You've probably heard the story before. In 1992, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, Jim Valentino and While Portacio seven of the biggest artists in the comics industry left lucrative work-for-hire gigs to form Image Comics, a publisher built on creator ownership and autonomous control. <p>This week, Image Comics notched its 20th anniversary, and to celebrate, we've assembled a list of The 10 Best Image Comics Series of their First 20 Years. The company's released a lot of great comics over the years, so of course this list is entirely subjective and hardly exhaustive when it comes to the quality material from the past two decades as you'll see, we're kind of fudging with "<i>10</i> best" anyway. (And if you're wondering, since Warren Ellis's seminal run on <i>Stormwatch</i> bled through to the DC-published <i>The Authority</i>, we elected not to count it for the purposes of this particular list, but can certainly see an argument for both sides.) <p>Image Comics has evolved a great deal in 20 years while sticking to their creator-owned roots. To take a look at some of the best of what they're produced, click "start here" in the upper-left corner. <p><i>Got a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's <a href=http://www.facebook.com/Newsarama><b>FACEBOOK</b></a> and <a href=http://twitter.com/newsarama><b>TWITTER</b></a>!</i> <p>
If Image's initial mission statement was to produce thoroughly unconventional fare with the same type of production value and exposure as a Marvel or DC comic and we're pretty sure it at least partly was then there might not be a better representative from their early days than <b>The Maxx</b>, which debuted in 1993. <p>Created by Sam Kieth with co-writer William Messner-Loebs, <b>The Maxx</b> was a surreal trip of a comic about a homeless man who doubled as a monstrous hero in an alternate reality created by a woman's subconscious. (Unconventional, right?) Like many of the entries on this list, it spawned an adaptation in another form of media, but <b>The Maxx</b> was among the earliest: an equally bizarre 1995 MTV animated series that aired among the likes of <i>Beavis and Butthead</i>.
The worlds of music and comic books are never too far apart Dazzler started out as a disco star, after all but were never so seamlessly integrated before Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's <b>Phonogram</b>. <p>Running from 2006 to 2010, <b>Phonogram</b> first starred David Kohl, a mage whose powers were channeled through Britpop. Individual issue covers were each homages to different albums by bands like Pulp, Blue and Oasis, and the second volume brought things more into the 2000s with references to bands like CSS, The Knife and TV on the Radio. <p><b>Phonogram</b> also led to Gillen and McKelvie working extensively for Marvel Comics; Gillen's the current writer of <i>Uncanny X-Men</i> and <i>Journey Into Mystery</i>, and McKelvie is drawing the upcoming <i>X-Men: Season One</i> hardcover graphic novel.
In recent years, Image Comics has seen something of a renaissance, with multiple well-received new series launching, in the process creating new indie hits and new mainstream superstars. Here are three of the biggest. <p>Before <i>Fantastic Four</i>, Jonathan Hickman wrote and illustrated 2006-2007's <i>The Nightly News</i>, an Eisner-nominated speculative fiction look at the news media. The series established Hickman as an important artistic voice, and featured his striking design skills. <p><b>Chew</b>, by John Layman and Rob Guillory, launched in 2009 and is a testament to the kind of comics you just don't get from mainstream publishers. The book stars Tony Chu, a detective and "Cibopath" who can absorb the "memories" of any piece of food he eats (except for beets). <p>Another future Marvel star, Nick Spencer, made a splash in 2010 with ongoing series <b>Morning Glories</b>, a boarding school-set drama filled with enough mystery that it's earned the tag "<i>Runaways</i> meets <i>Lost</i>" and has earned raves from <i>Lost</i> co-creator Damon Lindelof.
Mark Millar is preparing to launch several new creator-owned series with top talent like Dave Gibbons and Frank Quitely on board as you read this, and none of that would have been possible without <b>Wanted</b>, released by Image's Top Cow Productions. <p>In 2003, Millar was already a pretty big star thanks to comics like <i>The Ultimates</i> and <i>Superman: Red Son</i>. <b>Wanted</b> helped launch him to the next level, and reminded the industry as a whole that creator-owned comics aren't just emotionally fulfilling, they also can be pretty profitable as seen in the $341 million worldwide box office take of the <b>Wanted</b> film. Along with six issues of J.G. Jones art, and you've got one of the most important series in Image history. <p>And other than all of that, it definitely has one of the most memorable closing lines in comic book history.
Even though the story has taken some pretty unexpected turns over the years, Robert Kirkman and Cory Walker's <b>Invincible</b> is definitely the most famous straight-up superhero series in Image history. <p>While a lot of Image characters can fall under the general superhero umbrella Spawn, Savage Dragon, Witchblade much of them are antiheroes or twists on the concept. <b>Invincible</b> proved that Image could do superheroes just as well as Marvel or DC Invincible and Spider-Man even teamed up at one point and the series is still going strong nearly a decade after its 2003 debut. <p>(And, no, this isn't the only Robert Kirkman-written series on the list.)
Marc Silvestri's Top Cow Productions has a unique history of its own it's acted mostly independently over the years, and at one point briefly seceded from Image altogether. Since its 1996 debut, it's carved out an industry niche for dark, often religious-themed, horror/fantasy series. <p>The two most famous Top Cow series are <i>Witchblade</i> and its spinoff <i>The Darkness</i>; either one would be a worthy entry on this list, but we're going with <b>The Darkness</b> for its impressive history of writers (including Garth Ennis, Paul Jenkins and, currently, Phil Hester), melding of the crime and fantasy genres, and inspiring an acclaimed 2007 video game, with a sequel on the way. <p>It's current volume reaches #100 this month a rare feat for any series these days, but especially one that started life as a spinoff of a non-Marvel/DC title.
Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Avon Oeming's <b>Powers</b> went to Marvel's "Icon" imprint in 2004, but the first four years of the series was at Image Comics, and yielded some of the book's most memorable stories. <P>In 2000, Bendis was just gaining notice from the comic book industry at large via <i>Ultimate Spider-Man</i>, and <b>Powers</b> about a pair of homicide detectives assigned to the superhero beat became his biggest creator-owned hit yet. The first arc, "Who Killed Retro Girl?" established the tone of the series, and highlighted Oeming's flair for coupling art reminiscent of animation with scenes of graphic violence. <p>Still running today and with a possible FX TV series in the works, it's clear that despite the mainstream success Bendis and Oeming have had in their careers, <b>Powers</b> is still tremendously important to both creators.
Another series no longer at Image, <b>Astro City</b> began life in 1995 as part of Wildstorm subdivision Homage Comics, before Jim Lee's imprint became part of DC Comics in 1998. <p><b>Astro City</b> reunited the <i>Marvels</i> team of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross (on covers and character designs), and took a similar approach: looking at larger-than-life superheroes from a ground level. Illustrated throughout its run by Brent Anderson, the first volume consisted of six one-issue stories, each one quirky and poignant. <p>Following that, Busiek and Anderson explored the world of Astro City further with multi-part stories, and filled the city with dozens of heroes and decades of its own rich history, and becoming one of the most universally praised '90s series along the way.
Erik Larsen's <b>Savage Dragon</b> and Todd McFarlane's <b>Spawn</b> were two of the original Image Comics titles and are still being published today, chasing <i>Cerebus</i> for the record of longest-running independent title. <p>For nearly 180 issues, Erik Larsen has been writing and drawing <b>The Savage Dragon</b>, with a multitude of left turns in the series' saga in the past 20 years. The comic has seen a fistfight between God and the Devil and guest spots from Osama bin Laden and Barack Obama, and inspired a short-lived animated series way back in 1995. <p>Though Todd McFarlane has greatly reduced his <b>Spawn</b> role over the years, its remained influential as one of the most popular non-Marvel, non-DC franchises of all time launching toys, a live-action 1997 film, an HBO animated series and passing the 200-issue mark in 2011.
Yes, <b>The Walking Dead</b> inspired a hit AMC series that's currently in its second season, and with that has brought recognition of the comic book to entirely new audiences. And though that's pretty great, that's not the only reason it's No. 1. <p><b>The Walking Dead</b> debuted in 2003 from the creative team of Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore, and effectively showed the day after a zombie movie what happens to the survivors, and how does life go on when you're constantly on the run from the living dead? With shocking developments over the course of its 90+ issues, <b>The Walking Dead</b> has remained one of the most consistent and unexpected reads on stands, winning an Eisner Award for "best continuing series" in 2010. <p>Now <b>The Walking Dead</b> franchise is extending beyond comics and TV, and into video games. There's even a board game and action figures. But throughout all that, the comic book has remained really, really good, and it looks like there's no stopping point any time soon.