When you're the President of the United States, there's a lot to worry about. But when you have a handpicked elite squadron of super-powered soldiers at your disposal, things should get a little easier, right? Not necessarily so if "Youngblood" creator Rob Liefeld has anything to say about it -- and he does. In comic book form, at least.
Liefeld returns as the full-time writer and artist of Image Comics' "Youngblood" later this month, his double duty shift beginning with "Youngblood" #9 in a story titled "First Strike." In the issue, recently elected U.S. President Barack Obama comes face to face with his greatest threat yet, and it's not a hotly debated bill - unless one of those highly armed renegade soldiers invading the White House is named Bill, that is.
Even if Liefeld insists the title "First Strike" wasn't meant as a double entendre, it nonetheless serves a dual purpose - the writer-artist plans on infusing "Youngblood" with a much-needed boost, as he described it himself to CBR News. This latest issue kicks off a new era for Liefeld with a freshly assembled Youngblood team and also a series of original back-up features focusing on an all-new Free Agent... and the action doesn't end there.
In anticipation of the upcoming issue, Liefeld spoke with CBR News about his plans for the series going forward, his take on fictional versus historical Presidents, and what he's found surprising about the cast members of his series - particularly Shaft, who Liefeld described as having an "unexpected" new viewpoint.
CBR: Rob, what made you want to return to "Youngblood" as both writer and artist on the series?
Rob Liefeld: I felt it was the right time. The window was wide open but closing fast. The series needed a shot in the arm. Despite mine and Image's best intentions and efforts promoting the Joe Casey stuff, it just wasn't moving. The series needed a boost.
How is the concept of "Youngblood" different in 2009 then it was back in the '90s?
"Youngblood" is the same as it was in 1992 - a government-run strike force who happened to be Ã¼ber-popular media darlings as well. The focus has always been split between the two, but for now we are focusing on that strike force aspect.
By serving as both writer and artist on the series, you've got total control of the story's flow and art style - but on the other hand, you've got to juggle both tasks at once. Is there a downside to that?
There's no downside. It's all upside. I love being able to conceive a concept and execute it all the way through until the end.
What's your process been like when working on these "Youngblood" issues?
I write an outline, then I draw the layouts and then I draw the final pages and get them colored. Then I write the final script, letter it and get it out the door.
Can you run down the members of the latest "Youngblood" squad and why they were selected by the President to serve on the team?
Shaft is a no-brainer as team leader, since he has a strong record of leadership on the team. Die-Hard, Badrock and Vogue are original charter members - they're the core of the team. The new Sentinel and Big Brother add a new dimension to the team. Big Brother is my favorite addition from Alan Moore's run. He cries out for a bigger arc, and the next few issues will see a bigger focus on him. Also, Sentinel has ties to the team's past, which will be revealed.
From both writing and artistic perspectives, have you been particularly excited or surprised by any of these characters as you've worked on them?
I love drawing all of them. Badrock in particular is always fun and fresh. On the writing side of things, I love writing Shaft. He is writing himself, [and] his viewpoint is much more cynical than I expected. He looks at his role on Youngblood as a job, period. A job that he's been doing for a long time under a variety of conditions, many [of them] stressful. It's like he's experienced the same ups and downs and stops and starts as the fans and the book itself. He has a distinct viewpoint that may or may not reflect my own perspective.
Tell us about the story of "First Strike."
Well, an attack on the White house is what I started with and what I ended up with, but the actual result changed drastically while I was producing it. Suddenly, "24" - a show I love - has a violent White House siege story arc and suddenly what I'm doing is not so fresh and required a change-up. So I hijacked the entire White House - and by hijack, I mean stole it. And by stole it, I mean it's gone. It added another flavor completely. It really changes everything more than I set out to accomplish.
Where's the new Youngblood squad when all this mayhem goes down in the White House?
You'll see it from the opening. Youngblood is called away to deal with Cybernet, who we discover is an organization in transition. They are selling their tech to the black market. You need an Ultimate Nullifier? They have one - for a price. Once they realize that Cybernet has sold arms to the people attacking the White House, they realize there's a bigger agenda at hand.
Will the White House's assailants be revealed in this arc, or is that a pay-off for down the road?
The assailants are identified and they are familiar, and their actions set in motion a much bigger sequence of events.
I've seen it said that Obama doesn't actually fire a gun in the story - is that purely because the story never necessitated that he fire his gun, or is there any type of political commentary there?
Well, he arms himself, but I didn't want to cross that line. It wasn't necessary - the story doesn't require anything other than him arming himself to defend himself.
What do you enjoy about writing Obama as a "Youngblood" character?
He is so prominent and his voice is so strong that writing him is easy. I don't stray from who he is and what he's about.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of using a historically accurate President as opposed to a fictional one?
I think fictional Presidents are silly. I want a real person, someone who is a real possibility at the very least - like when Hillary takes over in issue #10.
Beyond "First Strike," will Obama continue to play a regular role in "Youngblood?"
Everything changes at the end of issue #9. Then things get crazy at the end of #10. You gotta read the book to keep up with how fast everything changes.
Anything else you can tease about "First Strike?"
Things get crazy pretty fast. The story gets big and sets in motion several storylines.
"Youngblood" #9 also debuts the new Free Agent, who first appeared in "Youngblood: Imperial." Obama appoints a new Free Agent, who also has mysterious ties to Youngblood's past. It's illustrated by Marat Mychaels, and there will be a number of "Free Agent" backup stories in the coming issues.
"Youngblood" #9 hits stores July 22 from Image Comics.