Rob Liefeld Talks "Youngblood: Bloodsport"

In comics, the occasional delayed issue is inevitable, but then there are the series that become famous for remaining unfinished. "Daredevil: Target," "Ultimate Wolverine/Hulk," Crossgen's "Negation War," and even the assorted titles from the 1970s compiled in DC's "Cancelled Comics Cavalcade." Soon, however, Mark Millar and Rob Liefeld's "Youngblood: Bloodsport" can be crossed off that list. In September, Image Comics will publish "Youngblood: Bloodsport" #2, four years after the first issue arrived in stores. CBR News spoke with Liefeld about the series and explained why it's been so long in coming.

"Bloodsport" is set 15 years in the future, relative to the ongoing "Youngblood" series by Joe Casey and Derec Donovan, a world in which the sale of over-the-counter super powers has rendered the original squad all but obsolete. "The entire team is assembled in order to compete for one available spot on an inter-dimensional Youngblood squad," Liefeld explained. "It's a fight to the death and it's filmed for all the world to see, written as only Mark Millar could imagine it."

"'Youngblood: Bloodsport' has a number of great moments," the artist continued. "I love the scene in issue #1 in the diner with Shaft and Badrock talking about their place in the fast changing pop-culture. It could just as soon be me and Todd McFarlane talking, or Erik Larsen and Marc Silvestri, it reads as a referendum on the Image age of comics as discussed by two Image Comics creations."

Though Liefeld has had a fair amount of work in comics over the last few years, including short runs on "X-Force" and "Teen Titans," and has dabbled in other media, his affection for the Youngblood characters is clear. "As a creator, Youngblood are my favorite kids. I love Cable, Deadpool, and X-Force, but I share custody with them, I don't get to see them everyday like I do Youngblood," the artist said. "As a concept, the 'Bloods haven't been explored nearly enough in my opinion. There's been maybe 100 Youngblood issues in 15 years, mostly due to my lack of exploitation of the team, so there's plenty of ground to cover."

It's hard to talk about "Bloodsport" without mentioning the delay of four years between issue 1 and 2. Liefeld admits that he could have handled the situation better. "What happened was, I was stupid," he said. "'Youngblood: Bloodsport' served as sort of my 'Pulp Fiction,' in that Mark Millar played the role of Quentin Tarantino to my John Travolta and the book flat out exceeded all expectations. Mark was coming off his amazing 'Authority' run and the 'Ultimates' was exploding, as was his 'Ultimate X-Men' launch, and I know that it shocked people that, with his star shining so bright he would agree to work on a 'Youngblood' story with me.

"When we published 'Bloodsport' #1 in summer 2004, we at Arcade Comics decided to self-distribute the comic, we offered it direct from the publisher to any retailer and we used the convention season to facilitate the task of reaching so many influential retailers. Big retail chains bought cases upon cases from us, many acting as secondary distributors to their regions. Mile High, Midtown, Lone Star, Atomic Comics, these were just a few of the chains that bought and sold buckets of 'Bloodsport.' We were getting calls to re-fill orders; stores were blowing out of the book. We moved all 60,000 copies of 'Youngblood: Bloodsport' that season, and six months later sold our overages through Diamond to the rest of the direct market and we moved another 10,000 copies.

"What happened next is what I call the Travolta-'Pulp Fiction' effect. I hadn't drawn anything in 3 years leading up to 'Bloodsport.' I did some 'Wolverine' issues in 2000 for Marvel and basically rode off into the sunset, started a family and left comics behind for 3 years. So re-entering the market in 2004 with the hottest writer on the planet had a carryover effect. Mark really changed everything and his involvement really broke down barriers for me, and we've been great friends ever since. We talk all the time and obviously I'm a tremendous fan of everything he writes. So the next thing you know, my phone is ringing off the hook and I'm being offered all this work, covers, mini-series. Anyway, Marvel called me to do covers for 'Cable-Deadpool' and then we talked about me doing 'X-Force' again, Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada contacted me, asked me if I was interested and I was so excited at the prospect of re-visiting 'X-Force,' especially after the response to 'Youngblood,' I jumped at the chance. I started 'X-Force' right before the rest of 'Bloodsport' came in. Mark delivered scripts of #2 and #3 as I was drawing 'X-Force,' I swore I'd jump back in, then 'Teen Titans' happened, then the Onslaught anniversary and I didn't manage my time or opportunities well.

"'Bloodsport' turned my career as a penciller back on, and I left it behind at the altar. Not good form."

Now, though, Liefeld believes he can do the series justice. "When Image and I renewed our vows last year and Joe Casey started his new 'Youngblood' series, I held off re-launching 'Bloodsport' because I didn't want to compete with his vision," he said. "Now that his first arc is complete, I feel it's time, there's been room to grow Youngblood again. Retailers will have received six or so issues of 'Youngblood,' the most the series has enjoyed in over 12 years, by the time 'Bloodsport' returns.

"Basically, I was irresponsible and now it's time to finish this off. Thank God that Mark Millar fella is still popular with the public."

A Director's Cut edition of "Youngblood: Bloodsport" #1 is being offered to coincide with the new issue, allowing new readers to easily start "Bloodsport" from the beginning. And for fans who may have bought the original first issue back in 2004, there are a few bonuses. "There was a section of the book, following Shaft's battle with the zombie Martin Luther King and Malcolm X that involved the cops and Shaft and more of the burgeoning super hero population that I drew that I cut for deadline reasons," Liefeld said, indicating that this episode would be included in the new edition. Other material exclusive to the director's cut includes Millar's script and a new cover.

In addition to finishing up "Youngblood: Bloodsport," Liefeld is currently working on Marvel's "Killraven" with Robert Kirkman and "a couple of complete surprises that should be announced in the next few weeks."

As surprises go, it will hard to top this.

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