I’m taking a break from the X-books this week to look at their major rival in the early 1990s – Image Comics. The X-books were especially hit hard by the foundation of Image, losing the popular artists behind Uncanny X-Men, X-Force, X-Men, and Wolverine. With one exception, all of these titles were also being plotted by the artists. Marvel suddenly had to find new writers, pencilers, and inkers for its top titles, and as I’ve noted in my recent reviews, the results weren’t pretty.
Before becoming its own full-fledged company, Image began as an imprint of Malibu Comics. Youngblood, the comic that would become Image’s first release, was announced as a three-issue mini-series in October 1991. Before Youngblood was announced, Marvel’s lawyers apparently squashed Liefeld’s previous attempt to publish a title called The Executioners through Malibu. The Image name actually didn’t exist yet, and there’s no indication in the early announcement that anyone else would be joining him. In fact, looking at the Usenet discussions from this era, most people didn’t believe that he was even leaving X-Force in order to do this title.
The earliest reference to the name “Image Comics” I can find online is a February 1992 discussion about the latest Comics Buyer’s Guide. The original creators announced to form Image are Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, and Jim Valentino. Image is billed as an interconnected superhero universe published by Malibu. The titles originally announced include Youngblood by Liefeld, Spawn by McFarlane, The Dragon by Larsen, The Pact by Valentino and Brigade by Liefeld. Youngblood was released in April 1992 (two months late), making it the first Image Comic ever. The preorders of Youngblood automatically made it the best-selling independent comic of all time (eventually selling a million copies), which I’m sure helped to convince the other Image founders to join. In May 1992, Amazing Heroes announced that more creators, including Portacio, Lee, and Silvestri, were joining Image. Image was an immediate hit for all of the creators involved -- by August 1992, Image had seven of the top ten highest selling comics for that month.
Mail-order company Entertainment This Month began running ads for Youngblood #1 in Marvel comics cover-dated April 1992. In the months to come, ETM’s monthly Marvel ads would be filled with Image characters, declaring how “hot”, “collectible”, and “violent” these series would be. I don’t know how Marvel felt about indirectly running ads for their competition. As someone with no access to fanzines or comic shops, I first learned about these new titles by buying Marvel books, and I’m sure I’m not alone. I actually didn’t buy any Image titles during the first year of their existence. I was a diehard Marvel Zombie, and I actually considered these guys traitors. I was determined to stay loyal to Marvel, and was probably buying more Marvel comics than ever before by the end of 1992. Tom DeFalco and Bob Harras really should’ve flown to my house and bought me a Happy Meal or something. About a year after Image launched, I had a chance to buy a stack of early Image issues from some local teenager. I looked through the collection and decided to buy early Spawn and Savage Dragon issues, but I had a chance to read the entire set. I thought WildC.A.T.S. and CyberForce looked interesting, but even at age twelve Youngblood, Supreme, and Brigade didn’t appeal to me. Months later, I picked up Spawn/Batman on a whim, and was sucked in by Todd McFarlane’s art. I began to buy Spawn monthly, along with the occasional Savage Dragon issue and Wildstorm title. For some reason, I didn’t feel like I was betraying Marvel at that point.