Personally, I Blame Image
Image changed a lot of things when they arrived on the comics scene in 1992. The early effects they had on the industry were mostly negative, but the long-reaching effects have shown Image to be a boon for the industry, perhaps even the best thing to happen to it in the 1990s.
Think I'm kidding? Image is responsible for a lot of the positives that people think of when they talk about comics today.
The widespread recognition of creators over characters, much to the chagrin of comics publishers, came because of the courage of the Image founders in leaping out into the world of independent comics. When Todd McFarlane turned Spawn into a top-selling book and, eventually, multimedia juggernaut, it proved that it was his artwork, not a long-standing character, that made Spider-Man a success. Not to mention giving credence to the idea that artists could be writers too, which had been a rare notion prior to that, limited only to creators like Frank Miller or John Byrne. Now it seems that every artist eventually winds up writing as well, and while that's not always a good thing, it has given us some good writers we otherwise might not have seen.
There has also been a fundamental shift in the way the industry works. It used to be that making it to Marvel or DC was the brass ring, the ultimate goal. Now there's a step beyond that, and it's better for the creators. Creator-owned comics are the final step, the true brass ring at this point. If working for Marvel and DC is the equivalent of making it to the pros in baseball, creator-owned work is making it to the all-star team.
In addition, although Image started off as the home of flashy, brightly colored super-hero books, they eventually diversified. Jim Valentino, the current head of Image Central, was the one who introduced non-super-hero black-and-white books in large numbers to the Image imprint, starting with his own semi-autobiographical (and amazingly good) A Touch of Silver. The end result? Fans who might never have picked up anything other than color super-hero books found a company they respected printing comics that featured high quality non-super-hero work. Although we did lose a few good ones when Valentino's "non-line" folded (I particularly miss Grease Monkey, the story of a young space mechanic), Image is now home to books like Jinx and Wahoo Morris as well as Savage Dragon and Spawn.
Of course, there is a price to pay for all of this. Creator recognition, and the realization that creator-owned work is the ultimate brass ring, has made it harder for DC and Marvel (particularly the latter) to recruit and keep top talent for their characters. DC has responded with better treatment for most of their creators, and by providing a home for creator-owned work among several of their imprints, and Marvel has responded by appealing to the nostalgia factor of pros who want to work on their beloved characters.
Also, because of Image, we do have books that get by strictly on artwork, and don't pay much heed to writers. A lot of those were weeded out during the crash of the late 90s, but some are still out there. Books that rely on "sexy", unrealistic women and flashy artwork, with very little in the way of strong plot and dialogue, are still around, and they're as much the legacy of the Image style as the improvements are.
Image has one more thing we can blame them for, and that's the sorry state of shipping dates in today's industry. I was working in a comics shop when Image Comics first formed, and I remember waiting for new Image books, which often came in weeks if not months late. They've finally gotten their schedule a bit more in order, but when the other companies and creators saw that fans would wait for titles they liked, the pressure to get out a timely comic seemed to be lessened, and now we're left with that legacy, which lets things like a quarterly shipping schedule for Daredevil or a twice-yearly schedule for Battle Chasers happen.
Ultimately, however, Image has brought us a lot more positives than it has negatives. And they've gotten a bad rap for a long time. There are still people who look down on Image, associating it with the Bad Girls and Big Guns that were a staple of its early days. To those people, I would say, consider all that Image has given us, and give them a chance to show you they've changed. And they've changed not just themselves, but the industry as a whole.
Randy W. Lander was an Image junkie early on, and still has the first four issues of Youngblood in his collection. He likes to think that having the entire run of A Touch of Silver makes up for that.