And no one seems to have noticed.

Seriously, you probably took a double take there. And yes you probably know that the Image Central books publish more experimental and varied books… but no superheroes?

When Image started, 10 years ago, that’s all there was. Youngblood, Brigade, Spawn, Shadowhawk, Savage Dragon, WildCATS, Wetworks, Cyberforce, Pitt, Maxx, Wildstar… it annoyed me slightly, because here were a group of creators striking out from mainstream comics control, bringing with them an unsurpassed fan following, they could have put out any comic and sold hundreds of thousands of copies of each title. And you’d have been pushed to find any difference between their comics and their previous company-bound work. And it was this action, I believe that entrenched superheroes as the only comic book option at a time when experimentation outside the superhero form was starting to get noticed again.

There was more of a military/black ops bent to some of books, certainly, but superheroes they definitely were. Maxx was probably the first to change, becoming a slice-of-life/fantasy book, Pitt soon became much more of a monster book but everything kept going in a similar direction. For years. Rob Liefeld’s departure took a bulk of the super books with him, as did Jim Lee’s, although even Lee’s books were becoming more sci-fi/black ops than superheroes. From that original line up, Spawn became a horror fantasy book, Shadowhawk stopped, Wetworks rarely came out and became more militaristic when it did, Wildstar stopped, Cyberforce went the military way a bit and it too stopped.

Savage Dragon is all that’s left of the original superheroes and even that’s become more of a cop book. Currently it’s going through a complete change too and who knows what kind of book it will have become in a few months. Marc Silvestri, from being the poor man’s Image studio, discovered that he could sell more female orientated characters and lost a lot of the super-hero makeup in Witchblade, Fathom, Tomb Raider and a raft of fantasy books. Valentino headed up a non-line of non-superhero books and has continued that in the Image Central line. In fact, the Image Central/small-indie line is the only place you’ll really find superheroes at Image. – Go Girl and Powers being two stand out titles. But just about everything else is fantasy, horror, action, adventure, a bit of comedy here and there…

How the hell did that happen? Were we sleeping at the time? We’re used to complaining that superheroes are the mainstream, but in the USA’s third biggest comics company, they’re not. They’ve sneaked up on us. Certainly superhero fans who bought Spawn and still buy the book are buying a very different kind of book to when they started. How many have noticed?

DC’s been keeping it’s options open for a while now and even Marvel, which pulled back from anything not resembling superheroes and started stretching out a few interesting branches, whether it’s the new Epic line, or something like Avataars.

Maybe this is the truth. Despite dominating the top 100 comic list, superheroes are dying out, they just haven’t noticed yet. The dinosaurs are ruling the Earth, but there’s a lot of mammals running around underneath their feet eating the eggs with big smiles on their faces. But are the mammals any better than the dinosaurs? There’s a lot of Image non-superhero books with as many clich?s, bad plots and poor characters as in the superhero titles. But at least these books have more range, more scope to grow, change and mature that being trapped in the same regurgitated superhero areas. I hope.

Image ‘s great achievement was to break through the Marvel zombie and to some extent the DC zombie mindset ands saw greater numbers of readers experimenting outside the Big Two. Maybe ten years on, Image can make another big change. Not as sudden or as newsworthy as ten years ago, but killing off the superhero with the death of a thousand cuts.

Let’s see, eh?

Rich Johnston

P.S. Strangely, if you include the Awesome and Wildstorm line as part of the ‘Image’ concept, the individual responsible for doing more superheroes than any other is Alan Moore. Didn’t see that happen either.

P.P.S. The column Selling Out In Style has been delayed a week.

P.P.P.S. JOIN ME IN THE FOLLOWING ITEMS:

Cinema: Chicken Run
CD: Zelda’s Hyrule Symphony
Comic: Jenny Sparks: The Secret History of The Authority
TV: Omnibus: Aardman Animations
Radio: The Cheese Shop: Fella’s Hour
Theatre: Situations Vacant
Another Comic: Black Panther
Food: Feta Cheese And Carrot Lasagne
Magazine: Punch
Book: The Kraken Awakes
Video: Edge Of Darkness
Another another comic: Shockrockets
Stuff Taped on Video Only Got Round To Watching: Coupling
Console Game: Duke Nukem Zero Hour (haven’t got Perfect Dark yet, obviously)
Graphic Novel: Acme Novelty Library
Website: News Askew

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