line of comics for kids of all ages. This card is his first appearance.”
Neither that comic, nor that “Lighter Image” line ever showed up. Given the demographics of comics readership these days, it’s not too hard to imagine why.
Tomorrow, I go through more of this, including the humor titles that Image did and didn’t put out. Anthologies. Full page ads. Gimmicks. Crossovers. Oh, my, this might stretch out to three days yet.
More than 350 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns or so are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.