Jab’s Image Comics Deep Dive – Brigade

Inexplicably, despite releasing his old “Youngblood” concept with a book featuring TWO whole teams of characters, and having a knack for delivering art late, Rob Liefeld’s “Artist’s Disease” led him to create a seond book for Image Comics in 1992, entitled Brigade . And of course it was ANOTHER “Paramilitary-Style Superhero Team”, which was almost exactly what Youngblood was, making it extra-pointless. It was originally just WRITTEN by Rob, and instead drawn by Marat Mychaels.

The book featured Battlestone as team leader, detailing how he’d been booted from Youngblood after several members died on a mission (one killed by Battlestone himself during a fistfight). He formed Brigade with Kayo, Boone & Lethal, but their first mission went horribly and Lethal quit. Later, they recruited brothers Seahawk & Coldsnap, using their wealth to fund the team as a public mercenary group. Thermal, Atlas & Stasis also later joined. They fought the evil Prince Genocide (really), losing Atlas in the process, and encountered aliens and stuff before the book ended after ten months, a complete mess that shook up the roster an incredible number of times for a new series trying to capture fans.

Brigade returned the next year- Stasis quit the team over Atlas’s death, but was shot dead by Cabbot, the leader of Bloodstrike, which was charged with taking Brigade into custody. Several members were captured, but later sprung as Brigade (plus Lethal & Boone, who were re-hired) defeated Bloodstrike. New member Crucible was added, but Boone turned out to be a mole, betraying the squad. Boone & Battlestone were thought to die in an explosion, but Battlestone was actually brainwashed by the U.S. government into being a loyal goon- this was actually a way to shunt him, the guy on Brigade that Rob LIKED, to his more successful property, Youngblood , and nothing more.

The majority of the team were killed off during Extreme Sacrifice , a company-wide event at Extreme Studios- this comes off as INCREDIBLY callous, as despite the incompetence of the character creation process, they appeared to be TRYING with these guys, but instead they completely dumped a swath of them, executing Coldsnap, Thermal & Kayo all in one fight. Like, what a slap in the face to the fans- “Oh, you liked these guys you were just reading about? NAHHHHH, we’re just gonna off them! Read the new book!”. The team was then replaced by more recognizable Image characters, including Shadowhawk, Vanguard, and Glory- Seahawk was the new leader. The book was nonetheless cancelled in 1995, two years after it began- this new squad had maybe an issue or two before Rob Liefeld was booted from Image Comics, and he lost most of these characters.

The book had two one-shot returns, one in 2000 (a one-shot co-starring Badrock and Kaboom), and another in 2010, but nothing has come of either. The 2010 one featured a “reimagining” as the team was now formed in response to the advance warning of an alien invasion. Their powers now come from genetic enhancements. Literally one issue was released and that was it.

So in short, Brigade is a mere eyeblink in comics- a property so minor that even its own creator barely seems to give a shit about it. It comes off as a “Squad of Rejected Youngblood Designs”, with a roster so haphazardly thrown together that they drop two members immediately, throw them back on, add a half-dozen others, kill some off, then kill off MORE, all while removing the Team Leader himself from the book for Youngblood , leaving these guys in the lurch!

Battlestone– Founder & Leader. Jerk-ass brawler.
Boone– Generic Gun Guy. Later turns on the team.
Lethal– Sexy Ninja-Girl. Quits & rejoins the team like three times.
Kayo– Squat Japanese Martial Artist.
Coldsnap– Ice Powers turned “Ice Giant”.
Seahawk– Later forms a new team.
Thermal– Joins the team as a mole, but chooses to stick with them.
Atlas– Growth powers. Dies two missions in.
Stasis– Power Neutralizer.
Roman– Namor knockoff.
Vanguard– Flying Brick antennaed alien from Gary Carlson.
S.P.I.C.E.– The “Not-Bucky” from Rob’s Fighting American book.
Crucible– A “Probability Manipulator” from the New Men, I think. No bio exists online so I won’t stat her.
Hacker– Hacker assistant to the early team, and then just Boone.
Tremor– Spawn foe.
Kaboom– Jeff Matsuda’s character.
Glory– Rob’s “Wonder Woman” analogue with a sword.

The central character of the Brigade series is unquestionably Battlestone, who quite possibly best represents the true nature of an Image character more than any other. No, not the whole “Rips off an X-Men character” thing, nor the “Titty Costume” thing: To me, what best exemplifies Image Comics is the whole “BAD ATTITUDE” thing. And Battlestone, who appears aggressive, grimacing and mean in every single picture, seems to seep that shitty “Edgelord” attitude from every pore of his being. His appearance screams Liefeld, too- though he lacks the ubiquitous pouches in most pictures, he’s got those weird-ass “Liefeldian Braids” that pop up on a few bad-ass male charaters of his- for whatever reason, Rob liked to draw these weird, skinny braids on his heroes. Braids that would shift in length and thickness from panel to panel. But by god, he loved braids.

His violent temperament was probably forged by his father, who forced Battlestone & Cabbot to engage in physical violence from a young age, in part to raise “real men”. Both Stone boys were “Nu-Gene” bearers- similar to, yet legally-distinct from, mutants. Living for decades without aging much, he fought in World War II (this is something VERY COMMON to Image characters- many of them copy Wolverine so directly that they’re also ageless World War II veterans) alongside various now-aged Image heroes, then became a government wetworks agent, becoming more psychopathic with each passing decade (SEE? IMAGE COMICS!!). Finally, he was turned on by his teammate Dutch, who was a Cybernet operative- Stone’s corpse was resurrected via the “Born Again” project, making him a pasty, ghoulish warrior.

Battlestone thus ended up the original leader of the government group Youngblood, but was fired after a mission got some members killed- two members who hated him died on a mission in Iraq, and another blamed Stone, thinking he sent them to their deaths on purpose (they were blown up by booby-traps)- during a brawl, Stone punched the man, killing him, too. Diehard beat Stone to a pulp, while Chapel had him arrested. He was court-martialed and quickly let disappear, and of course promptly formed his OWN strike force, named “Brigade”- gathering some old associates, they went on their way as a clandestine group, then decided to go more public as mercenaries.

Now how did I know the braids would be a different length and position in every picture?

When Boone betrayed the team to his government bosses by publishing an expose about them (it was written by Thermal, who had chosen not to do so), Battlestone naturally attacked him, the two men seeming to perish in an explosion. Battlestone was taken away by Boone and brainwashed into being a loyal puppet. He thus headed a Youngblood team alongside Diehard, Vogue, Cougar and Combat, and led them against his original squad (now very different, as most members had since been killed). He took orders from a guy named “Lord Dredd”, and made to head one of a few Youngblood teams, seemingly getting a new personality- more calm, collected and professional. Given how he was NEVER SHOWN RECOVERING, it seems very clear to me that Rob had simply decided that “Brigade sucks and the book doesn’t sell; I’m just gonna bring the character I like to Youngblood ” and that was that, explaining away the new personality and never focusing on the plot thread at all.

This character, known only as “Lethal”, is very much the “Typical ’90s Heroine”- because for some reason, in the 1990s, “Fanservice” meant “looked like a snarling, furious grouch at absolutely all times”. This is probably inspired by Chris Claremont’s proud, anti-authoritarian female characters, who were made extra-popular by artists like Jim Lee & Marc Silvestri, with Psylocke being one of the best later examples as a pure “Miss Fanservice” type. His were never QUITE this bad, but incompetent writers and other creators just kind of did a “Same, plus MORE” thing and here we have Lethal, Zealot and others- all grimacing, bad-attitude females who look like they’re one bad day away from committing genocide. Lethal in particular was constantly masked (also helpful so that the artists never had to draw her face), but still dressed in skimpy clothing.

Lethal is an assassin and martial artist, mostly using bladed weapons (as you can probably guess by her name), but can also build and hack computers. She was on the early incarnation of Brigade, but was fired after their first big mission, leaving on bad terms along with Boone (Kayo, their teammate, stuck around). Both her & Boone later rejoined after Brigade suffered some casualties. She rescued captured members Kayo & Seahawk from Bloodstrike, but soon left once more, pointing out she’d only agreed to be there for the duration of the “Bloodstrike” mission.

Lethal later appeared being hired to kill her former teammate, Kayo… but revealed that her goal from the beginning was to find out who wanted him dead, so they escaped together. She left for a third time when Boone betrayed the team and he & Battlestone were thought killed, and the assassin known as Crypt attacked, slaughtering her teammates! Lethal was thought killed too, but was actually sent into the future. A DARK future… one without violence or swearing! Pure Hell for an IMAGE character! Attempting to fight her way back to the past, she was captured by an evil version of Kayo and… Brigade and other books were cancelled in the Image Implosion, and we never found out what happened to her.


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