Comic Book Club: On 25 Years of Image Comics
Huzzah! It's finally here! Welcome to the debut of the Geek:Life Comic Book Club. Over the coming months, Comic Book Club will bring you features, interviews, weekly recommendations, news, and reviews, hopefully fast becoming your go-to interweb hotspot for all things new and old in the comic book world.
Now, 2017 may well be the start of something wonderful over here at Geek:Life, however, this February was the 25th anniversary of something even more momentous in the comic book world. I am, of course, talking about the founding of Image Comics.
Back in February 1992, seven of Marvel's best-selling artists joined together to form Image. Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino were all becoming household names with comic book fans and yet saw little of the benefits working for the 'Big Two', financially or creatively. In response to their increasing frustration at corporate interference, Image was born: a publishing house that gives creators full ownership of their works and full freedom over their artistic direction.
Over the last 25 years, Image, which is now the third-largest comic book publisher in the world, has become known for bringing us some of the most innovative and interesting titles and characters, "across every genre, sub-genre, and style imaginable, from the finest artists and writers working in the medium today." (Direct quote there from the Image website - they know how incredible they are!)
In this debut of Comic Book Club, join us in celebrating the anniversary by looking at 25 of the best from the best.
The Founding Few
Where better to start than the titles that would be the vital spark to the success of Image. In 1992, Image Comics published three comic book series which remain with the studio today, two of which are still going and one which is getting a glossy 2017 reboot.
Created by: Rob Liefeld
Who should read it: Fans of Teen Titans and/or the excess of early 90s superhero comics
Youngblood was the very first Image Comics publication and also the very first million-selling Image Comic. The titular Youngblood is a government-funded superhero team, which includes Suprema, Doc Rocket, Shaft, Vogue, and Sentinel. The inspiration behind Youngblood was one question: "what would happen if superheroes really did exist?" Youngblood suggests real life superheroes would be treated like celebrities, subjected to fan followings, TV interviews and paparazzi, alongside dealing with saving the world on a daily basis.
Youngblood hasn't always remained with Image, however, it will soon be making a comeback! Rob Liefeld recently confirmed the superhero team will be resurrected with help from writer Chad Bowers and artist Jim Towe. If the artwork below is anything to go by, I think this modern reboot is one to look out for.
2. Savage Dragon
Created by: Erik Larson
Who should read it: Fans of Batman, The Incredible Hulk or the 1995 animated series
Savage Dragon is all about 'The Dragon', a green-skinned humanoid who has super strength and healing abilities but also suffers from amnesia. Early on in the series, he joined the Chicago police department, and though he has held various roles across the Image Universe, such as the leader of the Special Operations Strikeforce, he is generally found fighting mutant criminals in the Windy City.
Savage Dragon is now at issue #221 and impressively continues to be written and drawn by the original creator, Erik Larson. In fact, Savage Dragon is longest running, full colour, American comic book series that features one author/artist. If that isn't a testament to how beloved this character has been and continues to be, I don't know what is.
Created by: Todd McFarlane
Who should read it: Anyone that loves a compelling anti-hero
Spawn is the ultimate anti-hero. Now published by partner studio, Todd McFarlane Productions, Spawn started out as the tale of Al Simmons, a CIA assassin who is double-crossed and murdered by his friend and fellow CIA mercenary, Bruce Stinson (codename Chapel). His soul goes to Hell and it is here where Simmons makes a deal with the evil being, Malebolgia. Simmons thus becomes Spawn, a demonic undead creature sent back to Earth from Hell.
Over the years, Spawn has had many iterations, from hellspawn to anti-hero to angel to god. The series itself is now at issue #270 and continues to be overseen by McFarlane himself, consistently remaining a fan favourite. If you like your superheroes brutal and morally questionable, then this is for you.
The Robert Kirkman Effect
Robert Kirkman began creating comics published by Image in 2002. In 2003, he would create arguably the two most popular Image Comics publications to date: Invincible and The Walking Dead. By 2008, Kirkman had become the first person to be brought on as a partner at Image, and the rest is history as they say.
Created by: Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker
Who should read it: Fans of superheroes, "sci-fi as there is timey wimey wibbly wobbly stuff, different dimensions, parallel universes, family drama, horror, romance... it's perfect for anyone that loves comics... full stop!" - @nerdschatting
I am ashamed to admit I only recently picked this up. Broadly, Invincible tells the tale of the teenager Mark Grayson, who has gained the superpowers that allow him to become the superhero 'Invincible' from his father, the extraterrestrial superhero Omni-Man.
It was recently announced that after 14 years (Invincible is currently at issue #134), the comic was going to end by issue #144 with one final arc, 'The End Of All Things'. In a letter penned by Kirkman to fans, he had this to say:
"When Cory Walker and I created him, and with Ryan Ottley, since he joined the team with issue 8, the point of this series has always been to celebrate what we love about superhero comics, but always put our own spin on it. To play with the tropes of the genre, but twist them into something new, at all times, no matter what.
That is why villains sometimes win, and heroes give up... and eventually stop being heroes altogether... and change happens, and sticks, and characters die, and never come back... no matter how popular they are (we maybe should have kept Conquest alive).
So then, it stands to reason, that if most superhero comics continue forever with no end in sight and over their runs do not, in any way, tell a cohesive story that holds together to form a singular narrative... shouldn’t INVINCIBLE do the exact opposite?"
And that dedication to one of the most compelling and at times subversive superhero stories is what makes it an absolute must-read.
5. The Walking Dead
Created by: Robert Kirkman & Tony Moore
Who should read it: Zombie lovers, horror fans and watchers of The Walking Dead TV series
I don't think people talk enough about The Walking Dead. Which is, of course, an absolute lie. The Walking Dead, now at issue #165, has become so ingrained in popular culture due to the success of AMC's TV adaptation, now in its 7th successful season and renewed for an 8th, there isn't any entertainment medium left that The Walking Dead hasn't touched.
Alongside the TV series, there's the spin-off series Fear The Walking Dead, also by AMC, three very well-received video games from Telltale Games, multiple webisodes and novelisations, it's own conventions (e.g. Walker Stalker Con in London), and not forgetting to mention the clothing, Funko POP! series, and other collectibles/random merchandise. To put it simply, The Walking Dead is everywhere.
And to think, Image almost didn't even take the pitch (a black-and-white horror comic set in the zombie apocalypse was a hard sell in 2003).
For the few who remain completely unaware, The Walking Dead follows Rick Grimes, a pre-apocalypse deputy sheriff, and post-apocalypse reluctant leader of a community of survivors. As the story progresses, we all soon learn the zombies, or 'walkers', are the least of the survivors' worries.
Not only did The Walking Dead bring horror comics into the mainstream, for me, it reignited my love and appreciation for the beauty of black and white comics. The TV series has garnered a reputation for being a bit up and down, but please don't let this put you off if you do happen to watch it. The comic book series is one of the most consistently great I've had the pleasure of reading, and it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.
Created by: Robert Kirkman & Paul Azaceta
Who should read it: Fans of the paranormal, slow-burner horrors and watchers of the Outcast TV series
Outcast tells the story of Kyle Barnes, an outsider in his community whose family has been plagued by demonic possession his entire life. As an adult, he enlists the help of clergyman Reverend Anderson, as he goes in search of answers.
Kirkman and Azaceta's Outcast, which started in 2013, and is currently on issue #25, is a terrifying horror comic with very real scares. It's my personal opinion that this is the best comic Kirkman has written and Azaceta's artistry is sublime. On release, it was unsurprisingly instantly picked up and adapted into a TV series by Cinemax, which has been critically well received.
If you want to give Kirkman's writing a shot, and find the considerable number of issues / volumes for both Invincible and The Walking Dead intimidating, definitely put Outcast to the top of your reading pile. Alternatively, just put it to the top of your list anyway!
Catching The Legendary Brubaker
Ed Brubaker is a multi-Eisner Award winning comic book author, who is particularly well known for his work in crime-fiction comics. To be honest, that introduction doesn't do justice to the man, the legend!
He is considered as having some of the best runs on classic characters, such as Batman, Daredevil, Captain America, Catwoman and Uncanny X-Men. So in 2013, when Image Comics signed a 5-year exclusivity deal with Brubaker, this was a huge achievement for the publisher.
You may be wondering what the benefit is for Brubaker? Well, Image promise to publish anything Brubaker brings to them, no need to pitch it. What is the benefit for us readers? Well, take a look at some of his titles below with Image - that more than answers the question!
Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Fans of "GUNS! SEX! SECRET CULTS! AND MONSTERS!"
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been tag-teaming it up since 1999, and such is their reputation, their names together on the front cover are pretty much a guarantee of outstanding quality. I would argue Brubaker is at his absolute best when Phillips is creating the accompanying artwork. Never has this been more true than in the 24-issue Fatale.
Fatale is the life story of femme fatale, Josephine, who is seemingly immortal. Her life is chronicled from the 1930s to present day, with each issue jumping back and forth between different time periods. There are four main story arcs, the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1930s and the 1990s. The narrative is told from multiple points of view, though mainly Josephine and the unfortunate men who fall in love with her.
Fatale perfectly mixes gritty crime noir with a little dash of supernatural horror, and is a great place to start with the masters of the genre.
8. The Fade Out
Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Murder-mystery fans and lovers of 'Old Hollywood'
Before starting on The Fade Out, Brubaker was concerned the premise wouldn't have commercial appeal. He needn't have worried, as this title sold better than any of his and Phillip's previous titles. And as one of my firm favourite limited run comics (it ran for 12 issues), I can see exactly why.
The blurb from the Image Comics site describes The Fade Out as follows: "THE FADE OUT focuses in on the chaos in a Hollywood studio that follows the death of a starlet under suspicious circumstances and one writer’s guilt over a secret he’s keeping to save his skin." To describe any further than this could potentially take away from the beautiful nuances and well-crafted secrets to be found within this murder-mystery. So I'm going to simply say this: read it. You won't regret it.
9. Kill Or Be Killed
Created by: Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips
Who should read it: Fans of crime thrillers and vigilante killers
Kill Or Be Killed is a vigilante tale that subverts the usual tropes associated with this type of story. In an interview with Image Comics, Brubaker described it as "NOT about a guy whose parents—or wife and kids—are killed by the mob and now he's out for revenge. No, it's not about a hero, even, really...it's about a (mostly) average guy who is suddenly thrust into a situation he can barely understand." That "situation" is being forced to kill one person a month to survive.
The storytelling structure is completely different to the likes of Brubaker and Phillips previous works. It feels like Brubaker is upping the stakes, whilst also keeping it grounded in reality - the murders are visceral and ugly. Phillips too (along with colourist Elizabeth Breitweiser) are creating panels full of grit and chaos - gone is the glitz and glamour of The Fade Out.
Kill Or Be Killed is currently on issue #7 and is planned to continue as an ongoing monthly series for some time; in fact, Kirkman has apparently suggested Brubaker et al aim for at least 50 issues! I can't think of a better series to discover at the relative start.
When Eric Stephenson took the position of publisher at Image Comics in 2008, they were struggling a bit. Their market share was small, they weren't attracting talent and, aside from one or two series (see Invincible and The Walking Dead above), weren't publishing anything remarkable.
Within a year of taking the position, Image Comics were back on the map in a big way. In an interview with The A.V. Club, Stephenson attributes the renaissance with a renewed focus on publishing comics "by men and women who want to retain complete control over their work". The goal being to publish new material, new creativity. And boy, did it work.
Not only did they attract some of the biggest names in the industry, but they introduced the industry to some of the finest new talent.
Created by: John Layman & John Guillory
Who should read it: Fans of Red Dwarf; "it's very goofy sci-fi; it has a broad tone, but without being stupid." - @CallMeLiam
The concept of Chew is ridiculously original and completely hilarious. Tony Chu, the protagonist, is 'cibopathic', meaning he gets psychic impressions from anything he eats. He also happens to be a police officer. And a damned good one on account of his willingness to eat a little bits of his victims so he can figure out 'whodunit?' It's a gross job, but someone has to do it right? Oh, and if that weren't enough, the government has worked out Chu's secret. So there's that to contend with too.
Each of the 60 issues of Chew has a self-contained adventure, as well as over-arching character arcs that drive the overall story and subplots forward. Yes, there is a cybernetic killer rooster. And yes, when asked about some of the angles taken in Chew (in an interview with Comics Alliance), Layman said "No reason for any of it, except it’s dumb and tickles our funny bones." But its not all japes and comedy, its packs some punches too. If you're looking for a comic which represents the very essence of what makes Image great, this is it.
11. Morning Glories
Created by: Nick Spencer & Joe Eismer
Who should read it: Fans of sci-fi , the occult and teenage dramas; also, Spencer has described it as "Runaways meets Lost", so fans of those for sure!
Morning Glories focuses on six students at the prestigious prep school, Morning Glory Academy. The academy seems like your regular uninteresting boarding school, but beneath the veneer lies a tale of murder, torture and experimentation. Over the course of 50 issues, the six main characters must do what they can to try and survive.
The comic's real success comes from telling stories about characters of from diverse backgrounds. There is the tomboyish Casey, the smart girl with a flair for leadership; the mean girl Zoe, a popular Indian-American student; the pop-culture loving Hunter, who took to comics and general geekery when his parents separated; the manipulative Ike, an entitled rich kid from Manhattan who was accused of murdering his dad; the serious Jun, a gay Japanese student, sent to infiltrate the school and rescue his brother; and, finally, the depressed Jade, an emo kid who has been disowned by her father.
Morning Glories is cut down into 'seasons', much akin to TV series, so every few issues, rather than needing to reboot, it can bring an earth-shattering finale and then break to prepare for the next run. All only becomes clear when the whole series ends. If you like read twisty tales and be left guessing right until the very end, this is for you.
12. The Manhattan Projects
Created by: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Pitarra
Who should read it: History buffs, fans of 'alternate history' tales and anyone who wants to see Einstein imagined as a bad-ass
The Manhattan Projects is a high-concept comic book based on one question: what if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb, didn't end at the Atomic Bomb? The comic is filled with mad science, each issue one-upping the last.
Among the famous historical scientific figures in the series are Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. As you read, it is clear an astonishing amount of research has gone into each story, though it is important to remember this is by no means a history book. Is takes history, ramps it up x10, and leaves you absurdly entertained in the process.
Created by: Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples
Who should read it: Fans of vast sci-fi/fantasy universes, such as Star Wars/Game of Thrones, people who love romance, family drama, sexy comics, funny comics, beautiful comics, the list goes on...
Let me begin by saying I could write an entire article based on Saga alone, and it would probably be as many words as this whole essay is! It frequents many a 'best comic books ever' list and is oft quoted as being a great series for comic book newbies. In fact, when I went out to the Twitters to ask what their favourite Image Comics series was, over 80% said Saga! So, what IS Saga?
Saga is the Eisner award-winning epic sci-fi / fantasy series written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples. Set in a war between the planet Landfell, whose natives have wings on their backs, and its moon Wreath, whose natives have horns on their heads, Saga focuses on Alana of Landfell and Marko of Wreath, who go on the run after falling in love.
Saga is favourably compared to Star Wars, and yes, the war depicted does encompass the whole universe. However, I would argue whilst Saga is just like Star Wars, it is also nothing like Star Wars. It’s not black-and-white, two-dimensional good or bad; it’s just war. Brutal, violent, relentless war. Our heroes are not on a quest to end said war; they simply want to be left alone to bring up their daughter Hazel. And the ‘allies’ roped in to capturing the traitors make the worst bounty hunters (ok, that is kind of like Star Wars).
If you’re still in doubt, and think this sounds a bit like any other space opera, let me give you a flavour of the creativity found within the pages… Saga introduces us to a spaceship tree that goes where it likes, a people who have televisions for heads that display how they are feeling, a teenage ghost with no lower half and whose intestines hang below her, a half-naked bounty-hunting spider woman, and my personal favourite, Lying Cat, a blue hairless cat who loudly and obnoxiously screeches ‘LYING’ whenever someone near doesn’t tell the truth. I love it.
Vaughan and Staples have created something really special. It’s a little gonzo, totally beautiful, and one of the most real tales of love, family, relationships, sex, drama and comedy I have ever feasted my eyes on. And I URGE you to do the same.
14. East of West
Created by: Jonathan Hickman & Nick Dragotta
Who should read it: Fans of sci-fi westerns, such as Firefly and Westworld, or even fans of Battlestar Galactica, as “it’s got big themes, doesn’t spell things out at all and is dead serious in a way Firefly isn’t; plus robots.” - @CallMeLiam
East Of West debuted in March 2013, and presents to the reader a dystopian post-apocalyptic not-so-distant future in 2064, where the United States is no longer united, instead split into independent nations, and the leaders of these nations are conspiring to bring about the end of the world. In Hickman's prophetic world, robotic dogs, shapeshifters, demons and humans all coexist. Dragotta's artwork is perfectly gruesome, detailed yet minimalist at the same time.
As part of Image Comics Greatest Hits series, the creators picked a set of panels (from issues #8&9) which illustrate how perfectly gruesome East Of West is.
"Death visits the Oracle and loses an eye. She says she wants something, and I wanted the reader to think it was a kiss, but she takes his eye instead."
East Of West draws a lot of eerie parallels with the world we are living in today, in a daring and bold premise that sees the US civil war never having ended. Hickman's tagline for East Of West, which is a rework of John F. Kennedy's famous quote, is as follows: "The things that divide us are stronger than the things that unite us." In a world that appears more divided than ever, East Of West has become essential reading.
The New Batch
If 2008 saw the rebirth of Image Comics, then the past 2-3 years have seen Image mature into the colossal powerhouse it is today, known for publishing exceptional creator-owned comics. Many of its varied genre comics that are heavily revered began publication in 2014 and 2015, and are still ongoing to much critical and reader acclaim. No Image celebration would be complete without these titles.
15. Southern Bastards
Created by: Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
Who should read it: People who love a good crime story or revenge story
Southern Bastards takes place in Craw County, Alabama, the deep South of America and tells the tale of Earl Tubbs, a Southern man returning to his hometown to pack up his deceased father's (and ex-sheriff's) house. He intended to stay three days. When he witnesses the crime, corruption and injustice festering in his hometown though, he stays a lot longer.
The 'big bad' of the comic is Euless Boss, the high school football coach, owner of Boss BBQ, the shadiest of BBQ joints, and crime lord, who reigns supreme in Craw County. Murder, drugs, bribery - you name it, nothing is off the menu for Boss.
The creators describe Southern Bastards as a "Southern fried crime comic" and liken it to "The Dukes of Hazzard by the Coen Brothers". Being Southern men themselves helps keep this story authentic, weaving in a rich tapestry of Southern culture. Its not all BBQs, religion and football, but also a suffocating and grim tale of the human condition.
16. The Wicked + The Divine
Created by: Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie
Who should read it: Fans of dark fantasy, theology, mythology and mystery
The premise of The Wicked + The Divine, as taken from the blurb on the back of the first volume trade paperback, is "Every 90 years 12 gods return as young people. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are all dead." In this version of the Recurrence (the 90-year cycle), the gods have returned as pop stars.
The Wicked + The Divine (or WicDiv as called by fans of the series) looks at celebrity culture and the nature of obsession through human eyes as we follow these mythological beings tackling good versus evil and life versus death. The series is narrated by Laura Wilson, a 17-year-old human who is a 'fangirl' of The Pantheon, the 12 gods. In the first story arc, she befriends Lucifer, the androgynous David-Bowie lookalike, who has fire-starting powers.
Amongst the Pantheon, we meet Egyptian goddess Sakhmet, Norse god Odin (known as Woden), Shinto goddess Amaterasu, Hebrew god Nergal and Roman goddess Minerva.
Gillen tells a story diverse in race, gender, sexuality and religion, where these things are not used as plot points but rather more subtly. All the while telling a story about magic and mayhem that is a triumph in compelling narrative.
Created by: Scott Snyder & Jock
Who should read it: Fans of monsters and supernatural horror
Wytches at its core is series about monsters. The most obvious of which is the spindly, man-eating creatures known as wytches. The wytches live in woods, creating creepy things, such as love potions, life extenders and cures for a multitude of ailment, which are called 'boons'. The wytches will leave these boons to humans in exchange for the life of a loved one. And this is where we find the more subtle monster: human monsters. People willing to 'pledge' a loved one for selfish gain. And the wytches' devotees who will do what it takes to ensure those pledges are fulfilled.
The first story arc follows the Rook family who have just moved to a new town. Charlie is the bestselling author father, who is also a recovering alcoholic; Lucy is the doctor mother, who is struggling since a car crash left her paralysed from the waist down; and Sailor is their teenage daughter, who is still dealing with what she saw when her vicious bully from her previous school was dragged into a tree and devoured right before her eyes.
When Sailor is 'pledged' as a sacrifice to the wytches, Charlie's worst fears are realised and he must do all in his power to protect her.
Snyder has created a horror comic that on the surface appears to follow all the usual tropes of horror - brutal, bloody and violent with real monsters lurking in the dark. But deeper than that, is a tale of real fear: parental fear, fear of growing up, fear of letting go.
Combined with Jock's sublime artwork, which blends symbiotically with the deep, underlying horror of the story, this has fast become my favourite horror comic of recent years - and I'm sure yours too.
Created by: Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen
Who should read it: those with an interest in artificial intelligence, fans of Mass Effect, and lovers of great coming-of-age strories
Descender tells the story of Tim-21, a boy robot waking up after a decade of being decommissioned. The universe which Tim-21 wakes up to has turned against artificial intelligence, with all robots and androids being hunted down and destroyed.
Lemire describing the plot has said "This young boy wakes up and there's something secretly mysterious about him and his creation ... that could save the universe. So he becomes the most hunted robot in this hostile galaxy. Jumping from one planet to the next, looking for the secrets of his origins, with human and robot allies and enemies at each turn."
Nguyen's artwork is painterly, able to draw complex emotions on his characters' faces and create stunning galactic landscapes. Each world and each technological creation feels unique, while the softness in the drawing and colours somehow perfectly matches the universe as seen through a young boy's eyes.
Descender doesn't necessarily bring something completely new to the table, but it is completely beautiful and will often subvert your expectations of the sci-fi / robotics genre, and that is why it makes it on this list.
19. Paper Girls
Created by: Brian K. Vaughan & Cliff Chiang
Who should read it: Fans of Stranger Things, Stand By Me, the 1980s, alien invasion and mystery sci-fi
My favourite comic book of 2015, bar none, is Paper Girls. Following four ferocious 12-year-old paper delivery girls in 1988, Paper Girls is the ultimate answer to that craving for nostalgia whilst you wait for Season 2 of Stranger Things.
While out delivering papers at 4am on November 1st, the town of Stony Stream, where the girls live, is struck by an invasion from a mysterious future-dwelling force. To say anymore would reveal massive spoilers, but please do take my word when I say this is as fine a sci-fi mystery as they come.
Paper Girls is a neon-drenched pastiche of the 80s, a loving homage that remembers the time without the rose-tinted glasses. Tough, acerbic and pulling no punches, Paper Girls is a triumph.
20. I Hate Fairyland
Created by: Skottie Young
Who should read it: Fans of Adventure Time, Tank Girl and 90s cartoon comedy-violence (think Looney Tunes / Tom & Jerry)
I Hate Fairyland is the utterly demented comedy fantasy comic from Skottie Young. The description from the Image Comics website encourages the reader to "Join Gert and her giant battle-axe on a delightfully blood-soaked journey to see who will survive the girl who HATES FAIRYLAND."
Gertrude is the 6-year-old girl who fell into the magical world of Fairyland some 30 years ago and has been hacking and slashing her way through anything to find her way back home since. She has an insect side-kick named Larry, an enemy in the ruler of Fairyland, Queen Cloudia, and a 'frenemy' alliance with Darketh Deaddeath.
Gert may not have aged physically, but mentally she is a jaded, foul-mouthed, straight up psychotic adult who had long ago had enough of unicorns, magic, talking animals and whimsical elves.
Scottie Young takes many of the tropes and clichés found in children's stories and subverts them into something altogether more twisted and laugh-out-loud funny. If you're looking for something unlike anything you've ever seen before, check out the candy-coloured, ultra-violent I Hate Fairyland.
The Femme Movement
Feminism in comics means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For some it is a female character fulfilling a typically male role, fighting the patriarchy, and generally being free of the objectification often found in comics (c'mon now, lets be honest, some of those superhero costumes are wildly unfit for purpose). For others it is a female story written by female author, someone who 'truly gets it', 'it' being what its actually like being a woman. For many, it is about female characters our daughters can look up to and aspire to; strong, independent and intelligent women.
For me it simply means female characters being penned in an authentic and relatable way. That means they aren't all good or all bad. They do have 'real' bodies. They are flawed. Most importantly, they feel genuine.
And this is where I feel Image is really leading the pack. The last 5 of our '25 of the best from the best' unequivocally fall into the feminist comic category, and do so with aplomb. These are the comics you read for original and inspiring women's voices.
21. I Kill Giants
Created by: Joe Kelly & J.M. Ken Niimura
Who should read it: Fans of Dungeons and Dragons, Nimona and people who like a side of emotional gut-punch with their comics
I Kill Giants was a 7-issue limited series in 2008 about Barbara Thorson, a girl who is struggling with real life, so finds comfort in a fantasy life filled with magic and monsters.
Kelly himself describes the comic as "a story about a girl who's a bit of an outsider - she's funny, but totally in our geekland: she's obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons, she doesn't have a lot of friends, she's a bit of a social misfit. She's taken her fantasy life a little far, and really only talks about giants to people. She's convinced that giants are real and giants are coming, and its her responsibility to stop them when they show up."
I Kill Giants deals with some big themes like grief, bullying and escapism. So many young girls will relate to Barbara, myself included, and her stubborn need to remain in a fantasy world. Real life may terrify her, but as long as she has her trusty warhammer, Coveleski, she will dare to fight any beast. In her fantasy world, she is brave in the face of fear, while in her real world, she hides away from it. She is quite possibly all of us.
22. Rat Queens
Created by: Kurtis J. Wiebe
Who should read it: Fans of adventure, medieval fantasy and, again, Dungeons and Dragons
Rat Queens has been described as 'Lord of the Rings meets Bridesmaids', and honestly, that's pretty apt. The titular 'Rat Queens' are a questing party in the medieval town of Palisade, comprised of rockabilly elven mage Hannah, hipster dwarven warrior Violet, atheist human cleric Dee, and hippie halfling thief Betty. (Yes, Wiebe created these characters as a 'love letter to D&D').
Rat Queens doesn't bring something especially new to the swords and sorcery genre, except for the fact our main protagonists are women. Booze-guzzling, monster-killing, drug-addled, vitriol-spilling, ridiculously obnoxious women. They quest for fun and money, to fuel their debaucherous lifestyles; they most certainly aren't 'heroines', proving themselves to be more Chaotic Neutral, than Chaotic Good (if you got that D&D reference, *high five*).
Winner of the 2015 FLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book for its portrayal of LGBT characters, that ultimately is Rat Queens triumph. In a beautiful and engaging story, it has brought some of the best, most diverse and wonderfully subversive characters not just to fantasy genre, but also comic books in general.
And if you're completely new to Rat Queens, then REJOICE, as just this month (March 2017) it got a 'soft reboot' at issue #1. Get in to a new story right from the beginning!
23. Pretty Deadly
Created by: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Emma Rios
Who should read it: Lovers of westerns and ghost stories, as well as fantastical fairy tales
The third collaboration for creators Kelly Sue DeConnick and Emma Rios, Pretty Deadly is the part-western, part-fairy tale, part-ghost story about redemption, revenge and destiny. The story follows Death's daughter, Deathface Ginny, who has skulls on her face and is accompanied by a horse made of smoke as she traverses the Old West. There is also Sissy, who is destined to become death, and Big Alice, who relentlessly chases down the runaway Ginny.
This comic is an entirely unique story, one that only really makes sense in the last few panels, and one that begs to be re-read. DeConnick has created multi-faceted characters, that combined with Rios' outstanding ethereal artwork, make for one of the more intriguing comics on this list.
24. Bitch Planet
Created by: Kelly Sue DeConnick & Valentine De Landro
Who should read it: Fans of 1960s exploitation movies, dystopian sci-fi and satire
Bitch Planet is the ultimate dystopian sci-fi feminist comic that every comics fan should be reading. In the near future, women who refuse to fit the mold are branded as "non-compliant" and shipped off into outer space to the Auxiliary Compliance Outpost that is also known as Bitch Planet.
The planetary prison is run by a holographic nun, who wears an all-white corset to cover her Barbie-esque body, called The Catholic. In a bid to impress her superiors, the authoritarian group The Council of Fathers, the prison warden creates a brutal bloodsport, Megaton, which sees inmates volunteered in a rugby-like game whilst televised for those on Earth.
The incarcerated women come in all shapes and sizes, from all races and religions. Their crimes range from murder to disobeying their husbands to simply being "too fat". A corrupt patriarchy decides what is "non-compliant". And as the warden aptly points out, "Non-compliance is not recommended".
Bitch Planet is about as subtle as a shark attack (what did you expect, really - its called Bitch Planet!) but don't let that put you off. It is fun, violent, suspenseful, surprising and it constantly pushes boundaries; everything you could want from a comic and more.
Created by: Marjorie Liu & Sana Takeda
Who should read it: If you love Game of Thrones and 'history retold' type stories, you will love this
Monstress tells the story of a young woman and her monster, set against the backdrop of a reimagined 1900s matriarchal Asia.
Taken from a Spotlight on the Image Comics website, "the series features war, monsters, evil jailers, witch-nuns, and cruelty delivered to the lower class from the upper class. But it's the mix that's different, the way Liu & Takeda have taken all these concepts we know and enjoy and turned them into something new. MONSTRESS takes place in an alternate version of early 1900s Asia, with a firm art deco influence in its visual style. This world is different from ours, more ornate and cruel, and one where magic and science aren't too far off from each other."
The story touches on social and political issues, such as race and feminism, whilst also building a world so epic, it is rarely seen so early on in comics (the first issue was 3 times bigger than the average first issue). Its about inner strength and survival in a post-apocalyptic world run almost entirely by women and otherwordly entities.
Its hard not to invest in the lead character and her struggles and triumphs in this most beautiful of comics.
And THAT, my friends, concludes this article! If you made it all the way to the end, thank you so much for taking the time to read. If you have any to add, let me know in the comments or @ me on Twitter.
Comic Book Club is the comics-oriented geek out column on The Digital Fix. Let us know what you're reading or what you're going to read and if you have an idea for a feature or recommendation, contact us on Twitter (@GeekDigitalFix) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).