Image United #1

Have you ever read "DC Challenge," the 12-issue series from the mid-1980s in which a random collection of writers and artists improvised a story and then came together in the finale to wrap it all up in a way that made sense? That series was quite a failure, mostly because one of the things that makes a comic book effective is the aesthetic unity between the writer(s) and the artist(s). When a comic is a hodgepodge of different ideas, different narrative approaches, it's difficult to make it work as an artistic whole.

That's one of the problems with "Image United" #1, but it's not the only problem.

And, honestly, it's not so much that six different guys collaborate on the interior pages -- after all, that's the point of this comic, to see the Image founders draw their own characters again -- it's that the comic seems like it was cobbled out of a series of poses. Here's a Savage Dragon pose by Erik Larsen, and a bunch of Youngblood poses by Rob Liefeld right behind him. A new Whilce Portacio character, Fortress, poses just as well as the rest of them. And the whole thing is bathed in the sickly greens and oranges and purples that the early Image comics patented.

Maybe Robert Kirkman had a stronger hand in the underlying narrative than it seems here, but it reads as though he's putting captions and word balloons around the images that the artists passed along to one another. I realize that's how Stan Lee did it, much of the time, and I realize that such a process recalls the early days of Image, when splash pages and dramatic poses were the foundation on which the "stories" were based.

But it doesn't make for very good comics, especially nearly two decades after the rush of breaking-away-from-Marvel has worn off.

What was fresh and exciting in the early nineties -- and make no mistake, the Image comics of the early days were fresh and exciting, even if they don't hold up particularly well in retrospect -- is an absurd parody by now. Sure, it's a bit of fun to see some new work by McFarlane, to see him tear into a Spawn page, and it's a bit of fun to see a character drawn by Rob Liefeld punch a McFarlane character as a Silvestri character jumps into the fray, but it's not enough fun to sustain an entire six-issue series, and that's what this comic seems to rely on. Or, at least, that's what the first issue seems to indicate.

Honestly, all we get from Kirkman's story in issue #1 is that trouble is brewing, and this new guy, Fortress, has some vision about the final battle at the end of the world. But the rest is all running and punching and shouting. Perhaps that's all anyone needs from a comic called "Image United," but it's really not enough.

It settles for the cheap thrills of seeing guys draw stuff they were once famous for drawing. And that's really it.

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