Image United #1 (Image Comics)

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imageunited-header.jpgSix of the seven Image founders—Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino—team up with writer Robert Kirkman for the mother of all mega-crossovers.

 

32 pgs., full color; $3.99

(W: Robert Kirkman; A: Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino)

Marvel and DC have peppered the landscape with so many mega-crossovers over the last five years that it's getting hard to get excited about them anymore. That Image Comics decided to get in on the crossover game isn't that surprising. That they decided to do it with a big, bold artistic gambit like Image United, though, is worth the excitement.

It's an idea with a simple premise but an almost preposterous level of effort in the execution: a six-part crossover featuring characters from six of the seven Image Comics founders (Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, and Jim Valentino—Jim Lee, sadly, is only contributing variant covers) where each time a character appears, he is drawn by his creator, turning almost every single panel into an artistic jam session between some of the biggest artists of the 1990's. As an artistic expression of the creator's rights struggle that caused the Image founders, then the hottest artists in all of comics, to chuck Marvel and DC to create and control their own characters, it's a brilliant idea. And as far as comic fan wet dreams go, you certainly don't have to look too far to find someone whose inner 13 year old squees at the idea of a Larsen-drawn Savage Dragon and a Liefeld-drawn Youngblood team going toe-to-toe with a McFarlane-drawn Overtkill.

Being an artistically-driven project, it's probably not that surprising that the writing suffers a bit. Invincible and Walking Dead writer Robert Kirkman was an inspired choice as writer (since he's basically the first of the Image generation of readers to grow up and make his own stamp in the industry), but his story only barely gets cooking in this first issue. Instead, we mostly get fight scenes overlaid with a lot of talk about a vague impending doom from Fortress, the book's narrator and a new armored hero created for the series by Portacio (since his first Image creation, Wetworks, is now a DC-owned property). It's not a bad start, but it lacks the kind of attention grabbing bang that Marvel and DC crossovers like Secret Invasion and Blackest Night use so well.

Kirkman's dialogue is decent but utilitarian, and he has a better grasp of some characters than others. Despite having written the characters previously, his wise-cracking Dragon and Badrock both fall a bit flat, and the brief appearance of the new Shadowhawk plays a fairly high cheese factor. Kirkman fortunately fares better with the clipped dialogue of the Cyberforce and Youngblood teams, but overall, nothing in the writing is really anything to write home about.

The art is clearly the star of this project and on that front, at least, Image United definitely delivers. All six artists are bringing their A-game, and it's a gas seeing these creators returning to their old heroes—especially Silvestri, McFarlane, and Valentino, who have rarely drawn these characters in recent years. With that many hands touching each page, the book could have ended up an awkward, ill-fitting hodge-podge, but the results are pleasingly unified, though Larsen and Portacio's characters tend to pop a bit more due to their chunkier inking styles.

Artistically, the only disappointment I had is that Liefeld laid out this first issue, and it most definitely reads like a Liefeld comic. I've never been a fan of his work so it's likely just personal bias talking, but the storytelling feels far too static, like it's reining in some of the power that these artists normally bring to the table. I can't help but think that letting one of the artists with a more dynamic layout style like Larsen or McFarlane handle the layouts would have provided the book with enough oomph to silence any naysayers.

Image United is a project aimed at a very specific group of fans, the kind that (like your reviewer) will happily plunk down enough cash to get all six of the book's interlocking covers. And those fans will likely have little trouble overlooking the series' shortcomings to revel in its killer artwork. | Jason Green

 

Check out the Image United production diary at http://www.imagecomics.com/imageunited/, and click here for an exclusive 5-page preview courtesy of Comic Book Resources.

 

 

 

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