• Image Revolution, The



    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: January 12, 2016
    Directed by: Patrick Meaney
    Cast: Todd McFarlane, Stan Lee, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Marc Silvestri, Eric Stephenson, Erik Larsen, Bryan J. Glass, Jim Valentino
    Year: 2014
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    The Movie:

    In the 1980s, Marvel and DC were the biggest names in comics; then a group of young creators stepped into the fold and made them even bigger. The result was that comic books were no longer just major sellers (and rising), but their writers and artists were suddenly household names, literary and visual artists as rock stars, if you will. Unfortunately, the titan companies had little interest in appropriately compensating the talent behind their bestselling titles and in some ways appeared threatened by them. The result: Some of the biggest names in the industry left the majors to form their own company, Image Comics, which was set up to treat the creators with respect and provide them due compensation for their hard work.

    The company formed in 1992 as a banner over other independent, much smaller studios, brought together by their creative talent. The artists involved created their own comics and retained the rights to as well as creative control over them. These included Todd McFarlane Productions (Todd McFarlane), WildStorm Productions (Jim Lee), Highbrow Entertainment (Erik Larsen), ShadowLine (Jim Valentino), Top Cow Productions (Marc Silvestri), and Extreme Studios (Rob Liefeld). Almost instantly the brand was a hit, with bestselling titles including but not limited to Spawn, Youngblood, WildC.A.T.S., Cyberforce, The Savage Dragon, and—much later—The Walking Dead and Invincible. The company remained popular, though it soon faced some of the same criticism it had lobbed against Marvel and DC, that it was employing a stable of freelancers who neither enjoyed the same creative control nor the same share of the profits enjoyed by the company’s founders.

    It wasn’t long before Image’s position as third only to Marvel and DC was challenged by other fledgling studios, and in 1999 Jim Lee sold his own imprint to DC in a desire for change. He also became co-publisher at the longtime studio and was soon primary artist on such major titles as Batman and Green Lantern.

    The Image Revolution is a documentary that traces the early years of the company, as well as covering its founding members. All the majors are interviewed, and there’s an interesting mix of archival and new footage. For the most part, it’s a nostalgic journey that focuses on the positive over the negative, though it honestly assesses some of the problems that arise when creative talents clash. It wasn’t all fun and games, as the second half of the documentary so cogently reveals.

    The Image Revolution was directed by Patrick Meaney, no stranger to comic book documentaries, having overseen Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods (2010), Warren Ellis: Captured Ghosts (2011), and Comics in Focus: Chris Claremont’s X-Men (2013). He keeps The Image Revolution moving at a fast clip, proving his ability to draw in viewers regardless of their interest in Image or comics in general. The Image Revolution may seek to glorify its subject matter, but at least it’s willing to admit its participants’ flaws as well as their strengths. It is this balanced approach to the material that makes the program worthwhile viewing.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    The Image Revolution was shot on high-grade digital video that looks pretty sharp even in standard definition. Presented in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1), the image has strong colors and a nice level of detail. There’s a great deal of archival footage, much of it in full frame, which varies in quality from terrible to terrific, but this is to be expected given the documentary nature of the program. The result is a visual mixed bag, none of which is anyone’s fault and all of which should be easily forgiven considering the subject matter at hand and the age of some the materials used. When the director is utilizing modern equipment, as he does for most of the film’s duration, the image is sterling.

    The same can be said of the sound, which uses an English Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Given that this is not a major production full of roaring sound effects but instead a small affair comprised of interviews, there’s really nothing negative to say about it. People can be distinctly heard at all times, and there’s no question as to who is speaking, thanks to frequent on-screen credits. Even the archival footage is generally clear and easy to understand. There are also English-language subtitles for the deaf or hard of hearing.

    Extras are limited to interviews with the participants. These are extended cuts of the clips used for in film and are separated into interviews with the founders and with others involved in the history of Image. There’s also a trailer, which runs 2:25.

    The film is broken into 12 chapters for ease of access to individual scenes. These scenes are given such titles as “Origin Stories,” “Artists Assemble,” “The Revolution Begins,” “Crisis,” and “Prodigal,” among others, deftly describing eras in the studio’s history that also play on classic comic book storylines.

    The Final Word:

    The Image Revolution is an interesting and informative survey of the studio that challenged Marvel and DC’s primacy in the early 1990s, when comics were at the height of their popularity. It moves quickly and is generally sharp and pleasing to view, with sound that’s always clear. Extras are a bit sparse, but there are extended interviews with the ‘stars,’ and for anyone interested in the history of the comic book as an art form as well as a commercial conceit, it’s tough to beat.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Volume 2 of that series (covering the 1930s) is currently available from Midnight Marquee Press, Inc.