The Middle Ground #47: (Red) Winging It

Maybe I'm just being a little too sentimental about what may be, at heart, business practices, but I can't help but find my heart a little warmed by the news that Jonathan Hickman is not only returning to creator-owned work, but publishing it through Image.

Maybe I've become a little too cynical for my own good (Please not: The "cynical" was just me being polite), but I've started expecting the "Writer starts at Image, gets a Marvel exclusive, then pushes their creator-owned material through Icon" chain of events after the examples of Brian Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and many things right - Not least of which the increased profile of said writer because of the Marvel work, which more than likely translates into increased orders of creator-owned work because of that and just the surreal (if, in many cases, unearned) confidence that comes from appearing in the Marvel Previews each month. But every time that happens, I always end up feeling a little... sad, maybe, about the publishers left behind (Normally Image, judging by the cases of Bendis, Millar and Fraction). Besides not being Marvel Comics, what did they do wrong to be jilted in such a way?

That's why there's something great about Hickman's Plus. I'll admit to not being the biggest fan of Hickman's work - There's always something interesting there, but not always something that I can emotionally latch onto, I've found - but once he had become "The Man Who Killed The Human Torch" and was named as one of Marvel's "Architects" for the next year, I'd pretty much just mapped out a Fraction-esque path for his future, where he would become more and more involved with the internal workings of existing franchises and shift away from his own creations, so the news that Hickman was not only creating a new four issue series called The Red Wing for Image with artist Nick Pitarra, but that it was the first part of an ongoing line for the publisher came as a surprisingly welcome surprise. I know, I know; it's possible/probable that Hickman just hasn't been given the Marvel Icon invite yet, but my sentimental side is choosing to ignore that idea and go with the much more pleasing one that he's sticking with Image because Image believed in him when no-one else did, and because he, in turn, believes in their model of creator-ownership and risk-taking.

(Being a child of the 1990s as I am, it still kind of tickles me to think of Image as such an adventurous publisher; I think back to the earliest books, and the feeling that they were all Marvel and DC pitches with a new paint job. But somewhere along the line - as the original creators opened the doors to others, and both Marvel and DC became more interested in franchise maintenance than new ideas - Image has really ended up representing a fascinating slate of books and creators. Clearly, there's hope for everyone.)

The whole thing makes me wonder whether Hickman will become some kind of next generation Robert Kirkman, in a weird way; someone who can make mainstream Marvel books work and find success there, but sees that - and Marvel as a publisher in general - as a small element in a much larger game. Nonetheless: Everyone who likes Hickman's FF, go out and buy The Red Wing this summer. Give the man some support in doing his own thing when it's so easy to follow the herd.

For those waiting for the second Top Cow column: They've moved offices, and so are holding off on mailing the books until things are less chaotic. Do not worry: It will come, just not immediately.

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