I talked about Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn” in last week’s Throwback Thursday post; these are some very early issues of a few of Image Comics’ other titles when the company launched in 1992. I remember snapping them up in earnest when I was 19 years old — as I said last week, it was exciting for a comics fan to see a new company challenge the “Big Two,” Marvel Comics and DC Comics, with a new superhero universe.
I and other ambitious collectors also grabbed these off the shelves because we naively expected they all would one day be very valuable. (Investing in comic books is a little more complicated than that — they’ve generally got to be in extremely good condition to fetch high prices.)
The first Image comics were a mix of good and bad. If memory serves, Jim Lee’s “WildC.A.T.s” was very good; Rob Liefeld’s “Youngblood” was less so, but was at least interesting. The art and writing for Jim Valentino’s “Shadowhawk” was truly mediocre. That didn’t stop me from buying a few issues, though — the novelty of these new books just gave them too much appeal.
There were a lot of creative things going on with early Image titles. Some of the new characters were pretty neat. I remember being partial to Youngblood’s “Diehard” for some reason, along with the WildC.A.T.s’ “Grifter.” (The former has the red, white, and blue full bodysuit; the latter has the trenchcoat and pistols.) And I definitely liked WildC.A.T.s’ “Warblade.” He’s the guy below with the ponytail and the shape-changing, liquid-metal hands. He was a favorite of mine despite the fact that he seemed to borrow a trick or two from the newly iconic liquid-metal terminator. (“Terminator 2: Judgement Day” had hit theaters a year earlier.)
Image comics were quite different than those produced by Marvel and DC. (As I explained last week, Image was formed by artists who revolted against their prior employers’ unfair, work-for-hire payment policies — their new company gave them complete creative control over their characters.) Despite the popularity of Image’s new books, however, they sometimes appeared to have been developed without some needed editorial oversight.
The violence and gore was often far more graphic. And Image’s creative decisions ranged from the inspired to the strange to just being in questionable taste. (It all depended on your disposition, I guess.) WildC.A.T.s, for example, portrayed Vice President Dan Quayle as being possessed by an unearthly “Daemonite.” (Damn, those Daemonites were wicked-cool bad guys, and Lee Illustrated them beautifully.) Shadowhawk’s signature move was breaking the spines of criminals. He was also HIV-positive, the result of some gangsters’ reprisal — they captured him and injected him with infected blood. The character thereafter spent some of his history trying in vain to locate a cure for AIDS. (This was 1992, just after the epidemic became fully entrenched in the public’s anxieties in the 1980’s.)
My interest in these titles eventually waned, though I did still pick “Spawn” up when I had the money. The Image universe was densely crowded with new characters, and it was just too much information to sustain my interest. (Seriously, look at the first couple of covers below.) I spent far more money on DC’s various “Batman” and “Green Lantern” titles. And if I wanted edgy comics, I had discovered the various incarnations of Matt Wagner’s “Grendel” that were available through Dark Horse Comics. Those boggled the mind.
But Image comics did burgeon into a great success, even if these early titles have since been retired. “Spawn,” of course, is still being produced. And today the company’s wide range of books includes Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead.” It’s hard to imagine either of the Big Two picking up Kirkman’s gory epic masterpiece … so I suppose we have Image to thank for the TV show.