Rob Liefeld recently announced that his Extreme Studio line of comics had been optioned as a possible movie universe by Graham King and Fundamental Films, a deal that reportedly includes up to 9 different titles. With the recent success of “Deadpool,” another one of Liefeld’s creations, it seems like Hollywood might be about to get a Liefeld makeover.
This may or may not be good news. Liefeld rose to popularity in the late ’80s and early ’90s, becoming one of Marvel’s most popular artists. He would later go on to help form Image Comics, home of “Spawn” and “The Walking Dead.” Liefeld is a controversial figure in the industry, however. His art and writing style have been heavily criticized. As a comic book creator, he has been just as successful as he is notorious. Here are some of his most controversial hits.
Wade Wilson, the merc with the mouth, first appeared in “The New Mutants” #98, by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza. After becoming a recurring character in “X-Force” and starring in a couple of miniseries, a “Deadpool” ongoing series was launched in 1997. Eventually, he would go on to become one of Marvel’s most popular and recognizable characters. Of course, many people felt he was so recognizable because he was so similar to another popular DC Comics character.
Deadpool bore a striking resemblance to Deathstroke, a “Teen Titans” villain. Even Deadpool’s real name, Wade Wilson, is a play on Deathstroke’s real name, Slade Wilson. While many argued that Deadpool was a rip off, not just of Deathstroke, but also other characters like Spider-man and Wolverine, many other fans argued that Liefeld was clearly just inspired by these other characters and that Deadpool had grown into a unique character all of his own, anyway. Many of the character’s key traits, like his sense of humor and breaking of the fourth wall, were completely unique to him. Regardless of his origins, Deadpool is clearly one of Liefeld’s most successful creations.
When Liefeld was helping to form Image Comics, he also created a separate studio to publish ideas that didn’t fit under the Image umbrella. This studio was known as Maximum Press and it was home to “Avengelyne.” A warrior angel who had been banished from Heaven, Avengelyne fought the forces of evil and Hell itself. Her battles on Earth were all in preparation for the final war which would signal the Biblical apocalypse.
When people complain about Liefeld, they often use art from Avengelyne as an example. Critics complain both about the objectification of women and the bizarre anatomy of Liefeld’s female figures. Also, there was a scene in an Avengelyne story, “The Godyssey,” where a crucified Jesus jumps down from the cross and then battles a bunch of Olympic gods. Scenes like this divided fans, with many debating whether this was the good or bad kind of over-the-top comic book silliness. Recently, it was reported that Paramount picked up the rights to Avengelyne, so clearly the character still has her fans to this day.
13. HEROES REBORN: AVENGERS
During the mid-1990s, Marvel attempted to boost sales by outsourcing some of their most popular characters to independent comic book studios belonging to Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. Liefeld took over “Avengers,” plotting and penciling the book, while Jim Valentino handled the scripts. The new book reimagined the team for modern times. This time, Captain America led the heroes on a mission where they discovered and awakened an ancient Thor frozen in a block of ice. Also, this team’s Hawkeye wore a full face mask, with there being hints that it wasn’t Clint Barton underneath the mask, but this plotline was never resolved.
The first issues were hugely successful, sales wise, but critics complained about Liefeld’s art and storytelling and many of the character updates weren’t appreciated. Even worse, this was Liefeld’s return to Marvel after abandoning the company to form Image. This move seemingly strained his relationship with other Image creators. While all of the parties involved tell different stories, not long after “Avengers” was released, Liefeld and Image parted ways.
12. HEROES REBORN: CAPTAIN AMERICA
Along with “Avengers,” Liefeld took over plot and artwork duties on “Captain America,” this time being joined by Jeph Loeb for scripting. Unlike the mainstream Captain America, this Steve Rogers was never frozen in ice towards the end of World War II. Instead, he was a sleeper government agent, who was placed in an out of suspended animation between missions for the government. Rogers eventually uncovered the truth of his existence and became Captain America full time.
Once again, there were a lot of complaints about the updated origin, but it is worth noting how similar it is to the Winter Soldier’s story, which was embraced much more favorably. There were also complaints about Cap’s “modern redesign,” which was the classic uniform, except there was an eagle on his mask instead of an A. Liefeld was initially hired to write at least 12 issues of both of his “Heroes Reborn” titles, but after sales began to dip, Marvel tried to negotiate the contract, causing Liefeld to leave his books after about six issues each. This early departure would lead to one of the most controversial moments of Liefeld’s career.
11. FIGHTING AMERICAN
Back in the 1950s, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby were unhappy with the current state of “Captain America” comics, so they created a new politically charged character, “Fighting American.” He would eventually become a satire of superhero books, and then fade into obscurity. When Liefeld left “Captain America” earlier than expected, he still had some stories left to tell. He contacted Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s estate, and after some negotiations and an attempt at creating a third character named “Agent America,” he was eventually able to negotiate a deal to license “Fighting American.” Obviously, Marvel wasn’t thrilled.
Since Liefeld planned on using pages he created for “Captain America” for a different book, Marvel sued. One of the most interesting aspects of the resulting trial was a decision made about Fighting American’s shield, which he did not acquire until Liefeld took over the character. It was eventually decided that it “Fighting American” could be released, with shield in hand, as long as he never threw it.
During the late ’80s and early ’90s, some of the comics industry’s most popular creators were upset that because they were doing “work for hire,” they didn’t own their creations. This led to a mass exodus from the major companies and the formation of Image Comics. Rob Liefeld helped lead the charge and his new superhero team book “Youngblood” was the company’s very first release. It was a massive success and, at the time of the release, it became the highest selling independent comic book ever.
Despite the success, “Youngblood” suffered from poor reviews and, even worse, an unpredictable production schedule. Liefeld would eventually blame the book’s scripter, Hank Kanalz, for the story problems and fire him. Fellow comic book writer Peter David would later use this as an example of Liefeld passing the blame for the book’s issues. Despite all of this, “Youngblood” is still considered one of the most impactful comics ever. Its success changed the independent comic book industry and helped cement Image Comics as a true competitor in the industry.
Growing up in a dystopian future ruled by the tyrannical Apocalypse, Cable ended up traveling to past, where he tries to build a better future. First appearing in “New Mutants” #87, by Louise Simonson and Rob Liefeld, he quickly became one of the most popular “X-Men” characters of the time period. He was also, for some, one of the most prominent examples of everything that was wrong with comics at the time.
In “Kingdom Come,” a character named Magog appears, and according to artist Alex Ross, he was a response and criticism of the design of Cable. Ross hated how Cable’s design seemed to just be a mash-up of too many overused concepts. In his mind, the combination of facial scarring, the metal arm, the glowing eye, and the over abundance of guns perfectly exemplified the flaws with ’90s comics. Criticisms like this really drove the point home that Liefeld was part of a movement in comics that took them away from their classic roots and that not every fellow creator was on board.
8. TEEN TITANS
Liefeld often credited “The Teen Titans” as the inspiration for “Youngblood.” According to him, the original idea was actually a Teen Titans story that he had pitched to DC, but was unable to get made. Liefeld finally got to work on “Teen Titans” for a two issue story arc in late 2005, working with Gail Simone. The story was notable for featuring the characters Hawk and Dove, who were the stars of Liefeld’s first published mainstream comic book work.
This run was also notable among critics of Liefeld. The majority of criticisms about his art style will feature multiple examples from these two issues. Even people who hate Liefeld’s art have to admit that some good came from it with these issues. According to Liefeld, he donated the art from one of the issues to an auction that was benefiting the victims of Hurricane Katrina. So even if Wonder Girl does look a little weird in certain frames, and all of the Teen Titans look like grown ups, it’s probably excusable this time.
While still working with Image Comics, Liefeld launched a second superhero team book called “Bloodstrike.” This was a team of deceased soldiers and special ops agents who had been resurrected by the government. Each team member needed continued treatment to stay alive, which would be withheld if they refused a mission. Eventually, the book shifted focus to just one character who took on the name Bloodstrike.
The series was infamous for printing a flash forward issue #25 after issue #10 was released, as part of a gimmick to show where things would be at the end of issue #24. Unfortunately, the series came to an end with issue #22, leaving the 25th issue as an awkward reminder of how gimmicks don’t always work out. Recently, “Bloodstrike” was included as part of the deal between Liefeld, Graham King and Fundamental Films, who are looking to develop a movie universe based on Liefeld’s Extreme comics line.
6. NEW 52 DEATHSTROKE
After the events of “Flashpoint,” DC rebooted their universe in what’s referred to as the “New 52.” This resulted in the majority of their characters receiving updated origins, although to varying degrees. Some characters, like Green Lantern, were hardly altered by the new continuity, while characters like Superman were heavily modified. Liefeld had a brief run “Deathstroke” and got the opportunity to update Slade’s origin story.
Liefeld actually stayed fairly close to the origin depicted in “The Judas Contract,” by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. The problem that some fans had was that it was a little too similar to the original, in the sense that many of the panels looked like they were just redrawn from the original art. “Swiping” is a controversial practice where one artist will copy or trace another artist’s work, and Liefeld has been accused of this many times, although he has always either denied the allegations or defended some occurrences as being homages.
First appearing in “The New Mutants” #99, by Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, Shatterstar is often considered the epitome of a Rob Liefeld character design, with his giant face guard, gigantic pony tail and double-bladed sword. Born on Mojoworld, Shatterstar was genetically engineered from his gestation chamber to have enhanced physical abilities so that he could fight as a gladiator. He joined a rebellion and eventually made his way to Earth where he encountered Cable. He joined X-Force and has been involved with the X-Men world ever since.
Later writers would eventually have Shatterstar come out as gay and enter into a relationship with fellow team member, Rictor. While fans were relatively supportive of this development, Liefeld was against it. He didn’t seem to have a problem with homosexuality, however, so much as that he just didn’t create the character to be gay and didn’t believe that the revelation was true to the character’s origins as an “asexual person.”
First appearing in “Youngblood” #3, Supreme was Liefeld’s answer to Superman. Initially, the character was a violent take on the DC icon, who was more arrogant than the classic Clark Kent. He probably would’ve faded into obscurity if not for the fact that Liefeld was eventually able to bring Alan Moore on board to write “Supreme.” Moore, famous for classic comics like “Watchmen,” “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and many others, revamped the book and made it an homage to silver age Superman stories.
Moore basically took over the book and created a brand new version of Supreme, and Moore’s writing on the book earned an Eisner award in 1997. At that time, however, “Supreme” was being published by Liefeld’s Awesome Comics company, which was going out of business. Moore was working on a six-issue “Supreme” miniseries at the time and the final script was written but never produced. To make matters worse, reprints of the fifth issue had the words “the end” added to the final page, despite it clearly not being the end of the story. It took until 2011 for Liefeld to finally get Moore’s final script produced, with art chores handled by Erik Larson.
3. ONSLAUGHT REBORN
A decade after Marvel’s “Onslaught” and “Heroes Reborn” events, the company decided to revisit these characters in “Onslaught Reborn,” by Jeph Loeb and Rob Liefeld. The series picked up after the events of “House of M” and “Civil War,” where Scarlet Witch de-powered most of the Earth’s mutants and then its heroes fought each other over the registration act. These events awakened Onslaught, who immediately seeks revenge against Franklin Richards.
Franklin flees Onslaught and ends up traveling to the “Heroes Reborn” Earth, which is populated with duplicates of the Marvel heroes, who have no idea who Franklin or Onslaught are. Onslaught begins possessing heroes like Hulk and Thor and has them fight each other. Eventually, Franklin is sent home and Onslaught is blasted into the Negative Zone along with Ricky Barnes, the “Heroes Reborn” version of Bucky. This series received poor reviews, and despite being reborn, Onslaught only made one more appearance in the mainstream Marvel Universe before once again fading into obscurity.
While Liefeld’s art isn’t known for subtlety, this takes the cake. “Shrink!” was a webcomic that the artist briefly dabbled with, and the results speak for themselves. The strip features a group of superheroes and villains visiting a shrink and explaining their problems to her. For example, a man made out of fire complains that he just gets “pretty hot under the collar sometimes.” Obviously, humor is subjective, and it’s pretty clear that Liefeld was going for some pretty simple jokes.
What makes “Shrink!” stand out, however, is that it was at one point going to be a movie starring Jennifer Lopez. Her production company bought the film rights back in 2002, although nothing ever came out of it. The idea of a psychiatrist treating heroes sounds like it could make for a fun movie, but maybe Jennifer Lopez got cold feet when she realized that she might have to listen to a tiny man with a huge bulge in his pants brag about not having any “shortcomings.”
1. THE INFINITE
Liefeld teamed up with another one of Image Comic’s most famous creators, Robert Kirkman, for “The Infinite.” A freedom fighter from the future travels to his past and teams up with his younger self to try to prevent the world-shattering war with The Infinite. The first four issues were released, and solicitations had been released up to issue #8. Unfortunately, issue #5 was delayed, and ultimately never saw release. Eventually, it was revealed that Kirkman and Liefeld were having creative differences over the art of the series, which would ultimately lead to its early demise.
According to Liefeld, Kirkman didn’t like one of the inkers that was working on issue #5. Apparently, Liefeld really liked the results and wasn’t a fan of having to redo segments of the book. Since the book never saw release, it’s not clear which inker Kirkman allegedly had an issue with. Either way, the series ended before any of the plotlines could even begin to be resolved, and it’s unlikely that it’ll ever be completed.
What’s your favorite Rob Liefeld story? Be sure to let us know in the comments!
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