by Jarrod Jones. Image Comics co-founder Todd McFarlane once said, “kids like chains.” One day that evolved into “kids love chains,” which has become a philosophy of sorts for writer Donny Cates. And while “kids love chains” may not necessarily remain as accurate as it might have in the early 90s (if it ever did), it at least matches the manic pitch of Cates’s enthusiasm. Do kids love chains? In general, probably not. Should they? If they want to freak people out, fuckin’ right, they should.

So it was no surprise that Cates would title the first volume of his ambitious Image Comics series, Crossover, with that line and then go on to name his first publishing venture the same thing. Did kids ever love chains? Maybe kids loved Spawn once. Now it’s grown-up kids who love Spawn, and most kids from today are largely indifferent to him. Clearly, Donny Cates loves Spawn, and he loves chains, and the first Kids Love Chains (KLC) publication, Vanish, is fittingly Spawn-y in its conception and execution.

Again, you have to be down for all of that craziness to properly appreciate the ethos of Vanish, which Cates co-created with penciler Ryan Stegman. Vanish is a hodge-podge of several things: it’s a tribute to Spawn, to McFarlane, and to former Spawn penciler Greg Capullo; an ultraviolent nod to superhero takedowns Kick-Ass and also possibly The Boys; a rough spin on the Harry Potter saga. That last bit might be the most crucial to the overall story of Vanish, where a former wizard-to-be discovers that enemies of his alma mater have returned to threaten the world. It might be the gooniest aspect of Vanish, but then, point out any moment from McFarlane’s Spawn that wasn’t completely goony.

Vanish is unabashed early 90s edge-goon superhero stuff. According to the book’s synopsis, its lead, Oliver Harrison, is “mentally unstable, massively paranoid, smokes like a chimney, and gets blackout drunk every night to hide from his horrific nightmares.” Those nightmares? They’re of his magical past, which involves a wizarding school run by “immortal perverts” and a pale-skinned heavy with lights that wriggle from his eyes and make him and his acolytes look a bit like Ambush Bug. When a mysterious but spritely superhero swoops in and saves Oliver from a severe ass-whoopin’, a long-forgotten sigil begins to burn into his chest, and the story, chaotic and gnarly as it is, starts in earnest.

Again, you have to be down with all of that to get the most out of Vanish. I may not share Cates’s “My Chemical Romance emo nonsense” (I was a Britpop guy), but I also happen to be an avid sucker for untamed late 20th-century anti-hero crud and Vanish #1 works for me.

Stegman’s pencils are the most Capullo I’ve seen from him yet (fittingly, JP Mayer’s inks have a McFarlane-esque gloppiness to them). From his scuzzy character work—check the broken-brimmed trucker hat on one of Oliver’s assailants—to his fraught panel compositions and the way he draws ash messily spraying from a drawn cigarette, Stegman’s work in this issue rocks. It’s the reliably show-offy stuff you expect from an artist when they’re doing creator-owned work. But Stegman’s continued evolution as a penciller has hit a new apotheosis in Vanish.

It’s all on the cover. A grim dude with Jackie Estacado locks, his black parade cloak clasped together by a dorky brooch, emanating all kinds of magic in a filthy alleyway up to his elbows in blood. If Vanish isn’t set in the world of Spawn (and it isn’t), Cates could still just as easily finagle a crossover with his hero’s prized franchise, no problem. Luckily Vanish is more than just Cates & Stegman playing with the toys they love so well. It has a level of craftsmanship and brio that befits those grody cape comics that used to make us chain-loving kids swoon and our parents gasp.

Image Comics / KLC Press $3.99
Written by Donny Cates.
Pencils by Ryan Stegman.
Inks by JP Mayer.
Colors by Sonia Oback.
Letters by John J. Hill.

Check out this 7-page preview of Vanish #1, courtesy of Image Comics: