COMMENTARY TRACK: "Image United" #0

SPOILER WARNING: This article contains several spoilers for "Image United" #0 and the other released issues of the miniseries event.

Every story has a beginning, and "Image United" is no exception. Before the premiere of the six-issue crossover event, readers were introduced to Fortress, the rookie superhero with a terrifying glimpse of the future, through a series of back up features in the pages of Image Comics titles "Savage Dragon," "Invincible," "Witchblade" and "Spawn." Now, the entirety of Robert Kirkman's prelude story - which features art from "Image United" illustrators Erik Larsen and Whilce Portacio as well as "Invincible" artist Ryan Ottley - is available in "Image United" #0.

Fans that previously purchased the four-part origin story still have a reason to invest in "Image United" #0 - the issue contains a bonus story called "Image Untied," a four-page "Image United" parody written and illustrated by "G-Man" creator Chris Giarrusso.

Following the release of each issue of "Image United," CBR News is speaking with writer Robert Kirkman and one of the event's other participants for an exclusive commentary track about the development of the most recent installment. This week, CBR spoke with Kirkman about the main story of "Image United" #0 and Giarrusso about his back up feature.

CBR News: Here's Fortress, the new guy on the street in "Image United." This issue is really all about him.

Robert Kirkman: Fortress is a new character in "Image United," so he's a character that nobody knows. When we were doing this prelude story, we definitely decided to make it more of a focus on Fortress than the event series itself ended up being. So here's this guy and here's what he does - we come in pretty early into his career as a superhero. Fortress finds this suit and doesn't really know much about it. I had to coordinate with Whilce Portacio pretty heavily to figure out what his powers were and what he does and all that kind of stuff.

We open with him trying his powers out and learning what works and what doesn't. I thought it was kind of cool to open on a shot where it looks like he's flying but then he slams into a building and crashes into an alley with no clue what he's doing. That's pretty fun!

Fortress seems confused about why his suit is glowing and what that means.

Kirkman: That's something we'll see more of in "Image United" as the series progresses. There's a little bit of a mystery going on there.

Savage Dragon comes along while Fortress is testing his powers on an innocent dumpster.

Kirkman: What we have going on here is the classic superhero misunderstanding. Fortress is trying to figure out his powers and Dragon sees him wrecking the place, so he comes over to stop him and they end up fighting for a little bit. It's cool seeing these two characters meet, because Dragon is kind of the elder statesman of Image Comics and Fortress is the guy who has no clue what he's doing. Dragon is a kind character - reading the book, he's always really friendly and usually pretty thoughtful while he's doing his police business. But he's also kind of a smart-ass. It's fun seeing them interact.

Doc Seismic, drawn by Ryan Ottley, comes along and provides a new obstacle for both Dragon and Fortress.

Kirkman: We did this to say that this is the Image Universe that has guys like Invincible, Jack Staff, Dynamo 5 and whatnot running around, also. I thought it would be neat to turn the page and have the reader go, "Whoa, crap! A character drawn by Ryan Ottley! What's going on here?" It was a fun bit.

The fun part of it - the behind-the-scenes part - is that we decided to do this prelude not necessarily late in the game or anything, we were already well into the production on the series when we decided to do the prelude and most of the villains were already in place from the original books, so I didn't have a villain that I could slot in easily. I just decided to throw in Doc Seismic because I thought it would have been a fun thing.

Fortress bags up Doc Seismic and inadvertently starts draining him, which shows that he not only doesn't understand his own power, but those powers are actually quite dangerous - he almost kills the guy.

Kirkman: That's true. His powers have some sort of weird absorbing effect that he's unable to control, and that's going to come into play in "Image United." And there's some sort of weird, mysterious thing going on with Doc Seismic after he's knocked out. Nobody really knows what's going on there. We'll get to that in "Image United," also.

After the battle, Dragon tries to take Fortress in, but Fortress himself starts glowing just like Doc Seismic. Is there a connection between what's happening to Fortress and what just happened to Seismic?

Kirkman: Yes. Definitely. I guess I could just say... [Laughs] There's some kind of system overload thing going on from his interaction with Doc Seismic that ends up shooting him out into the sky and shorting out his suit, so that's what's going on there.

Things come full circle at the end of the issue, as Fortress begins to have the vision we see in the first pages of the main series.

Kirkman: This is the building he wakes up on after having the vision on page six of "Image United" #1, so it all ties in pretty tightly. He wakes up to the Youngblood battle cruiser crashing out of the sky because Overtkill shot it down.

After the main story concludes, we get this hilarious back up feature from Chris Giarrusso called "Image Untied." Chris, how did the opportunity to do this come up?

Chris Giarrusso: Image Comics publisher Eric Stephenson asked me if I was interested in doing a four page "Image United" strip for issue zero. I thought it would be a lot of fun to play with the Image icons, especially as part of such a momentous project.

I was the perfect age when Image launched - I was just graduating high school. My whole world was changing just as the whole comics world was changing. I was, and am still, a big Marvel and DC fan, but I loved that there was all this new stuff coming out. The whole Image movement made a big impression on me, so it was a lot of fun to get a chance to work on these characters.

What was the process in coming up with the story you ultimately arrived at?

Giarrusso: The only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to draw a version of the first splash page in issue #1, with the core heroes assembled around Fortress. Other than that, I didn't have any immediate ideas of where I'd end up going. I just kept rereading the first two issues of "Image United" until something clicked.

I wanted the basic set-up to be the same. Once I set everything up, I like to take a left turn and go off on my own goofy tangent.

Of all the jokes and segments that you came up with, do you have a personal favorite or one that just cracks you up?

Giarrusso: I think Savage Dragon's blaze of glory is my favorite.

Is there anything that you're less than pleased with?

Giarrusso: There was some stuff that I had to cut out that I thought might have been funny to explore, but that always tends to be the case.

Obviously you're poking a little bit of fun at "Image United" here, but what do you think of the series so far?

Giarrusso: I love it. As an early Image fan, this is the coolest thing you could imagine. I think it's like what "Crisis on Infinite Earths" or "Secret Wars" or "JLA/Avengers" is for longtime Marvel or DC fans. And the artistic collaboration is like nothing I've ever seen. After reading them, I go back and take a longer look at just who drew what, and I try to figure out who went first before handing off to the next guy.

Robert, what do you think of Chris's work here?

Kirkman: It's getting to the point where it's kind of an honor to have Chris Giarrusso... if I were British, I'd say taking the piss out of your story, but... there's really no nice way to put it. Makes fun of what you're doing and pokes hole in the logic of your story. [Laughs] That's kind of fun, right?

Chris used to actually work at Image, so he has a good relationship with everybody there and I consider him a buddy of mine. He had called me once while he was working on the story, which I assume was to see if something was okay or see if something would offend somebody or something. I missed the call because it was the weekend and I didn't have my cell phone with me. I still haven't called him back. That's the kind of guy I am! [Laughs] I don't even know what it was about, but I hope he just went with it. The story ended up being pretty awesome.

In fact, we're so happy with how this turned out that Chris is doing "Image United" #4 - 6 all on his own. We're going to have a creative team change and he'll be wrapping up that book. [Laughs] There's a nice CBR exclusive right there!

"Image United" #0, written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Erik Larsen, Ryan Ottley and Whilce Portacio, is currently available in stores. "G-Man" creator Chris Giarrusso wrote and illustrated the issue's four page back up feature.

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