Saturday, September 25, 2010

Image Comics: Odds and Ends

The other day, I wrote a little bit about the founding of Image Comics and gave my brief, personal opinions and reflections on the main titles put out by the main Image partners, but that was just the tip of the iceberg. Right away, Image attempted to establish itself as a major publishing house, so they began recruiting as many popular comic artists as they could and put out dozens of titles, some of which were successful, and some (probably most) were not. Just because I've been thinking about Image lately, even going so far as to rummage through my old back issues, so a lot of these titles are on my mind and I may as well get this out of my system for good.

And, anyway, this is my blog and I just want to talk a little bit about Image Comics. When you get your own blog you can discuss tort reform or the economy or whatever the hell it is real adults care about. Until then, let's talk Image Comics. By no means is this going to be any kind of exhaustive or complete list of early Image titles. These are just a small handful of the titles I remember reading or think are notable. In no particular order:

The Maxx: What a weird, perplexing, challenging, awesome comic. The Maxx was the brainchild of Sam Kieth, who I had only really been aware of as a fairly prolific cover artists and for his brief stints on Sandman and The Incredible Hulk. But straight away, it became clear that The Maxx was what he was born to do, or, at least, that kind of weird, alternative, non-superhero comic book.

The Maxx is a difficult comic book to describe. It was a series about a social worker named Julie Winters and a homeless man, who was also an enchanted bunny in human form who was able to cross between our dimension and a parallel world similar to the Australian Outback. Together they fought against Mr. Gone, a serial killer and rapist with supernatural powers who is linked to Julie and The Maxx and can also travel between both dimensions. Or something. It's been a long time since I've read through the entire series (although I still own every issue), and even then I didn't really understand most of it. It was drawn and plotted by Sam Kieth, with dialogue supplied by the always very good Bill Messner-Loebs. The Maxx was unique among Image Comics in that it was hard to follow and difficult to understand not because it was poorly written or ill thought-out, but because it was actually brilliant.

It never really fit in at Image, if only because it was somewhat subversive, extremely challenging, and could only be considered a "superhero" comic in the most limited sense imaginable. It lasted for 35 issues, which is actually very impressive for an early Image comic, most of which were lucky to make it past issue 4 or 5. Its success was probably due to its story finding a devout cult following, while its gorgeous, over the top art made it popular with the Image fanboys. Cool comic, and it was later turned into a fairly mediocre cartoon on MTV.

Trencher: Trencher was even weirder than The Maxx, if that's even possible. Anyway, it was weirder for different reasons. Trencher was written and drawn by the always interesting Keith Giffen and detailed the adventures of a repo man who had to reclaim souls that had been accidentally reincarnated into super-powered heroes and villains. Or something like that. It was basically just a showcase for Giffen's brilliantly funny dialogue and off the wall artwork. It was so off the wall and so poorly received by critics and readers that it was yanked after only four issues, but I thought it was awesome.

Trencher was just an incredibly funny, clever comic book by one of the industry's best writers. Giffen was a very funny writer on Justice League and Ambush Bug, but this was the title that really let him go crazy and cut loose with every wild idea he ever had. Over the four issues, the main character found a guy with super-powered nose hair, an eldery woman who was also a Nazi cyborg named Cher Noble, and too many other oddballs too crazy to describe here. And the artwork was just insane and so full of detail that your eyes would hurt after finished just a few pages.

Anyway, I thought it was all great fun and I was sorry to see it get canceled. I'm mostly alone in my opinions, however, since I've met very few people who even remember the comic, and of those most thought it was awful. But I liked it.

Shaman's Tears: One of the things I respected about the Image founders was how they gave jobs to some of their idols who had hard times finding jobs in the 90s. They hired and solicited titles by such guys as Keith Giffen, Walter Simonson, Alan Moore, and countless others, including Mike Grell, who was a major comic star in the 70s and 80s. Of course, one of the things for which I have zero respect for the Image founders was how they fired most of those guys and canceled their books because weren't selling enough.

Mike Grell's Shaman's Tears was one such fatality, that never had a chance of surviving as a "hot book" in that climate, even though it had the Image logo to generate that much more interest. It was just too thoughtful, too slow paced, and too intelligent to make it on the stands alongside titles like Lady Death or Spawn or a million X-titles. But it was a very well done book with a cool story and wonderful artwork. But even I'll admit that it was a bit too boring and unfocused. It had heavy sci-fi elements against the backdrop of Native American spirituality and mysticism. Neat idea that was pulled off fairly well, but it just didn't hook me all that much. But I was still sorry to see Mike Grell get the boot by Image, since he was (and still is!) a great comic book talent.

1963: This was a fun homage to the early Marvel Age of comics written by Alan Moore and drawn by a bunch of different artists for each of the six issues in the mini-series. The art work, dialogue, and tone were all pretty much perfect pastiches of those early comics by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and company, but they were also fun enough and so well done that they worked on their own as good stories in their own right. This was just a neat, fun title with good stories and fun art.

It wasn't all in good fun, however, since some of the fake ads and made up letters to the company had some jokes that were a little too pointed and mean-spirited again Marvel's early days, and of Stan Lee in particular. I don't really too many of the jokes, but I do remember there being a real smugness to them, and thought that Moore was judging Lee and his company far too harshly and somewhat unfairly. But the stories themselves were great fun and seemed to be done in the right spirit.

WildStar: Rounding out the short list of books created by noted comic book icons that were quickly canceled, was WildStar by Al Gordon and Jerry Ordway, two of the finest comic book creators of all time. WildStar was a really cool, sci-fi take on traditional superheroes, featuring time travelers, aliens, monsters and characters who wear organic costumes that give them super powers. High concept and a lot of fun. Of course, it didn't sell as much as something with Jim Lee or Rob Liefeld art on the cover, so it got yanked.

It was a very cool comic, however, with a neat storyline and some stellar art by Jerry Ordway. Ordway is up there as one of the most perfect comic book artists the industry has ever seen. He just has impeccable drafting skills and perfect storytelling acumen.  It was also masterfully inked by Al Gordon, who also wrote the comic and created the characters.

This was a good one that only lasted a few issues, but it's worth checking out if you can find it on ebay or something. I'm sure it will be cheap.

Stupid: This comic was stupid. I guess Image wanted to prove that they had a sense of humor about themselves, so they published this along with another spoof comic called Splitting Image by Don Simpson. Neither was very funny, but probably because the company lacked the bite needed to truly mock their own titles as viciously as their critics were. It had some cute art by Hillary Barta, but it just wasn't all that funny, nor was the company really established enough to offer that much to parody.

Also, why make a comic parodying books by people like Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefeld when their books were already the laughing stocks of the comic book industry?

1 comment:

Justin Garrett Blum said...

A bunch of years ago I actually picked up some Trencher comics off of eBay. I can't actually remember too much about them, except that they had some really off-the-wall Giffen art.

I like Giffen a lot. Not everything he does is great, but as an artist and a creative force, I think he's indispensable to the industry, and I'm glad he still gets a lot of work.