On February 1, 1992 Image Comics launched with seven comic superstars (Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, & Jim Valentino) forming a company that focuses on creator owned comics. While the initial comics launched with massive sales most of the comics lacked the sophisticated storytelling to keep readers coming back. Thankfully Image’s output and quality has grown over the past two decades and they now publish some of the best comics available. To celebrate lets take a look at the best 25 Image Comics of All Time.
This was Brian Michael Bendis’ coming out party after being an indie darling with his crime comics. On art Michael Avon Oeming, channels and later evolves into what he is now. The series instantly connected with readers and was critically acclaimed. This was the series that convinced Marvel Comics to give Bendis the reigns to write their flagship characters. The series followed Bendis and is now published by Marvel. Recently an underwhelming live action tv series aired on the Playstation Network for two seasons before being cancelled. We’ve had to peg this down a bit due to the fact it stopped being published by Image but for any crime and superhero fans this is a must read. If you’re new to the series our recommendation is to start with the Powers Definitive Vol. 1 Hardcover which collects the first 11 issues. Available on Amazon now.
You might remember the movie starring Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy but you might not know that it was a originally comic published by Top Cow, an imprint of Image Comics. From creators Mark Millar and J.G. Jones this is a fast paced action comic with twists and turns you expect from a Millar comic. It’s a shame there was no sequel as the world created here is a fascinating one. Pick up the trade paperback collecting the full mini-series on Amazon NOW.
23) Deadly Class
Rick Remender is known for his work on high concept sci-fi series such as The Last Days of American Crime, Black Science, Fear Agent and Low which are published by Image Comics. However his strongest creator owned work to date is Deadly Class. Set in 1987, student Marcus Lopez is your typical teenager, he hates school, his grades suck and he has no money. However Marcus is in no ordinary school, he’s at the most brutal high school on Earth, where the world’s top crime families send the next generation of assassins to be trained. Murder is an art. Killing is a craft. While the concept might sound ridiculous Remender grounds it using his own experience and life from the late 80s to give the story an autographical feel. Wesley Craig handles the art and Lee Loughridge provides the colours. Pick up the first volume which collects the first six issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
22) Jupiter’s Legacy
When Image Comics started in 1992 they launched with a lineup of superhero comics, most of which were forgettable. Since then there Image has published comics in a diverse list of genres, as you can see on this list. One of the best superhero comics in recent times is Jupiter’s Legacy written by Mark Millar and drawn by Frank Quietly, working together for the first time since their run on the Authority in the early 2000s. Jupiter’s Legacy is a bombastic and high octane summer popcorn action comic your reading diet sometimes need. It’s not the most unique superhero genre experience but it’s definitely one of the best executed in. Pick up the first volume on Amazon or the iBookstore.
Witchblade has been a live-action TV series, a magna series, an anime series, and even spawned spin-offs (The Darkness). Creators Michael Turner, Marc Silvestri, David Wohl, Brian Haberlin and Christina Z’s supernatural tale about a New York detective and the gauntlet that gives her her powers remains one of Image Comics longest-running titles. What it lacks in consistent quality it makes up for in amazing art and longevity. If you’re new to series pick up Volume 1: Witch Hunt which is where Ron Marz begins his well-respected run on Witchblade and is a great jumping-on point.
20) Manhattan Projects
Co-created by writer Jonathan Hickman and artist Nick Pitarra, Manhattan Projects is fun and crazy story about an alternate history of the end of World War II in which the Manhattan Project was a front for other more esoteric science fiction ideas. The series is thrillingly sharp and strange with a unique mix of weird science, extreme gore, and egotistical famous men. The full story is spread across six trade paperbacks. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
Prophet started in the early 90s as another over the top musclebound sci-fi hero created by Rob Liefed and was quickly abandoned. It was re-launched in 2012 by independent creators Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple and many others helping out. The relaunched series is an unique space odyssey and is one of the most unique sci-fi comics ever created. For taking a 20 year old Liefeld comic, re-inventing it and giving us a unique sci-fi story Prophet has a deserved place in the top 20. Pick up the first volume which collects the first six issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
18) Astro City
A modern superhero masterpiece which defies the notion that superhero comics have be dark, gritty and mirror the real world in order to connect. The series launched in 1995 at Image Comics, and eventually moved to Wildstorm and later Vertigo. Astro City is an anthology book that looks at the superheroes that inhabit the city of Astro City. Created and written by Kurt Busiek, the series is mostly illustrated by Brent Anderson, with character designs and painted covers by Alex Ross. Astro City has been providing comic lovers with some of the best superhero stories over the past twenty years. This would be a top 10 comic if it had continued to be published by Image Comics but because of the move to Vertigo we had to peg it down quite a bit. Start with the first volume which collects the first six issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
17) Rat Queens
A popular crossover mainstream title, Rat Queens is well known for subverting the usually bland fantasy genre. The Rat Queens drink booze and they’re in the business of killing all god’s creatures for profit. Written by Kurtic J. Wiebe this is a dark comedic fantasy tale that doesn’t take itself too seriously, after all it’s self described as Buffy meets Tank Girl in a Lord of the Rings world on crack! This series once again proved that Image Comics is willing to take a risk and connect with new audiences. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
16) Morning Glories
If you’re a fan of long form mysteries like Lost then you’ll love Morning Glories by Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma. Morning Glory Academy is one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country, but behind it’s hallowed doors something sinister and deadly lurks. When six brilliant but troubled new students arrive, they find themselves trapped and desperately seeking answers in a place where nothing is what it seems to be! For value we suggest the compendium which collects the first 38 issues into one massive paperback edition – over 1,000 pages of comics!
15) East of West
In recent times Image Comics has become synonymous for sci-fi and dystopian comics (keep an eye out for a best dystopian comics list coming soon on the blog) and East of West is one of the picks of the bunch. Created by Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta, East of West presents a dystopian future based on a slightly different past. After the Civil War finally ends in 1908, due to a meteor strike, America breaks into seven independent regions: Armistice, the Union (the Northeast), the Confederacy (the South), the Endless Nation (Midwest and Great Plains), the Kingdom (New Orleans), the Republic of Texas, and the PRA of Mao (the West Coast). Into this world, the four horsemen of the apocalypse are reborn as prepubescent children, marking the beginning of the end times. Except there’s only three horsemen – War, Conquest, and Famine. Death is still running around in his adult form. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
Another of Image’s recent sci-fi series, Descender is created by Jeff Lemire and Dustin Nguyen. One young robot’s struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters lurk on every planet. A rip-roaring and heart-felt cosmic odyssey that pits humanity against machine, and world against world, to create a sprawling space opera. The film rights have already been picked up by Sony so hopefully we’ll see a big screen adaptation soon. If not we’ll always have Lemire’s heartfelt story and Nguyen’s amazing watercolour panels to savour. Start with the first volume which collects the first six issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
13) The Wicked + The Divine
Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind Young Avengers and Phonogram, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever. TW+TD, as it’s referred to online, has been a cross over hit finding a mainstream and female audience which once again shows the new readers Image Comics are bringing in. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
12) Sex Criminals
How’s this for a high concept pitch – “Suzie and Jon have an irregular gift; when they orgasm they stop time. When they hook up they use their gift for that we’d all do: rob banks!” Hearing this you’d never guessed that this was a hilarious sex comedy that feels personal and autobiographical. Creators Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky give us an adventure when Suzie and Jon’s sex-fueled bank robbing goes wrong in surprising ways. The comic launched to much acclaim and won the Best New Series at the 2014 Eisner Awards, the comics equivalent of the Oscars. The show has been optioned by Universal TV who plan to turn it into a television show.Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
The very first comic that Image published in 1992 was Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood. Liefeld was on the seven partners that defected from Marvel to form Image so it’s absolutely vital that we recognise his efforts despite many of the shortcomings the comic has. Looking at Youngblood now is like a time capsule into 90s comics and superhero aesthetic. Its big muscles, exaggerated poses, endless violence and over the top stories. It’s big and bold. The first issue was the best selling independent comic at the time of its release. While the series was panned by critics it’s important to recognise Youngblood’s importance on the comic book industry and creator’s rights. With the relaunch of the series coming in 2017 we’re hoping to get a new quality Youngblood series that lives up to its full potential.
10) Fatale/Criminal/Fade Out
Creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have been collaborating since 1999 and have carved their own corner in comics with a unique take on noir crime. It’s impossible for us to split their three main crime series so we’ve taken the easy way out and listed all three. With Criminal, Fatale and The Fade Out the duo has constantly been putting out quality work. In recognition of this in 2014 Image comics gave them an unprecedented deal in comics publishing, a five year deal to do anything they want with total freedom, total control, and total ownership over their projects. Having just wrapped Fade Out they are know working on Kill or be Killed. If you’ve never read a Brubaker/Philipps we suggest beginning with Criminal which is their best known collaboration and one they alway return to between new projects.
Modern Image Comics has provided a home for quality sci-fi stories spearheaded by a returning creative duo from the big two. So it was that the Eisner-winning team of Greg Rucka and Michael Lark teamed up in 2011 to create Lazarus. In a dystopian near-future, government is a quaint concept, resources are coveted, and possession is 100% of the law. A handful of Families rule, jealously guarding what they have and exploiting the Waste who struggle to survive in their domains. Forever Carlyle defends her family’s holdings through deception and force as their protector, their Lazarus. The first few pages of the comic are gripping with Forever Carlyle shot dead defending the family home. There’s no better or more frighting depiction of a dystopian future in any medium than Lazarus. Lazarus is also in development as a TV show. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
8) Southern Bastards
Described as a “Southern fried crime comic,” by its creators, Southern Bastards is about the fictional Craw County, Alabama, a place where high school football is everything, and Runnin’ Rebs coach Euless Boss reigns supreme. Writer Jason Aaron and Jason Latour give the deep South a depth and complexity rarely seen in pop culture outside of prose fiction. The duo was reward at the 2016 Eisner Awards with the gong for Best Continuing Series. Aaron has already written a modern crime masterpiece with Scalped for Vertigo Comics and Southern Bastards already looks like another modern crime classic. If you’re a fan of Friday Night Lights, the Coen Brothers and Fargo then this is the comic for you. Start with the first volume which collects the first five issues on Amazon or the iBookstore.
7) The Maxx
Sam Kieth’s creator-owned series about a homeless man who imagines himself as the powerful protector of an alternate reality known as the Outback, was one of the first Image books to reach a mainstream audience after it was adapted into an animated series that ran on MTV in 1995. The series wasn’t as popular as the first superhero wave of Image books from the early 90s but The Maxx was always critically acclaimed and continues to be recognised as a unique work by Keith. For being the first critical darling and the first Image comic to get an adaptation The Maxx rightly deserves its place in the top 10. Recently IDW Publishing started to republished The Maxx in a recolorized format with some new artwork from Kieth. Check out the first volume on Amazon.
You thought the concept for Sex Criminals was weird? With Chew we’re in a world where all chicken and bird meats are illegal. Our hero, FDA Agent Tony Chu, is a cibopath. A cibopath is someone who gets a psychic impression from anything they eat, especially when it comes to the last moments of a living thing. John Layman’s absurd stories are complemented well by artist Rob Guilory. Every panel is full of jokes and that give the comic a sense of humour and lots of replay value. The series launched in 2009 and wrapped in 2016. Coming at a time where there were no humorous creator owned books Chew deserves to be recognised as a pioneering Image Comic. Check out the first volume on Amazon or the iBookstore.
Spawn is probably the best know Image Comic of all time. When the series launched in 1992 creator Todd McFarlane was on the best known artists in the world. The first issues sold nearly 1.7 million copies and remained Image’s top-seller a few years after the series debut. McFarlane was smart and within the first 20 issues, the series brought in industry icons as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman to write scripts. A number of other series spun off from Spawn, including Angela (now owned by Marvel), Curse of the Spawn, Hellspawn and Sam & Twitch, the latter well known for helping launch Brian Michael Bendis’ career. The series is also well known for it’s art by Greg Capullo, now a superstar after his run on Batman. We’d be remiss not to mention the Spawn toys, which led to the creation of McFarlane Toys, one of the most successful action figure companies in industry history. The popular comic also spawned a 1997 major motion picture and there has been constant talk about a reboot. Spawn is still being published today and is heading for issue 300 which is just amazing from a creator owned comic. For that it deserves to be recognised!
4) Savage Dragon
Launched in 1993 Savage Dragon is true ode to the creator-owned comic ideal. Erik Larsen has written and drawn the comic to this day, setting a number of records in the process. Savage Dragon is the longest running American full color comic book to feature a single artist/writer, is the only Image book from the early 90s to still have its original creator working on the series, and is one of two Image books that were part of the initial launch that is still releasing new issues today (the other being Spawn). The series was adapted into an animated series that aired on USA Network in the mid-90s. The comic is heading to issue to 250. Thank to Larsen’s continued ownership and involvement the comic has been of a consistent quality and it deserves to be hire than Spawn.
Invincible is the best modern superhero comic without a doubt. The comic launched to little fanfare in 1999 by creators Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker, Ryan Otley would replaced Walker after issue seven. Mark Grayson is the teenage son of a superpowered alien, Omni-Man. Over the course of its run Invincible offered a brutal and bloody superhero stories that sometimes mocked the ongoing tropes found in most big two titles. Kirkman recently announced that the series was finally ending with issue #144 which will be a fitting send off for one of Image’s finest and most consistent comics. If you want to begin for the best value we suggest the Invincible: Compendium 1 which collects the first 48 issues!
2) Walking Dead
The most popular zombie comic that turned into the best rated cable TV show, The Walking Dead is now a household name and will forever be remembered as a pop cultural icon of the 2010s. Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore launched TWD to little fanfare and the comic hit a bump when Moore had to be replaced by Charlie Adlard on pencils. First published in 2003, The Walking Dead received the 2010 Eisner Award for Best Ongoing Series. Couple with the commercial success of the television adaptation, TWD has been Image’s best-selling title over the past decade and often beats out Batman and The Avengers. The ongoing success of TWD has given Kirkman an amazing platform, in 2010 he was named Chief Operating Officer of Image Comics and in 2011 he launched his imprint Skybound Entertainment which also developers video games, novels, board games and other products. For ongoing thrills and showing us how successful a creator owned comic can TWD deserves the second spot. If you’re new to the series start with the first compendium which collects the first 48 issues available on Amazon.
What could beat out the juggernaut that is The Walking Dead as the best Image Comic of the past 25 years? It’s of course Saga which is perhaps the best reviewed comic book series since Watchmen and Sandman. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples creation was first published in 2012 and has taken out multiple Eisner Awards in 2013 and 2014. Saga is genre-bending space opera that is very personal. It’s been pitched as Star Wars meets The Lord of the Rings via Rome and Juliet. The immediate sales and critical success did more to entice comic creators to work on creator owned comics that anything that Image did before. As a result of it’s brilliant storytelling and positive effect on comics Saga is undoubtedly the best Image Comic of the past 25 years. If you haven’t caught up we suggest the first volume which collects the first six issues available on Amazon or the iBookstore.