VOD Review: So Much Damage – How Image Comics Changed the World.
This five part documentary covers the rise, fall, and rebirth of Image Comics in a breathless but comprehensive way.
Growing up, the creation of Image Comics was a world shaking event. Artists like Marc Silvestri and Jim Lee were my idols and their work on comics such as X-Men and Wolverine were where I learned how to draw. Learning that these comic book rock stars were all jumping ship at Marvel and doing their own thing meant I had to be on board. I have a banker’s box of comics next to my desk with pretty much every #1 that Image put out. The art was amazing. The stories…well, the art was amazing! Image imploded and I forgot about them for decades. I still read and bought comics, but I didn’t have much brand loyalty. That was why it was a surprise when I found out that most of the stuff I read and love today is Image comics.
This documentary by Michael Avila and Jon Erwin is a rocket ship tour through the meteoric rise, cataclysmic collapse and eventual rebirth of the would-be Marvel slayer. It moves at a frenetic pace and covers a lot of ground while managing to have a solid depth. While you can see that the creators are fans, they don’t just lob softballs at their heroes. If you’re interested in the history behind hits like The Walking Dead, Saga, and Spawn, this doc is free on Syfy and Youtube.
So Much Damage – How Image Comics Changed the World (2017)
In the 1990’s, comic books were big business. Marvel was going at a feverish pace, powered by mutant mania. The success of the X-Men titles made the artists into superstars, but seven of the biggest names felt that they were creatively and financially held hostage by Marvel’s rules. In 1992 they split off into their own company, Image Comics. This venture would experience massive highs and lows, and few who started the journey would remain with the company for the long haul. At the end of the day, Image’s biggest accomplishment was creating a creator-owned ethos that allowed weird and wild series like The Walking Dead, Bitch Planet, and The Wicked + The Divine to thrive and start a comic book Renaissance.
Episode 1: The Founding.
Seven artists come together to give Marvel and DC the figurative (and often literal) finger, starting their own comic book company where artists and creators own their creations – Image Comics.
So Much Damage often feels like a “Behind the Music” documentary because of the rapid fire pace and jump cuts from one interview to the next. In a way it’s fitting. These guys were rock stars in their field and had the big personalities to match. The director stitches these sound bites together in a way that keeps your interest while also covering lots of points.
Episode 3: The Break Up.
After a huge launch, the comic book collapse catches up with Image and internal divisions break up the band.
In this episode the interviews get more personal. It’s obvious that the interviewer has affection for the industry and these artists, but he manages to broach tough questions. The rivalries, disappointments, and lingering anger about the way the first era of Image ended is on display. It’s handled with tact and honesty. Everyone gets a chance to have a say and the documentary doesn’t pick sides. It’s solid interview work.
Episode 5: The Modern Era.
With new leadership and the founding principles of Image’s creator-led ethos, new talent and success is achieved. Image becomes a bastion for people and stories that are neglected by the traditional publishing houses, and the freedom allows established artists as well as new blood to create some awesome comics.
Instead of just being a nostalgia trip and hero-worship jag, So Much Damage pivots nicely to the current day and new talent. We see several of the biggest rising stars in comics talk about what Image means for them. It’s a nice compliment to the personality driven story of the early years. I would have liked a bit more depth of coverage, but at its heart this documentary really is about the sea-change event of Image’s foundation.
So Much Damage – How Image Comics Changed the World can move so quickly that you get whiplash, but it does a solid job of telling its story. There are so many voices and events, it would be hard to feel anything but rushed to capture them all. The interviews are brief but insightful, and the film makers have a knack for distilling the salient points.
There’s a personal angle from the creators that grounds the larger story, as Avila is obviously a big fan and shares a love of the medium that you see resonate with his subjects. While the early episodes are somewhat nostalgia tinged and may not resonate with younger readers, the story as a whole is fascinating and astutely presented. Fans of modern comics may be interested in seeing how unlikely the growth of the medium was and how seven rebellious artists changed the landscape of the genre.