Though the Image Comics co-founder has spent the past few years creating new characters, taking up freelance gigs like DC Comics’ “Deathstroke,” “Grifter” and “Savage Hawkman” and celebrating the film turn of his Marvel creation Deadpool, the government sponsored superteam that started his creator-owned career has always been on his radar, and the latest “Youngblood” iteration hits comic shops today.
The final book in Image’s relaunch of Liefeld’s Extreme Studios books of the ’90s, “Youngblood” is, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most in line with the company’s original output. While titles like “Prophet” and “Glory” have taken wildly different aesthetic approaches to the concepts on hand, “Youngblood” is a return to the Liefeld style that carried the series through its original ’90s run.
But as Liefeld told CBR on the day of issue #71’s release, this “Youngblood” has a few tricks up its sleeve as well. Guided by “Black Swan” writer John McLaughlin and drawn by artist Jon Malin (with an assist from Liefeld), the new Youngblood team looks to tweak the celebrity superhero paradigm, and as the creator explains below, a lot has change for the team since their last, President Obama-fueled adventure finding them new leaders, new threats, new genders and more.
Rob, so far the Extreme relaunch books have gotten a terrific response from “Prophet” and “Glory” on through “Supreme” and “Bloodstrike.” And while you worked with Eric Stephenson on putting all these creative teams together, “Youngblood” is the only series you’re directly working on as an artist. To what degree did “Youngblood” being your baby affect your involvement in the title, and how have the creative risks taken by the other creative teams impacted what you’re doing here?
Rob Liefeld: While I created all the Extreme titles and wrote many of their first story arcs, I will always be associated with “Youngblood” the strongest for all the obvious reasons. “Youngblood” started Image comics, it started the revolution, it was first out of the gates, it sold one million copies per issue, it was the runaway train. I started drawing John Mclaughlin’s first issue because I was afraid I couldn’t find the right artist for the book. I laid out half the issue before securing Jon Malin, who has stepped right in and is producing great, exciting work. Jon fits the mold of the type of dynamic, action-oriented artist that fans expect from “Youngblood.”
In general, the way the Extreme books have worked is by “cutting away the fat” of the franchise and just letting people go nuts within the context of the original concept for the series. To you, what makes the core of “Youngblood” both as a concept, a team and as tone/approach to comics?
Youngblood follows the adventures of a government sponsored super-squad. They are in essence “Super Cops”. They answer to government handlers and are sponsored by government dollars. They are a colorful collection of characters with personal agenda’s existing inside a demanding government job. Many of them have been given their abilities through the Youngblood program so in essence they were created by the government they serve.
The last time we saw the Youngblood team, they’d just gone on a mission that involved a disappearing White House and a gun-toting President Obama. Obviously, this “jumping on point” story doesn’t pick up right where we left off, but is that story’s end something you’ll be addressing in this book or returning to down the road?
The “We lost the White House” story plays directly into everything you see in the first issue back. There’s a reason the Shaft identity has a new role player and Jeff Terrell, the team’s heart and soul, is off the team. You can’t exactly lose the White House and not pay the price, and Youngblood has. You’ll get more details as the series plays out, but yes, it was a PR nightmare for the team, part of why the first arc begins the way it does.
Total nerd question: I tried to Google this up online but can’t place all the books from the run in their proper order. Off the top of your head, can you tell me what series make up the 70 original issues of “Youngblood” that have landed this new launch at #71?
I won’t count them out, but Eric Stephenson and I counted up all the individual issues and this is where we stand, at 71 issues. Every one-shot and annual were included.
Of course, you’re not working on “Youngblood” alone. In fact, writer John McLaughlin and artist Jon Malin are carrying the core of the book’s creation on their shoulders. As you’re a few issues ahead of the rest of us in your reading, what has struck you about their work that people might not expect from a Youngblood comic?
John McLaughlin’s pitch just blew me away on the basis of the sheer imagination and boldness that he presented. It’s very Grant Morrisson-esque on the outrageous meter. He has so many ideas flying on any given page. Revealing that Photon has changed gender as everyone from his/her race does is one of several “slap me in the face” ideas that I really loved. He has some great, new menaces that the team will be confronting. It’s very modern, very fresh. He has a great sense of humor, but the book is not goofy or too clever for it’s own good. It has the right balance that reflects the best of “Youngblood.”
Jon is growing as a storyteller every issue, and he has great design sense as well. He’s a huge fan of the original Image age and the artists that defined that era while being very modern. His page design is fantastic. His growth in between issues is as dramatic as any I’ve ever seen. Look at the early Olivier Coipel issues of “Legion” and you’ll see the beginnings of the artist that he was to become. I feel Jon Malin is on a similar track.
The cast of the book is a mix of old faces and some surprising newbies — the new man going by the identity of Shaft in particular. We’ve seen in the preview pages for the book some general razzing thrown this guys’ way, but what secrets lie behind the switch in team leaders, and what does this new Shaft bring to the table for the book in his own right?
“Not-Shaft,” as the others refer to him, is a strict company man. He’s trying very hard to keep the team “by the book” in the wake of the White House/Obama hijacking. He’s a rule follower, and he’s trying desperately to gain the trust of the other Youngblood members who resent that he’s taken the original Shaft’s place. He has a real struggle on his hands.
Another big change is the inclusion of “Lady” Photon. What’s your take on this gender-swapping character, and how did McLaughlin make her story his own over the first arc?
I have to leave some reveals to John. Photon is under his direction now and there is no one else like her in comics at the moment. It’s a strange but rewarding new direction.
Without a doubt, Badrock is one of the most recognizable characters from the original series and from the birth of Image Comics in general. I know last time we saw him, he was dealing with the potential loss of his powers? What shape is the youngest Youngblood in this story, and what role did you want him to play in the book?
You will definitely be aware and informed of Badrock’s status in “Youngblood” #71. We don’t let it linger.
There are plenty of other heroes who are playing a role in the title and even more who’ve been part of the book over the years we haven’t seen yet. Who are you most excited to get out there in this latest iteration? What are the odds former members like Chapel will be playing a role as things develop?
The future is wide open as far as the roster on this book is. John has some great reveals in issue #71, followed by a 20 year reveal in #72. I’m letting him run with the roster and giving it over to him. I hope the fans have as much fun with the book as I do reading and experiencing it. Every writer has made Youngblood their own vision. I hear it from the fans, what they enjoy and what they cringe over. This strikes the best glance I’ve seen, it’s a good mix.
You’ve teased this book leading up to a “gigantic 75th Youngblood anniversary” issue. What about this first story arc sets the stage for what you and “the Johns” will be doing there?
Everyone has to wait and follow what’s going on in the book and get ready for a 75th anniversary blow out!
Ultimately, what do you think the overall legacy of “Youngblood” is in the comics market, and how does this series live up to that legacy in your eyes?
Every Youngblood arc has its own era and legacy. Youngblood’s popularity is enduring and this new team has already exceeded my expectations and we’re only four issues down the road so far. John is really crafting some unique and original tales that will set it apart from the other team books on the market. He has a great personality to his writing and I’m very excited by the final product. Keep in mind that he has never written a comic book before but by the 3rd and 4th installments he has mastered the craft and twisted it in his own voice.
“Youngblood” #71 is in stores today from Image Comics.
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