Rob Liefeld knows how to pick ’em. So far, the relaunch of his Extreme Studios characters at Image Comics have been both selling out and getting rave reviews. Just look at Joe Keatinge’s “Glory” or Brandon Graham on “Prophet,” both of which sold out their first printings. Liefeld and Image Comics Publisher Eric Stephenson, who helped convince the charismatic creator to relaunch the comics they both worked on in the mid-’90s, hope writer John McLaughlin’s new vision for Liefeld’s “Youngblood” continues the trend.
Fans of Image Comics history will remember that the original debut of “Youngblood” not only kicked off Liefeld’s involvement in Image, but was also the very first Image comic ever published. The book followed the exploits of a team of superheroes sanctioned by the government to go on missions. Many other Extreme Studios creations including Prophet debuted in “Youngblood.” The characters have been written by everyone from Rob Liefeld and Robert Kirkman to Joe Casey and Alan Moore, with McLaughlin the latest to join their ranks. CBR News spoke to the newly minted comic book writer about his history with comics and plans for the series.
McLaughlin’s name might not be instantly recognizable to comic fans, however. His main writing gig is in Hollywood where he’s worked on scripts for “Black Swan” as well as the upcoming films “Parker” and “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of ‘Psycho.'” A relative newcomer to both reading and writing comics, McLaughlin dove into the world of “Youngblood” and emerged with a solid working knowledge of Die Hard, Badrock, Shaft and the rest. Joined by artists Jon Malin and Liefeld himself, McLaughlin has been learning the ropes and has plans for the series that fell into his lap after another notable writer had to bail out.
“My good friend Scott Lobdell was set to do it, but he got another job or was arrested, I don’t remember which,” McLaughlin said. “Anyway, he got me involved for which I thank him. And curse him forever. And thank him.”
When asked what he thought of the Image books when they first came out, the writer explained his inexperience with the medium. “I must confess, I never really read comics until recently, and I had a lot of catching up to do,” McLaughlin said. “I think not knowing what I’m doing will either help me write something that people like, or will make everyone say, ‘Huh?'”
Part of that catching up, as you might expect, involved reading the previous 70 issues of “Youngblood.” While not a longtime fan of that series, McLaughlin understands a fan’s connection to material they are passionate about.
“I read it all and absorbed as much as I could,” McLaughlin told CBR News. “I know how it is to be a fan of something and have someone who doesn’t really know or care about the material come along and do a version that gets everything wrong, so I made every effort to avoid screwing things up. As an example, I recently wrote a big screen adaptation of ‘Kung Fu.’ I made sure to watch every episode — there were a number of drafts written by a number of writers before I came on, and at least one seemed like it was written by someone who had never seen the show. In the case of ‘Youngblood’ there were always people around like Rob in case I made a wrong turn, so that was a big help. Â To me, there is a feeling that you’re seeing a unique world in ‘Youngblood,’ and that’s what I wanted most to capture.”
“Youngblood” has been in comic stores on and off more frequently than the other Extreme Studios titles, including a 9-issue run between 2008 and 2009 mostly written by Joe Casey with art by Derec Donovan and a final issue by Liefeld. With so much history, McLaughlin neither wants to scare new readers away nor worry longtime fans.
“It is sort of like coming into the sixth season of ‘Everyone Loves Raymond’ if everyone on that show had super powers; they might have, I never watched regularly,” McLaughlin said. “If you are a long term reader you will recognize everyone and if you are a new reader you won’t feel like you missed out on the first 70 issues.”
The real question is what the members of Youngblood have been up to in their time away from comic shops. “They’ve been mostly adjusting to their new leadership, the guy who took over the role of Shaft when the original went back to his job as an F.B.I. agent,” McLaughlin said. “The rest of Youngblood kind of treat him like a joke. While we learn the fate of some of the Youngblood members, like the recuperating Badrock, the truth is we’re only using about six members of the team — and they’ve pretty much just been saving the world and other important superhero things.”
Asked about Badrock’s condition, McLaughlin’s raspy was coy. “It’s a big part of the story, so I’d much rather have you wait and see.” However, the writer was willing to give a rundown of the other characters featured in the series.
“There is the aforementioned Shaft as ‘leader’ and Badrock in intensive care,” McLaughlin said. “Die Hard is on hand and barely tolerating the antics of the younger Youngbloods. Cougar is slinking around and eager to devour any young woman within paw’s reach. Vogue sees her membership in the team as part time, as she has her own company to run, and Lady Photon is still adjusting to having been just Photon until recently — it turns out his alien race switches sex every six years to better appreciate one another’s travails. I think that’s everyone.”
Figuring out the characters and their exploits was one thing, but actually sitting down and writing a comic book script was another matter entirely for trained screenwriter McLaughlin.
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” McLaughlin said. “I understand the timing in screenwriting — I know where I’m supposed to be by any given page in a script and how to keep up the pace so that it can turn into a movie. I don’t quite have that in comics yet, but Scott and Rob have been extremely helpful with pointers. I’m sure some of the comments about this interview will be along the lines of, ‘This guy is an idiot.’ I’m here to tell you those comments are cruel but exceedingly accurate.”
Speaking of Liefeld, McLaughlin credits him for not only helping him with the writing process but also being so gracious with his characters. “Rob has been part of the process from the beginning and has been great to work with,” McLaughlin said. “He created an amazing world. I feel like this is his baby and he’s letting me take it to the playground — my job is to keep it from getting hit in the face with a tire swing and bring it home in one piece. It’s an honor to work with him.”
McLaughlin has had an equally good time working with artist Jon Malin even though the duo have yet to be in the same room yet. “I have not actually met him, but his artwork is fantastic and I have great respect for what he does,” McLaughlin said. “Whatever I write down he makes come to life — it’s an amazing feeling.”
“Youngblood” #71 by McLaughlin, Liefeld and Malin hits shops May 23.