Image Expo: Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek, Jeff Lemire conjure new titles

July 23, 2014 | 7:24 p.m.

New highs, warthog wizards and a robot boy on the run figure into upcoming Image Comics titles from acclaimed writers Warren Ellis, Kurt Busiek and Jeff Lemire, respectively.

Those projects and more in an increasingly sci-fi-heavy lineup were revealed Wednesday afternoon during Image Expo at the Hilton Bayfront San Diego before Comic-Con International’s preview night – part of a trend of comics publishers making announcements before the din of Comic-Con reaches full volume.

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But where Marvel and Archie Comics announced changes to longstanding franchises and characters, Image pointedly rolled out all-new, creator-owned titles.

Iconoclastic Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, mentioning the changes to Thor, Captain America, Archie and more without naming the characters, said, “It’s hard to believe that as far as comics have come since the turn of the century … this is still what passes for new to the majority of the comics industry.

“Grave-robbing the past in order to pump new life into decades-old characters,” he continued, “treating gender equality and cultural issues as little more than gimmicks to increase sales – that’s the comic book industry of the past…. We’ve invited you here today, though, to talk about the future.”

Noting a steady rise in Image’s units sold and dollars earned in “the best year in a decade” for the company as comics sales overall have shown recent declines, Stephenson emceed a presentation of new titles furthering the company’s ambitions to supersede Marvel and DC to become the No. 1 comics publisher.

"Injection." (Image Comics)

“Injection” (Image Comics)

Ellis (“Transmetropolitan”) and artists Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire, his colleagues on a recent “Moon Knight” run at Marvel, will give readers an “Injection” next April. The British writer, speaking live via a video call while smoking a cigarette, told the audience, “Imagine five people for whom the world was not getting loud enough and strange enough quickly enough, and decided to cause a way to make the world more interesting for them – and now are having to deal with the terrible consequences…” It will be the third ongoing Image series for Ellis, who also has “Trees,” three issues in, and the new “Supreme: Blue Rose.”

“Tooth & Claw,” from Busiek and artist Ben Dewey, also with colors by Bellaire, is “a big, sprawling, high fantasy epic about animal-people,” the writer said. Busiek (“Astro City,” “Marvels”) added that Dewey is the right man to draw “warthog wizards or a tribe of angry bison-men or the globe-conquering girls boarding school populated by dogs.” In the story’s world, civilization depends on magic, but magic is fading away. The warthog wizard on the cover image comes up with a plan to bring magic back by reaching into the past to the hero called Great Champion, who first brought magic into the world. The first issue is scheduled for Nov. 5.

“We’re not telling a story about animals because they’re incredibly cute,” Busiek added, “There’s a thematic underpinning about what is animalistic and what is civilized, and how do you tell the difference between the two.”

Drawing a boy robot was a major attraction to artist Dustin Nguyen (“Batman: Li’l Gotham”) in joining Lemire (“Sweet Tooth,” “Trillium”) on “Descender.”

"Descender." (Image Comics)

“Descender” (Image Comics)

Nguyen, repeatedly expressing a fondness for drawing robots, said, “If anyone’s ever followed my blog … they can tell where my style was headed, and it was always something to do with a little kid as a robot.”

In what Lemire calls a “sprawling space opera,” robots have been outlawed and destroyed by beings that hate and fear them – leaving the main character as the galaxy’s most wanted and trying to find a home.

Rick Remender, who already has “Black Science,” “Deadly Class” and “Low” at Image – and writes the current and future Captain America that Stephenson had mentioned in his sharp opening comments (directed at companies, the publisher had specified, not the talent) – is adding “Tokyo Ghost,” with artist Sean Murphy (“Punk Rock Jesus,” “The Wake”), to his creator-owned lineup. It will be set in the “new isles of Los Angeles” – the oceans have risen and entertainment conglomerates help rule the world – and play with ideas including Judge Dredd, Lobo and ’80s action movies, the writer said. It’s due in 2015.

Other titles announced:

– “From Under Mountains,” by Marian Churchland, Claire Gibson and Sloane Leong, is part of Brandon Graham’s multi-creator “8 House” titles. The fantasy story includes a disgraced knight and a street-smart-but-not-otherwise-smart thief. Due in early 2015.

– “Valhalla Mad,” by Joe Casey and Paul Maybury, is about “three lovable gods just here to have a good time” and is inspired by Jack Kirby’s “Thor” issues – especially by seeing the Norse god of thunder in a malt shop, Casey said. It’s set for early 2015.

"Southern Cross." (Image Comics)

“Southern Cross” (Image Comics)

– John Arcudi and James Harren’s “Rumble,” which they discussed with Hero Complex before the expo.

– Ray Fawkes is writing and painting “Intersect,” a “Lynch-Cronenberg-body-focused” horror mystery story.

– Keenan Marshall Keller is writing and Tom Neely is drawing “The Humans,” which involves bikers.

– “Invisible Republic” is a science-fiction story about a revolutionary hero on a distant planet in the future, told via the memoir of his expunged-from-history female cousin. It’s by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Bechko and is scheduled to debut in spring 2015.

– “Southern Cross” from Becky Cloonan (“The Mire,” upcoming “Gotham Academy”) and Andy Belanger (“Kill Shakespeare”) follows a character aboard the titular spaceship on a voyage to the moon Titan to collect her sister’s body. Cloonan says it has Agatha Christie elements. It’s due this winter.

– Ivan Brandon and Nic Klein, who previously teamed on “Viking,” take a look at “the dirty hands it takes to build the future,” as Brandon put it, in the sci-fi “Drifter.”

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex

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A look at John Arcudi and James Harren's "Rumble," coming in December from Image Comics. (James Harren / Image Comics)

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