From Spawn to Invincible: 10 best Image Comics series
Back in the 90s, a large group of creators from DC and Marvel were tired of not having full creative control over their creations. So, they decided to form their own comic book agency - Image Comics. This publisher went on to become the third largest in the comic book realm, having produced several titles that rival top stories from Marvel and DC alike.
With the creator of the title having full control, these characters are able to go in directions they would not have been allowed to, had the property been owned by the publisher.
A few of these properties have gone on to see a new life on the big and small screen. Titles like Witchblade and Powers are a few examples, but there have been many more.
Image Comics publications that prove how good the studio is
Todd McFarlane was one of the founders of Image and was already an established artist and storyteller with comic book characters. He was known for adding depth to the art in titles such as Spider-Man with more detail. He brought his star power along with him to Image, creating Spawn as his first comic with the publisher.
Spawn was once the human Al Simmons, but he was killed while on a mission for the CIA. In death, he made a deal with the devil to become a HellSpawn and returned to Earth. Deciding that he doesn't want to return to Hell, Spawn found his place in the afterlife, stopping evil despite being a servant for Hell.
A story with the protagonist being a heavily scarred warrior from Hell, working for demons, was nearly unheard of. Ghost Rider existed, but the level of demonic and religious imagery McFarlane put into the title was new. It was for a more mature audience, something Marvel and DC steered away from.
2) The Astounding Wolf-Man
Robert Kirkman quickly became a popular name amongst comic fans when he penned Marvel Zombies. He eventually went on to create several titles for Image Comics, one of which was The Astounding Wolf-Man. This comic followed Gary Hampton after he was attacked by a werewolf and struggled with his newfound curse.
Throughout the series, Gary was trained by the vampire Zechariah and searched for the werewolf that attacked him. Although the series has ended, the character continues to appear in other stories by Kirkman like Invincible.
While Gary might go on to become a superhero within the same universe as Invincible, The Astounding Wolf-Man is not a superhero story. In fact, the entire series is one long origin story that establishes Gary Hampton as a werewolf within Kirkman's universe.
Saga is a sci-fi story with fantasy elements weaved in, created by Brian K. Vaughan. Taking a page from Romeo and Juliet, with the main characters being from warring families, Saga tells the story of a couple on the run from the law while raising a child. It begins with the two characters, Alana and Marko, meeting in a prison where Marko is a prisoner of war and Alana is a prison guard.
The series went on hiatus for a few years but is still in publication and continues to be a popular title from Image. Vaughan has stated that he intends for the series to end with issue 108 and it's barely halfway there, so the series has a way to go before its conclusion.
For fans of Star Wars or Firefly, Saga is the story to checkout. Ignore that it resembles Romeo and Juliet in a way, because it dives much deeper than that. It's a great read because it deals with real issues like parenthood, war, social norms, gender roles, ethnicity, and so much more. Fiona Staples' artwork is masterful and gives the story the vibrant, whimsical look that it deserves.
4) East of West
Jonathan Hickman is notably known for his lengthy run on Marvel's Fantastic Four, The Avengers, and New Avengers. He's also had a few runs as the creator of several properties like The Manhatten Projects and The Nightly News. East of West is set apart from the others because it showcases some characters as protagonists that one wouldn't expect.
Set in a dystopian America where the Civil War never ended, the main protagonist is Death, one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. Betrayed by the three other horsemen, Death works to get his revenge against his former colleagues for the presumed death of his lover and child. He works alongside others who are trying to prevent the apocalypse in this sci-fi.
Created and illustrated by Jim Lee, WildC.A.T.s: Covert Action Team kickstarted what would eventually become the Wildstorm universe. The Wildstorm universe would go on to include The Authority, Stormwatch, Gen 13, and various other characters. The WildC.A.T.s were a grittier version of the X-Men.
This title was Jim Lee's first contribution to Image at its inception and was wildly popular in the 90s. It followed a team of superhero aliens (for the most part), who would eventually star in their own animated TV series and have their own line of toys. Eventually, the characters would find a home with DC Comics in the Wildstorm imprint.
Another creation from the mind of Robert Kirkman (Invincible, The Walking Dead), this time in collaboration with Image Comics founder Todd McFarlane (Spawn). While the later issues of the title received poor reception after the plot deviated from the original storyline and was used to tie-in with Spawn, the series started out strong with a unique foundation.
The story followed a Catholic priest, Daniel Kilgore, who became a superhero. His brother Kurt, a secret agent, died and ended up haunting Daniel. Kurt's primary goal was to investigate his death and figure out who killed him. When Kurt possessed Daniel, an ectoplasm suit formed around Daniel and granted him various abilities.
Haunt was a unique ghost story with amazing artwork by Ryan Ottley and Greg Capullo. The banter between the brothers was funny, yet it managed to maintain a level of seriousness the story called for. While still within the superhero genre, the tone was more in line with The Walking Dead.
7) The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman received a lot of praise for his work on Marvel Zombies, so it was only natural that his zombie series for Image, The Walking Dead, would receive the same accolades - which is why it is no surprise that the series had a TV adaptation that saw just as much commercial success.
The Walking Dead comic showed life during a zombie apocalypse, but dealt with many philosophical themes. It followed a group of survivors but primarily focused on Rick Grimes, a former Sheriff from Kentucky, and his family. Besides a TV series with multiple spin-offs, The Walking Dead franchise spawned multiple video games and novels.
The Walking Dead told a very human story that focused on different aspects of the human condition - something difficult to balance with what the fans really want to see, which is zombies. Its monochrome coloring adds to the timeless feel that the story has and is reminiscent of the original Night of the Living Dead.
8) The Old Guard
Greg Rucka (52, Batwoman, and Lazarus) is an Eisner award-winning writer, and for good reason. Image Comics' The Old Guard is about a team of soldiers with unexplained regenerating abilities that have allowed them to live for centuries. However, it's difficult to keep such a secret in the 21st century.
This is a unique story because it shows that there can be things in life much scarier than death - being imprisoned for the better half of eternity or being experimented on.
The Old Guard received a movie adaptation with screenplay written by Greg Rucka, so it remained faithful to the source material. Since it received generally positive reviews, Netflix has greenlit a sequel. The original cast is set to reprise their roles.
9) B*tch Planet
B*tch Planet is a title written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (Captain Marvel) that began publication in 2014. Kelly Sue DeConnick uses her role as a writer to promote feminism and feminist ideals, and B*tch Planet is a very clear representation of that. This is precisely what sets this title apart from others in the Image library - sending readers a deeper message than "good vs. evil" is sometimes necessary.
The series is about women who were deemed to be "non-compliant" and sent to a prison on another planet. The series jumps around in the timeline to show how the main characters were originally imprisoned, what their "crimes" were, and what their experiences inside the prison are like.
Ending the list is another Image Comics property by Robert Kirkman, who has clearly seen a mountain of success with his creations. Invincible is another of his well-known titles that is a bit more graphic than readers are accustomed to in the superhero genre. The comic very recently saw its first television adaptation with a series on Amazon Prime's streaming service.
Invincible follows high schooler Mark Grayson coming to grips with his alien heritage that grants him various super powers. Mark is mentored by his father, Omni-Man, to learn the ropes as a superhero.
Invincible is a relateable character for a lot of readers because he's a teen trying to balance multiple things. He has a home with a mother and a father that gets strained for one reason or another. He has relationships with friends and romantic interests that he tries to maintain on top of becoming a superhero. It deals with serious matters while sustaining a lighthearted and child-like tone.
Many titles from Image Comics are worth a read. However, these were the best because they each tried to bring something new to the market and succeeded. Fans get to witness social commentary, a twist on the four horsemen, a space opera, and a more relateable superhero. That's what Image Comics allows its creators - a canvas for experimentation.