Here at Broken Frontier we’re all about looking beyond the obvious in our coverage. But for our staff and our readers, one thing can’t be ignored: with unstoppable momentum, Image Comics are continuing to define what’s hot in comics.
The publisher came into the year with a portfolio led by the all-conquering Saga and The Walking Dead, plus a wave of edgy titles like Sex Criminals, Pretty Deadly, Alex + Ada and Zero that you couldn’t really see coming out of a risk-averse subsidiary of a giant media corporation.
However, while the ongoing titles continued to rock, they were joined by a tsunami of new material, from established and emerging creators, in almost every genre.
By the time the end-of-year voting for the BF Awards came around, the company was in position to take two out of the three categories designated specifically for monthly comics: Best New Series went to the visceral crime book Southern Bastards (by the Jasons Aaron and Latour), while last year’s winner of that award, the dystopian geopolitical thriller Lazarus (by Greg Rucka, Michael Lark et al), graduated to become Best Ongoing Series.
A lot of the publisher’s most noteworthy books came in and around science fiction – albeit usually with a mash-up twist. So we had sci-fi detective stories (The Fuse and Roche Limit), a sci-fi western (Drifter), a sci-fi gender-swapped mythology reboot (Ody-C) and a sci-fi feminist critique delivered in ‘caged vixens’ exploitation form (Bitch Planet).
Perhaps a special mention should also go to Trees and Supreme: Blue Rose – two books that were feted (along with Marvel’s Moon Knight) as heralding “the return to comics” of Warren Ellis. They certainly both represented a return to form for the writer, possibly spurred by the challenge of new Ellis-inflected talent like Ales Kot, whose tightly authored post-modern espionage series Zero remains one of the most intriguing and consistently surprising books on the shelf.
However, both of Ellis’s books for Image were just as equally defined by their artwork. Jason Howard’s work on Trees was strong, but the dazzling work of Tula Lotay helped to make Supreme: Blue Rose – a radical reworking of Rob Liefeld’s original concept – one of the year’s most remarkable books, and led to the artist picking up this year’s BF Award for Breakout Talent.
Alongside Southern Bastards, other strong crime series saw the light of day this year. March saw the return to print of David Lapham’s genre-defining Stray Bullets, in the form of an enormous omnibus edition and a whole new series, ‘Killers’. Later in the year, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (plus BF’s Best Colorist in 2014, Elizabeth Breitweiser), returned to the shadowy world of noir with The Fade Out, a new ongoing series set in the murderous moral swamp of post-war Hollywood.
Horror has traditionally been a strong suit for Image, and two huge launches this year reinforced its position; the debut issues of both Outcast (Robert Kirkman and Paul Azaceta) and Wytches (Scott Snyder and Jock) nudged the 100,000-copy mark. Meanwhile, late in the year, the first couple of issues of Ray Fawkes’ ethereal, elusive Intersect seemed to beguile and bewilder readers in equal measure.
In a more ‘contemporary fantasy’ mode, McGillvie’s The Wicked and the Divine hit the sweet spot of reader engagement, leading to a long Tumblr-clogging summer of cosplay and make-up tips. And a bit farther out on the spectrum, Kurt Busiek and Benjamin Dewey’s Tooth and Claw (now retitled Autumnlands) used anthropomorphics to weave an immersive world of high fantasy.
Even the list above only scratches the surface of what has been produced under the Image banner this year, and of course there have been a few damp fizzles to go with the big roman candles.
However, with Image already lining up titles from creators such as Sean Murphy and Jeff Lemire for 2015, and a new slate of material likely to be announced at this month’s Image Expo, there’s every chance that this time next year we’ll be back here having a very similar chat.