The last three weeks, we’ve been looking at good comic book options for those inspired by the umpteen movies a year based on them now hitting theaters. Week 1 was Marvel and when we looked at DC last week, I mentioned that though they are the second best-selling company, they’re not the second best company any more. That would be Image Comics (and if you wanted to argue for first, you could make a strong case).
Why are there no new huge super heroes or super villains being developed at DC or Marvel? One or two may break out a decade, but most of the Marvel canon was churned out in five years. Why aren’t we getting new icons? The answer to that has been a battle for as long as comics have been a medium: creator-owned rights. Take Jerry Siegel. Do you know who Jerry Siegel is? He’s one of the co-creators of Superman and, far from making him rich for it, DC pushed him out and in the 1960’s as Marvel was beginning, Stan Lee had Jerry Siegel writing token copy in a desk in the corner just because he felt sorry for him. Essentially, if you work for Marvel or DC, what you create belongs to them.
In the early 1990’s comics were dominated by star artists (whereas now the writers hold sway). A number of the most popular including Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri and Rob Liefeld broke away and formed their own company called Image Comics. It was immediately successful off the backs of books like Spawn and Savage Dragon (both of which are still running), but the entire comics industry crashed in the later part of the decade and Image wandered in the desert until it bumped into Robert Kirkman. Kirkman had particularly strong feelings about creator-owned work and wanted to transform Image into a place where writers and artists could come to do their own thing under the Image banner and retain control of their work product. If you find the name Robert Kirkman familiar, it’s because he created The Walking Dead, which has made-through comics, the AMC TV show, merchandise and video games enough money for Kirkman to have a Scrooge McDuck-level money bin.
The Walking Dead changed the game (Mark Millar and Kick Ass also were happening at the same time and contributed) and creators basically demanded that they be allowed to work at Image on their pet projects while working on DC and Marvel books (Jonathan Hickman, writer of the #1 book on the list writes Avengers for Marvel). Not wanting to lose the talent, they’ve relented and Marvel has even started its own creator-owned brand (Icon), though it’s not really taken off. Many of the Image creators simply work for Image, though, and it’s not a shared universe like the big two companies; it’s a publishing house. The five best comics I’ve picked are about crazy scientists, zombies, a detective who is a cibopath (can learn the history of something by eating it), an epic science fiction adventure and one super hero book. It should be pointed out that these are mature titles. Do not be handing an issue of The Walking Dead to an eight-year-old unless you want that child in therapy. But for adults who love stories of all kinds, Image may be the best comic banner for your buck.
1. The Manhattan Projects
3. The Walking Dead
Honorable Mention: Bedlam, East of West, Fatale, Moriarty, Morning Glories Revival, Thief of Thieves