I am a product of the Image generation.

When I first discovered comics, seven brash young upstarts had just vacated the comfortable and profitable confines of Marvel Comics to begin a daring new enterprise known as Image Comics. The days of exclusive corporate ownership were being tossed out the window, replaced with an unmatched degree of creative control and flexibility. The only limits were one’s imagination and one’s ego.

And a future Brandon Thomas was soaking the stuff up like a sponge. The first issue of Spawn was one of the first comics I ever laid eyes on. It wasn’t long until I picked up a copy of Youngblood #1, confident that this was the pinnacle of panel-to-panel storytelling, and the completist within forced me to buy anything with an Image “I” in the upper left corner.

In those early days I was horribly fascinated with Spider-Man, the X-Men, and Chuck Dixon’s Robin, but Image held an impressive sway over the monthly stipend my father provided to support my increasing habit. The universe was just beginning, and the prospects of seeing something develop from the ground floor was just too exciting to deny. Several of the titles I frequented had been published for at least a hundred issues, and no matter how many back issues I could lay hands on, I always knew I was missing something. An important chapter. A relevant plot twist. A character’s death that changed everything.

Image ensured that I hadn’t missed a thing.

As a result, there’s a great majority of my ample collection that I currently can’t stand to read, fearing that my brain cells are slowly dissolving in the process. With a few notable exceptions, the early days of Image were…well…not good. But it’d be irresponsible to point the harsh finger solely at Image, because they were just giving the people what they wanted. Big breasts. Guys with cannons attached to their arms. Wolverine clones. Flashy pin-ups. Bad dialogue. And for every horrid Image book, Marvel and DC were releasing a die-cut, hologram, polybagged with trading card stunt to balance the scales.

This was indeed comic hell where companies relied on a policy of mass exploitation that would maximize a company’s profit share with a minimal amount of effort. Artists were the pretty pop stars of the industry, and the input of the scribe was reduced to virtually nothing. After all, they were relying on the strength of the gimmick to sell the book.

And this is what a young man learned comics were all about.

The only writer I followed religiously from project to project was Chuck Dixon, who I contend is one of the best scribes out there doing it. He does his job and does it well consistently. He’s not concerned with showing off how cutting-edge clever he can be, instead telling entertaining stories that actually achieve an adequate and believable
pay-off. And his characterization is top-notch. I will accept that early Image was bad, but I will not accept that Chuck Dixon is anything other than “The Man,” so don’t even bring it here.

Now.

In my Image induced stupor, I can safely admit that there probably were projects that flew either beneath my notice, or above my head. Existing as a more enlightened individual that prides good dialogue and a coherent plot slightly more than the ability to render a muscled man in tights (though both are important), the last few years have seen me playing catch-up on great books like Marvels, Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen.

It really just came down to me having additional reading time after skimming through roughly half of my assigned class readings, and devouring my weekly Wednesday excursions. Then there were a couple of girls sprinkled into the mix for good measure. Anyway, after finally getting the chance to read some of the “great works of our time” my reaction to them were mixed to say the least. Excessive hype has a habit of elevating my expectations to such a considerable point that I’m bound to come away disappointed and this situation was no different. If someone tells me that sparks should fly out of my ass after reading a book…I expect them to.

Byrne’s Man of Steel mini was boring. Marvels was pretty dope. Daredevil: Man Without Fear was the shit, but I was less impressed with Batman: Year One and Dark Knight Returns. I’ve since re-read both and changed my opinions slightly, attempting to note and consider the time periods in which both were released. Watchmen didn’t grab me like I expected it to, but I’m assuming I’ll read it again in the next couple of years.

As a result I never developed the hero worship for Frank Miller and Alan Moore that the majority of fandom seems to share. Not that I dislike their work, it’s just that on a whole they’ve both been hit or miss for me. And I’ve never had the time to adequately catch up. I suppose there are worse fates. My buddy Nate would disagree.

This whole thing started over an e-mail discussion that was debating the artistic merits of the Dark Knight Strikes Again, which I’m enjoying for the most part, though the art style isn’t speaking to me completely. Still, it’s pretty good and Nate is tired of asinine reviewers ripping it to pieces, citing it as irrefutable evidence that Miller has lost his mind and the ability to effectively string panels together. I made the mistake of making some comment regarding not “cutting Miller and Moore the same slack I would Bendis or Azzarello”. Now, what I meant by this was that due to my familiarity with the works of Bendis and Azz, I’m willing to trust in their instincts, even when they may have an issue or two here and there that doesn’t work quite as efficiently as it should. I didn’t mean that the two Brians were better than the great Moore or Miller…but I’ve read more books rendered by their word processors and will follow them like a mindless lemming from project to project. Sorry. To this bit of madness Nate responded and I quote,

“As much as I love Bendis and Azzarello, they are just at the start of their careers in comparison to Moore and Miller. I look forward to much more from the two Brians. Some of the best stuff produced today is from these two, but Moore and Miller have 20+ years of changing the art form a piece. And they are continuing to do so.

Without Frank Miller, there would be no Bendis.

Without Alan Moore, comics would not have a brain.

These two defined our memories of serious comics in the 1980s. Frank Miller was a shelter of quality reading in the rut of the early 1990s, and Alan Moore was the chief reconstructionist after the deconstruction of the 80s, THE advocate of the science hero in the second part of that decade, and started his own line of comics. A line of comics that centered around a WRITER, not artists. Miller and Moore don’t just make better comics, they make comics better.

Frank Miller is one of those people that is the perfect combination of artist/writer. Definitely in the same school as Will Eisner, Matt Wagner, Walt Simonson, Howard Chaykin, and Barry Windsor-Smith. However, if you want to see how he changed the medium from a writing standpoint see Batman: Year One and Daredevil: Born Again. To see Miller the artist see Elektra Lives Again, every Sin City, and his greatest work to date, Three Fuckin’ Hundred.

Alan Moore is the GREATEST thing to happen to comics as an art-form. If you look at his body of work, he is the one creator who consistently pushes the boundaries of what can be done with words in balloons and sequential drawings on a page. When people say he’s this great, it’s not hype. It is just plain fact. There really isn’t an aspect of comics that he has NOT touched. He’s done mind-bending performance art, the greatest deconstructionist superhero stories ever, the greatest silver age stories, supernatural horror, sci-fi…the list goes on and on and on and on and on. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and Grant Morrison are the fathers of Vertigo, and without it, who knows where/when/if we ever would see Brain Azzarello and Garth Ennis pop up in American comics?

There really isn’t slack to cut them as you say, so I present to you this challenge…”

Well, after that impressive defense I thought two things. One, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that well developed in an e-mail before, and don’t expect to. Two, could Nate be right? As much as I love comics, would seminal works by these two talents cause me to become even more obsessively attached? Then there’s that little challenge thing he mentioned.

Nate has volunteered to enlighten me by loaning me a series of works he feels shouldn’t be missed. He’s even provided three choices, The Alan Moore Challenge, The Frank Miller Challenge, or the Vertigo Challenge. All three provide an interesting array of volumes that I’ve never read before, and this re-education can be performed at no cost. To be honest, Nate’s hoping that I’ll pull a reversal and then write a column all about it, and who am I to disqualify a solid column idea? I’m personally leaning toward the Alan Moore Challenge due to a little book called Miracleman that I’ve been hearing such good things about.

And it’s free. My magic word.

Who knows…maybe you can teach an old Image dog new tricks?

Peace,
Brandon Thomas

Special thanks to Nate, who wrote some of this column, even though he wasn’t aware of it at the time. Fire away with the Alan Moore buddy…everything will be returned in perfect condition. 😉

Next time: I was flipping through this dope ass little magazine while writing this installment, and it said Wizard somewhere on the cover. Go figure. Next week experience Edgewise…

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