Back in the earliest dawn of Image Comics, Spawn, Youngblood, WildCATS, Cyberforce, Savage Dragon, Wetworks and Shadowhawk and all their spinoff books all operated in the same continuity and universe. All owned by their creators, Youngblood's Chapel was revealed as Spawn's assassin, and all the characters appeared in each others books, all agreed with gentlemen's handshakes. They even all swapped books for one month, just for giggles. There were a few crossovers over the years such as Shattered Image, Altered Image, Big Bruisers, Deathmate, Darker Image and Splitting Image, but when partners left, taking all their creations with them – at one point in the middle of a crossover event – this ended pretty quickly. Image Comics changed the kind of comics they published and in recent years have focussed away from shared superhero universe stories in favour of more insular, creator-owned tales.
But Bleeding Cool understands that things are changing. Fast. I'm hearing about the return of the big shared superhero universe at Image Comics, using as many of the characters as they still can – and more besudes.
Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon is approaching its landmark 250th issue and that will most certainly be the series' highest seller in years. Because, admittedly, that's not hard. Most recently, the book's light has been dimmed somewhat, especially in comparison to the heady days of the '90s when the initial Savage Dragon miniseries pumped close to two million copies into the marketplace over three issues – but that disparity in sales may wind up benefiting both the series and collectors in the long run.
Ignoring the fact that Savage Dragon is Image's second-longest-running series and one of only a handful of creator-owned comics at any publisher to reach triple digits, and the only one with that kind of longevity written and drawn by the same person at the publisher, one of the rumours to emerge from January's Image partners meeting is that work has begun on refurbishing the shared creator-owned superhero universe that first introduced the company to fans back in 1992.
Any serious attempt at rebuilding a line of superhero books at Image would most definitely include Larsen's Dragon. The back issue landscape for the Image founder's series is full of peaks and valleys, but those peaks often feature other Image superheroes. Most notably, the first appearances of in Robert Kirkman & Cory Walker's Invincible in Savage Dragon #102 and #107 fetch a decent dollar figure these days, as do appearances of Spawn and Mike Allred's Madman. And those comics all sold significantly more than the issues published in the years since Image's last real superhero push. Some issues are clearly more scarce than others, so an Image superhero renaissance could easily spark a back issue sales bonanza.
Is an Image superhero universe viable in 2020? The only lasting result of Image's last foray into superheroes was Invincible, currently in development as an Amazon Prime series. Image's talent pool has deepened and become more diverse since the days when a rookie creator could not only upstage industry vets like Jim Krueger and Keith Giffen with his fledgeling superhero comic and many of Image's most bankable names, like the Image founders themselves, cut their teeth on Marvel superhero titles. In short, there is no shortage in the kind of world-building experience necessary to reignite the Image Universe.
To add to the intrigue, there's a quietly persistent industry rumor than one of Jim Lee's first acts upon assuming shared control of the DC Universe with Dan DiDio and Geoff Johns ten years ago was to contact his former Image partners to inquire about licensing their superhero characters for use at DC. As the story goes, Jim's plan was to integrate the Image Universe with the DCU in an attempt to reinvigorate the line, much as he wound up doing with his own WildStorm Universe during the New 52. Not all of the Image founders were in favour of the idea, though, and so the idea, like the recently proposed Image/DC crossover one-shot, was ultimately shelved… but the fact that the interest was there indicates the appetite for another bite at the Image superhero apple may be stronger than the sales of the average issue of Savage Dragon may lead one to believe.
New series by Image Comics' heavy hitters would almost certainly dominate any sales discussion in the wake of such a launch, but with Larsen's book chock full of heroes and villains alike, any crossover action between his characters and any successful new creations would likely send collectors' key issue counters into overdrive. And there is a deep chasm in availability between issues were published in the '90s and, at the very least, issue #250, which will surely represent a spike in sales activity for the book's anniversary. The book has been on an upswing of late, but the three issues between #220-222 represent the most scarce issues in the run (with #221 being the title's all-time lowest print run), and with several issues on either side of that run nearly as hard to find, it may well be time to start stockpiling Savage Dragon.