I finally — FINALLY! — got that sweet, sweet Jim Lee cover of Image United #1, so at last I was able to dive in and embrace the madness.
The story is fairly rudimentary: a new Whilce Portacio character called Fortress has a mysterious suit of armor and sees visions of the Image heroes banded together against a common threat, who is revealed as (SPOILER ALERT!) Omega Spawn. (I find it interesting that all the fanboys who squawked when loser/nobody Nekron was spoiled as the villain of Blackest Night were silent when Image released the news that Al Simmons was the nemesis of this series.) Robert Kirkman is a solid, dependable writer, and it’s a shame that he’s not given more of a chance to show off like the artists are. However, he knows that the audience wants to see the art, so it’s to his credit that he’s able to fluidly get from scene to scene and keep the plot coherent while still giving each artist his own space to show off. He is absolutely doing better than his 1992 counterparts, but it’s obvious this story is driven by the artists, not the writer.
And how about that art? The Image partners are pulling out all the stops, showing off and putting out their best work, possibly even better than their heyday at Marvel or the start of Image. There’s a level of detail here that we haven’t really seen before. That may be due to Todd McFarlane, who everyone has admitted tweaked inks and added lines here and there, but it seems to be working.
I have to admit, it’s pretty cool to see the creators’ characters interacting with each other, not just in big splashy pages like #1, but in scenes where Marc Silvestri’s Cyberforce fights Erik Larsen’s Chickenhead and Sharkface (What? I don’t know their names!). The whole book is just FUN.
My only quibble (other than that I just said “quibble”) is that in places it looks like Larsen inked his characters with a sharpie. That’s a criticism about Larsen’s style, though, not this book, since the whole point of IU is that it’s a jam book.
As self-appointed World’s Foremost Liefeld Scholar (TM), I feel there are several things to note with his contributions specifically. Just to lay the groundwork here:
- I am not a Liefeld apologist. He frequently takes shortcuts and puts out sub-par work on a sub-par schedule, over-promising and under-delivering.
- It cannot be denied that at one point Rob was one of the biggest artists in the industry for a reason. Issues with anatomy, perspective, and storytelling aside, he is incredibly enthusiastic about comic books and that shows in the pages he draws. There is an energy in his art that is unmatched by anyone else in comics, and that’s why he’s had so many imitators over the years.
- When The Rob does the art on a book, I buy it. And pore over it. I love it, but I’m realistic about it’s strengths and weaknesses.
With that out of the way, you know how I said this book shows the best work any of these artists have put out in years? Double that with Liefeld. Maybe even triple. He’s doing everything here! Page layouts, facial expressions, extremities, and it all looks like what I think we wanted his work in the 90’s to look like. And it’s not like he didn’t have the opportunity to hide feet behind mysterious fog, either.
A huge portion of this has to do with his pencils being inked. I’ve been saying for some time that I think his decision to have his art colored straight from the pencils has been a bad idea. There’s too much sketchiness in the art, so there are far too many lines scattered all about. Being inked allows him to do the pencils he wants, but then go back and refine the line art, getting rid of everything extraneous. It’s entirely possible that all of this can be credited to Todd McFarlane coming back and making corrections, much like Karl Kesel did on Liefeld’s first work, but at least for the moment (and backed up by seeing hands and feet in Deadpool #900), I’m going to say that we’re seeing some real growth here.
I’d also like to point out the Kirkman/Liefeld commentary track again, partially because it’s relevant, and partially because The Rob explains that he did certain layouts as an “homage” to 1992, as if his style has evolved any since then (this isn’t to dog the man after laying down so much praise, but true is true).
If I had any sort of rating system Image United would get top marks. It’s not art-house comics, but it goes above and beyond expectations and provides an excellent superhero romp around the Image U., filling the promise made 17 years ago before each studio walled off their characters. It’s still only the first issue and we definitely need to see if they can keep up the enthusiasm (and schedule) for 6 issues, but we’re off to a great start.