The 10 Best Comics Image Currently Publishes (2016)

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The 10 Best Comics Image Currently Publishes (2016)

Last February, Image publisher Eric Stephenson held an intervention for the comic book industry at the ComicsPro 2016 Meeting, a gathering of trade professionals designed to get more funny books into more hands. His message was simple: tear it down. Destroy the rigid, traditional expectations that have relegated comics as a beta art form. Seek new audiences, new creators and emphasize that comics aren’t a genre, but a thriving medium designed to articulate complex ideas beyond men in costumes punching one another.

Fortunately, Stephenson has long practiced what he’s preached, filling his creator-owned stable with converts from the Big Two, new voices and, hands down, the best artists. That reality was no more apparent than at this year’s Image Expo, which introduced new projects from Cameron Stewart, Babs Tarr, Brenden Fletcher, Ed Brubaker, Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender and the return of Vertigo comics matriarch Karen Berger (!!!) This month, the Paste Comics team is taking a democratic, spread-sheet assisted look at our favorite comics from each publisher, starting with Image. And while we do adore brand new series like The Fix, we’re mainly taking a look at comics that have been around for an arc or two.

10. Monstress

Writer: Marjorie Liu
Artist: Sana Takeda

Monstress may have an exterior filled with unicorns, multi-tailed cats and angelic warriors, but much like its titular heroine, it hides something far more savage inside. Really: shit gets real dark real quick. Writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda fearlessly address human trafficking, experimentation and the horrors of war through the travails of Maika Halfwolf, a survivor hiding a blood-thirsty behemoth in her soul—both metaphorically and literally. Takeda contrasts an escapist world and adorable character designs against unflinching horror, illuminating warfare's brutality no matter the context. Liu has also constructed an ornate background mythology, where ruthless humans, body-harvesting witches and magical hybrids don't even attempt to co-exist. Though the denseness of the plot and the streams of exposition don't make Monstress the most accessible of comics, there's nothing else like it in the medium. Sean Edgar

9. Tokyo Ghost

Writer: Rick Remender
Artist: Sean Murphy

On paper, Tokyo Ghost looks like a bad idea. If there were anything interesting about vaguely mechanical, sexy mercenaries rampaging through cyberpunk dystopias, that subject wouldn't have inspired an upcoming Hollywood blockbuster starring noted white woman Scarlett Johansson. And barely implicit warnings about overindulging in digital distractions can grow very tiresome, very quickly. Sure, an all-encompassing preoccupation with social media and streaming entertainment presents its share of downsides, but nobody ever got a nasty poison ivy rash by playing Nintendo all day.

Of course, Rick Remender (Low, Deadly Class) and Sean Murphy (Punk Rock Jesus) could pull a magnificent comic out of virtually any concept they felt like, so nothing I complained about in that preceding paragraph matters.

Much more tonally akin to Transmetropolitan than Ghost In The Shell, Tokyo Ghost chronicles the ultraviolence and existential angst surrounding L.A. law enforcers Led Dent and Debbie Decay (not their real names). Dent's tech addiction has made him a peerless ass kicker, while neutralizing his libedo. Both of these conditions bode poorly for Decay, who believes there's more to life than slaughtering criminals and watching TV. Murphy renders a terrifying urban technoscape and a sublimely lush jungle with equal adeptness. Dude's got a knack for drawing things that look very, very hideous or very, very pretty, and we applaud him for that. After all, the middleground is for cowards. Barry Thompson

8. Cry Havoc

Writer: Si Spurrier
Artist: Ryan Kelly

Comic shelves have seldom wanted for supernatural action stories with "fresh" twists on established mythos, but Cry Havoc is the rare book that delivers on its claim. Cerebral writer Si Spurrier, workhorse draftsman Ryan Kelly, the coloring trifecta of Lee Loughridge, Nick Filardi and Matt Wilson and designer Emma Price have produced a head-trip of a war story that speaks to notions of collective belief and self-fulfilling prophecies, with a messy mostly-lesbian, kinda-werewolf at its center. Told in three timelines differentiated by its three different colorists, Cry Havoc purposefully disorients the reader before weaving its storytelling threads together. Spurrier and Kelly have a blast digging up obscure monsters from around the globe, deftly fitting them into the modern day's unceasing Middle Eastern conflict. With shades of American Gods, Cry Havoc's first "season" is one of the best—and best-looking, thanks to Price's forward-thinking design sensibilities—books in the Image roster, and will hopefully be back for more once its first arc wraps up later this month. Steve Foxe

7. Rumble

Writer: John Arcudi
Artist: James Harren

For whatever reason, Rumble seems to go unnoticed amongst Image's competitive crop. This book operates on its own odd dream logic, at turns brutal, melancholy, frightening and heartwarming. Rathraq the Scarecrow Warrior God is back with a centuries-old grudge, now set against the backdrop of a modern American city in decline. John Arcudi and James Harren, both alumni of the Mignolaverse, are churning out career-best work, often wrapped in variant covers from critical darlings like Andrew MacLean and Lee Bermejo. Arcudi knows well when to fall back and let Harren take center stage, and the artist never disappoints. His work on Conan and B.P.R.D. prepared him well for the demon-slaying, limbs-flying, tooth-gnashing carnage that is Rumble's ink-slashed bread and butter. Rumble is less high-concept than it is high-throttle, and may just be the best Image book you aren't reading. Steve Foxe

6. East of West

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Nick Dragotta

Jonathan Hickman is responsible for penning one of Marvel's best inter-series events in the history of…Marvel. Secret Wars distilled its characters to their core in a violent opera where the casualties ran high. East of West takes similar themes and spreads them over dozens of issues, showing the end of the world through a sci-fi family drama with cosmic ramifications. It's weirder, cooler and Hickman can do whatever the hell he wants with these characters, articulated with emotion and life through artist Nick Dragotta. Within 26 issues, the saga of the Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a gaggle of mostly sociopathic world leaders has twisted, bent and exploded in ways meticulously calculated and brazenly shocking. Hickman's not afraid to get weird between Machiavellian rants and evangelical sermons—just check out the sentient, double-crossing eyeball. Ultimately, character fuels this book of revelations; Death is a melancholic cowboy looking for his son, a child raised by a manipulative AI to orchestrate humanity's curtain call. (You read that correctly.) Under Hickman and Dragotta's pen, the holy and the damned are indistinguishable, but the reader is always blessed. Sean Edgar

5. Paper Girls

Writer: Brian K. Vauhan
Artist: Cliff Chiang

Set in the 1980s, four 12-year-old newspaper delivery girls are menaced by something even weirder and more malevolent than teenage boys. In this sci-fi mystery, writer Brian K. Vaughan brings the heart and charm of Saga to a story about kids that's not just for them. This title is also a strong contender for the most Kirby-esque current comic. The lead characters are a gender update of Kirby's many boy gangs, and Cliff Chiang's art is bold and innovative. Whether illustrating a sci-fi gizmo or drunken stepmom, Chiang's clear lines (and Matt Wilson's evocative, day-glo colors) convey the wonder, fear, and excitement of near-teenhood. This is one of the best recent comics to share with your friend who doesn't read comics—especially if they have a hankering for the '80s. Mark Peters

4. Injection

Writer: Warren Ellis
Artist: Declan Shalvey

Warren Ellis's comics favor big ideas, whether they're alternate versions of space travel, inspired riffs on 20th century pulp fiction or an alien arrival that defies exploration. Reunited here with artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire, who Ellis collaborated with on a gloriously surreal Moon Knight run, Injection feels like a summation of the writer's thematic concerns—and the whole thing is thrilling, unsettling stuff. The book focuses on a group of five people who altered reality, and their ongoing attempts to rectify the consequences of those actions. Ellis' plotting and dialogue are memorably executed, and Shalvey and Bellaire's art excels in both action sequences and quieter character moments. It's a work by three talented creators perfectly in sync. Tobias Carroll

3. The Wicked + The Divine

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artists: Jamie McKelvie, Various

Few books capture the zeitgeist like The Wicked + The Divine. The gods of old are back as pissy, prissy teen pop stars, adored by countless fans for two years and then snuffed out... Only someone is extinguishing the current pantheon before its time. Creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie bring every skill they've honed together over the last decade of collaboration to their work on WicDiv, from McKelvie's expert facial "acting" to Gillen's knack for perfect "wish-I-had-thought-to-say-that-during-my-last-breakup" dialogue. WicDiv, much like Saga, knows exactly how to leave its audience gasping and grasping for the next issue, and its ability to reach readers beyond comic-shop regulars make it one of the medium's best cultural ambassadors. What could have been a cynical row on Rihanna, Kanye, Gaga and other overexposed pop stars has become a meditation of mortality, morality and the seeming invincibility of youth, with ample style and pure coolness to spare. Steve Foxe

2. Southern Bastards

Writer: Jason Aaron
Artist: Jason Latour

A lesser creative team would have no problem churning out Mason-Dixon exploitation set in the grimy, sweaty, crime-ridden underbelly of the former Confederacy, but only Jason Aaron and Jason Latour could create Southern Bastards. Much like Aaron's "reservation noir" Scalped, Southern Bastards points an unflinching eye at its subjects without devolving into mocking spectacle. Aaron and Latour both know firsthand the conflicting sides of southern living, allowing for a level of nuance that makes the book's must gut-wrenching moments hit all the harder. Latour's confidently simplified linework and heightened color palette elevate the proceedings to a level of fine art any inevitable live-action adaptation will only hope to emulate. Southern Bastards is also notable for pulling one of the biggest first-arc bait-and-switches in recent memory—a shocker that is just now beginning to unfold in more detail. As reliable as your grandma's cornbread and as rotten as roadkill on a steaming Alabama afternoon, Southern Bastards is confident down-home storytelling from two of the best in the business. Steve Foxe

1. Saga

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples

Paste anointed Saga as a gamechanger for the comics medium when it debuted in 2012. In the intervening years, writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples have never stopped challenging audiences with a heady mix of interpersonal friction, gallivanting space adventure and sucker-punch humor. While the comic initially thrived on an 'us-vs-the-universe' candor, the creative team hasn't hesitated to subvert expectations, revealing these heroes as their own worst enemies. Fugitive parents Alana and Marko fell into extreme drug addiction, disrupting the romance and optimism that ignited their journey. But you know that? That's a frailty you find in family, and those risky decisions elevate Saga beyond escapist fiction to something infinitely more relevant and relatable, even as adorable seal children battle TV-head men with axes.

That eye-watering realness would be wasted without Fiona Staples' illustrations. Aside from her uncanny ability to populate a universe with all manner of alien fauna (praying mantis teachers, star-nosed mole gangers), she channels anger, delight, sex and wonder with a seamless ease found in few, if any, other comics. As Marko, Alana and their adorable toddler Hazel seem have regained a semblance of peace, we can only hope to join Staples and Vaughan for another four (or eight...or 12) years on their intimate intergalactic odyssey.