The Best and Worst Image Comics of the 1990s

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first_imgIf you were a fan of comic books during the 90s then you no doubt remember the monster that was Image Comics. In a move that was unheard of at the time, seven of Marvel’s biggest artists left the publishing giant to form their own independent studio. Image exploded right out of the gate and became so big that it rivaled Marvel, DC, and Valiant Comics. It also established many of the tropes and stereotypes that 90s comics have become infamous for.Since we’re celebrating the 25th anniversary of Image Comics, we thought it would be fun to take a look back at some of the original books released by the company. Not all of these can be considered great, but they are each an important part of Image’s history.SpawnSpawn was the most high-profile of Image’s launch books, and it is one of the two that is still being published today. It told the story about a murdered soldier named Al Simmons who made a deal with a demon to be resurrected. Simmons came back with great powers but was horribly disfigured; making it impossible to return to a normal life. With his powers, he battled demons, cyborgs, and even child molesters.Todd McFarlane wrote and drew the first dozen issues before handing over pencil duties to Greg Capullo. This team would go on to create some of Spawn’s most memorable early adventures. Spawn went on to have a successful toy line, an HBO animated series, and a feature film that is best forgotten.WildC.A.T.S.Like a lot of Image’s early books, WildC.A.T.S. was a title that looked great but lacked much substance. It told the story of a group of heroes who fought against aliens called the Helspont who (naturally) wanted to take over the Earth. WildC.A.T.S. was the foundation for Jim Lee’s Wildstorm Universe, which was its own imprint within Image.Wildstorm was sold to DC Comics in 1998, and all of its characters were folded over into that universe. The Wildstorm characters played a prominent role in DC’s line-wide New 52 initiative to varying degrees of success. Since DC Rebirth, the Wildstorm characters have all but gone missing. The company does still own them, so it’s possible that WildC.A.T.S. will be resurrected in the future.YoungbloodYoungblood was the creation of the notorious Rob Liefeld (he created X-Force, you know). Youngblood #1 was the first book Image released and was the biggest selling independent title of the time. Based on an idea he had for a Teen Titans series, Youngblood’s premise is that, if they were real, superheroes would be treated like celebrities.Though it had a best-selling debut issue, Youngblood received a ton of criticism over its poor writing, crude art, and inconsistent schedule. Even celebrated writers like Kurt Busiek and Alan Moore weren’t able to save the book. There are multiple reasons given for why Youngblood ultimately ended up failing, but most of the blame centers on Rob Liefeld himself. This is a shame because the book did have the potential to be something worthwhile.ShadowhawkShadowhawk is easily one of the most criminally overlooked of Image’s early titles. However, it was one of the better books released at the time. It centered on a vigilante who was infected with HIV and wanted to use his remaining days fighting crime. Many books (especially Image’s) were extremely unrealistic, but Shadowhawk was relatively grounded for the most part.Shadowhawk wasn’t the only African-American Image character, but his stories did center on race, urban crime, and dealt with subjects few comics dared to. It had a social awareness the other Image books completely lacked. At the time, it was almost revolutionary to even read a book that delved into issues of race the way Shadowhawk did. Image has brought Shadowhawk back several times over the years, but perhaps with everything currently happening in America, now would be a great time to revive him.Savage DragonLike Spawn, Savage Dragon is an original Image Comic that has continued to be published to this day. Unlike Todd McFarlane’s creation, Savage Dragon is still being drawn and written by its original creator: Erik Larsen. Because it has had the same artist and writer, Savage Dragon contains one of the most consistent tones in all of comic books.Even though he was a giant muscular green man with a fin on his head, Savage Dragon acted like a regular blue collar worker. He was a cop who fought all manner of super villains in the streets of Chicago. But despite that, he managed to be someone you’d like to have a beer with. Like most of Image’s books, Savage Dragon stories were gritty. However, they never descended into obscene territory (for the most part). Savage Dragon is still a worthwhile comic book, even after all these years.WetworksWetworks was meant to be one of Image’s launch titles in 1992. However, due to the death of Whilce Portacio’s sister, the book was put on hiatus until 1994. There wasn’t much that helped set Wetworks apart when it launched — save for the first issue’s blood-smeared cover.The title would continue (with delays) for 43 issues before being canceled. It reappeared in the mid-2000s, but this only lasted for 15 issues. Not to knock the original creators or anyone who ever worked on Wetworks, but the series is forgettable for a reason. It just never did anything truly unique.CyberforceCyberforce was as 90s as a 90s comic could get. It featured mutants whose powers were enhanced by cybernetics — basically, a whole team of X-Force’s Cable. Marc Silvestri initially wrote and illustrated the series but would eventually hand these duties over to other creators.Cyberforce ran for 35 issues before ending. In 2007, Silvestri reinvented the series to have more of a cyberpunk flavor. The five issue mini-series was actually well-received. This is something that can’t be claimed by any of the other attempts at resurrecting early Image books like Wetworks and Youngblood.This article was about the Image founder’s first books, but I do want to quickly look at some of the other books released by the company in the 90’s. Like with the Image founding fathers, these books were by artists who wanted to have control over their creations. Though most of these titles stuck close to the superhero formula that made Image famous, there were hints of the diversity the company would be eventually be known for.The Maxx: One of the weirder and more esoteric Image books of the time, The Maxx featured Sam Keith’s unusual but visually intriguing art style. It would be hard for even a die-hard fan of this series to explain exactly what the plot was about, but that is part of this book’s appeal. The Maxx was also adapted into a short-lived (but excellent) animated series on MTV.Pitt: Artist Dale Keown made a name for himself on The Incredible Hulk thanks to his powerful rendition of the famous gamma-irradiated monster. Pitt was essentially the Hulk with a different head and giant claw hands. Like many of Image’s books, this title was plagued by numerous delays.Astro City: Though it featured superheroes, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City was unlike the majority of Image’s superhero books. Astro City did a great job of both embracing superhero tropes and deconstructing them. Some stories were personal while others were epic in scope, but each painted a picture of what it was like to be a citizen or hero of the titular metropolis.Gen¹³: The series that helped propel J. Scott Campbell to super stardom, Gen¹³ was one of the biggest hits from Image during the mid to late 90s. Though the book wasn’t different than others of the time regarding content, its kinetic and eye-catching art helped give it a fan base that is still going strong today.WitchBlade: A lot of Image’s books featured female heroes who were little more than eye candy for young boys. Though WitchBlade fit that mold from a stylistic standpoint, the title’s lead was a three-dimensional character. The adventures of NYPD detective Sara Pezzini were eventually adapted into a mildly successful TV series on TNT.The Darkness: Created by Marc Silvestri, Garth Ennis, and David Wohl, The Darkness combined elements of crime drama and the supernatural. The series became a best seller and would eventually spawn two video game adaptations that were equally as well-received.Bone: The most visually and stylistically different from Image’s 90s books, Bone was and is a critically acclaimed series. Bone was only an Image book from issues 21-27, but it proved that the publisher was open to all types of comics, and not just superheroes. In many ways, Bone laid the groundwork for the diverse and unique Image Comics that readers have been enjoying for the past ten years.last_img

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