Seven men changed the world of comics
Today, Image Comics is a well-regarded publisher of indie comics of all stripes, from megahit zombie epic The Walking Dead to quirky detective tales like Chew to the feminist genre mash-up Bitch Planet. That wasn't the case in 1991, when Image was the home of superheroes, plain and simple, drawn by the guys who used to draw the biggest names in superheroes, like the X-Men and Spider-Man. The Image Revolution smoothly explains how, having made their names selling millions of comics for their corporate bosses at Marvel, the seven founders, led by an increasingly frustrated McFarlane and an increasingly egotistical Liefeld, realized they could instead be working on their own creations and being their own bosses. The documentary explores how Image came together, the challenges they faced and the incredible successes they had right out of the gate.
As interesting as it is to hear about the growth of creator-owned comics and the company's origin right from the founding partners (illustrated with comic art versions of their tale, as well as home videos, archival news reports and great clips from a classic Stan Lee-hosted VHS series called The Comic Book Greats), which includes the birth of the comic-book celebrity artist and the development of new fan favorites like Spawn, Youngblood and WildC.A.T.S., the truly great story (as is often the case with tales of runaway success) is what happened next. When the bottom drops out on the comic industry and this new juggernaut is tested both externally and internally, things really get good, as you get to learn about betrayal, double-crossing and a lot of Icarus-style problems at the big "I".
The key to this documentary is the extensive group of interviews it contains, from the seven founding partners to key Image Comics support staff, comic industry observers (like Rich Johnston) and artists who worked on the early Image books, as well as Robert Kirkman, creator of the aforementioned The Walking Dead, who has a unique perspective as a fan of the original Image and a part of its modern day incarnation. All of the main players are pretty candid about how things went down, and so you get to see the other side of the idolized star artists, whether it's the quietly industrious Lee, the brash, yet honest McFarlane and the divisive Liefeld, who is done few favors by the film, whether it's his own interviews or those of his former employees or co-founders. He's nothing if not forthright though, admitting to missteps and generally living up to his reputation. It's also nice to hear a bit about Portacio and Valentino's roles in Image's formation, since they tend to be the forgotten members of the band, due to the fact that their books never took off like the others (for various reasons.)
Though The Image Revolution spends a good deal of time on why things went sour for the main group in terms of the egos and poor decisions, the film (directed by comics documentarian Patrick Meaney [Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods]) feels more like a pro-Image effort than a neutral production, particularly with its rah-rah look to the Image of today. It only briefly explores the way the company flooded shelves with sub-par titles (with no mention of things like the embarrassingly pandering Darker Image's one-issue run) or how it valued flash over substance (gimmick covers and splashy, boob-centric art took far more priority than good writing on most titles.) Hearing from someone in the industry from the time who didn't work at Image would have been nice as well in order to get a different perspective of the changes Image wrought (Joe Quesada, Mark Bagley or anyone at Dark Horse wasn't available?)
The straightforward documentary mix on the Dolby Digital 2.0 track ensures all voices are clean and easily understood, via a center-balanced soundtrack that isn't challenged much, nor does it suffer any struggles, with limited interaction between speech and music and no concerns about distortion.
The other set of interview footage (5:33) talks to some non-founders, including members of the cast of The Walking Dead, Fringe star and comic fan Lance Reddick, Image creators Fiona Staples and Kirkman and indie comic vet Larry Marder, who was an executive during Image's early days. Here he tells an interesting story about how Image got involved with Marvel's Heroes Reborn project.
An overlong trailer (2:25) is also included.
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