Tired of superheroes? Looking for hard-hitting, original sci-fi comics with great art? Look no further than Image Comics, my friends…
There’s more to comic books than superheroes. Much, much more.
Many people don’t seem to realize this – and it’s not really a surprise, considering how the term ‘comic-book movie’ is widely used to describe any film involving capes and superhuman powers. However, comic-books are a medium, not a genre. The industry is actually hugely diverse, covering a variety of genres, offering readers everything from cyberpunk to romance and Lovecraftian horror.
Without doubt, Image Comics is the most exciting publisher in the medium today – and their library of recent work is a must-see for fans of sci-fi comics. For readers craving a break from the constant reboots (ED: wouldn’t that be rebirths and resurreXions?) over at DC and Marvel, Image Comics is something of a breath of fresh air.
What are they doing so right, and what can other publishers learn from them?
Creators Come First
Unfamiliar with Image Comics’ fascinating history? Here’s the super-short version: the publisher launched in 1992, headed by seven of the best-selling artists of the era. Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri, Erik Larsen, and Jim Valentino. Since then, the company has undergone many changes, become the third-biggest publisher in the industry, and is now split into multiple divisions.
Image Comics was formed to give artists ownership of their works, so that the trademark and copyright of their books stays with them rather than the company. This applies to the vast majority of their books, and they try to give creators as much freedom as possible to develop unique stories.
This attitude has led Image Comics to become a powerhouse of talent, with some of the industry’s top names putting out incredible books. This also gives writers and artists the chance to create entirely new worlds, characters, and concepts a far cry from the long-running, often-recycled plots over at the big two companies.
This has certainly paid off. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s The Walking Dead , a stunning black-and-white zombie horror has obviously become a global phenomenon. Todd McFarlane’s Spawn started strong (selling 1.7 million copies), and is still successful today, with another big-screen adaptation in the works (sure to be better than the last attempt!).
Sci-fi Comics with Brains and Heart
While Image Comics publishes plenty of books in the horror and fantasy genres (check out Scott Snyder’s amazing Wytches mini-series, or the fantastic ongoing Rat Queens series), sci-fi comics are perhaps its strongest area. The company’s portfolio of sci-fi comic books includes diverse titles exploring different themes, with a variety of art-styles and tones.
Tokyo Ghost – Writer: Rick Remender, Artists: Sean Gordon Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth
One of the most impressive comic-books is Tokyo Ghost , a series by iconic writer Rick Remender: set in a tech-saturated far-future, the story follows Led Dent and Debbie Decay, two Constables (enforcers) representing the gangsters running LA. Dent is addicted to technology, with his favourite shows running non-stop right in front of his eyes, while Decay dreams of getting her lover back as he once was.
When the two of them are sent to Tokyo, now a garden nation rich with the natural beauty the rest of the world is losing, Dent is given the chance to go cold turkey and rediscover who he is. This is an outstanding comic-book, with incredible art by Sean Gordon Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth, and filled with Remender’s terrific dialogue and rich characters. While a toxic future and technology’s dehumanising effects might not sound like the most original ideas, With Tokyo Ghost , Remender creates a unique world unlike any you’ve seen before, pulling influences from Akira , Blade Runner , and much more.
Bitch Planet – Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick, Artist: Valentine De Landro
Another sci-fi masterpiece is Bitch Planet. Written by Kelly Sue DeConnick (with art by Valentine De Landro), Bitch Planet is set in a future in which women failing to comply with the harsh rules of their dystopian society face imprisonment on the eponymous off-planet stronghold.
It’s an anarchic, bloody, original tale taking influence from exploitation movies and women-in-prison stories, with a deep feminist bite. Image Comics’ creators-first mindset is explicit here, from the punky covers with all the pulpy taglines and throwback designs to the tough-talking women at the book’s heart.
Sci-fi Concepts You Can’t Help But Love
Copperhead – Writer: Jay Faerber, Artist: Scott Godlewski
Another terrific sci-fi comic from Image Comics is Copperhead, a space-bound Western created by Jay Faerber and Scott Godlewski. Copperhead takes place in a run-down alien mining town (from which the book takes its name) in the far future, exploring the challenges faced by Sheriff Clara Bronson. This combines all the rugged landscapes and tough-talking of the Western genre with the aliens and advanced technology of the sci-fi milieu.
Nameless – Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Chris Burnham
Nameless , a mini-series by the legendary Grant Morrison (with art by Chris Burnham), was published in 2015 – and it’s one of his best works so far. While it’s as complex (and, frankly, baffling) as much of his work, Nameless is nevertheless gripping, unique, terrifying, and ultimately uplifting.
Descender – Writer: Jeff Lemire, Artist: Dustin Nguyen
Meanwhile, Descender (created by Jeff Lemire and illustrated by the sublime Dustin Nguyen) revolves around a young robotic boy (Tim-21) and his friends after synthetic lifeforms are outlawed. Descender is a book loaded with heart, wonder, and stunning artwork.
Paper Girls – Writer: Brian K. Vaughan, Artist: Cliff Chiang
Last but not least, another must-read from Image Comics is the mighty Paper Girls. This is an essential book for fans of so many wonderful kid-centric 80s movies like E.T., Stand By Me, The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, Flight of the Navigator, and their like – and it’s ideal for anyone looking for comic books similar to more modern masterpieces like Super 8 and Stranger Things .
Paper Girls is set in the glorious 80s, at Halloween, and follows the adventures of a group of paper-delivery girls. The first arc of the series becomes a witty, far-reaching tale involving time-travel and advanced technology, with characters you can’t help but love.
The beauty of reading these sci-fi comics, and many of the others put out by Image Comics, is just how fresh, distinctive, and true they feel. Like the best science-fiction stories, Image Comics’ sci-fi comic books incorporate big themes, great characters, and concepts that nourish the mind, heart, and imagination.
For anyone yet to delve into Image Comics’ catalog, the titles we’ve looked at here are the perfect jumping-on point. Give them a go – you won’t regret it.
Featured Image: Tokyo Ghost / Rick Remender, Sean Gordon Murphy, Matt Hollingsworth / Image Comics