Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Four-Color Fiend: IMAGE UNITED #1 (a spoiler or two)


Truly this is less about reviewing this particular comic than it is about my feelings about Image, some of its creators and my interaction with some of them.

Set the Way-Back Machine for San Diego, July of 1976, Sherman. The place the El Cortez Hotel where the San Diego Comic-con is being held. A twenty-five year old sailor is walking around at only the third convention he has ever attended. His second SDCC. There is a guy at a small table offering to draw super-heroes for a dollar. At the time the sailor’s favorite is Deathlok/Luther Manning (the original), so he asks the artist to draw him. The artist, a Jim Valentino, doesn’t remember on which side Deathlok’s face has a metal covering so after buying a VG copy of Astonishing Tales #25, the sailor (let’s call him Steve) returns and gets his sketch. He still owns it!

About twelve years later, Valentino (he no longer signs his first name to his work) is working for Marvel Animation and gives me, and my then wife, a tour. Year or two later, Valentino is writing & drawing GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY for Marvel. While there he is having some trouble with the then current editorial climate, meets some fellow artists, also unhappy and they decide they want to make a change. In 1992, Valentino and six other artists form Image Comics and begin publishing creator-owned titles.

That year I was working as a volunteer at the SDCC. I was helping out at a special event for the new Image Comics, taking tickets from the con-goers who were lucky enough to get them. Just before the doors open Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane and a couple of other Image folks ask me to let them take the tickets, giving the fans a surprise and a thrill. It actually helped to turn around my opinion about a couple of these guys, which was not 100% positive.

Next year (1993), at the first (and only) Philadelphia ComicFest, Todd McFarlane debated Peter David about artists vs. writers in comics and some of the Image practices. McFarlane and Erik Larson demonstrate they are both a**holes to a high degree, no matter what you may think of them as creators.

Let's flash forward to now:
Robert Kirkman, especially his work on his WALKING DEAD series, is among my favorite writers. Todd McFarlane is still an a**hole, but I can’t deny that I have read his SPAWN in the past and enjoyed it. I’ve enjoyed, but remain a bit confused by their new HAUNT series, which deals with two brothers who find they can merge into a brutal creature called Haunt.

IMAGE UNITED (IU) has been promoted for the past year and the idea of six of the original founders of Image working together does seem pretty cool. The Image Universe really has never merged in the way that the DC & Marvel Universes have. Of course, when you have six (originally seven) creators working in different styles and with different ideas of storytelling it would be all but impossible. Give them credit for trying for six issues, at least, to do that very thing.

The idea is good, but the execution (in the initial issue) doesn’t quite measure up. Like I said before, Kirkman is a good writer, however if the reader isn’t already familiar with the characters created by the six artists involved (Todd McFarlane, Jim Valentino, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larson, Marc Silvestri & Whilce Portacio) he/she is going to be pretty lost. While I give credit to Kirkman for having many of the characters call each other by name a glossary or something of the sort would really have been helpful. Also, a character called Fortress (whom I believe was created for this series by Portacio) narrates the story and appears to be almost as clueless as the reader. It doesn’t help! It seems that Fortress has been having visions of a ‘future’ in which all the superheroes must unite to fight an unknown foe. This villain is revealed at the end of the book and turns out to be one of the original Image heroes, now turned evil. I think his name is Monarch, but I could be wrong. (Sorry, could not resist!)

One of the draws (pardon the expression) of the series is that the characters will be drawn by their respective creators (McFarlane doing Spawn, Larson doing Savage Dragon, etc.) over layouts by Rob Liefeld. It’s interesting but makes things a bit strange looking, as the styles, shading, etc of each artist doesn’t allow you to really see the page as a whole, if you know what I mean. Like doing a comic book using characters cut out from different books and pasting them onto a background by yet another artist. I did something along those lines when I was in my early teens, sometimes tracing, sometimes cutting up comics to produce a piece with a Curt Swan SUPERMAN standing next to a Nick Cardy AQUAMAN. You get the idea, I’m sure.

Curiously, in the back of #1, there are a few pages of HAUNT (by Kirkman & McFarlane) that not only make more sense than the rest of the book, but explain things the first two issues of Haunt’s own title hasn’t gotten around to yet. It doesn’t say so, but I’m hoping for folks not reading IU that those pages appear in HAUNT #3.

I’m going to be honest and say that I don’t know if I’m going to stick around for the entire six issues of IU. It really depends on what happens in the second issue. I’ve read worse comics and with art not half as good, but at the price it might not be worth it. Also, do we really think this entire thing is going to come out on time?
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