In the first issue of "Image United," an inexperienced hero named Fortress saw a future vision of a threat so deadly that every crime fighter in the Image Universe needed to be gathered in order to prevent catastrophe. As of the second issue, his pleas for help have fallen on deaf ears, thanks in part to his rookie status and his lack of control over his super suit and powers. But by the end of the third issue of "Image United," the world's greatest heroes — Spawn, Savage Dragon, Witchblade, Shadowhawk, and the members of Youngblood and Cyberforce, just to name a few — will all wish they had listened to the new guy in the purple suit.
Right now, it's unknown exactly what is in store for the cast of "Image United." The second issue of the miniseries concluded with a legion of villains on the cusp of striking Youngblood's headquarters while a large portion of heroes prepared to return to the base, leading to an inevitable conflict in the pages of the currently unreleased third issue. Whether or not the resolution of "Image United" #3 is good or bad for our heroes remains to be seen, but there's one thing that is guaranteed — it will be shocking, so much so that the spotlight needs to shift elsewhere for a month.
In March, Robert Kirkman — the author of "Image United" alongside illustrators and Image Comics founders Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Marc Silvestri and Jim Valentino — will provide the proper "Image United" series with a month long reprieve. In its place is "Image United: Interlude" #1, a special one-shot issue that focuses on the surrounding heroes of the Image Universe that weren't created by Image's founders and haven't been seen in "Image United" yet. In other words, it's a way for the universe's other characters to get involved in the company's biggest crossover event to date.
"There are a lot of characters in the Image Universe that aren't necessarily the founders' characters," Kirkman told CBR News in an exclusive interview. "'Image United' is a cool crossover story that takes place in the Image Universe, but at the same time, it's a celebration of the founding of Image and getting all of these guys back together, so it didn't feel right to have Invincible running around drawn by Ryan Ottley or Cory Walker. It didn't feel right to fit Dynamo 5 and Jack Staff and other people into that story and have them drawn with [the founders]. I didn't want to do that. But I thought [the 'Interlude'] would be a really cool way to show that there is a big story taking place in the Image Universe where these other characters are involved, so it's kind of an offshoot of 'Image United' taking place between issues #3 and #4."
Unfortunately, due to "Image United: Interlude's" dependence on the ending of the main series' third issue, Kirkman's lips were sealed when it comes to discussing the one-shot's plot. "I can't go into too much detail on what the actual story is," said the writer. "Issue #3 of 'Image United' ends in a pretty big cliffhanger, and that plays into what's going on in this story, so I don't want to give anything away."
What he could let slip, however, is the involvement of at least one superhero so far unseen in "Image United" — none other than Invincible himself, the iconic superhero co-created by Kirkman and Cory Walker and currently illustrated by Ryan Ottley. When "Image United" was initially announced, many fans hoped that Kirkman's involvement would lead to Mark Grayson's own inclusion in the series. But Kirkman's desire to preserve the nature of "Image United" as a celebration of the founders' characters prevented him from utilizing Invincible within the proper series. With "Image United: Interlude," however, Kirkman felt he could make an appropriate exception.
"It's a way to get Invincible involved without feeling like I'm shoehorning him into the main book, because that's what it would have felt like — like I was taking advantage of my own position," said Kirkman. "It's a way to acknowledge that he does exist and would be involved in the story in some way, so this explains why we don't see him in the regular series proper."
Invincible isn't the only star of the issue, however, as plenty of other Image Comics characters are getting in on the action. "Out of every character, Invincible probably appears the most, just because I'm writing the book and I do what I want," joked Kirkman. "But he doesn't appear more than every other character combined. It's definitely an ensemble issue."
For now, however, Kirkman wouldn't reveal the identities of the other comic book artists and their respective characters joining the fray for "Image United: Interlude," save for the previously announced Ryan Ottley and Invincible. "It's still too early to say [who the other artists and characters are], but one of the silhouettes on that cover is pretty easy to make out," Kirkman teased, specifically referring to an obscured hulking figure on the cover. "We'll reveal more as the weeks go on as to who is involved in the story. We'll keep showing you more pieces of the cover, so it will be a fun progression of reveals leading up to the release of the book."
Although the issue will offer a unique look at corners of the Image Universe not seen in "Image United," one could look at the need for an "Interlude" issue simply as an excuse to give the proper series' artists a bit of a break. According to Kirkman, however, that's hardly the case. "I'm not going to say that it was planned from the very beginning, but it was planned from before we started soliciting 'Image United,'" he said. "We knew that there would be a brief break in solicitation. When you see issue #3, there's a story reason for the small break and it'll all make sense, so it's an organic part of the story. It's not some sort of last minute 'We don't know what we're doing' sort of thing. We're not getting this book out just to fill in the gaps. It was definitely planned along the way."
While the story and many other details of the "Interlude" remain under wraps, Kirkman's assertion that the issue would have ramifications not just for "Image United" but for the greater Image Universe going forward should be reason enough to attract diehard Image Comics fans. "As we reveal more details about the issue, you'll see that there are definitely things coming out of the 'Image United: Interlude,' including a new series spinning out involving one of the characters featured in this," he teased.
"I wouldn't skip this if you are enjoying 'Image United' — you definitely need to buy this and everything else related to the series," the writer half-jokingly stated. "If you're an Invincible fan, it's a fine little standalone yarn, but as far as the all-encompassing 'Image United' series, it's definitely an important part of the story. For the larger 'Image United' series, there's definitely a reason to read this one. Trust me — it's going to be sweet."
"Image United: Interlude," written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Ryan Ottley and other unannounced artists, hits stores on March 31, 2010.