Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

‘Justice’ is served

There’s a new costumed crusader in town

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Photo by Tom Fedor⁄The Gazette
Mike Imboden is the creator⁄writer of ‘‘Fist of Justice.”
Surrounded, Charm City’s solitary defender, known only as Fist of Justice, readies once again for battle.

Flanking him is a veritable who’s who of costumed crime fighters — heavyweights of the hero world including Spider-Man, Wolverine and even The Fantastic Four.

Superman soars above.

There, too, lurks the Batman.

Crusaders for the same cause, all — and yet today they face off against this strange hero in a strange land as ferocious competitors.

But the Fist of Justice is not alone.

From his advantageous position center shelf in the ‘‘New Releases” section at Beyond Comics, a number of white index cards successively announce employee endorsements.

Batman, beware. Here, the Fist of Justice is everyone’s red-penned ‘‘Pick of the Week.”

The co-creation of assistant manager Mike Imboden, the hero recently received an ongoing title of his own from Digital Webbing Press. On Friday, Imboden and friends will celebrate the premiere issue (released Jan. 30) with a party at the Frederick comics shop — spandex optional.

Previously of Gaithersburg, Imboden has lived in Frederick for some 20 years with his wife and two sons. His passion for pulp heroics began back when he was their age.

‘‘I used to read comics when I was younger,” said Imboden. ‘‘I can’t even remember what got me involved. It was the early to mid-70s. As a kid, if you had an extra quarter, you could buy a comic book.”

His heroes of choice were Spider-Man and Luke Cage, The Avengers and The Defenders —early Marvel mags that proved hugely, if sub-consciously, influential.

Having collected for more than 30 years, Imboden, now 40, never imagined he’d one day create a comic book of his own. ‘‘When you’re little, you want to be a fireman or something like that,” he said.

Paired with what Imboden describes as ‘‘severely lacking” artistic skills, a career in the comic book industry may have seemed unlikely.

Until 10 years ago.

Associates Imboden and future Digital Webbing publisher and artist Ed Dukeshire had toyed with a story idea the former had devised — a ‘‘Twilight Zone” inspired take on the superhero genre in which nothing was as it seemed.

Six years later, Digital Webbing — an Internet portal initially designed for comic aficionados to meet like-minded folk — had thrown its hat into the publishing arena.

Dukeshire had been publishing a black and white anthology series, ‘‘Digital Webbing Presents,” and suggested Imboden’s creation, ‘‘Fist of Justice,” as one of the anchors.

A throwback to the glory days of good, old fashioned fisticuffs, Fist of Justice was designed as a tribute to an earlier age.

With so many real world elements encroaching into pop culture, Imboden and Dukeshire simply wanted something fun.

‘‘It’s not whimsical or goofy, but it’s escapism,” said Imboden. ‘‘I mean, when the things you see outside your window or on [the news] are in the comics, how do you escape?

Penned by Imboden with character design by Anthony Castrillo, the hero made his first appearance in ‘‘Digital Webbing Presents” No. 24, and continued a one and a half year run to widespread acclaim until the title’s cancellation.

‘‘Anthologies are a hard sell in the comic business,” said Imboden, noting that numbers for DWP had been steadily dwindling. ‘‘You have a mix of sci-fi, Western, romance. It’s hard trying to appeal to all audiences.”

Good news remained, however. ‘‘Fist of Justice” would be receiving his own, on-going title.

Flash forward to present day: Imboden, having left his previous career of software support behind, can often be found keeping watch at Beyond Comics off Buckeystown Pike.

‘‘I’m doing this, taking a few classes at FCC, and trying to figure out what I’m going to do when I grow up,” he said.

Beyond Comics owner and longtime friend Jon Cohen gives Imboden a vote of confidence.

‘‘It’s really rare to meet people in this area who write and draw comics,” said Cohen. ‘‘Most move out to Los Angeles or New York to make contacts. So to meet someone who does something in the publishing end who’s local is unique — and, then, he actually works in a comics shop.”

The word is still out regarding the success of ‘‘Fist of Justice,” but Imboden has no preconceived notions of fame and fortune.

‘‘Right now, every dollar we make goes toward paying the artist and publishing costs,” he said, likening the comics industry to baseball. You have your major leagues, he said — publishers like Marvel and DC — and then your AAA teams and your farm teams, which he equates to the most independent of independent comic companies.

It’s occasionally an uphill battle of epic proportions. But they’re still playing ball.

And seeing his work on the shelves amidst the heroes he grew up with has proved its own reward.

‘‘It’s exciting,” Imboden said. ‘‘It’s a foot in the door.”

Make that a fist.

‘Fist of Justice’ release party

When: 5-8 p.m. Friday

Where: Beyond Comics, 5632 Buckeystown Pike, Frederick

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