Image United #1(of 6) - 'Chapter One' - Kirkman, Larsen, Liefeld, McFarlane, Portacio, Silvestri and Valentino
Story - Um.... yeah, so... there's not actually that much story to talk of in this book really. Much like the original Image Comics, this book is a triumph of art over story, as much as Robert Kirkman's work on Invincible and Walking Dead has attempt to spearhead Image in the direction of putting the writer first, his role here is pretty much secondary to the fun experimentation of seeing the various Image Founders jam together. Kirkman is in full-on old-school Marvel/DC summer crossover mode here. There is a mysterious threat attacking the whole world, and all our heroes must band together and yaddayaddayadda. You've even got this Fortress dude basically being Harbinger.
I think the problem here is that unlike Marvel or DC crossover events, where the reader has years of context for shared continuity and love for the characters, that's not here for Image. Image has pretty much never had a shared universe, bar the occasional cameo, Savage Dragon is off on it's own, Spawn is off on it's own, and as such, I don't feel much connection to the characters. It's actually off-putting to see these characters together again, I'm not used to it. But then again I'm not much used to the original Image books on the whole. I've never read Spawn, never read Savage Dragon, never read Cyberforce or Witchblade. The only books I have any knowledge of are Liefeld's, mainly due to Alan Moore and also Joe Casey's run, and Valentino's Shadowhawk, who's relaunch I read back in 2004, and enjoyed. Oh yeah, and I suppose since Fortress is new (Portacio's original creations Wetworks are owned by Wildstorm now) I know who he is.
This book can be mainly seen as a nostalgia trip, and since I was 3 or 4 when Image launched, and by the time I'd got into comics the original founders had pretty much all stopped working on their original creations, gone back to Marvel or whatever, and Image was now the premier creator-owned company, pushing the boundaries of comics, not just ripping off X-Men again. This is not necessarily the book's fault, if I had been a few years older, I would have grown up with these characters, and would probably love this book. It's just my parent's bad timing!
Overall, this is an OK debut issue, some kind of plot is set up with 'The Omega Spawn' and Kirkman manages to come up with some interesting ways for the various heroes to interact, but it still feels light. We are told that the whole world is under threat, but we only see 2 examples, it's telling, not showing and Kirkman should do better than that. But we're not really reading this book for Kirkman are we? His role here is just to facilitate the fanboyish fun of seeing all these classic (are they classic? probably) characters teaming up. And on the whole I think he succeeds, especially in allowing the art to flow and let each artist strut their stuff. Maybe his own voice will come into the book later on, I'm certainly enjoying myself enough to continue.
Art - The art is the main hook here, and it's no surprise that Robert Kirkman's writing is not too important. Image United is a unique book in terms of artwork, with each of the Image founders drawing their own creations, whether hero or villain on the same page. So you can have a Liefeld Badrock punching the shit out of a McFarlane Overt-Kill while a Larsen Savage Dragon looks on. And I think on the whole it works very well. It's disconcerting at first, but since Liefeld, Portacio and Silvestri all have similar styles, they all mesh well. Erik Larsen's blockier more traditional work is the biggest departure, but still, that's part of the fun. I will say that I thought this issue was maybe a little Larsen, Liefeld and Portacio centric, with Silvestri, McFarlane and Valentino not really having that much to do, but I suppose that's Kirkman, it's not a book that is trying to massage egos by giving everyone equal treatment, if Shadowhawk only needs to be in the story for 2 pages, so be it. I have my own preferences for which artists are the best separately, but these personal preferences only make the read more interesting, you have a page featuring an artist I dislike, one I am ambivalent towards, and one I really like... it's novel, and I like it.
Image United is a different experience, and at first it's distracting, but after a while you sort of forget that each character is drawn differently, I feel it works a lot better than it probably should, and just hope that the notoriously slow Founders can keep up the pace.
Best Line - 'Good "Team-Up". Let's not do this again any time soon' Savage Dragon shows why it's weird seeing these characters together.