By Brendan F. Hodgdon. Over the years, the Big Two have gone through many eras of exclusive bullpens, when a handful of writers served as the standard bearers for the whole company. Nowadays, DC has Scott Snyder, James Tynion IV, Joshua Williamson, and Tom King, to start with. Marvel has Jason Aaron, Matthew Rosenberg, Dan Slott and Donny Cates, among others. These are the writers whose voices shape the tone and voice of each company’s biggest characters and contribute to the decisions that shape their universes.

The situation is a bit different at Image Comics, of course. There are no legacy characters, and no shared universe to guide. There are, however, a core group of creators whose work serves as a signpost for Image’s creative identity. They set the standard for what to expect from books with the big chunky “I” on the cover. Vaughan. Brubaker. DeConnick. Kirkman. And then there’s Rick Remender, the most prolific of them all, who has delivered yet again with his new book, Death or Glory.

Death or Glory retains many of the same hallmarks that define Remender’s four (!) other ongoing Image books. It’s a story that blends a tangible personal goal with larger philosophical considerations. It builds a big, high-concept new world with a very particular aesthetic. And it provides a great platform for an European-style artist (the inimitable Bengal, in this case) to really swing for the fences and lean into his strong suits. In other words, it’s peak Image, and it further solidifies Remender as one of the defining writers of this current era of Image Comics.

Death or Glory #1Death or Glory #1

Image Comics/$4.99

Written by Rick Remender.

Art by Bengal.

Letters by Rus Wooton.

Bodies in Motion. For all the talk about Remender though, attention must be paid to Bengal’s tremendous work on this series. As one familiar with his work might expect, there is an impressive kineticism on display throughout the issue. From sudden bursts of person-to-person violence to high-octane car chases to somewhat-gratuitously stepping out of the bath, Bengal depicts motion through still art about as well as anyone I’ve seen.

But Bengal’s talent isn’t just in the action beats, either. He captures the wide vistas of the American West in evocative, romantic terms that speak to the themes of the story. He conveys great emotion and personality for every character, in every panel. He blends photo-realistic cars and slightly-stylized people effortlessly. And then he coats it all with carefully-chosen colors. In short, Bengal nails this issue. I can’t wait to see what he conjures up for us visually in future installments.

Death or Glory #1

Variant cover to ‘Death or Glory’ #1. Art by Duncan Fegredo/Image Comics

Reclaiming “Living Free”. It seems that recently, the concept of living free and off the grid tends to be associated more with right-wing libertarian types than with more progressive ideologies. But here, Rick Remender has built a world that makes such a lifestyle more left-leaning than one might expect. In the world of Death or Glory, our heroine and her peers aren’t fleeing an overbearing government and taxes. They’re fleeing a corporate-driven, consumerist society that demands payment at all times. Which, of course, doesn’t sound very fantastical at all when you think about it. Where the fantasy comes in is the idea that someone could break free from such restrictions, and live a simple frontier life without being a survivalist nut job.

It contextualizes the idea of no-strings freedom in a way that doesn’t come off as selfish. These folks just don’t want to be beholden to institutions that only see them as buyers and sellers. But as Remender makes clear in this opening chapter, as long as such institutions continue to exist, the fantasy represented by the chosen life of our main protagonist, Glory, will be short-lived. One has to wonder, how far will Glory’s quest take her, and how much will she have to tear down to complete it? Right now, our curiosity wonders how big it will get before the end.

Death or Glory #1

Variant cover to ‘Death or Glory’ #1. Art by James Harren/Image Comics

Where to next? Glory’s motivation is simple and immediate: get the money to pay her father’s medical bills. But how quickly does it get solved, and how far will things spiral out from here? As it stands, there’s not enough info about the antagonists yet to know what Glory is getting herself into. We get enough detail to know that there’s personal history involved in this conflict, but how it relates to the larger world will most likely indicate what Remender’s overall thematic endgame is. Like the roads of this world, there’s lots of empty asphalt and open air ahead in this tale. It’s gonna be interesting to see where this trip takes us.

In many ways, Death or Glory is a quintessential Image book, and a quintessential Rick Remender book; two things that are almost synonymous with each other at this point. And just as the world and its characters are peak Remender, so is finding a tremendous and distinct artist to bring it all to life, which Bengal does as wonderfully as anyone. This is a solid start to what I’m sure will be a beautiful and exciting new journey. I call shotgun.

8 out of 10

Brendan Hodgdon is a past winner of the Top Cow Talent Hunt with a comic currently in production at Top Cow, a partner studio of Image Comics.

Before: ‘Crude’ a raw, intense and unequivocally tragic new work