Published on January 22nd, 2015 | by Valerie Acklin
An Image Comics Starter Kit: 6 Graphic Novels You Can’t Live Without
Face facts. There’s simply not enough time to read all the comics on your must-read list. At least not if you’d also like to hold down your library job, raise a family, have a social life, or be an otherwise productive member of society. So working out what you need to read from that list of what you want to read is key to your happiness. Especially if you’re a newcomer to Image Comics. With so many promising titles being published by Image each month, figuring out where to start can be an off-putting task. That’s where this list comes in. It covers the six titles (hey, I know you’re crazy busy and don’t have time for more) that you’ve got to read in order to familiarize yourself with Image. And familiarize yourself, you should. Because when it comes to adult graphic novels, no library collection is complete without proper representation from the top publisher of creator-owned content in the United States and these winning titles are a great start.
Brian K. Vaughn/Fiona Staples
Are there any accolades left that haven’t been heaped (and deservedly so) upon Saga? Probably not. But that’s not about to stop me. Epic in scope and intimate in execution, Saga is an exquisitely told tale about the things that both draw people closer and drive them apart: family, culture, war, sex, and politics. That it does so by covering tried and true ground in an utterly compelling and creative way is nothing short of miraculous. Lead characters Alana and Marko defy their warring planets and embark on an illegal love affair that has them running across the galaxy (with baby Hazel in tow) in an attempt to escape capture by either side. There’s no good or evil here, because things are never that simple. Instead, everyone involved – from a robot prince, to a ghostly babysitter missing her lower extremities, to a topless half-spider/half-woman bounty hunter – illuminates the best and the worst of human(oid)kind. Did I mention that it’s also sarcastic and funny and sexy and sentimental and beautiful and utterly crazy? Well, it’s all that and more. Go read it. Go read it now.
Why it wins: Do you need a reason other than Lying Cat – the blue hairless Sphinx cat that infuriatingly yells “Lying!” whenever it’s around someone who’s doing just that? Okay, then how about because when you run across people who get all up in your face and complain that graphic novels/comics aren’t real literature/art, you can hand them this and feel like you’ve helped make the world a better place.
Volume One: Sass and Sorcery
Kurtis J. Wiebe/Roc Upchurch
What does Rat Queens have that so many other comics lack? Well, a multi-layered plot populated with badass, complex female characters for starters. Then there’s the gleefully over-the-top violence that’s interspersed with sarcastic humor. And let’s not forget the vivid artwork that perfectly renders the chaos of the action while simultaneously mirroring the inner turmoil of the central characters. Seriously, Rat Queens is the definition of winning. At the heart of it all is the story of four young women whose membership in a mercenary gang can’t mask their hearts of gold. Of course there’s a quest to compete, and battles to fight, and loyalties to betray, and the intricacies of female friendships to navigate, but it all blends seamlessly because the chemistry between these women is so genuinely portrayed. When first released, I remember reading somewhere that Rat Queens does for fantasy what Saga does for science fiction – turn the genre on its head and move it in a new direction without sacrificing any good bits. At the time, I was pretty sure that description was bullshit. I mean, how can that happen at Image again, especially so soon after the success of Saga? Well, I stand corrected. Rat Queens is proof that lightning can, indeed, strike twice.
Why it wins: When a story this good is coupled with art this outrageously rich, it wins. When four of the most fully-realized female characters star in a story this good and are depicted in art this outrageously rich, it doesn’t just win, it kicks your ass repeatedly from start to finish and leaves you begging for more.
The Walking Dead
Robert Kirkman/Tony Moore/Charlie Adlard
Sure, the popularity of the TV iteration overshadows the comic version of The Walking Dead on any given day, but don’t feel too bad for this modern comic classic. In fact, comparing it to the show only highlights its strengths. The structure of television leaves little downtime for the kinds of lulls in the action that can give depth and meaning to characters. In the comic, though, we see that the struggle for survival in a post-apocalyptic world is just as difficult when trying to complete daily tasks as it is when fighting off zombie hordes. In fact, it’s only in the graphic novel that many characters are given the luxury to grapple with their morals as the world they live in changes. In that sense the two-dimensional b&w comic format is far superior in creating three-dimensional complex characters than the show, with its cast of real humans. And the more you read, the more pronounced this difference becomes (which is why I suggest the compendium here, even if you only read the first few issues and just skim the rest). So, no excuses. Love the show or not, read the comic.
Why it wins: Because it highlights the storytelling power of the comic format so spectacularly. And because it shows why there’s so much more to fear from the coming zombie apocalypse than the zombies.
Volume One: One Weird Trick
Matt Fraction/Chip Zdarsky
What would you do if your world came to a grinding standstill – literally? For Suzie and Jon, who can temporarily stop time when they orgasm, the answer to that question is simple: rob banks. As intriguing as that is, it’s not even the best part. You see, the very reason they turn to a life of crime in the first place is to save their local library from foreclosure. Do I have your attention now? In lesser hands such a hook could have turned sophomoric and silly. But with masters such as Fraction and Zdarsky in charge, Sex Criminals finds the perfect balance between giggle-inducing humor and searing social commentary. The art, which skillfully helps readers jump back and forth between the real world and the post-climax, clock-stopping “Quiet” that the main characters inhabit during crime sprees, manages to be both richly fantastical as well as convincingly authentic. Fact is we all know people like Suzie and Jon (the ability to stop time and/or commit crimes aside). Hell, many of us are people like Suzie and Jon (and not just because Suzie is a librarian). That’s what makes this story so powerful. Insecurities about interpersonal relationships, our bodies, and our attitudes about sex are challenged and explored in ways that are instantly relatable, but not in such a heavy-handed manner that the fun gets lost along the way. And that’s high praise indeed.
Why it wins: It’s a superbly crafted character-driven story, that takes a revelatory look at self-image and how it shapes our interpersonal relationships. It also boasts a librarian leading lady. And, as the title suggests, there’s sex. Lots of sex.
Robert Kirkman/Cory Walker/Ryan Ottley
Invincible is both more and less than the sum of its parts. Through its layered story structure, it manages to highlight all that’s great about superhero comics on one page, only to mock the genre mercilessly on the next — leaving readers pleasantly off-balance and eager keep going. Kirkman again manages, as he does in The Walking Dead, to make the spaces between the action meaningful, ensuring that both the characters and the universe they inhabit are fully realized. While the plot takes a while to get going (a fact that makes the compendium more valuable then the smaller trades), the story eventually lives up to, and transcends, it early promise. The protagonist this time around is Mark Grayson (teenage son of all-around-swell guy superhero Omni-man) whose own emerging powers come at the price of learning that his dear old dad might not be as infallible as he seems. The detailed art, which morphs from flat to full-bodied as drawing duties transition from Walker to Ottley, captures both the small and the big moments (including the occasional gore fest) perfectly without ever overwhelming the story. All in all, a thoroughly satisfying experience.
Why it wins: Both comforting in its familiarity and startling in its juxtaposition of character moods and motivations, Invincible breaks new ground by shattering the comic conventions it often work so hard to perpetuate. The result is an addictively engrossing tale that is perfect for both superhero first-timers and longtime fans alike.
Volume 1: How to Fall Forever
Rick Remender/Matteo Scalera/Dean White
There’s no better example of world building in comics today than Rick Remender’s Black Science. Fighting words? Yeah, maybe, as there are plenty of other fine comics out there. But with each re-reading of the first Black Science graphic novel, I’m struck by just how adroitly Remender’s team uses every tool in the proverbial shed to create a truly cinematic storyscape that is as deep as it is broad. The plot – scientist/inventor Grant McKay must travel through time and space to save his colleagues and family from impending doom – is fine and dandy, but it’s how that plot is presented that makes this a standout. There’s a lot of backstory that the reader needs to digest rather quickly, which could potentially weigh things down; but by placing the expository text in the middle of head-spinning battle/escape scenes, the reader is neither confused from a lack of information nor bored from a lack of action. And while the characters find themselves quickly and constantly being zapped to new locations by Grant’s invention, the neon-fused color palette gives the scenes a retro feel that adds a much-needed sense of consistency. If you want to lose yourself in a page-turner, look no further than Black Science.
Why it wins: It’s the comic equivalent of a carnival rollercoaster. One on which you’ll gladly spend all your money and stand in line for hours just to it ride over and over again.