Image Expo 2014 Round-Up: All The New Titles, Kirkman Slams Marvel

Last year was always going to be a hard one to top, but Image Comics was determined that 2014's [...]

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Last year was always going to be a hard one to top, but Image Comics was determined that 2014's Image Expo, rolling out a slate of new comics for the rest of the calendar year, would rock the comics world, and by and large, it seems to have worked. There was quite a bit of conversation about the lack of diversity of gender and race on stage at the Expo, but existing creators from both inside and outside of Image generally stepped up to defend the company, which espouses a philosophy of creator rights and creator ownership. African-American artists who work on Image books took to Twitter to defend their publisher and, generally, the discussion seemed by the end of the day to be back where the publisher wanted it. Except, of course, for some offhand comments The Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman made on stage at the Expo, which broke large the next morning after the comics press woke up, had their coffee and had time to realize that, yes, the writer of the top-selling comics and graphic novels in the industry right now just called the top-selling publisher in America "badly run" and bad for comics as a whole. But before that happened, what was the big news coming out of San Francisco this week? Well, here we go:

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Kirkman announced that Invincible #111, artist Ryan Ottley's hundredth issue on the title, will be designed as a jumping-on point for new readers, with a massive change in tone and some long-in-development changes to the series' formula. He also revealed that, taking a cue from Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples's Saga, the first issue of Kirkman's new exorcism horror story Outcast with artist Paul Azaceta will be 40 story pages for only $2.99. Rick Remender, whose Black Science has been a big hit with readers and critics in 2013, will add an aquatic sci-fi fantasy titled LOW to his Image Comics lineup next year with artist Greg Tocchini by his side. "Low explores what happens to groups of humans who are holding out hope for a solution when one is quite unlikely. It's an examination of how quickly our ideals shift when we're forced to make pragmatic choices for survival," explained Remender. "But at its core is an examination of how one person's optimism in the face of all of this hopelessness can potentially change everything for the better." The long-awaited fourth miniseries in the Casanova franchise--by Matt Fraction and Fabio Moon, with backup stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Chabon and Gabriel Ba--was confirmed for 2014.

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Fraction will also take ancient mythology to outer space with Ody-C, a new series with artist Christian Ward that retells Homer's The Odyssey, with a twist. "It's a lot like comics," Fraction says of Homer's epic. "It's out of order, it requires you to have knowledge of three different stories." Fraction's fractured take is that the story taples place takes place in space, that all the men are women and all the women are men. Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine DeLandro will "steer into the skid," as DeConnick put it, with a new series titled Bitch Planet that takes women-in-prison exploitation films into space, and to the next level. "I have a profound and abiding love for exploitation films, but as a feminist, I also find many (if not most) of them deeply problematic—for reasons that are both obvious and that I can't expound on without sounding like an academic paper," said DeConnick. "These are two WILDLY mixed feelings. And I love mixed feelings. It happens that mixed feelings are the perfect soil composition for fiction." Masks & Mobsters creator Joshua Williamson will bring a new serial killer story called Nailbiter to life.

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Artist Mike Henderson will join him in a series that required a ton of research about serial killers, both real and fictional, pulling inspiration from the Zodiac killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the characters in films like Se7en, Silence of the Lambs, and Psycho. "We talk a lot of the families of the victims, but what about the families of the killers? That's what Nailbiter is about," explained Williamson. "The people who have to deal with finding out someone they love is a murderer. Like how Twin Peaks shines a spotlight on a small town after Laura Palmer's death, Nailbiter does the same but shows a small town after finding out a bunch of horrible killers are from there." Writer Joe Keatinge not only had a new Tech Jacket miniseries debut on the day of the Expo (announced onsite and released digitally), but will also launch a creator-owned series with The Pantheon Project's Leila Del Luca titled Shutter. The series centers on Kate Christopher, who can be described as a contemporary Indiana Jones. "We're looking at the 21st Century, where it's at and where it's going, and considering what the Adventurer for its time might be like—what would Indiana Jones be like if created in 2014? What's after Lara Croft?" said Keatinge. "We're at a much different time than the pulps and serial Indiana Jones and, to an extent, Lara Croft, were rooted in—information from all remote corners of the world comes from great ease, where we're more knowledgeable about other cultures, where technology enables us to access we could only dream about. Where do you go from there?" Fred Van Lente and Nick Dragotta will bring Howtoons, an educational comic directed at young readers, to Image Comics. The first miniseries will be titled Howtoons: Reignition. Art will be provided by Tom Fowler and colorist Jordie Bellaire. "HOWTOONS is what happens when a comic artist, a toy designed, and a scientist create a comic," said Image Comics via Twitter.

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Morning Glories creator Nick Spencer will bring three new, ongoing titles to Image in 2014. A contemporary fantasy epic with a spy thriller aesthetic, PARADIGMS will showcase art by Butch Guice (Captain America, Superman) and explore a world that exists beyond, or more specifically behind, ours. In the shadows where magic is real, warring clans of sorcerers battle for power and the favor of their gods. A sci-fi thriller of dead worlds, lost secrets, and hidden dangers, CERULEAN, with art by Frazer Irving (MORNING GLORIES, BEDLAM, Batman), follows the last survivors of the destruction of Earth as they struggle to rebuild civilization on a distant planet full of its own mysteries. In the GREAT BEYOND, featuring art by Morgan Jeske (ZERO, SEX) a "post-life community" values the size of your bank account over morals and values—and your place in the hereafter is determined by it. But then polite society is rocked by the apparent suicide of one of its own. "I knew I wanted 2014 to be a big year for my creator-owned work, but I never dreamed I'd get the opportunity to work with so many incredible artists!" Spencer said. "Collaborating with a legend like Butch, a visionary like Frazer, or an exciting new star like Morgan, it just makes you want to tell great stories with them and do the best work you possibly can. And it's always great to be doing it at Image, which has been like home to me the entirety of my career. I really believe in what we're doing here, and I can't wait for people to see what's next."

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Characters from the Kyle Higgins-directed film The League will make the jump to the printed page with Higgins and Alec Siegel co-writing C.O.W.L. "It's the 1960s superhero labor union of Chicago," Higgins told the audience in San Francisco. The League is led by a former hero named Grey Raven. Although Geoffrey, aka The Grey Raven is the character responsible for first organizing the heroes under one banner, C.O.W.L., he's not the only character readers will get to know. "While Geoffrey is definitely a major player, both within C.O.W.L and within the story, the book is very much an ensemble piece, allowing us to explore C.O.W.L. from a number of different viewpoints," said Siegel. "These characters range from some of the "top tier" heroes, to members of the Investigations and Patrol Divisions. We've also got spouses, reporters, Chicago Police Detectives, jailers, and City Hall." "When the first issue opens, we watch the organization take down the last of the great villains that threatened the city. The question becomes, 'What now?'" Higgins said. "As someone who loves history, comics, and crime fiction, 1960s Chicago was always the perfect era for C.O.W.L. In fact, it's what got me to take the idea of organized superheroes seriously," said Higgins. "Between the politics and labor unions in Chicago, and the rise of Marvel Comics, the early '60s are one of my favorite periods in American History." "With this I project tried to play around a little with references for comics and illustration," explained artist Rod Reis. "Stuff like '80s graphic novels, noir and '60s illustration, to create a fun and exciting way to tell the story." Prophet writer Brandon Graham will showrun a new miniseries 8House, in which a number of creators can tell stories in a shared fantasy universe. The first of the series will be 8HOUSE: KIEM, written by Graham and drawn by Xurxo Penalta and follows a soldier who must project her mind into the body of her dead twin in order to fight monsters on a distant comet. The second of the series is titled 8HOUSE: ARCLIGHT, written by Graham and featuring art by Marian Churchland (BEAST). ARCLIGHT will bring readers the chilling story of a high-ranking lady of one of the houses who has her mind trapped in a monster's body. She will soon learn that the monster trapped in her body has taken over her old life in her absence. The last of the series will be 8HOUSE: MIRROR, and will be written by Emma Ríos (PRETTY DEADLY) and drawn by Hwei Lim. 8HOUSE: MIRROR will examine what it means to be "human" and promises to take readers on an ironic space opera battle between self-absorbed humans intent on their own survival and noble monsters striving to save their worlds. "Brandon Graham possesses one of the most irreverent creative minds in comics, which is what led me to tap him for the Prophet relaunch a couple years back," said Eric Stephenson, Publisher at Image Comics. "Brandon's work on Prophet also revealed he has a keen eye for talent, so in addition to being one of the most creatively adventurous project we publish all year, 8House is also one of the most gorgeous."

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Phonogram's Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie will reunite for The Wicked & The Divine. "The idea of playing superheroes as celebrity isn't exactly new," explained Gillen. "However, it's always played cynical. The celebrity characters are always the debased bad guys, or at least the cautionary tale and wandering from the road of truth. It's always implicitly arguing that these people are worse than the heroes who came before them because they're on the cover of a magazine and they do a bit of coke. We're not interested in that. We're anti-that. We've all had pop-stars save our life." As if superhero-like gods reincarnated isn't enough to draw readers in, Gillen promises a hefty dose of drama and mystery as well. "There'll be a lot of fights, drama, emotions, secrets, and kissing," hinted Gillen. "Worth noting is the question of whether the lead ends up being a God is the story to begin with. As far as the world knows, there's only twelve gods who appear. There may be a mystery going on." Fables writer Bill Willingham announced that he will bring a new series titled Restoration to Image Comics with artist Barry Kitson. Scheduled for fall 2014, Willingham told the audience in San Francisco that the the idea has existed for a while, but in terms of actually executing the thing, he's still in the very early stages of the process. Restoration starts with magic entities removed and stored in facilities, leaving behind a world that resembles ours (without magic). James Robinson and artist Greg Hinkle will bring a new series titled Airboy to the publisher, ostensibly detailing their failed attempt to revamp a Golden Age superhero character. "If you like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Adaptation, rousing Golden Age aviaton comics and full-frontal nudity, this is the comic you've been waiting for," Robinson joked.

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Batman writer Scott Snyder will return to Image for the first time since he turned into a superstar, with Wytches. Superstar artist Jock, with whom Snyder collaborated on Detective Comics just before the DC reboot, will be drawing the series which explores the world of witches. "I think our goal is to just scare the living shit out of you with this book," Snyder told fans at the Image Expo in San Francisco today. "I want this book to be the blackest, most twisted horror that I've ever done. I want it to be the book I feel terrible about at my kids' soccer game. I want this book to be like, you read it and say, 'They let this guy write Superman?'" Former Batman writer Grant Morrison will head to Image, too, along with his Batman & Robin artist Chris Burnham, for The Nameless. "Nameless is the ultimate horror comic," Burnham said. "[Morrison] has never done a straight-up, balls-to-the-wall horror book. That's what I told him I wanted, and that's what we're doing. I think it's going to be awesome and terrible, and hopefully some 11-year-old kids will steal it, and it'll ruin their lives forever." Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, who collaborate on the best-selling Criminal and Fatale, signed a five-year deal to produce basically whatever they want at the publisher. "Sean [Phillips] and I are doing a five-year deal with Image where basically we can do whatever we want, and they have to publish it," Brubaker told the audience in San Francisco. While their critically-acclaimed series Fatale will end with #24, Brubaker is confident that fans will respond to what he has planned next. The project, titled The Fade Out, will particularly appeal to fans of Criminal, he said.