Something shiny and new is almost always more attractive than something reliable you can depend on. This is a concept so worn out it’s become a cliche, ending hundreds of TV marriages and sparking many a mid-life crises.
But as with most cliches, there’s truth to it, especially in our beloved world of comics. As we’re all aware, the path to big profit in the comics industry has long been paved with new #1 issues, and, really, this cliche is a big part of why.
Comics and capitalism are inextricably tangled; it’s part of what makes comics such an American art form. We all love the idea that a #1 we buy for $3.99 could net a few hundred bucks later. Also, it’s just so much easier to understand a story when you read it from its start.
Reasons aside, fans buy more #1 issues and reviewers tend to write about #1s more as well. Meanwhile, there are amazing books in their 30s, or 50s, or even their 170s that we’re barely acknowledging. We know these books will be good, every damned month. They’re on our pull lists and we’ve maybe even bought them to reread in trade, and yet it’s the new #1s that drive us crazy.
Not me, man. I want to give older books some love, specifically those at Image, before the spring comes and the publisher launches another wave of new creator-owned work, work like Steve Orlando and Garry Brown’s Crude, Robert Kirkman and Lorenzo De Felici’s Oblivion Song, Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls (read our advanced review), and David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Bitter Root (read why we’re excited).
So, today we’ll be looking at why these new books are so awesome and sexy and good and so fricking cool and totally worth all your money and mine—gah! Wait a minute, that’s not what we’re doing at all! Damn this attractive newness!!
Ahem. Today we’re looking at our favorite dependable titles, the ones deep in their runs and still going strong. Sure, they’re not as mysterious or full of possibilities as they once were, but these books are part of us. We’ve been through so much together, we’ve grown together, and we care for each other deeply. Or, we would if they the books sentient, instead of flimsy paper.
Anyhoo, let’s get to our look at the best long-running Image books we all take for granted!
The Walking Dead, Outcast and Invincible
The Walking Dead is the epitome of an excellent long-running book that’s so dependable it gets ignored. Take #175, for example, which *SPOILER* contained an intriguing status quo shift along with a twist for a major character so powerful it made me tear up. This deep in a run, that’s quite an achievement. Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s monthly pace on this book is also torrid, and I can’t even remember the last delay! (We’re in for a long post this week, but we should also note that Kirkman’s Outcast is fantastic and Invincible is headed towards a killer ending.)
Potential to end soon: Low. Kirkman says nothing is eminiment, but he knows how the book will end. The book also sells like gangbusters (hey, 1923 called, they want their hacky adjective back). So, we don’t envision an ending coming before issue #200, which is more than 2 years away right now.
Descender is a true sci-fi adventure with a varied cast and a plot heavy with well-constructed secrets. Frankly, this is one of the most compelling mystery stories in comics. As I’ve noted in the past, we’re nearly 30 issues in, and I have little idea about this book’s end game, even though I can tell there have been ample clues.The art is also incredibly special. One of the things I enjoy most about Lemire’s titles is he works with artists who fit his stories, and Dustin Nguyen is no exception. Descender’s robots and their relationships with humanity raise questions about the nature of existence, and Nguyen’s lush watercolor pallet steeps these questions with a fitting existential haze.
Potential to end soon: High with an Asterix. Lemire recently teased a “last arc” on Twitter, before quickly noting he didn’t mean the end of Descender. So an “ending” might be coming, but it’s probably won’t be an ENDING.
Saga is, quite simply, my favorite, and yet, it landed at #8 on my best of 2017 and has only been in my monthly best of list once in the five months I’ve done them. Why? Well, it’s partially because I’m human, and I love me some newness. But also, it’d be boring if every best of list was: Oh, look at that, Saga wins again. Yawn. Anyway, Saga is amazing, and Brian K. Vaughan is basically the writer equivalent of the comic book we take for granted, too, because he’s just so reliable. He’s at a point in his career where his two ongoings, Saga and Paper Girls, brim with ideas, three-dimensional characters, and chingos of plot twists, so much so we all just expect it. Really, it speaks to the number of amazing comics that are around nowadays that we have the luxury of taking a writer as good as Vaughan for granted.
Potential to end soon: Super low. Vaughan says he wants Saga to go forever, which, okay, is probably over-ambitious because while the spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and dies between ages 80 - 100, if we’re lucky. However, I could see another decade of Saga, following the life of its narrator, Hazel, in near-real time. What a glorious thing that would be.
The Wicked + The Divine
I’ve long thought of The Wicked + The Divine as a foundational title for modern Image, one that should be at the forefront of any conversation about the wave of varied and diverse creator-owned work from the publisher. Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie are one of the best teams in comics (shout out to Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips), having also teamed together on Young Avengers at Marvel and multiple Phonogram stories. Wic + Div (as us REALLY hip folks call it) though, is their opus, a stylish and perfectly-executed epic about music fandom and fame and a pantheon of fleeting gods destined to be destroyed.
Potential to end soon: High...Probably. I haven’t gone back to look, but I’m pretty sure Kieron Gillen has said he’s winding this book down about three times now. Thus the PROBABLY. The HIGH, meanwhile, is because after the latest issue, it really does seem like an end game is in motion. The last arc was loaded with action and punctuated by a surprise so shocking it sent me to my back issues to read this book from the start. It all makes sense, and it’s all fantastic.
East of West
East of West reads like a complex alternate history of the U.S., as told by someone from an alternate dimension. I’ve used that last descriptor—as told by someone from an alternate dimension—to describe Jonathan Hickman’s work in the past, and if the early issues of The Black Monday Murders are any indication, I’ll probably be using it again in the future. This book has gotten better with time. I found it convoluted until the creators included a timeline that laid out the political machinations of the involved nations, but from that point on I’ve been riveted. I should also note artist Nick Dragotta is creating phenomenal comics here, both with his line work and the stunning dystopian world he creates on each page.
Potential to End Soon: Hickman. That’s right, my exact prediction for when this ends is Hickman. I mean, can you even predict something as precise as an ending with a writer as dense as Hickman? No. You can’t. So, just greedily take the story as it comes and relish the other worlds he manifests for you.
Last, I’d just like to note this was a tricky list, because how does one quantify a long-running book? In the end, I went by issue number not by debut, which disqualified Southern Bastards, Monstress, and Sex Criminals, three of my favorites that were a little short (this where an aside about the word short would be in Sex Criminals, btw). I know Descender only has a few issues on Sex Criminals, but for some reason it seems a bit more mature (this is where Sex Criminals would do another funny aside).
Moving forward, there are a host of books at Image with potential to reach “long-running and taken for granted status.” I’d put the aforementioned Southern Bastards, Monstress, and Sex Criminals there, as well as newer titles such as Black Monday Murders, Paper Girls, Redneck, Royal City, Seven to Eternity and Snotgirl. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if Oblivion Song or Gideon Falls ascend to this conversation, and I haven't read past the first issue of either.
In closing, go forth and be nicer to your bosses and significant others and co-workers and families...all those people in your life who may not be new but are sturdy and dependable and loving and vital. Not to be solipsistic, but I think how we treat those who become routine to us says a great deal about our character. Basically, we must bag and board them for proper storage, just with our thanks and affection rather than with cardboard and plastic (good lord, I’ll stop, I’m so so sorry, what the hell was that last metaphor, was I serious?!).
Zack Quaintance is a career journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.