Well, the Image Expo happened! There was a ton of comic news coming out of the con, and while that is worthy of a quick preview in and of itself, the current state of Image Comics has me thinking on how Image impacts the industry as a whole. Here’s a brief summary, a little opinion and some thoughtful reflection on Image Comics’ big announcements.
Robert Kirkman talked up Invincible and The Walking Dead, of course, but also announced some new titles and a return, with Outcast, a horror title, and the comeback of Tech Jacket. Rick Remender, who is already writing the Image titles Black Science and Deadly Class, as well as a couple of very good Marvel books (that will become a theme), will also be doing the futuristic sci-fi title Low, due out in July. Matt Fraction, also pulling double duty with the Image title Sex Criminals and the award worthy Marvel title Hawkeye, with a new book, Ody-C, a comic based on Homer’s classic (no, not that one…Do’H), but he also announced (here’s more of that theme) that his very popular Casanova is moving from Marvel’s Icon Imprint to Image Comics. Kelly Sue Deconnick, Image’s Pretty Deadly and Marvel’s Captain Marvel, pitched a new title called Bitch Planet which promises a new take on cult classic female prison exploitation movies. Nick Spencer, (again) writer of Image’s Morning Glories and, personal favorite of mine, Bedlam, as well as Marvel’s Secret Avengers and the critically acclaimed Superior Foes of Spider-Man, talked about three new projects he’s doing for Image; Great Beyond, a story of class warfare on a supernatural level; Paradigms, described as “modern day spies meets Game of Thrones”; and Cerulean, an Assimov-esque sci-fi epic. James Robinson, Marvel’s All-New Invaders and Image’s The Saviors, talked up his new Image project. Kyle Higgins, writer of DC Comics’ Nightwing (ah, the theme expands) announced a new book, C.O.W.L., a book the explores a world of heroes after the villains have all been defeated. Kieron Gillen, Image’s Three and Marvel’s Ironman and Young Avengers, pimped his supernatural thriller The Wicked & The Divine. Chris Burnham, DC’s Batman, Inc., teams up with Grant Morrison on Nameless, a horror comic. Bill Willingham, Fables from DC’s Vertigo Imprint, talked up his new supernatural fantasy title Restoration. Scott Snyder, a writer working for DC on Batman and the Vertigo hit The Wake, announced Wytches. Ed Brubaker, writer on titles like Captain America for Marvel and Criminal on Icon, among others, chatted about his new five year deal with Image along with artist Sean Phillips. Not only do they have all sorts of new comics planned, but both Criminal and Incognito, formerly on Marvel’s Icon Imprint, are moving to Image Comics.
I have no idea how good or bad these new Image Comics are going to be, and there’s no way to know until they hit shelves. However, the talent that Image Comics has attracted is unbelievable. I’m sure there are going to be some stinkers in the bunch, but the quality of the creators coupled with the “no holds barred” attitude Image has with the creativity of those writers, likely means a whole lot of goodness. It’s going to be a great year for Image Comics, and that success will be on the backs of writers that, as I’ve pointed out, also have strong ties to the so-called Big 2, Marvel and DC, despite both of those publishers having strong “Indy” Imprints. Where’s the give?
What the hell happened to these imprints? While DC Comics’ Vertigo Imprint was originally created to get around the Comics Code Authority, in 2010 DC announced that it would be used strictly for publishing creator-owned content after Wildstorm went defunct, Marvel’s Icon line was created in 2004 for the sole purpose of keeping creators from taking creator-owned work to other publishers. Now, I know firsthand that these imprints aren’t all the way dead, with Vertigo putting out winners like The Unwritten, Astro City, and the Fables line, but some books, like Sandman: Overture, are NOT creator owned. The books at Icon are far worse off, and the list, now devoid of Brubaker’s and Fraction’s titles, includes only a handful of mediocre books by Bendis, and Kick-Ass. Meanwhile, Image Comics is attracting the best and brightest creators the Big 2 have to offer. Obviously, Image is offering creative opportunities the more popular publishers cannot. This then begs the question: What exactly is the problem over at Marvel and DC? They have Imprints under their very well-known and popular names; Imprints that are themselves pretty well-known and popular brands; and they have, one would think, the inside track on getting the publishing rights for creator-owned content of writers already making comics for them. As I have already suggested, Image Comics’ popularity is a product of the quality of the creator-owned content they publish. The sales at DC and Marvel aren’t slumping; not by a long shot; but the latest numbers and the fact that so many of “their” writers are doing work for one of their competitors would certainly get my attention if I was a higher-up at one of the Big 2. Either one of two things will happen: Image will continue to grow their stock and rule the trade shelves while Marvel and DC sit satisfied with controlling the monthlies, which I seriously doubt will be the case. Or, and this is my prediction, Marvel and DC will put some real energy behind their already well-established Indy brands, get the already brimming creator bullpens each company enjoys working on their own stuff, and take back a bit more market-share, without really doing anything. The best part of the whole thing is that we, the readers, are the ones that benefit from all the competition.
I doubt Marvel or DC’s corporate masters let a competitor’s success go by without at least a modicum of action in reply. While the dominance of the Big 2 isn’t in any danger of being taken away, the things Image is doing is a great sign for the entire industry. No matter what the overall impact of Image’s growing strength will be on the industry down the road, right now it means more great comics on shelves for readers. The possibility of a new level of competition in the market, however, could mean even more greatness for readers in the future.