Summer might usually be a time for relaxation and vacations, but Rob Liefeld — and his fans — will be busy in the warmer months thanks to new comics “Bloodstrike,” “Brigade” and “The Covenant,” all scheduled for release from Image Comics.
As an Image co-founder, Liefeld first launched “Brigade” in 1992 with “Bloodstrike” following the next year. “Brigade” was a team book with ties to Youngblood led by Battlestone, Bloodstrike’s brother. The two have been integral parts of Liefeld’s creator-owned universe ever since.
Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign, Liefeld’s “Brigade” will debut in October with a free first issue to bring readers up to speed. In July, “Bloodstrike” will debut. Fans of Liefeld’s work will remember that he planned to pick up where Tim Seeley left off a few years ago after the 2012 Extreme Studios relaunch. Liefeld will plot and draw both books with Mat Nastos scripting “Brigade.”
Before those two related books launch, Liefeld’s “The Covenant” will hit in June. The Biblical heist series follows Samuel and his motley crew as they head out on a quest to recover the Ark of the Covenant. He’s teaming with artist Matt Horak on that project.
CBR News talked with Liefeld about dividing up the creative duties across these comics, updates on his movie projects and how “Noah” director Darren Aronofsky helped inspire “The Covenant.”
CBR News: What made “Bloodstrike” and “Brigade” the right books to kick off this new take on Extreme with?
Rob Liefeld: John Stone, AKA Battlestone, is the most important character in the history of the Extreme Universe. Although he was introduced in “Brigade” #1, he was revealed to have been one of the earliest members of the Youngblood team in “Youngblood” #0. So he has a history with both titles and his brother, Cabbot Stone, was charged with taking him and his Brigade team out as far back as the launch of “Bloodstrike,” so these two brothers have always shared deep, resonant ties to the Extreme Universe as well as a Cain and Abel familial bond. Together, they touch the whole Extreme family of characters and will once again be pitted against each other as these books open.
You’re writing and drawing “Bloodstrike,” but Mat Nastos is penning “Brigade” while you draw. How did you decide on splitting it up like that?
No, no, this is the same mistake that people make looking back at my “New Mutants” and “X-Force” work with Fabian [Nicieza]. I am the writer and the idea generator, I structure and plot the direction of the stories. The job of the scripter is to service the direction and plot as laid out by the writer, or head writer, and compliment that work.
Mat and I met many years ago and he has a vast knowledge of the Extreme Universe of comics. He is a wealth of historic data for comics and my Extreme stuff in particular so he’s great in terms of catching the characters voices and creating sharp dialogue. The schedule can be so burdensome on the writer/artist that the support of a scripter can really help the production as well as flow of the book.
I love working with great scripters and it’s a proud tradition going back as far as Fabian and continuing with Jeph Loeb, who scripted my “Captain America” stories on Heroes Reborn and Eric Stephenson who provided scripts for my best “Youngblood” work. I was introduced to the method on “Justice League” when Keith Giffen write the stories and J.M. DeMatteis provided the scripts. I implemented that early in my career and it paid off. It’s fun to see what another voice puts over your work, and Mat is doing a great job on “Brigade.” I’m scripting “Bloodstrike” because I hear it so clearly as I’m drawing it that it’s easier than saying, “This is what I was thinking here.”
You’ve said that these two books will be connected, but not necessarily joined at the hip. Can you explain a bit how that will play out over the first few arcs?
Well, they are definitely connected as a I mentioned due to history between the characters but they are quite different in tone. “Bloodstrike” is more mature, if I follow what I have planned so far it will be very adult in tone but I’m not decided on that yet. I would have scrapped some pages in order to tone it down, but “Brigade” is less concerned with tone than being a showcase for big ideas. I’m really trying to go for it from a big idea standpoint. But they share a bond, and will cross over early before separating a bit.
The stories also sound like they’re going to be pretty intense. Can you give a few details as to where Bloodstrike and Brigade are as the books pick up?
“Bloodstrike” is seen through fresh eyes, a fresh recruit gets in over his head and an agenda is revealed which leads to a target being presented that connects it to “Brigade.” Meanwhile in “Brigade,” Battlestone is trying to connect numerous mistakes and errors that have occurred during the course of Extreme’s turbulent history. He is literally fighting to prevent a future that puts everyone at odds. It was caused by a series of events that tie into my last issue of “Youngblood” which ended with Lord Chapel opening the gates of hell and taking over the world. Battlestone observes all from the Brigade dimensional platform and is constantly battling through time portals in order to preserve the reality that he believes is best for the world at large. On one end there is the group that won in the future actually there are many variations of groups that won in the future, and they all want to stay victorious, and defeat Battlestone in our present.
Then there is the present day opposition that believes he is dangerous and should be taken out and prevented from waging his war to protect us all. It’s wonderfully simple it wonderfully complicated. It tasks Battlestone and his Brigade with an important calling, protect our present which is under constant, pressing attack. They have become dimensional police as well as practical police. And John Stone is worn out when we find him in issue #0 just as all the shit hits the fan. Everything is laid out, the stakes, the odds, in the first chapter. It was a blast to do.
With characters like this that have long histories in comics, how do you balance between appealing to new and old fans alike?
I draw on what I like and what interests me first and foremost. I like high stakes, and I crave building characters and their struggles. Everyone is up against it in the opening of these titles. That doesn’t mean they aren’t having fun, some of them are having a crazy amount of fun. Bloodwulf for instance, is having a blast. You’ll see. Others are at a breaking point for the enormity of their responsibility and then there’s our new Bloodstrike member who is getting a feel for what it means to be un-killable and unstoppable. The regeneration aspect of Project Born Again isn’t a walk in the park, as the audience discovers. I’m really psyched for these to launch.
A few years back, after the Extreme re-launch, you planned to write “Bloodstrike” after Tim Seeley. Did that get you excited about writing even more of his adventures?
Yes, Tim stoked the fires absolutely. He was so excited about doing “Bloodstrike” and did it so well that it inspired me to return to these characters. His run more than any. His run is in continuity. Things have just gotten crazier for the program. And Cabbot is tired of being regenerated and it’s driving him quite mad.
You went the Kickstarter route with “Brigade.” How was that experience for you?
Greatest promotional campaign available to our medium. I’ll get another crack at that promotion when the book ships. This was a Kickstarter, here’s its history, here’s the support, here’s [the] result. I really felt that as a promotional too. It can’t be beat.
You’ve also got “The Covenant” coming out this summer with the eponymous Ark at the center of a heist story. How did the idea to combine biblical epics and heist stories come about?
Well, I was raised with a father who was a baptist minister and a grandfather who was also a baptist minister, “The Bible” was always present and it was my gateway to comic books. I was really digging the Old Testament heroes like Samson and David right up until the point that they died! That sucked. There was no further adventures of Samson or David or Joshua but I discovered that in comics your heroes always love to fight another day.
Samson appealed to me due to his violent feats and conflicts, I was hooked. My fondness for the biblical heroes and that particular time has never faded, and I’d been looking to do a Biblical tale for quite some time and then, last year, Darren Aronofsky contacted me to participate in the art show that he was putting together for his outstanding “Noah” film. No lie, I didn’t actually believe it was him and then Darren had Mark Millar contact me to verify it was really him and not a prank. Darren expressed that he had grown up on my comics work and expressed I was one of his favorites and asked me to draw whatever I wanted for his “Noah” exhibit. Drawing Noah was a really cool and awakened the urgency that I needed to get going on my own story. Then Paramount chose my Noah pic to be an actual promotional poster for “Noah” and I took it as a sign: “Do this now!” My criteria was that I wanted my biblical story to feature a figure that not as many people were familiar with and I’m quite certain that Samuel fits the bill.
How was it building a character around a Biblical character that, like you said, doesn’t have a lot of characterization behind him?
There’s not a much known about Samuel except for his early origins and later serving Israel as an almost Jedi Knight capacity. He would step in and advise or rebuke the kings of Israel throughout his life. And in fact, in rebuking King Saul, it is recorded in the Old Testament, that Samuel took a sword from Saul and entered the tent that the enemy King was held hostage and carved him up in little pieces in order to show King Saul exactly how he was supposed to handle the matter. Saul had held his opponent hostage and Samuel carved him up. Samuel was elderly at this point but apparently had no qualms whatsoever cutting a King who was alive prior to him entering the tent, into a fresh pile of cold cuts. So, this established Samuel as a purposeful and violent figure. He didn’t mess around.
But there is a large portion of his life that is dark and he actually rose into power as the last Judge and first Prophet of Israel against a terrible event centered around the Ark of the Covenant being stolen by the Philistines. This is recorded in The Book of Samuel and it goes into space details following this where the Philistines experience some crazy supernatural events, but other than that, the story is brief. I looked back and said, “Wait a minute, there’s more to this story. Look at the determination Samuel exhibits in his later years, where’d that come from?” He’s hardly a passive figure so I built out a story that satisfied me and examined a war between two cultures and two rival Gods.
What drives Samuel and his men to go on what seems like a crazy mission?
Well, Samuel’s mentor, Eli, dies on the night the Ark is stolen on the field of battle. He croaks when he hears that the Ark is stolen, especially given the fact that his sons carelessly exposed the Ark in the first place. In a brazen move the Philistines take it. I go into great detail shedding light on the Philistines strategy and that it wast just a happy accident having the Ark drawn out into the battlefield that particular night. Once the Ark is taken, you’ve stripped Israel of their security blanket.
The Ark is the biblical equivalent of a thermo-nuclear warhead, and a the Hebrews knew it was their game changer, it turned the tide of many battles for them. Suddenly it’s stolen and we are to believe that the newly charged leader of the twelve tribes of Israel is just going to lounge back and tell everyone, “Don’t worry about it, I got this covered.” No way. My Samuel is a man if action and conviction and he teams with younger versions of a group of men who would later serve King David as his personal Secret Service. So this takes Samuel and three warriors, one, a mercenary, and they swear to return the Ark to its proper place in the holy city of Shiloh.
The Philistines were historically more technologically advanced than the Israelites, they mastered the foraging of steel and their blacksmiths were hired by Israelites to sharpen their farming tools. Meanwhile, the Philistines created an armory of spears and swords and were always looking to pick a fight with the Hebrews who they thought were un-disciplined and primitive, but were reliant on their nuclear option, the Ark. So The Covenant presents both sides and their respective views of each other as they prepare to clash. Samuel will risk everything to get the Ark back because in his estimation, Israel is lost without it. His mercenary, Shammah is just looking for a good fight with The Philistines. Everyone is motivated bad there are many twists and turns and events that foreshadow later biblical events. But at its base it’s a story of redemption for Samuel as he risks everything to restore the Ark against an highly motivated Philistine General and a creepy High Priest out to control the power of the Hebrew God.
You’re working with artist Matt Horak on this one. How has the collaborative relationship been between you two so far?
On man, Matt Horak has been amazing. His storytelling and renderings will blow you away, he is one of the best storytellers I’ve ever worked with. On “The Covenant” he works from my full script and he doesn’t let the deliberate direction or the density of the script overwhelm him, he just breaks it down beautifully. I could not be more pleased, fans of great storytelling are going to eat his work up.
Is it hard for you as an artist to hand scripts over to someone else?
On this not as much, I’m proud of the story I crafted and am thrilled to see Matt put it through its paces. I met Matt at the 2013 New York Comic Con and he handed me a mini-comic that he had drawn of an episode of “Thundarr the Barbarian” and I was immediately impressed. The work was astounding but I didn’t have anything for him at the time. Later he sent me some pages for my comic “RE:GEX” and man, again, I was so impressed. When I finished the “Covenant” script I called him up because the “Thundarr” mini-comic had really made an impression on me.
He read “The Covenant” script, I showed him some of my designs and my illustrations and he signed on to do it. Immediately he showed me that I had made the right move in hiring him because let’s face it, new talent doesn’t always bear out and there’s generally more misses than hits, so when a new guy delivers the goods it like, “Yes!” There are few things as satisfying as giving a guy a break and watching him run with it. Matt is doing great work I’m excited for everyone to experience it.
You seem to be a huge supporter of the “Deadpool” film currently being shot. Have you been able to get on set and see the movie magic up close?
Yes, I’ve been on set. Yes, it was a blast. No, I can’t say more than that. I was very fortunate that from the minute Fox optioned Deadpool for a solo film back in 2009 that my input was welcomed by the producers who wanted to steer as far clear of “Wolverine: Origins” as possible. Later on, the screenwriters and then director Tim Miller and Ryan [Reynolds] were kind enough to include me throughout the development. I can’t tell you how often I would ask to drive up and watch that footage that was eventually released last summer. From 2011 through 2014 I’d bring people like [Robert] Kirkman to view the preview footage and hope and pray Fox would see the light. So it’s just a tremendous feeling knowing that everyone is getting to make the film they intended to make bad the timing is perfect. It’s going to be huge.
Each project is moving forward, one step at a time, which is better than stalling out. The appetite for this stuff has increased, not decreased.
“The Covenant” #1 debuts in June followed in July by “Brigade” and “Bloodstrike,” all from Image Comics and Rob Liefeld.
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