Reading and reviewing the 1992-93 launch titles for Image Comics

Cavalcade Comics

You may have heard on Nerd Lunch that I set out a goal of reading the original flagship titles of Image Comics’ 1992 launch. I remember collecting comics at the time, but I mostly ignored the Image Comics onslaught because as a comic reader, I wasn’t a fan of most of those guys. Todd McFarlane I knew from Spider-Man and Venom, and I liked him, but Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld I knew from X-Men and X-Force and I was NOT a fan. Back then, Lee and Liefeld had very similar art styles that I hated. Lee has since evolved into one of my favorite artists but Liefeld has not evolved AT ALL and continues to be an atrocious artist. Again, if you listen to the podcast, you may have heard me mention Liefeld a few times.

Regardless, I was waxing nostalgic about that 1992 Image comics launch and regretting that I never really gave those first 6 or 7 titles a chance, especially now that I am a big fan of Jim Lee.  So, I thought I’d revisit those launch titles today with fresh eyes and see if they still hold up.

So, let’s go in the order I read them.

Spawn 01 Spawn splash page
Spawn  (creator: Todd MacFarlane) – Released in May 1992.  This is the big launch release of Image.  It wasn’t first, that award goes to Liefeld’s Youngblood, which I’ll get to, but this title personifies the early days of Image Comics.  And I’ve never read it.  I think I even own the first issue from when I bought it off the comic rack, but I never read it.  Looking over the run of the series the first 20 issues features mostly McFarlane with fill-ins by Greg Capullo on art as well as Grant Morrison, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Erik Larsen, Dave Sims and Frank Miller on writing duties whenever Todd had to drop off to do a crossover.  So I thought those 20 issues was a good indicator of the series as a whole.  So that’s what I read, and, for the most part, I liked it.  The story is a little disjointed and all over the place, but Spawn as a concept is pretty cool and it keeps a lot of the mystery of the character alive by not revealing too much all at once.  And McFarlane’s art style is CRAZY.  It’s a very splash page heavy aesthetic with ridiculous amounts of cape porn.  I thought Batman artists like to draw capes, but McFarlane is not only on a different level, he’s playing a completely different game.  Amazing. I’d recommend this, the art definitely elevates this, but the story isn’t that bad either.

Wildcats #1 Wildcats #4
WildC.A.T.S. (creators: Jim Lee and Brandon Choi) – Of all the titles I was planning to read, this was the one I was most excited about.  Like I mentioned, Jim Lee is currently one of my favorite artists.  He won me over with Batman: Hush and his work on the New 52 Justice League.  Since these early Image days Lee has evolved into an amazing artist.  Traveling back in time to 1992 to read the first 13 issues of this title, I remember why I stopped reading X-Men. This book is pretty much garbage. The art is confusing and jumbled.  There are WAY too many characters and WAY too many characters are too similar to each other as well as WAY too similar to Wolverine.  By my count there are at least three overt Wolverine analogs in this book.  And holy sh*t, Lee, stop putting SO MUCH F**KING DIALOG ON THE PAGE.  Check out this splash page (click to make BIGGER).

Wildcats splash page

This is the problem with the entire comic. Too many characters, too much backstory, too much goddam dialog.  It was a monumental chore reading through the first 13 issues.  I’m glad that’s over.  I also acquired a later run of WildC.A.T.S. which featured a redesign by Alan Moore who wrote about 14 issues of the title in the late 90s.  However, I’m going to wait a little bit to read those.  I’m WildC.A.T.’ed out.  Plus, I HATE typing that stupid title with the periods every. single. time.

Savage Dragon 01 Savage Dragon 02
The Savage Dragon (Creator: Erik Larsen) – This was the title I was most excited about trying after WildC.A.T.S. (HATE. Typing. That. Name.).  I’ve never read Larsen’s Dragon comic but I’ve always wanted to start.  This was the perfect opportunity.  It was tough to ferret out where I should begin.  Apparently it started as a four issue mini-series, and then began as a regular title, starting over again at #1.  Once I figured that out, I was able to grab the Baptism of Fire collection with that first mini-series and then also grab the first 6 issues of the regular title.  I also bought a standalone issue #0 from 2009 which featured the never before revealed origin of Savage Dragon that was only printed in one of Image Comics’ anniversary collections.  And it holds up.  This is a pretty fun, creative book.  Larsen has a lot of fun with the characters and introduces interesting villains and side characters you actually want to read about.  There are even some awesome guest stars like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in issue #2.  All in all, a pretty great book that I would love to continue reading from this point forward.  And it’s amazing to me that Erik Larsen has written and drawn the majority of this book since the very beginning.  Keep on keepin’ on, Erik.

Youngblood #1 Youngblood #3
Youngblood (Co-creators: Rob Liefeld and Joe Casey) – I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.  That I wouldn’t contribute to the Liefeld machine by reading his comics.  But I just didn’t feel like this exercise was complete until I at least got through the first story arc in this book which, chronologically, birthed Image Comics.  I bought the first 4 issues from Comixology and I feel like a dirty whore after doing it (but I used ad revenue from this blog to do it, so technically it wasn’t my money).  Now that I’ve read it, all of my previous beliefs about Liefeld are confirmed.  He’s a terrible goddamed artist.  His panel composition is retarded.  His ideas about the proportions of the human body are….can I say f**ked?  Because they’re f**ked.  I mean look at the covers above.  Especially the one on the right.  WHAT. THE. HELL. LIEFELD?  This book’s art is garbage.  I’m pissed I bought this title, but I had to know.  The story?  Honestly, there are germs of ideas here.  Germs of things that could have been good.  Maybe even great.  I think that’s all Joe Casey.  And had Casey been allowed to work and not have, what I imagine was, Liefeld rewriting everything to be more “bad ass” we may have had something good.  I won’t say great because unless they got a completely different artist, this comic would NEVER have been great.  What we do have is a giant missed opportunity of a book with cliched writing and art that looks like a twelve year old with crippling ADHD drew it while chain drinking espressos.

Cyberforce_V1_1 Cyberforce Hunter Killer 03
Cyber Force (creators: Eric and Marc Silvestri) – This comic and team has had many different iterations over the years. The original version being released by Silvestri’s Top Cow (under Image’s banner) back in 1992.  This was the hardest version to find.  That first volume of Cyber Force (picture on left) was unavailable to me so I didn’t get to read it.  HOWEVER, I did in a roundabout way, obtain two of those early issues, #2 and #3.  You see, those two issues are a part of a crossover story arc with WildC.A.T.S. called Killer Instinct.  And they were generously included in the WildC.A.T.S. issues I obtained.  And they are every bit as bad as the WildC.A.T.S. (why am I still typing this name?!) issues. The characters are just as dumb including their own Wolverine clone called RipClaw.  And a bunch of other pumped up, bionic forgettables.  That should have been the name of the comic; The Forgettables.  However, I also decided to check out a newer iteration of the team written by Mark Waid and drawn by Kenneth Rocafort called Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer (picture on right).  It’s a crossover between Silvestri’s team and Waid’s own Hunter Killer title.  And that, not surprisingly since it’s Waid, is REALLY good.  There’s lots of bio- and nano- tech weaponry.  And it’s used in a pretty cool way.  The art by Rocafort is gorgeous and the story is interesting.  And the characters are interesting as well.  I would recommend the Cyberforce/Hunter-Killer crossover.  I liked it so much I think I’m going to read Waid’s original 12 issue Hunter-Killer comics from 2005.  And, I would probably recommend Waid’s original Hunter Killer title first, because there was definite back story I was lacking for the crossover, but Waid is such a good writer that you can pretty much fill in the blanks without too many problems.

And that was my little walk through of Image Comics circa 1992-1993.  It was a lot of fun to reach back and read these things with over 20+ years of comics reading behind me.  There were several surprises and at least one thing that turned out the way I expected.  but I may have found a few titles to take away that I probably would have never read had I not done this.  And that, my comic reading friends, is what we in the biz call, a “win”.

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