Jab’s Deep Dive: Image Comics (Youngblood, Cont’D)

Shaft is the most obvious link of Youngblood to their original “Teen Titans” origins- he is largely a repurposed version of Roy “Speedy” Harper, who was meant to be the leader of that squad. Instead he was shifted into a Self-Insert of sorts for Rob. He’s the Team Leader of Youngblood, and appears in most incarnations of the book- he is a formerly fat guy who became an FBI agent, and developed “almost superhuman” aiming skills. A patriot, he fought for the “American Ideal” while on his team, though he felt insecure about being the only one without powers. When the government shut down the team following a scandal when one member of the squad ordered the death of another, Shaft went solo, then led a new squad, without government backing. Unlike most of the team, he always hated the media attention the team got.

Vogue is one of the more obvious Youngblood characters in terms of using ’90s character design tropes, because here Rob just does so much of what he did with Domino in X-Force, but ramps up the sexualization (Dom was actually pretty covered-up compared to most ’90s heroines at the time), as Vogue has the “Black Cat Cleavage Line” going straight down to her lady-parts, perfectly-spherical breasts, an angry look on her face, and THOSE DAMN ’90s EYEPATCHES which are so common to ’90s characters, largely because of Rob’s work and the influence he had on his peers. I guess we’re supposed to fap to this character, but I can’t find that whole concept attractive- Rob was never particularly good at making ladies look sexy so much as he was capable of mimicking how a five-year old would draw a beautiful angry woman.

Chapel is a bit of a curiosity in Image, in that he’s an obvious Cable/Punisher guy (he’s a gun-toting giant dude with shoulder-pads) on a team of more standard-issue superheroes, AND he was chosen for the “Crossovers Between Books” stuff Image was doing at first, as he was the guy who murdered his military teammate Al Simmons, who of course went on to become Spawn. Despite that, he’s not a major factor in Spawn, as Rob owning his rights, and Rob being booted from Image in 1997, meant that the character wasn’t that usable. The same rights issues meant that in the ’90s Spawn movie, Chapel was replaced by a woman named “Priest”. The character was initially part of Rob’s Teen Titans pitch, but Rob has since forgotten who or what he was supposed to be- “but I’m sure it would have rocked”.

Chapel is essentially a giant goon who got injected with super-steroids that made him an enhanced human. He at some point got infected with an artificial HIV virus at the hands of his superiors, too. He was contracted by Jason Wynn (an Evil Corporate Asshole) to kill Spawn, but failed- Spawn burned Chapel’s distinctive facepaint into reality by melting Chapel’s flesh away, too. Finally, he killed himself in order to be resurrected as “Lord Chapel”, working for the Devil and turning on his former teammates in the process.

In the original pitch for Teen Titans, Combat was supposed to be a Khund transplant, along with Photon- this explains his warrior-like nature and love of weapons. In Image Comics, he’s been repurposed into a similar race called the Katellans. Of all of Youngblood, he may have the most inexplicable look- Rob loved weird-shaped hair and odd shoulder-pads, but this weird swooping design with the bare trapezoids was bizarre as hell, never mind the spiky beard mixing with the wavy “widow’s peak” hairstyle. Of all the Younblood members, though, he may be the most stupidly over-the-top armed character, boasting a RIDICULOUS number of guns in every single picture I’ve seen of the guy, always in a random assortment either in his hands or strapped to his back.

“Kh’ambt” actually has a reasonable backstory for an Image character- he was an accomplished Katellan soldier, but was framed for a plot to overthrow the Emperor. Banished, he escaped to Earth along with Photon, and joined Youngblood in its first issue. He was probably the most short-lived member- he bailed as soon as the team was disbanded, and returned to Katella.

Photon is the coolest and least-90s looking member of Youngblood, which makes sense, given that he’s just a rip-off of Comet Queen from the Legion of Super-Heroes, but with a better color scheme. What’s funny is none of the bios I’ve read have mentioned this, but yes… that’s exactly what Comet Queen looks like- the flaming “hair” coming out of the split between two spikes at the front of an open head. That Rob created the character in 1987, only four years after Comet Queen debuted, makes this even more clear.

Photon is an Acuran- one of the beings that WildC.A.T.s villain Helspont possessed, which is why they have the same “Fire Head” look (and totally not because of Ghost Rider being a then-popular act- oh, no). He arrived on Earth with Combat in tow, and the two joined Youngblood, despite being “bitter rivals”. He was offered sanctuary by the U.S. Government in return for exchanging knowledge of Acuran technology with them. A new, female Photon (thus looking even MORE like Comet Queen) debuted in more recent Youngblood comics. According to Photon, Acurans switch gender every seven years in order to “enjoy all aspects of their true selves”.

I gotta admit, Badrock is one hell of a design. Easily the best overall Youngblood character in terms of look. Of course, that’s because Rob literally just took Ben Grimm, traced him, and then left out all the rock details so he was easier to draw. BUT HE STILL COUNTS AS THE BEST.

But seriously, holy cow, what an obvious rip- he even has the same “rounded lower jaw”. Of all of Youngblood, he’s also the most normal- he was an average 16-year old until he swallowed a vial of top-secret genetic material in his father’s lab, suddenly turning him into what would happen if someone who didn’t like to do fine details traced over The Thing. Despite his power, the new “Bedrock” was generally nice, but was still immature and over-eager, leading him to pick fights with other super-heroes. Naturally, the name got changed pretty quickly to “Badrock”, and they probably didn’t keep his “YABBA-DABBA-DOOM!” catchphrase (humorously, Rob jokes via the characters that a lawsuit will be inevitable). The character apparently matured a bit over time, and took some time off after Riptide’s murder, then joined the fourth incarnation of Brigade.

Diehard has the most ’90s name of the early Youngblood characters, and one of the most distinctively “Rob” appearances- his feature-covering mask and the circles on it, plus the random pouches and bandoliers, evokes a strong sense of “Deadpool”, at that point a popular occasionall villain in X-Force. Here, Diehard is a superhero on Youngblood, and fights in one of the most bizarre, iconic “Wait, Rob doesn’t actually get how anatomy works, does he?” panels, in which he appears to be using his crotch to slam into a guy. It’s SUPPOSED to be either a double-punch or a kick, but Rob’s got him so bent up, and shot oddly from above, that you can’t tell WHAT’S going on. That it happened in an issue full of other artistic mistakes, alongside meaningless characters, really painted ill of Rob.

Diehard was made a cyborg in the 1940s- the first American experiement into merging “man and machine”- he was a hero during World War II, alongside Glory & Superpatriot, and joined an earlier incarnation of Youngblood, booting out old leader Battlestone for killing a fellow soldier. He kept on the team under Shaft’s leadership, and formed a relationship with Vogue. He was temporarily replaced by a “Diehard” robot when he was leading another mission, and teamed up with his WWII buddies on “The Allies” during Alan Moore’s Youngblood run. Apparently at some point he became President of the United States! And he’s so ’90s that we STILL DON’T KNOW HIS REAL NAME.

Die-Hard and Chapel are the only designs that still look cool to me, and I think it’s telling that they’re two of the only three Youngblood characters Michel Fiffe used for his recent Bloodstrike revival (which he drew as an unironic celebration of 90’s aesthetics).

(For more on Jab’s thoughts on Liefeld and Youngblood, click HERE and HERE)

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