Image Zero front cover logo

Image @ 25: Image Zero

How To Get Image Zero, 1992 Edition

Image Zero #0 cover

In 1992, if you wanted a copy of “Image Zero”, you had to buy seven different Image comics to get it:

  • “Spawn” #4
  • “WildC.A.T.s” #2
  • “Savage Dragon” #3
  • “ShadowHawk” #1
  • “CyberForce” #1
  • “Brigade” #2
  • “Youngblood” #0

Each had a coupon stapled into it that you cut out.  Once you defiled all seven highly collectible comics (buy two!), you mailed the coupons in with a check for $2.50 to get the comic.

You had until December 31, 1992, or whenever “Youngblood” #0 told you. (It’s almost like they knew they had issues with releasing books on time back then…)

Here’s a sample coupon.  You can see where I cut out the coupon from how the page of “Brigade” shows through.

Image Zero Coupon

My favorite part: “Please print with a pen or use a typewriter.”

 

And here’s the redemption form on the back side:

American Entertainment processed the order.  They’re best known for doing mail order comics from the back of every comic book and comic book magazine of the day. Its founder, Steve Milo, would later go on to found AnotherUniverse.com and then get a job working on Marvel.com.

The coupons, themselves, missed the mark in two nitpicky little ways:

  1. Each coupon had a different color. This no doubt to help make processing them faster on the receiving end. And, maybe, it thwarted people from just photocopying one multiple times.  Where this went wrong is when “Spawn” bound in the green coupon instead of “Savage Dragon.”
  2. Binding Issues.  Most coupons were bound into the center of the book.  When it came to “WildC.A.T.s” #2, this created a problem.  The centerfold was the site of a big double page panel with all the characters in peak action — and an annoying stapled-in coupon splitting it in half.

 

The Sales Gimmick

As a sales gimmick, it worked.  These were the August-solicited Image comics of 1992.  That’s the month that Image sold more units into retail than DC Comics. If only they had all landed on store shelves that month….

I’m sure lots of people bought two comics so they wouldn’t destroy the value of the one they cut the coupon out of.  You also had to pick out one comic to rip the whole page out from. That’s the one that had the form to fill out your name and address.

Now, the timing of the comics’ release was a little more sporadic.  Just look at the release months printed on the front covers to see how far apart they came out.  They range from August to December.

 

When Did Image Zero Ship?

I don’t remember.  If anyone knows exactly, please let me know.

I can piece together some clues, though:

  • The indicia lists copyright dates for all characters in 1993.
  • The letter from the publisher (see next section) looked forward to a strong 1994.
  • The American Entertainment ad on the back cover had a Christmas theme, with an offer for guaranteed Christmas delivery if you ordered before December 1st.
  • The same ad offers “Spawn” #13 for sale. That one had a cover date of August 1993.

I’m guessing the comic came out somewhere between September and November 1993, just over a year after the original comics with the coupons were solicited for.

And you were surprised that “Image United” was late?  And the 10th anniversary hardcover book?  Ha!

 

Letter from the Publisher

Then publisher, Tony Lobito, wrote a letter at the end of the comic:

Dear Image Fans,

The book you hold in your hands has one of the lower print-runs to date for Image Comics.  This book is part of a cooperative effort between Image, Malibu, American Entertainment, and all our fans.

I want to stay a huge THANK YOU for your patience.  We are sorry for the delay.  I’m sure you will find that this book contains some of our hottest work so far.  Thank you all for your support from the beginning and for continuing to believe in us as we continue to be a major player in today’s comic market.  The best is yet to come in ’94 as we take Image to the next level.

Thanks,

Tony Lobito

 

Image Zero: Is It Worth It?

Nah, not really.

I mean, if you were an Image completist, maybe.  I was one of those at the time, and would be until probably “Brigade” #4, when I realized I wasn’t enjoying it and didn’t want to waste my money on books I didn’t like.

If you were a “Dragon” fan, it was a Must Buy as it had a crucial piece of the storyline for the series in it. (Erik Larsen published it in the first “Savage Dragon” trade before the on-going series started and before “Image Zero” even made it out.)

But half of the book feels like afterthoughts. They were weekend projects done to tick off a To Do checkbox.  They filled in gaps nobody cared about (“CyberForce”) or featured new characters who were underwhelming (Todd McFarlane’s contributions).

Four pages just isn’t enough to get a reader invested in a story when you’re creating comics of this style, I’m afraid.  Valentino and Larsen did the best jobs there.  Silvestri and McFarlane trailed the pack badly.  (However, the fact that I own the first appearance of “Sweat” is going to put my kid through college someday, I’m sure.)

 

The Stories

“Image Zero” had contributions from all six Founding Fathers/Partners at Image Comics.  Let’s take a look (story titles in quotes are mine):

 

Rob Liefeld: “Troll”

Rob LIefeld's Troll from the pages of Image Zero

It’s a five page introduction to the then-new character.  It’s your standard “getting to know you” piece by watching a character in a “Danger Room” environment battling a bunch of robots with their powers.  In case it’s all not obvious what’s going on, two observers narrate the whole piece to fill in the gaps.

It ends on one of those seemingly random sideways two page spreads that were popular back then.  At the time, I used to defend those. Looking back on them now, they are kind of annoying.  There are a lot of single page splashes that became double page splashes for absolutely no good reason. Really, once you turn the book sideways, a double page splash is the close enough to the same aspect ratio as a single page splash that it makes no sense.

I will, however, continue to push for more “landscape comics,” where they’re entirely drawn in landscape format on purpose.

Liefeld’s art is really good in this issue. It plays to his strengths of drawing characters in action.  He’s inked here by Art Thibert, who had briefly turned into Jim Lee’s clone on “X-Men” before Image Comics formed.  Can’t argue with the results. Thibert’s style meshes well with Liefeld’s. If Liefeld hadn’t found Danny Miki at the time, Thibert would have made a great on-going inker for him.

Colors are from Kiko Taganashi, who took over from Brian Murray.  It’s a good slick style that fits the art and has just enough of the Photoshop effects to match the art without overpowering it.

Marc Silvestri: “Sew Stryker’s Arms On”

Marc Silvestri's Image Zero contribution, starring Stryker from CyberForce

This is the final panel of the story. So, uhm, spoilers?

There’s not much here.  Call it a “superhero slice of life.”  It’s four pages (with five total panels of doctors operating on Stryker to give him a couple extra arms.  Each page is one or two panels.  Visually, it’s nicely done, but it’s completely empty in the calories department.

Todd McFarlane: Pin-Ups

Todd McFarlane drew a Sweat pin-up for Image Zero

If Silvestri was empty calories, McFarlane’s contribution was Coke Zero.  It’s hard to be empty when there’s nothing there.  McFarlane contributed four pin-ups, three of which he didn’t ink.  Dan Panosian and Art Thibert do good jobs, but they still pale next to the one pin-up McFarlane did ink.

Sweat (see above) still makes me laugh. He looks like a DC creation of the 80s designed to fight Cyborg.  He also, quite possibly, has the worst superhero codename ever.

Jim Valentino: “Shadowhawk”

Jim Valentino drew a ShadowHawk story for Image Zero

Valentino provides a complete story in four pages.  The man is a total pro.

ShadowHawk stumbles across a crime in progress, but is too late to stop the bad guy from killing the woman in front of her child.  ShadowHawk breaks his back, but the “win” is ultimately hollow because of the victim it leaves behind.

It’s a great ShadowHawk story, filled with darkness, murder, sadness, and a broken back. What more could you ask for?

Erik Larsen: “The Savage Dragon”

Debbie and Dragon have fun in the bathroom in Erik Larsen's "Savage Dragon" story for Image Zero

This is the story that fits in after the events of the original “Dragon” mini-series, but before the start of the on-going series.

It fits in exactly after the original mini-series ended (December 1992) and the on-going series began (June 1993).

Dragon is living a life of domestic bliss — or at least shacking up — with his younger girlfriend, Debbie. They’re ridiculously cute together, but a fateful knock on the door soon changes everything.

Image Zero Savage Dragon story showing Peter Klaptin on a magazine cover

This is a slice of life story, with Dragon and Debbie goofing around and being frisky, though with a bit of friction from Dragon from the age difference.  Debbie holds up a copy of GQ magazine she finds and gives him a hard time about reading it. The fun twist here is that Peter Klaptin will later be involved in the “Who is Star?” storyline/mini-series in the far-flung “Dragon” future. It’s an Easter Egg in hindsight.

 

 

Jim Lee: “Prelude to StormWatch”

Jim Lee's StormWatch for Image Zero

“StormWatch” #1 hit store shelves in March 1993.  This story would have been designed as a lead-in to that first issue, as it was due out before then.  Instead, it came out after at least “StormWatch” #1-4 and #0.  (If this is confusing, just wait till I attempt to explain the late teen/early 20s era of “Spawn”…)

It’s by the regular “WildC.A.T.s” creative team, and runs four pages.  The bad guy, the flaming red-haired Seamus O’Brien a.k.a. Deathtrap, gets an extreme close-up on his face on every page, just to prove how malevolent he is.  Once you can draw those piercing eyes and lowered eyebrows, you are selling the evil.

Image Zero four panels in four pages of Deathtrap closeups

That last panel is practically a wide angle…

It’s a bit of a strange story that starts by explaining how Gamorra — which we swear is not in any way at all like the island nation of Genosha, nor Madripoor — is a land of wealth and power that makes its money through black market tech and whatnot.  It shows that by showing us how O’Brienn is bad in the sack, so he punches the woman out.  (Don’t worry, the next caption box tells us she runs out of the room.)

After a couple pages of pure expository writing, we see that he’s captured three members of StormWatch and trussed them up before the torture begins.

To be continued…

Not the most exciting four pages of Jim Lee’s career, but it gets the job done.

 

Were the Stories Ever Reprinted?

Erik Larsen’s contribution made its way into subsequent reprintings of those early issues of “Savage Dragon.”

The first ShadowHawk trade, “Out of the Shadows,” collected the “Image Zero” short story, as well as the backup story from “Youngblood” and the “Urban Storm” story.  (* See Addendum below)

The first CyberForce trade paperback, “Tin Men of War” had some bonus features in it, including this story.

The Troll story found its way into the “Youngblood: Baptism of Fire” trade paperback.

“StormWatch” didn’t get collected into trades until the material Warren Ellis produced years later.  In 1994, however, WildStorm published a one off book called “WildStorm Rarities.”  That December 1994 $5 book included this “Image Zero” StormWatch story as well as material from “The Art Of Homage Studios” #1,  “Gen13” #1/2, the “Killer Instinct Tour” book, and a two-parter from “Previews” #61 and #62 back when Diamond was commissioning short stories for their catalog.

Todd McFarlane Spawn #216 The Freak cover versus Image Zero pin-up

The cover to “Spawn” #216 during Image’s 20th anniversary year was one originally drawn for a much earlier “Spawn” issue.  As it didn’t feature Spawn, himself, McFarlane shelved it for almost 20 years.  I can’t help but think, though that McFarlane drew the cover as an update to the Image Zero pin-up (seen at left).  It’s the same character in roughly the same pose, but with a much better angle making a more dynamic image.

 

 

Let Me Show You the Comics

In digging out comics for re-reading and review over the last month or so, I compiled the complete set of these coupon books.  Some of you may not have been collecting in those days. In that case, gather ’round and listen to Grandpa Augie explain to you kids how comics worked back in the day.

 

Addendum: Image Comics’ “Urban Storm”

I wrote this in Pipeline in 2002 during Image’s tenth anniversary:

Vaporware: November 1992. OPERATION: URBAN STORM. It was scheduled as a one shot fundraiser for the Rebuild L.A. Foundation. In the wake of the Los Angeles riots, Image banded together to produce a comic to raise money for the rebuilding effort. “The city is in flames,” the solicitation copy read. “There’s a panic in the streets, and even the combined might of the Image heroes may not be enough to put an end to the senseless violence, and confusion!”

The book never materialized.

I’m thinking that this may have been a blessing in disguise. Erik Larsen’s contribution to it, an unsubtle tale of racial differences in the Chicago PD, would later appear in the pages of the first SAVAGE DRAGON trade paperback, complete with coloring by Larsen, himself.

And that was that, another one shot book from the earliest days of Image that never made it to print.

 

Request for Information

Please let me know if I missed anything above, either about a date or a collected edition of one of these stories or something else.  I want to keep adding to this to get everything right.  Leave a comment below, drop me a line, tweet me, what have you.  Thanks!

 

3 Comments

  • johnpannozzi March 15, 2017 at 2:14 am

    “StormWatch #0 came out in the summer of 1992, but the regular series didn’t begin until March 1993. So in case the zero issue preview of the series wasn’t enough, this is another bridge to the first issue.”

    Actually StormWatch #0 came out in August 1993, following issue 1’s arrival in March of that year.

    Other notes:

    The StormWatch story in Image 0 was reprinted in the WildStorm Rarities one-shot, where it was titled “StormWatch: Deadly Tidings”. It takes place right before StormWatch #6 (more on the WildStorm Universe chronology at https://weatheringwildstorm.wordpress.com/the-chonology/wildstorm-rising/ ).
    I can confirm that the Cyberforce trade did indeed have the Stryker story from Image 0.
    Which Spawn cover was made from an Image 0 pin-up?
    Speaking of the pin-ups, I think it’s kinda cool to see the roots of the Freak and Tremor (here dubbed “Bludd”), who both went on to be fairly memorable and iconic-looking Spawn characters.
    I know American Entertainment went on to do some variant covers and even exclusive special issues for titles from Liefeld’s Awesome Entertainment.
    There was at least one other story meant for Operation: Urban Storm that saw the light of day, besides the ShadowHawk and Savage Dragon stories. The StormWatch story was included in The Art of Homage Studios (which also had a Cap’n Pyro story by J. Scott Campbell, and some other interesting odds and ends), WildStorm Rarities, and WildStorm Archives Genesis (a black-and-white Marvel Essential-like collection of first issues of WildStorm titles).

    **Maybe you could do a similar post about the Urban Storm stories that saw the light of day, The Art of Homage Studios, and maybe some stories from WildStorm Rarities all together.

    Reply
  • Trip March 15, 2017 at 2:24 am

    Savage Dragon, Cyberforce and Stormwatch were my favorite books from the first couple of years of Image Comics

    Reply
  • Augie March 15, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    Thanks, John, for all the awesome information. I’ve updated the StormWatch reprint already. I completely missed that book. Not in my collection at all. I’ll have to dig it up in a long box at a con someday. Hopefully.

    As for StormWatch’s publication history and publishing order — I’m not sure how I messed that one all up. Wait, actually, I do. In a much earlier draft version of this story, I had 1992 and 1993 confused a number of times. I never straightened this part out. Crap. I’ll update that, too.

    And I just found the McFarlane pin-up-to-cover issue. It’s “Spawn” #216. But it’s not the same image. Drat. It’s kind of close, though. I wonder if this pin-up inspired the cover that he didn’t run in the early days that finally inspired that #216 cover. Here’s the press release I was thinking of when I wrote that:

    http://www.comiclist.com/index.php/news/spawn-216-features-nostalgic-and-surprising-cover-by-mcfarlane

    The “Urban Storm” idea is a great idea, but I just don’t have all the stories handy to try to piece it together. Might be something I keep an eye out for in the future, though. Thanks!

    Reply

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