Youngblood Volume 1 Issue 1 March 1992
Image Comics / Malibu Comics
Words and Pictures by Rob Liefeld
Here at Advance Comics we’ve decided to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of IMAGE Comics by going back and reassessing the 7 Series of the 7 Image Founding Fathers to try and find the seeds of the publisher which has gone on to radically redefine comics and the role of creators in their production for the 21st Century.
This won’t be a history lesson, if you’re looking to know about the day Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri and Jim Valentino walked out of Marvel Comics then I suggest you watch the excellent documentary The Image Revolution by the Sequart Team and also read Sean’ Howe’s definitive biography of Marvel comics from the 50s to the 00s; Marvel Comics the Untold Story.
For the purpose of this article all you need to know is that Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood Number 1, published in March 1992, was the first book to bear the now-legendary IMAGE Comics Logo bombarding an unsuspecting comic buying public with previously unseen levels of radness less than 6 months after the Image 7 had walked out of Marvel Comics and only a handful of weeks after X Force 9, Liefeld’s last issue of his signature Marvel series, would hit the stands.
It has been suggested that Youngblood was conveniently named so that the book would appear in close proximity to Liefeld’s big hit at Marvel X-Force which is a pattern that would emerge with several other IMAGE launch books.
Although each Founding Father had their own signature view they would shortly unleash on the world in being first Youngblood Number 1 was the flag bearer from the IMAGE Revolution. With its story of a covert militarised Super Hero team to the exultation of style over substance to the inclusion of collectable trading cards Youngblood was the blue print for what was to come.
And what a blueprint it was!
Almost all the characteristic elements which defined the IMAGE Comics and more broadly Superhero Comics in general in the 1990s are here in Youngblood Issue 1.
We are introduced in rapid fire fashion to a dozen new heroes comprising the Youngblood Home and Away Teams. Again legend has it that many of these characters, complete with imaginative names like Combat, Diehard and Vogue, were recycled from a rejected Teen Titans pitch which Liefeld was negotiating with Titan’s mastermind Marv Wolfman.
I won’t spend too much time dwelling on Liefeld’s art style, you all know how the Rob likes to draw, especially during this period. It’s all there.
- Long Legs (CHECK)
- Impossibly High and Narrow Waist (CHECK)
- Shoulder Pads engulfing Tiny Heads (CHECK)
- Absent, Tiny or Misshapen Feet (CHECK)
- Pouches (CHECKS)
- Giant Hair Dryer Death Ray Guns (CHECK)
Liefeld exploits the flip book format to present a separate mission for each team. This is clearly an early move to establish and expand on the Full Youngblood Franchise and indeed books with such imaginative names as Youngblood Strike File, Team Youngblood and Youngblood Bloodpool would follow not long after.
The Home Team consisting of Bedrock (later Badrock), Combat, (Don’t Call me Bishop) Chapel, Vogue, Diehard and (Don’t Call Me Hawkeye) Shaft take down the generic and dull as can be gang of villains called THE FOUR (despite the fact that we only see two of them on panel).
The Away Team finds themselves embroiled in a “Torn from the Headlines of Today” Gulf War analogue which evokes some of the clumsiest of Marvel story telling as Brahma, Riptide, Photon, Psi Fire, Sentinel and definitely not at all cheap shop Wolverine AKA Cougar are sent behind enemy lines to deal with (sigh) Hassan Kussein.
The stories are about as pedestrian and one dimension as it gets, the book is painfully wordy as you might expect from someone who cut their teeth on the purple prose of Chris Claremont and Louise Simonson but the art is as frantic and explosive as you would expect.
Characters leap across panels and splash pages in defiance of most if not all of Newton’s Laws.
Long Legged fly kicks are delivering to angular chins sending jaws and teeth flying backwards.
Giant blaster rifles fire impossible cascades of red laser beams all over background layouts that could best be described as ranging as bland to non-existent.
But it’s a start, everything has to start somewhere right? From little things, big things grow I guess.
What this Book Gets Right
- World Building: the plot, scant and shallow as it is still lets you know enough about the Youngblood Universe to set the ball rolling. The fact that there are enough heroes to fill out two full Youngblood Teams to fight super villains at home and abroad suggests there’s a big world outside Shaft’s Window, and it’s a radical and extreme one
- Branding and Franchising: as mentioned a couple of times earlier Y for Youngblood is very close to X for X Force and don’t those shield logos look VERY similar. Intentional or not it makes it looks like the Rob knows his audience, knows what they want and how to get it to them.
- Feet: OK so this is a bit of a no prize but I was genuinely surprised by the number of feet in this issue given Liefeld’s reputation. There are over 85 feet on the main heroes and villains alone through the 35 odd pages of story in this first issue. Trust me. I counted them so you don’t have to.
What this Book Gets Wrong
- Design and Layout: this book is painfully hard to follow as narration, captions and speech bubbles seem placed over the Rob’s art with an almost Dadaist reckless abandoning. It should not take multiple attempts to read the pages in this story but it frequently did.
- Character Names: I know it’s the 90s, a decade which introduced us to such gems like Forearm (the guys with Four Arms), Lady Death and Evil Ernie but come on! Combat, Vogue, Diehard and Bedrock, it’s like the Rob just grabbed these names from a magazine he found in a Doctor’s waiting room.
- Eyes, why don’t people have Eyes!?!: Liefeld receives a justifiable amount of abuse for his inability to draw feet and his failure at basic concepts and ratios in human anatomy buy why does he repeatedly draw faces with no eyes !?!
Final Verdict, should I read this book? Probably not but it’s not really hard to find. I don’t know many 100s of thousands of copies it sold but it was in the top 50 selling books for the year. An interesting oddity and historical artifact if you can find in a bargain bin otherwise don’t bother…