PIPELINE CELEBRATES IMAGE: DAY TWO
Welcome to the second of five Pipeline Daily columns this week dedicated to Image Comics. It’ll be a real hodge podge of columns, all centered on Image Comics, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.
Yesterday’s column featured an interview with new Image Director of Marketing, Eric Stephenson. He talked about the role of the Internet in marketing comics, as well as day-to-day operations at Image Central and his own comics writing future.
Today’s column delves into one of the very many stories from the earliest days of Image Comics. First, a little background is in order.
A couple of years ago, I was approached to write a column about Image Comics for a comics magazine. And like most such print endeavors, the magazine folded before it started and the material I had written stayed hidden on my hard drive. (At last count, I’ve been linked to two failed web sites doing DVD reviews and two failed print magazines about comics. It just doesn’t pay to have me write outside of CBR, I suppose.)
Image Week at Pipeline daily, of course, gives me the ability to raise those articles from the dead to run here. This is the one I was most proud of, particularly since I don’t think it’s anything most people have thought of between 1992 and the time I wrote it. (Heck, I doubt anyone’s thought of it since then, either.)
Please excuse a couple of the more dated references and enjoy the column as it would have appeared in print during the summer of 2000.
Chris Claremont has been back in the comics press in recent days in a big way. His return to both UNCANNY X-MEN as well as the adjectiveless X-MEN is one of the most talked about stories of the year so far. While it’s too early to judge the results from the reunion of the spiritual mutant father to his creations, there can be no doubt that Claremont is keeping a high profile.
Image Comics was formed shortly after Claremont left the X-Men titles after a period of greater than 15 years. While “creative differences” is often the term bandied about to explain it, theories have often run rampant. Some go so far as to blame Claremont’s latter day X-Men partners, Image founders Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio, for the growing rift between Claremont and Marvel editorial. After all, Lee was gaining more credit for stories and plots, and it seemed as if the day of the writer/artist was just blossoming. In such an atmosphere, is it so hard to imagine a confrontation between writer and artist?
One thing blocks that theory, and it’s something largely forgotten. Chris Claremont was practically an original Image member. When word broke about Image Comics, the media buzz was enormous. (And this was before the day of the Internet comics press.) THE COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE, a weekly newspaper for the comics industry, had weekly headlines on the goings-on surrounding Image. The March 27, 1992 edition of the paper reported on a meeting Jim Valentino had with retailers at the Capital City Distributors warehouse in California. Amongst other things, Valentino laid out an early version of the publication plan for Image Comics in its first year. Most of it comes as no surprise. A brief rundown shows such titles as YOUNGBLOOD, SPAWN, THE SAVAGE DRAGON, and WILDCATS. (Apparently, Lee and writer Brandon Choi hadn’t yet adopted the abbreviation in the latter half of the title’s name.)
But further down the list, the month of November 1992 shows a surprising project that never fully materialized. It was the first issue of a book called THE HUNTSMAN, a proposed mini-series written by Claremont and drawn by Whilce Portacio. Valentino didn’t know much about the series at the time, either, as the article mentions that he could only say, “nothing is known” about the series at the time of the retailers meeting.
Of course, this wasn’t the only change of heart Image had early on. One example: The number of team titles being produced by the founders caused Jim Valentino to scrap early plans to start with a team book called THE PACT and instead go with a solo adventurer named SHADOWHAWK.
It wasn’t long before Portacio had a similar change of heart and was gearing up to draw WETWORKS, which was even previewed in an early issue of WildC.A.T.s. Of course, that series was delayed by a couple of years due to some family health issues that forced Portacio back home to the Philippines.
Claremont, this column has learned from some sources present at Image in the early days, balked at the start-up fees concerned with publishing his own series. As part of Image’s set-up, creators whose books are published through Image Central are responsible for footing their own up-front costs as far as paying talent, the printers, the Image fee, etc. Money comes back to the creators after sales are in, the book is shipped, and the money has been collected. To start a series at Image without someone else footing the upfront costs takes an enormous amount of money with no promise of reward. When eHero and Gorilla went their separate ways earlier this year, this was the stated reason for Joe Kelly’s departure from the upstart imprint. Many creator-owned series ended up at WildStorm for just that reason, as well.
Where did that leave Claremont and his HUNTSMAN?
For a couple of years, they were out in the cold. Then, all of a sudden, the character burst back onto the scene in a couple of highly publicized guest-writing appearances. Claremont wrote four issues of the on-going WILDC.A.T.s series with Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, guest-starring his Huntsman and supporting characters. He followed that up a couple of months later with Lee’s studio mate, Marc Silvestri, and his CYBERFORCE. Huntsman appeared in a grand total of seven Image comic books and hasn’t been heard from since.
The WildC.A.T.s story was originally advertised as a three-parter, spanning issues 10, 11, and 12 of the original on-going series back in the summer of 1994. The Huntsman is seen as a good guy trying to save the universe from the evil Rakshas, who are your basic run of the mill ugly alien parasites. He has the ability to duplicate any move he sees someone else perform, something taken to its max in recent DAREDEVIL issues. And he’s traveling with a young girl, Miranda, from whose point of view the story is told. In the course of the four issues, there’s precious little else to learn. The WildC.A.T.s star in most of the arc, and there’s not a terrible amount of character development or revelations for the guest star in these pages.
It does have all the classic Claremontisms, though, from the strong female in the form of NYPD officer Alysande Morales to the psychic battles similar to those seen on the astral plane in countless issue of UNCANNY X-MEN. The resemblances don’t end there, either. Jim Lee kept inker Scott Williams, with whom he had his memorable run with the mutants, but also brought back veteran mutant letterer Tom Orzechowski to complete the look. Unfortunately, Orz’s sharp lettering disappeared from the book after the third issue.
The CYBERFORCE three-parter didn’t stretch out to a fourth part, containing itself to issues 9 through 11. The main focus of this series of issues was actually on Alysande Morales. Huntsman, himself, didn’t evolve all that much, either. We learn nothing more of his powers or his back story. Once again, he’s chasing after/protecting Miranda, for reasons he doesn’t care to expand upon. Once again, he ends up befriending a beautiful female warrior for the duration of the story. (Instead of Zealot, this time it’s Morales, who despite initial misgivings is able to prove her value and strength to the outcast group of super-powered beings. Sound familiar, X-fans?) We do get introduced to the underground city that Alabaster Wu comes out of in that WildC.A.T.s arc, but only in a cursory fashion. Much of this arc is lost to virtual reality scenes and exposition. You’d have to be a devoted CyberForce fan to keep up with a lot of what happens, as well.
In most ways, The Huntsman was established in the WildC.A.T.s arc, and the rest of the supporting cast got their turn in the spotlight during the CyberForce issues.
Long-time UNCANNY X-MEN partner Marc Silvestri penciled the three issues, although it was inked by Batt, colored by Brian Haberlin, and not lettered by Tom Orzechowski.
After that, the character was never heard from again. Claremont moved on to do SOVEREIGN SEVEN at DC, finally doing a creator-owned title, albeit one under a unique publishing agreement with DC to set it in their universe. It allowed his characters both to interact with DC universe characters, but also left the upfront costs of such a comics production to DC and Warner Bros. Most recently, Claremont completed his nearly three year writing stint on FANTASTIC FOUR for Marvel and returned to both of the main X-MEN titles. This column was unable to reach Claremont for comment on this story.
Claremont today is writing X-TREME X-MEN and (according to the rumor mill) will soon be relaunching GEN13. The creator rights deal that Claremont trailblazed with DC is finally getting a second chance with John Byrne’s LAB RATS. The Huntsman remains on the shelf, another unfinished project for Image Comics. CYBERFORCE returns in the Image 10th Anniversary Hardcover, and WILDCATS returns for its third volume with Joe Casey and Dustin Nguyen in the coming months.
Pipeline Daily continues tomorrow, as I begin a lengthy look back at the first few years of Image. Come thrill to all the oddball connections I can find. Take a look at some of the strangest, funniest, coolest, and outright oddest moments in early Image history that you might have forgotten about already.
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.