Spawn, Savage Dragon, Witchblade, Youngblood, Cyberforce, Shadowhawk, Fortress – entirely different characters illustrated by entirely different creators, all within the same comic book story. Such is the premise of "Image United," an upcoming crossover event from Image Comics that reunites six of the company's original founders – Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino – for a story written by new Image partner Robert Kirkman.
What once seemed a difficult if not impossible-to-achieve task is now just around the bend with "Image United" #1 arriving in stores this November, but the fun doesn't start there – it's happening a full month earlier.
Starting in October, a special "Image United" prelude story will unfold across the pages of "Savage Dragon" #153, "Witchblade" #131, "Invincible" #67 and "Spawn" #197. Robert Kirkman spoke with CBR News about the four-part 16-page story, how it enriches the overall "Image United" series, and how the Image Comics landscape will be affected once the miniseries wraps up.
"The prelude sets up the story for 'Image United,' leading right up to the first page of the series," Kirkman told CBR. "'Image United' #1 opens up with a vision that the character Fortress has about some world-shattering event that is, according to the vision, going to take place very soon. The 'Image United' prelude focuses on Fortress a little bit and basically shows what's going on with him leading up to him having that vision."
Image Comics familiars might scratch their heads wondering exactly who Fortress is, which is a valid question – the character is an all-new creation cooked up by artist Whilce Portacio for "Image United," and readers can get their first taste of him in the prelude. "To a certain extent, this does give you a bit more information on Fortress going into 'Image United,'" Kirkman said. "His deal is that he's trapped in a power suit that he understands very little of. Aside from having this whacky vision that he has no idea of why he's having it or what it means, he is also kind of new at the whole superhero game. He doesn't really entirely know what his powers are or how to use them. He's kind of a fish out of water with a lot of things to figure out. He's definitely a rookie."
Fortress and his vision of the Image Universe's future are two of the prelude's sharpest focuses. "We meet Fortress and we see that he's trying to figure out what his powers are, how to use them and how to fight in his suit,” Kirkman said. “He gets dragged into some action – there's a villain blowing stuff up – and he ends up teaming up with some other heroes to take that villain out."
Even though Fortress is one of the prelude's central characters, if not its most important one, Kirkman says the four-part story will feature the same jam approach that's made "Image United" so buzz-worthy in the first place. "If it says 'Image United' on the cover, or if that's the title of the story, then every character is going to be drawn by the creator of those characters,” Kirkman confirmed. “It's not as if every character appears in the prelude, so not every artist worked on the prelude story. But characters that do appear, creators will draw those characters – and there's a pretty cool surprise in this prelude story that I don't want to give away… a character you might not expect to appear in the story."
With "Invincible" being one of the titles in which the prelude unfolds, is it possible that Kirkman's own superhero creation will provide that "cool surprise" he's hinting at? The writer addressed that prospect as expected: "No comment!"
One thing that isn't a secret, at least to Kirkman and the other "Image United" creators, is that a prelude was a very appealing avenue to explore. "We'd discussed doing some things leading up to the release of 'Image United,'" said Kirkman. "We all thought about the cool kind of stuff we could do for preludes. If you're reading these titles already or if you haven't read the titles in a while, it's an incentive to grab a copy of 'Spawn' or 'Savage Dragon' just to find out what's going on with 'Image United.' It's a fun little thing and I like writing shorter stories – and anything to get more pages out of these guys, because I'm really enjoying working on 'Image United' with them. The more 'Image United,' the better."
Aside from offering more of "Image United" than initially expected, the prelude is a reminder that the miniseries is more than just a visual wonder – there's a story here, too. "Once you read the 16-page prelude, and once you've read the 11-page preview of issue #1 that we released for Comic-Con, you'll get a sense that there is actually stuff going on in this book," said Kirkman. "It's certainly not just going to be these guys running around the book going, 'Hey! Look at me!' It could be that, because the pages are looking magnificent, but I'm not going to phone this in. It's going to be a cool, big, mega-crossover event that features all of the characters of that world drawn by all of their creators.
“One of the big challenges for me was when people hear about 'Image United,' they're going to expect a pin-up book. I think that's what most people would expect is manageable in this art style: with six different guys working on every piece of art, they're going to have to make the story simple in order to accommodate how complicated the actual drawing of these pages is going to be. But these guys are real pros and they've been doing jam stuff for a while. We've come up with a pretty cool system and we're telling a full, complete comic book story in this fashion. That's one of the coolest things about this book – it's not just pin-ups, there is actual panel-to-panel story development. It's a real comic book that's drawn in this bizarre, Frankenstein-like way. It's going to be a cool, unique experience."
The very existence of the prelude indicates that "Image United" has a story large enough to warrant a precursor tale – and while there might not be a concrete epilogue to bookend the miniseries, Kirkman did say that there would be lasting effects in the Image Universe. "That was something that was very important to me," he said. "Before I started writing the story, I went to every single creator involved and said, 'Tell me about your guy and what's available out there that you'd like to do with your characters that I may possibly be able to do in the book.' I had discussions with everybody and came up with one cool moment that will be reflected from 'Image United.' If you're reading 'Savage Dragon,' there will be this one thing that happened in 'Image United' that's reflected in 'Dragon.' If you're reading 'Spawn,' there's one thing that will be reflected in 'Spawn.' So on and so on for all these different characters. There's going to be this lasting change or event that happens to these characters that will exist outside of this miniseries."
In a sense, "Image United" has gone from a book with a daunting premise to being much bigger than anticipated at the outset – so big, in fact, that it can't be contained in the one miniseries. Does that mean that readers will need to pick up the prelude in order to fully grasp the whole "Image United" epic? "They're going to be lost [without it]. They absolutely need to buy all four of these prelude comics!” Kirkman joked.
"Look, he continued, “'Image United' is one of those big, annoying crossover events. These are tie-in books, but everyone knows that if you only want to read the main book, you only have to read the main book. If you want to get more information or if you want to get in on the story early, these prelude stories are a way to do that. I'm not really in the habit of forcing someone to buy something in order to get something else, so they're not 100% integral – but you'll regret it if you don't buy these issues!"
The "Image United" prelude will be unveiled this October in the pages of "Savage Dragon" #153, "Witchblade" #131, "Invincible" #67 and "Spawn" #197.