Monthly serialised comics anthologies are a curious thing. We wax nostalgically about the days when they seemed ubiquitous and yet the reality is that in an era of instantly consumable media their incremental method of delivery seems more archaic than ever. Conversely, though, when curated as carefully as the Image! 30th Anniversary Anthology series has been they can be a glorious celebration of the potential of the form; an eclectic group offering of wildly differing approaches that spotlights a breadth of genres, styles, and subject matter.
With the tenth issue of the 12-part 30th Anniversary Anthology out this week, this group birthday bash is rapidly approaching its finale. It’s been an enjoyable mix over the last near-year of spotlights on favourite past and present Image series, one-off stories, and new serial narratives. While the balancing act between being new reader-friendly and still appealing to an established audience with an invested interest hasn’t always been 100% successful it has still been a largely fun romp through three decades of creator-owned publishing.
Cover by Sanford Greene
Take #10, with another engaging line-up of ongoing storylines and complete-in-one tales. Geoff Johns and Andrea Mutti’s ever-present and tense supernatural thriller ‘The Blizzard’ works its way towards its conclusion with Mutti’s atmospheric artwork ensuring that this tale of a group of prisoners and guards stalked by an otherworldly presence in a remote snowstorm retains its chilling tempo. While ‘The Blizzard’ is a discrete offering in terms of its accessibility the second story ‘In Hell We Fight’ by John Layman, Jok and Mey is both a tie-in to popular Image horror comic The Silver Coin and a prologue to a new book of the same name.
That, of course, has been one of the core aims of the run. To not just provide a number of self-contained serials but also to push readers in the direction of existing ongoing series, like Walker, Brown and Greene’s universally acclaimed Bitter Root which gets a notable spotlight herein. Similarly Seeley and Caselli’s ‘Hack/Slash Vs. Image’ has provided a nod and a wink to past Image favourites with a most meta of flourishes.
Previous covers by Igor Monti & Marcelo Costa and James Harren
But it’s also been an opportunity to push newer voices on the scene as this issue’s Jeff Boison-written multi-artist jam ‘WTFK, A Lyrical’ shows. It includes work from Zoe Thorogood (It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth), acknowledged as one of the most exciting new voices in comics in many years, and the page-manipulating brilliance of Gustaffo Vargas whose Image debut we predicted here at Broken Frontier some time ago (as ever, we did tell you).
Where the limitations of the structure of the book are more obvious can be seen in some of the strips that have been running since the very beginning. The four pages of Brenden Fletcher and Erica Henderson’s haunting thriller ‘Red Stitches’ have required a re-reading of all previous chapters each issue to remember the nuances of the plot, and I’ve found myself in the same position with both Kindlon and Rosenzweig’s sci-fi noir ‘Gehenna’ and Dean Haspiel’s striking one-page-an-issue Billy Dogma storyline. But there’s always some complete one-shot entries as a counterpoint, whether that be the endearing autobio shorts from Skottie Young’s ‘Stupid Fresh Mess’ feature or, in this issue, Simon Roy’s sci-fi parable ‘The Ansible’.
Previous covers by Wes Craig and Andrea Mutti
While the Image! 30th Anniversary Anthology is arguably, by its very nature, an unavoidably flawed endeavour it’s one that recognises that those limitations are also a necessary part of its raison d’etre. It’s been a while since a project like this has had such a relatively high profile (perhaps not since the last incarnation of Dark Horse Presents was so ignominiously cancelled midway through multiple ongoing serials) and while it seems unlikely that we’re going to see a resurgence of monthly anthology books anytime soon it’s been an engaging exercise to revisit the concept, however fleetingly, over the course of this last year.
Geoff Johns, John Layman, Jeff Boison, David F. Walker, Chuck Browne, Skottie Young, Brenden Fletcher, Tim Seeley, Patrick Kindlon, Simon Roy, Dean Haspiel (W) Andrea Mutti. Jok, Paper D, Simon Gane, Chloe Brailsford, Katie Skelly, Zoe Thorogood, Gustaffo Vargas, Sanford Greene, Erica Henderson, Stefano Caselli, Maurizio Rosenzweig, Simon Roy, Dean Haspiel(A) Rob Leigh, Nate Piekos, Jim Campbell (L) • Image Comics, $5.99
Review by Andy Oliver