Sunday, November 3, 2013

Image Comics delivers Jonathan Hickman's "East of West", Brian K. Vaughn's "Saga", Joe Casey's "Sex", Mark Millar's "Jupiter's Legacy", Brandon Graham's "Prophet" & Ed Brubaker's "Fatale" as a bumper of creator-owned works in 2013

I come from a generation of readers who saw the launch of Image Comics as a continuation of the flashy, surface and largely empty late 80's/early 90's Marvel Comics work under a creator-owned banner. To give a sense of Image's original position in the comics' landscape during that decade, they elicited the chapter in Grant Morrison's history of the superhero genre, "Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human" being titled; "Image vs. Content". This is particularly appropriate considering the criminally woe-begotten behavior of Image's co-founder, Todd McFarlane, in the years since. I'm going to spare you the details, but for just one example of many, see Neil Gaiman's blog for reference. Two decades later they are a very different entity altogether. 2012 not only marked their 20th Anniversary but a striking chain reaction of new books, heralded by a new ownership team under the aegis of "Walking Dead"'s Robert Kirkman and executive director, Eric Stephenson. This new direction has produced a cornucopia of new works by some of the current-greatest names in both mainstream and indie comics. Of special significance among these, Jonathan Hickman, straight off his exceptional four year run on "Fantastic Four" over at Marvel, (where he wrote the most advanced, cosmological and heartfelt story Marvel's 'first family' has seen in three decades) has brought along his collaborator on that book, Nick Dragotta. Think a Moebius style pre-Apocalyptic Western set in future America with massive landscapes, the ultimate of anti-heroes, metaphysical influences jostling with high-technology and a prophecy unfulfilled, and you'd have "East of West". Which now on it's seventh issue, already shows promise as being the book of the year. Brian K. Vaughn who many of you know from his lengthy post-Societal Collapse gender-epic "Y The Last Man" for the Vertigo imprint is back with a Universe hopping, interspecies love, technocratic, Joss Whedon-like in tone, space "Saga" with award winning artist Fiona Staples. Joe Casey's newest book with Euro comics artist, Piotr Kowalski, depicts a urban megalopolis, where our hero has hung up his mask and cape, retired from public life and adjusting to being a regular citizen in a world of crime, corruption, sin and "Sex". Casey digging deep into some of the costume/play/fetish involved in that world paradoxically juxtaposed with it's puritanical vigilante-ism. For anyone who's ever given thought to the weird, warped world of those who dress up superhero and act out being arbiters of justice, and found it a bit 'off', this one's going to be fun.

On a related postmodern tip of examining the superhero genre from a as-yet unexplored angle, Mark Millar has come upon one of his rare quality ideas, that of the next generation of youth. After mom and dad (analogs for Wonder Woman and Superman) have saved the world innumerable times in the 20th Century, what kind of lives could they lead that would possibly compare? Celebrity media events? Charity balls? Fashion shoots? Product endorsements? The superhero youth of today lack their own cause when faced with "Jupiter's Legacy". Frank Quitely illustration work being about 70% of this books euphoria factor. It's been much, much, much too long since we saw the majesty of his art on a semi-monthly basis. If ever there were illustrative/fictional worlds positioned somewhere between Hayao Miyazaki's "Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind", Ridley Scott's first "Alien" and (again, here's this point of reference) Jodorowsky's weirdo organic Cabalistic space epics, Brandon Graham and Simon Roy's "Prophet" would be it! Lastly, there's the book that brought me over to Image in the first place. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips award winning Noir/Detective/Crime/Pulp renditions on "Incognito" and "Criminal" have bee further expanded to include Weird Science, Ritualistic Magick and... yeah, well... Nazis, as "Fatale" keeps digging deeper and deeper into the 20th Century's most disturbed and disturbing historic fringes. From Hollywood's underbelly, to the Method Church to corrupt Cops and Mobsters and now back around to Nazi metaphysical divisions and the book's unexpected exploration of the 16th Century and Pioneer era America, they've created a prefect-pitch nightmare of Lovecraftian noir. That these works have all issues from the Image imprint is both surprising, and welcome. Especially with DC and Marvel in the course of this past year choosing flash-in-the-pan commercial gimmicks and redundant reboots over the benefits of trusting in their creative teams to build substantial storytelling within their fictional universes. In the long term, this will be their loss. Readership will go where talent, creativity and the rich rewards of artists who are invested in the depth and value of their work is not only appreciated, but the desired objective. The 'big two' have sacrificed this in a illusory market grab that will temporarily only reward their pockets. Me? I'm glad to have no part in it at all with the completion of both Jonathan Hickman's familial Cosmic Odyssey spanning the whole Marvel universe and Grant Morrison's seven year plumbing of the depths (and heights) of the world's most popular comic franchise. Thank you Image for boldly stepping into the forum of even higher quality graphic arts storytelling! Your timing has been perfect.