Controversial artist Rob Liefeld — and by “controversial” I mean people tend to either love his work or hate it — seems to be in one of the most productive phases of his recent career, drawing a monthly book for five consecutive issues, and about to take the reins as both writer and artist.
And the Liefeld-created Extreme Studios properties have returned to Image Comics, which is launching continuations of several of the books as part of an ambitious resurrection of Liefeld’s early-’90s characters.
And here’s the weird thing — the two aren’t connected.
Liefeld’s monthly book is DC’s current volume of Hawk and Dove*, a perennial lower-tier property conceived by artist Steve Ditko in the late 1960s. One of Liefeld’s first big breaks was a penciling gig on a Hawk and Dove series in the late ’80s, and DC has kept the characters around in one book or another almost ever since.
The Extreme Studios books are being published by Image, the company Liefeld helped found, and his characters were a part of its initial success.
I’m not complaining. Despite being square in the proper age demographic when Image was founded, I never cared for Liefeld’s design, rendering or storytelling — in fact, of the founders, Todd McFarlane’s was the only work Teenage Caleb enjoyed, and that was in part because of how much it reminded me of the Batman comics of the day.
By having people who aren’t in any way, shape or form Rob Liefeld, including creators whose art doesn’t seem noticeably inspired by Liefeld, work on the old Liefeld properties, the Image initiative seems less like nostalgia than some sort of exciting experiment.
Did people once embrace characters like Supreme, Glory and the members of Youngblood because they were created, written and drawn by Liefeld, or is there something in them that can exist and can flourish in different ways completely divorced from their creator?
What becomes of a Liefeld comic when you take Liefeld out of it?
(I fully realize, of course, that this isn’t a unique experiment, even if the specific parameters are. Creators with vastly different talents, styles and ambitions have been taking the creations of others in different directions almost as long as there have been comic books and, in fact, it’s become the hallmark and lifeblood of superhero comics since at least the Silver Age. I think it’s one of the more fun things about superhero comics, seeing how different artists draw Batman or write Captain America or whatever.)
I applaud Liefeld and the folks at Image for choosing such distinct, fresh and, um, talented talents as well, including King City’s writer/artist Brandon Graham as the writer of Prophet and Ross Campbell as the artist for Glory, the first of the new Extreme books I’ve taken a look at.
Glory was created in 1993 as a sort of bad-girl clone of Wonder Woman (or, to put it slightly more generously, as a bad-girl analogue of Wonder Woman). She was the warrior royalty of a tribe of Amazonians — not Amazons — who left her world to become a kick-ass superheroine on Earth.
She had the improbable, somewhat deformed extreme Barbie-doll body of Liefeld’s ladies of the ’90s:
That alone made the fact that Campbell would be drawing a book featuring her something worth paying attention to.
Campbell’s an incredible talent whose work I’ve been enthusiastic about ever since I encountered it in Tokyopop zombiepocalypse story The Abandoned. He’s also responsible for the drama Wet Moon and monster-superhero series Shadoweyes, and drew the book Water Baby for DC’s short-lived Minx imprint.
One particularly noteworthy aspect of his work is how good he is at drawing women, and the fact that his women come in all shapes and sizes, like real women. His female characters can be thin little waifs or zaftig plus-size gals, or, as in the case of his Mountain Girl, huge, hulking ladies that a college football team’s defensive line would have a hard time tackling. He also is particularly skilled at making his female characters look incredibly sexy — or charming, or repellent, depending on their character traits and role in the story — no matter what size or shape he’s drawing them in (particularly in his early work; he seems to have toned down the sexualization a bit of late).
So I was eager to see Campbell’s version of Liefeld’s Glory.
His is, no surprise, quite different from Liefeld’s. She’s built big, solid and muscular, something between the sort of woman R. Crumb grew famous for drawing and an Olympic athlete and a medieval castle wall. She has the same signifiers as before, including long white hair — colored so as to look luminescent, so there’s a sharp contrast between her and the white-haired Superman clone/analogue Supreme in the scene they share — and she still wears the same colors, although they are much less bathing suit-like and more ancient warrior-like (tracking a similar evolution of Wonder Woman’s garb from the ’90s through the post-Xena current Wonder Woman).
Campbell gives her a bit of a baby face, particularly in the scenes set when she was young (for her), but she’s an imposing figure; if Liefeld’s Glory looked like a Barbie doll, Campbell’s is closer to He-Man.
That she looks so different is fitting too in that it accentuates her alien-ness to the rest of the world, the “real” world the book is set in. Campbell ramped up the alien nature of the various monsters and demons as well (Glory is half-Amazonian, half-demon), so they are particularly grotesque, and detailed in their grotesquerie.
It can be exceptionally difficult to judge first issues given the tendency for comics to be created for arcs and storylines, so it’s the visuals of a first issue like Glory that stand out. On that end, not only is the new Glory a sucker punch in the face, it’s a knockout.
The story, written by Joe Keatinge, is packed quite full, including an origin story, a sort of on-the-fly recap of Glory’s history in the world, the introduction of several other characters and a suggestion of a new direction — complete with surprise cliffhanger.
Born of a union between the warring Amazonians and Demons, Glory is trained to be the ultimate warrior, a sort of deterrent to the two sides breaking their peace pact — if one does, she’ll kick all their asses.
Bored, she comes to earth during World War II to punch out tanks and tear Nazis apart like tissue paper, and sticks around as a superhero for a long time, before ultimately disappearing. A young woman haunted by dreams of Glory tries to track her down … or at least discover whatever became of her.
Keatinge doesn’t play down the Basically Wonder Woman, But More Hardcore aspects of the character — which is fine; Alan Moore had great success playing up the Basically Superman aspects of Supreme — and, oddly enough, before story’s end it seems to draw as much inspiration from Promethea as it does Wonder Woman. Or perhaps not so oddly — Moore briefly wrote Glory before going on to create Promethea with J.H. Williams III.
As I say, it’s still too early to tell where the story is going, but it starts in a very interesting, very different place, with Ross Campbell’s Rob Liefeld’s characters and concepts. In that respect, it’s already an incredibly interesting and — I’d say — successful experiment.
*This was written before today’s announcement that Hawk and Dove would be getting the ax, along with five other DC “New 52” titles. Maybe Liefeld will be working on Extreme books for Image in the near future after all now …