IMAGE UNITED IS IMAGE UNLEASHED
The problem with critically analyzing company-wide crossovers is that they're spectacles. They're threadbare excuses to bring a bunch of disparate characters together. As such, it's nearly impossible to fashion one that makes perfectly logical sense while featuring characters in a way that makes logical sense, and not Plot Hammer or Equal Time sense.
"Image United" #1 is bombastic. It's spectacular. It's a Who's Who of the Image Universe, drawn by the characters' creators, and filled with splashy jam piece images. It's a throwback to the early days of Image when the founders would help each other out during Image meetings by inking each others' pages, and drawing the biggest and coolest image won the day. "Image United" fits perfectly in with the feel of those heady early days and, for that reason, I love it.
Robert Kirkman does what he can to pull these things together, and Whilce Portacio's new character becomes the Convenient Narrative Plot Device Viewpoint Character quite nicely. (I've written before of how sick I am of the "new" character bringing the new reader into an already established world, but it's not a fight I'll ever win.) Kirkman is an old school Image fanboy, and in many cases knows these characters probably as well as their creators. He's the guy you can trust to try bringing this together, and in this first issue he succeeds in setting up a story and giving the reader a few pages of crazy art to lap up. Really, that's all I expected and all I wanted.
For the rest of the series, I want to see some semblance of a plot and the all-star roster of artists drawing as many cool-looking characters as possible. That's all. I don't expect "Crisis on Infinite Earths" here, which is a good thing since to me that crossover was a convoluted spectacle held together by George Perez's amazing art and an insane DC fan's trivial knowledge. I could never read past the third part of it without getting dreadfully lost and mired in the mud, but the art is pretty.
If it sounds like I'm putting down "Image United" #1, I'm not. The biggest thing about enjoying any form of entertainment, in my mind, is managing expectations. You don't go to Wendy's expecting to eat filet mignon. You don't read "Sandman" for the super-powered slugfests. You don't listen to Weezer and complain that they don't sound like Enya. And don't go to "Wedding Crashers" expecting to see "Godfather."
I like well-written pieces of characterization and plotting as much as the next guy. I'm happy when comics strive to be great literature, and in the modern era of writer-driven comics, we're getting lots of those. But I can also block off a chunk of my entertainment time for Big Cool Fun. That's what "Image United" #1 is: Big Cool Fun. Seeing the creators I worshipped in my earliest days of comics collecting joining back together to draw outrageously big superhero type things is just cool. Seeing McFarlane ink Liefeld pencils is something I've enjoyed since those "New Mutants" covers where the two first paired up. There's something about McFarlane's smooth line that shines up Liefeld's pencils very well. (Liefeld confirmed those inks for me on Twitter this week, too.)
These are not back-handed compliments. These are sincere appreciations of what this book is all about. As time goes on, we'll see if it morphs into something else. Perhaps Kirkman's story will take a couple of surprising turns, or one Image artist will break out in particular, or maybe Portacio's new character will become a big star. I don't know. It's early yet, and I'm willing to throw a lot of rope at this book while I enjoy the spectacle of it all.
Heck, I giggled when I saw "Overt-Kill" (originally, "Overkill" before some legal issues probably made them change it) in the opening pages, just because I have the Stabur videotape where Liefeld and McFarlane created the character together somewhere around here. This is not to be confused with the one where McFarlane creates "Lotus" on his own. (Warning: High cringe factor present in that video clip link.)
For me, "Image United" delivers on the promise it made -- big loud fun, cool art, and potential for a crossover story to carry it. At this point, I have enough faith in Robert Kirkman to see it through, and to do more than just look at the pretty pictures for the next few issues.