Six of the best announcements from Image Expo 2015

Image Expo returned on Thursday, and it wasn't messing around. Each year, Image Comics seems to pack bigger announcements and bigger surprises into a single-day event. And the diversity of creators and genres gets that much better, too.

This year's Image Expo -- held again at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, following last July's event at Comic-Con International in San Diego -- included the now-standard keynote address by Publisher Eric Stephenson. He reviewed the past year's successes and echoed plans to make Image the No. 1 publisher, but aside from throwing the gauntlet down at the feet of Marvel and DC, his address avoided some of the controversial statements and manifestos of years past. While I appreciate a good sabre-rattling, it allowed the focus to remain squarely on the creators and their comics.

With that in mind, here are my six favorite announcements from Image Expo 2015:

1. The return of Emi Lenox leads to Jeff Lemire and Scott Snyder

This is one of the great things about this year's Image Expo. It feels as if some of the creators in the publisher's stable (if there is such a thing) are mixing, matching and collaborating with each other to an extent I haven't seen before. The comics version of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon can now take you from EmiTown to Batman is three simple steps.

A couple of years ago, Lenox released a pair of delightful collections of her diary comic EmiTown through Image Comics. I kept waiting for the next big thing from her, but mostly her published work has been limited to the occasional anthology, or some pages in an issue of Sweet Tooth. Lenox remained active online, where she posted her soul-crushingly adorable Siamese cat sketches, but I always hoped for more. Then in November, her name popped up in the initial announcement for this year's Image Expo, and now we're not only getting more, we're getting lots more Emi Lenox: her own full-length travelogue graphic novel, and a five-part miniseries written by Jeff Lemire, who himself is collaborating with Batman and Wytches writer Scott Snyder.

While autobiographical like EmiTown, Tadaima will have its own distinct look, using gorgeous painted watercolor to tell the story of Lenox and her mother returning to Japan after being away for 12 years. Then she shifts gears for Plutona, an unexpected superhero tale written by Lemire, in which a group of kids finds the dead body of the world's most famous superhero. Then Lemire picks up the baton and has a turn as artist for the Snyder-written original graphic novel A.D.: After Death, an usual story about the cure for death.

Lemire won my heart with Essex County, so while I prefer it when he draws his own stories, I'm always willing to give his comics a chance, especially when he's dealing with childhood as in Plutona. Snyder has never rleased an original graphic novel, and Lemire has never illustrated a graphic novel he didn't write. Considering the book market cache the two of them have, A.D.: After Death will likely do gangbusters, and I'm very much looking forward to reading it.

2. Brian K. Vaughan's doubles down on comics

The success of Saga, both commercially and critically, is no secret. And neither is Vaughan's career in television, so I sometimes worry that he could again heed the siren's call of Hollywood. But with a producer job come to an end, Vaughan is throwing his all into comics this year -- great news for fans of his work. The other advantage is that Vaughan has an impressive track record of collaborating with excellent artists, and that won't be changing any time soon.

Steve Skroce has mostly been focusing on his Doc Frankenstein, so it'll be fun to see him tackle We Stand On Guard, a miniseries told from the perspective of Canadian freedom fighters who, 100 years in the future, try to defend against an invasion by the United States' army of giant robots.

The second Vaughan book is Paper Girls, an ongoing supernatural mystery with artist Cliff Chiang -- fresh off his two-year stint on Wonder Woman -- starring a quartet of pre-teen girls with paper routes. Set in the 1980s, the four girls will be brought together by a mysterious event. Hitting again on recurring themes, this is Chiang's first creator-owned comics work, and this is also a reunion for the two creators, who first collaborated in 2000 on an issue of Vaughan's ill-fated Swamp Thing run.

3. Marjorie Liu makes her Image Comics debut

Marjorie Liu was a bestselling novelist before she entered the world of comics. Considering the vast majority of novels are creator-owned, t's perhaps surprising that she's only now making her creator-owned comics debut. From the looks of Monstress, it's overdue.

The ongoing fantasy series is set in an alternate Europe during World War I, where Godzilla-like creatures exist. A girl named Mika will discover she has the ability to connect with them, as hinted at in the beautiful cover by series artist Sana Takeda. That leads to an upset in the balance of things between humans and otherworldly creatures.

Like Liu, Takeda has also primarily worked at Marvel. It looks like the two of them met on a story arc for Marvel's X-23 a few years ago, so it's neat to see them reunite like this to create a brand-new world.

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