Comic Book Club: On 25 Years of Image Comics

Catching The Legendary Brubaker

Ed Brubaker is a multi-Eisner Award winning comic book author, who is particularly well known for his work in crime-fiction comics.  To be honest, that introduction doesn't do justice to the man, the legend!

He is considered as having some of the best runs on classic characters, such as Batman, Daredevil, Captain America, Catwoman and Uncanny X-Men.  So in 2013, when Image Comics signed a 5-year exclusivity deal with Brubaker, this was a huge achievement for the publisher.

You may be wondering what the benefit is for Brubaker?  Well, Image promise to publish anything Brubaker brings to them, no need to pitch it.  What is the benefit for us readers?  Well, take a look at some of his titles below with Image - that more than answers the question!

7. Fatale

Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Fans of "GUNS! SEX! SECRET CULTS! AND MONSTERS!"

imageEd Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been tag-teaming it up since 1999, and such is their reputation, their names together on the front cover are pretty much a guarantee of outstanding quality.  I would argue Brubaker is at his absolute best when Phillips is creating the accompanying artwork.  Never has this been more true than in the 24-issue Fatale.

Fatale is the life story of femme fatale, Josephine, who is seemingly immortal.  Her life is chronicled from the 1930s to present day, with each issue jumping back and forth between different time periods.  There are four main story arcs, the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1930s and the 1990s.  The narrative is told from multiple points of view, though mainly Josephine and the unfortunate men who fall in love with her.

Fatale perfectly mixes gritty crime noir with a little dash of supernatural horror, and is a great place to start with the masters of the genre.

8. The Fade Out

Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Murder-mystery fans and lovers of 'Old Hollywood'

imageBefore starting on The Fade Out, Brubaker was concerned the premise wouldn't have commercial appeal.  He needn't have worried, as this title sold better than any of his and Phillip's previous titles.  And as one of my firm favourite limited run comics (it ran for 12 issues), I can see exactly why.

The blurb from the Image Comics site describes The Fade Out as follows: "THE FADE OUT focuses in on the chaos in a Hollywood studio that follows the death of a starlet under suspicious circumstances and one writer’s guilt over a secret he’s keeping to save his skin."  To describe any further than this could potentially take away from the beautiful nuances and well-crafted secrets to be found within this murder-mystery.  So I'm going to simply say this: read it.  You won't regret it.

9. Kill Or Be Killed

Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Fans of crime thrillers and vigilante killers

imageKill Or Be Killed is a vigilante tale that subverts the usual tropes associated with this type of story.  In an interview with Image Comics, Brubaker described it as "NOT about a guy whose parents—or wife and kids—are killed by the mob and now he's out for revenge. No, it's not about a hero, even,'s about a (mostly) average guy who is suddenly thrust into a situation he can barely understand."  That "situation" is being forced to kill one person a month to survive.

The storytelling structure is completely different to the likes of Brubaker and Phillips previous works.  It feels like Brubaker is upping the stakes, whilst also keeping it grounded in reality - the murders are visceral and ugly.  Phillips too (along with colourist Elizabeth Breitweiser) are creating panels full of grit and chaos - gone is the glitz and glamour of The Fade Out.

Kill Or Be Killed is currently on issue #7 and is planned to continue as an ongoing monthly series for some time; in fact, Kirkman has apparently suggested Brubaker et al aim for at least 50 issues!  I can't think of a better series to discover at the relative start.

The Renaissance

When Eric Stephenson took the position of publisher at Image Comics in 2008, they were struggling a bit.  Their market share was small, they weren't attracting talent and, aside from one or two series (see Invincible and The Walking Dead above), weren't publishing anything remarkable.

Within a year of taking the position, Image Comics were back on the map in a big way.  In an interview with The A.V. Club, Stephenson attributes the renaissance with a renewed focus on publishing comics "by men and women who want to retain complete control over their work".  The goal being to publish new material, new creativity.  And boy, did it work.  

Not only did they attract some of the biggest names in the industry, but they introduced the industry to some of the finest new talent.

10. Chew

Created by: John Layman & John Guillory
Who should read it: Fans of Red Dwarf; "it's very goofy sci-fi; it has a broad tone, but without being stupid." - @CallMeLiam

imageThe concept of Chew is ridiculously original and completely hilarious.  Tony Chu, the protagonist, is 'cibopathic', meaning he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats.  He also happens to be a police officer.  And a damned good one on account of his willingness to eat a little bits of his victims so he can figure out 'whodunit?'  It's a gross job, but someone has to do it right?  Oh, and if that weren't enough, the government has worked out Chu's secret.  So there's that to contend with too.

Each of the 60 issues of Chew has a self-contained adventure, as well as over-arching character arcs that drive the overall story and subplots forward.  Yes, there is a cybernetic killer rooster.  And yes, when asked about some of the angles taken in Chew (in an interview with Comics Alliance), Layman said "No reason for any of it, except it’s dumb and tickles our funny bones."  But its not all japes and comedy, its packs some punches too.  If you're looking for a comic which represents the very essence of what makes Image great, this is it.

11. Morning Glories

Created by: Nick Spencer & Joe Eismer
Who should read it: Fans of sci-fi , the occult and teenage dramas; also, Spencer has described it as "Runaways meets Lost", so fans of those for sure!

imageMorning Glories focuses on six students at the prestigious prep school, Morning Glory Academy.  The academy seems like your regular uninteresting boarding school, but beneath the veneer lies a tale of murder, torture and experimentation.  Over the course of 50 issues, the six main characters must do what they can to try and survive.

The comic's real success comes from telling stories about characters of from diverse backgrounds.  There is the tomboyish Casey, the smart girl with a flair for leadership; the mean girl Zoe, a popular Indian-American student; the pop-culture loving Hunter, who took to comics and general geekery when his parents separated; the manipulative Ike, an entitled rich kid from Manhattan who was accused of murdering his dad; the serious Jun, a gay Japanese student, sent to infiltrate the school and rescue his brother; and, finally, the depressed Jade, an emo kid who has been disowned by her father.

Morning Glories is cut down into 'seasons', much akin to TV series, so every few issues, rather than needing to reboot, it can bring an earth-shattering finale and then break to prepare for the next run.  All only becomes clear when the whole series ends.  If you like read twisty tales and be left guessing right until the very end, this is for you.

12. The Manhattan Projects

Created by: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra
Who should read it: History buffs, fans of 'alternate history' tales and anyone who wants to see Einstein imagined as a bad-ass

imageThe Manhattan Projects is a high-concept comic book based on one question: what if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb, didn't end at the Atomic Bomb?  The comic is filled with mad science, each issue one-upping the last.

Among the famous historical scientific figures in the series are Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman.  As you read, it is clear an astonishing amount of research has gone into each story, though it is important to remember this is by no means a history book.  Is takes history, ramps it up x10, and leaves you absurdly entertained in the process.

13. Saga

Created by: Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Who should read it: Fans of vast sci-fi/fantasy universes, such as Star Wars/Game of Thrones, people who love romance, family drama, sexy comics, funny comics, beautiful comics, the list goes on...

imageLet me begin by saying I could write an entire article based on Saga alone, and it would probably be as many words as this whole essay is!  It frequents many a 'best comic books ever' list and is oft quoted as being a great series for comic book newbies.  In fact, when I went out to the Twitters to ask what their favourite Image Comics series was, over 80% said Saga!  So, what IS Saga?

Saga is the Eisner award-winning epic sci-fi / fantasy series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Set in a war between the planet Landfell, whose natives have wings on their backs, and its moon Wreath, whose natives have horns on their heads, Saga focuses on Alana of Landfell and Marko of Wreath, who go on the run after falling in love.

Saga is favourably compared to Star Wars, and yes, the war depicted does encompass the whole universe. However, I would argue whilst Saga is just like Star Wars, it is also nothing like Star Wars. It’s not black-and-white, two-dimensional good or bad; it’s just war. Brutal, violent, relentless war. Our heroes are not on a quest to end said war; they simply want to be left alone to bring up their daughter Hazel. And the ‘allies’ roped in to capturing the traitors make the worst bounty hunters (ok, that is kind of like Star Wars).

If you’re still in doubt, and think this sounds a bit like any other space opera, let me give you a flavour of the creativity found within the pages… Saga introduces us to a spaceship tree that goes where it likes, a people who have televisions for heads that display how they are feeling, a teenage ghost with no lower half and whose intestines hang below her, a half-naked bounty-hunting spider woman, and my personal favourite, Lying Cat, a blue hairless cat who loudly and obnoxiously screeches ‘LYING’ whenever someone near doesn’t tell the truth. I love it.

Vaughan and Staples have created something really special. It’s a little gonzo, totally beautiful, and one of the most real tales of love, family, relationships, sex, drama and comedy I have ever feasted my eyes on. And I URGE you to do the same.

14. East of West

Created by: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
Who should read it: Fans of sci-fi westerns, such as Firefly and Westworld, or even fans of Battlestar Galactica, as “it’s got big themes, doesn’t spell things out at all and is dead serious in a way Firefly isn’t; plus robots.” - @CallMeLiam

imageEast Of West debuted in March 2013, and presents to the reader a dystopian post-apocalyptic not-so-distant future in 2064, where the United States is no longer united, instead split into independent nations, and the leaders of these nations are conspiring to bring about the end of the world.  In Hickman's prophetic world, robotic dogs, shapeshifters, demons and humans all coexist.  Dragotta's artwork is perfectly gruesome, detailed yet minimalist at the same time.

As part of Image Comics Greatest Hits series, the creators picked a set of panels (from issues #8&9) which illustrate how perfectly gruesome East Of West is.

"Death visits the Oracle and loses an eye.  She says she wants something, and I wanted the reader to think it was a kiss, but she takes his eye instead."

East Of West draws a lot of eerie parallels with the world we are living in today, in a daring and bold premise that sees the US civil war never having ended.  Hickman's tagline for East Of West, which is a rework of John F. Kennedy's famous quote, is as follows: "The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us."  In a world that appears more divided than ever, East Of West has become essential reading.

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