Jab’s Deep Dive: Image (Youngblood)

-There is no more “Early Image” book more infamous and controversial than Youngblood. Rob Liefeld was “King Shit” in 1992, so him leaving X-Force (a book he more or less invented, taking the scraps from the New Mutants and plopping his own character designs onto it) was a huge, huge deal- he was not as big as Jim Lee or Todd McFarlane, but he was likely the third-most prominent Image staff member, and one of the ones I most attempted to emulate (mostly with the awesome way he drew the Juggernaut- some of his “pursing lips” poses weirded me out). But his stuff was hotly-anticipated and was expected to be big- comics buying guides pimped out “An all-new team of mutant superheroes by Rob Liefeld!”. See, people had been so taken with his exciting, flashy style that it took most a couple of years to realize that he could barely draw. It’s the damndest thing.

So it was a stunning loss to Image’s credibility when Youngblood #1 dropped and it was unimaginative, hastily-drawn crap. CRAP. There were a couple of character designs that were okay, many that were borderline tracings of his and other artists’ work (one member had Wolverine’s hair; another was like Shatterstar from X-Force but with a bow), and the action was impossible to follow, had terrible anatomy, and didn’t even have any backgrounds at all! This was, all in all, when people figured out that the Emperor Had No Clothes.

How’d Rob hoodwink us? Well, he was drawing an existing property that was flounding at the time he took over New Mutants. He drew guns, metal stuff, grenades and bandoliers on everyone when that was the hot thing. His characters were EXTREEEEEEEEEEEEME and in your FACE, and if there was one thing you absolutely had to be in 1992, it was in someone’s face. And Rob had powerful enough Editors, and solid enough writers, that his stuff could flow semi-properly, even with artistic shortcuts. He’d skip out on backgrounds and do “artsy” things that more experienced artists can recognize are shortcuts (like drawing lots of lines across faces to obscure detail, or give everyone big wristguards and boots because drawing joints is hard), and he had more than a few “Design Quirks” that kept popping up in different characters (Feral & Wildside had the same silhouette; three characters had Those Damn ’90s Eyepatch Masks), but stuff still wasn’t THAT bad, but for the occasional panel.

But with Image, Rob WAS the editor! And here, all his worst instincts came out- everyone in fields of green nothingness with smoke around them- his people started not just sharing one or two traits, but MANY of them, and visual shorthand was everywhere. And when fans and critics shit on it, Rob came out with the weakest defense possible- he blamed his co-writer. He copped to the first issue of Youngblood being “a disaster”, but threw his friend under the bus. Peter David, then a vocal critic of Image’s staff and their contributions to comics, came after Rob for this scapegoating nonsense, saying that he failed to take responsibility for his own dream project.

And, in short, everyone now knew that Rob stank and was being held up by the people working with him. And then things would get WORSE.

The History of Youngblood:
-Snark and assertions of copying aside, Youngblood is actually a much older creation than even X-Force– he debuted the team in a 1987 indie comic book named RAMM. Various ideas surrounding them were actually started when he did a pitch for a new Teen Titans series (Arsenal being team leader would evolve into Youngblood’s “Shaft”, for instance; Vogue was Harlequin and Combat was a Khundian warrior). It would be five years before he brought them to the mainstream with Image. The concept of the book was actually a kind of high-end one, believe it or not- Rob asserted that if superheroes were real, then heroes would be treated like actual celebrities. So they’d get advertising deals, TV interviews, and more.

Youngblood #1 introduced us to the full team, plus the concept that there was a “Home Team” who did domestic missions (Shaft, Badrock, Chapel, Die Hard, Photon & Vogue), and an “Away Team” who did international missions outside the U.S. (Sentinel, Brahma, Cougar, Psi-Fire & Riptide). As you can see, they were LUDICROUSLY ’90s- one-word names, things that made no sense (“Chapel”?), bad-ass ’90s extreeeeeeeeeeme names (Die Hard), etc.

The cracks formed quickly, even without the bad reviews. It took more than a year for the first six issues of the title to come out, with a five-month delay between Youngblood #4 and #5. Rob became so infamous for laziness and sloth that it would later help kill ANOTHER comic book company (Bob Layton famously went to Rob’s house and refused to leave until Liefeld had finished pencilling his part of a Death Mate crossover book).

1993 saw a Team Youngblood spin-off, with the new “Away Team” featuring guys from new artist Chap Yaep, adding Dutch & Masada to the title. The original book was thus replaced, and Chapel was added to the cast of Bloodstrike instead. But then Youngblood started up again in 1994, tying into the other one. New members like Knightsabre, Troll, Task & Psilence joined. Team Youngblood was cancelled, then the main book died again. At this point, Rob was booted from Image over staff-stealing and art-swiping, and Youngblood was taken with him.

ALAN MOORE of all people took over writing in 1997, writing a teenaged Youngblood financed by a millionaire- Shaft now led Big Brother, Doc Rocket, Suprema, Twilight & Johnny Panic. However, despite twelve issues being planned, only three issues were ever printed, so Moore’s big plans were never really carried out. 2000 saw a new book, using Kurt Busiek’s old “Year One” plots- despite a promise not to declare Kurt the writer, Rob… declared him the writer (he was instead the plotter and “idea guy”), causing another blow-up. Only two issues were ever produced, as Image owned the rights to Lynch, Spawn & the WildC.A.T.s, who appeared in the original draft. One issue of Youngblood: Bloodsport was released in 2008. Two MORE reboots of sorts came and went with only 1-8 issues each, even with Rob returning to Image- the most recent ongoing started in 2017.

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