Monday, May 09, 2005

Indy Comic Week - Youngblood

Up until now I've just been reviewing and discussing Marvel and DC comics. Sure there have been a little Indy reviews here and there, but this week I want to really focus on the indy scene.

While Marvel and DC put out kick ass comics every week so do the independent publishers, namely Image Comics. The thing I like about these books is that the characters can go through major changes, something that seems to be frowned upon at Marvel and DC. I can understand how they want to make their icons stable, but for good stories you just have to shake things up once in a while. Indy comics do that and then some.

I'll start off with my favorite indy comic from my childhood that is still being published today..Youngblood.

Way back in 1992 a group of young artists decided to throw there hats in together and start up their own comic company. Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino and Whilce Portacio broke new ground in the comic book industry by started Image Comics. Image Comics was all about creator rights, if you created a character you owned that character. This practice is still being done at the company today even though only two of the original founders are still there.

The first horse out of the gate was Youngblood #1 by Rob Liefeld. It sold like crazy and if there was any doubt about how successful Image was going to be, it was erased that day.

Youngblood is a government sponsored super hero team. The title focuses on two teams, a home team and an away team. The home team was like the FBI, operating only on American soil. The away team was like the CIA operating in other countries. All members of Youngblood are superhumans in one way or another. Some were born with the NuGene, giving them extraordinary powers. Others underwent experiments and other unnatural means to get there powers. Some rely on high tech, weaponry and equipment.

They answer to a man named Alexander Graves who is the director of Youngblood. He seems like a real evil bastard and with good reason. He and a man called Keever run the team and decide which missions to send their personnel on.

The Youngblood rosters include –

Home Team – Shaft, Badrock, Vogue, Diehard, Chapel and Combat.
Away Team – Sentinel, Riptide, Cougar, Photon, Psifire and Brahma

Later on Dutch and Masada join the Away Team. Knightsabre and Troll join the Home Team. Psilence and Task also join the program later on.

It has come out recently that Youngblood evolved from a Teen Titans pitch that Rob Liefeld originally brought to DC. They weren’t interested so he took that idea and merged it with the existing Youngblood characters he created in his youth. I think this is pretty cool because during the 90’s Youngblood was easily more popular than the comic it was somewhat based on.

For the first five issues the teams had to join forces to confront a threat in Germany. A powerful foe had surfaced and both teams were needed to control the situation. During this storyline the popular character John Prophet made his first appearance. As did his friend Jackson Kirby and the Berzerkers. Not too mention one of the most bad ass villains in the Extreme Universe, Darkthornn.

At the conclusion of this storyline it was easy to see that Youngblood was a very popular comic. So the guys at Extreme decided to do not one, but two titles focusing on Youngblood. The mini series became an ongoing series and told the tales of the home team. While the away team got there own book called Team Youngblood. Rob Liefeld handled art on Youngblood, while newcomer Chap Yaep was handed the reigns to Team Youngblood.

Subsequently another series was started called Youngblood: Strike File which told solo stories featuring the most popular characters from each team. These were done by various artists and writers. Rob Liefeld and then newcomer Jae Lee did the first three issues.

Two specials were also put out around this time called Youngblood Battle Zone #1 and #2. These gave short bios on the characters and their weapons. Pretty much all of the artists at Extreme had their hands in on these projects.

The ongoing Youngblood series went on for 10 issues before it was relaunched under the same name. Roger Cruz took over on art duties on this title while Rob Liefeld still did variant covers and helped with the plot. At this point in time Rob’s studio “Extreme” was putting out nearly a dozen comics. These included: Brigade, Bloodstrike, Supreme, Prophet, New Men, Bloodpool, Team Youngblood, Youngblood: Strikefile. So you can imagine that time was of the essence for him and Eric Stephenson.

After #10 of the new series the comic was moved to Maximum Press. Rob Liefeld’s new publishing company. Long story short, Rob and the other Image partners weren’t getting a long so they parted ways. Here at Maximum Press the first Youngblood issue published was #14. I think I remember hearing it had something to do with Image claiming it still had the rights to publish #11,#12 and #13. You don’t miss out on any story though. #14 is really #11.

It was around this time that Rob’s successful business venture with Alan Moore had really paid off. Rob hired Alan Moore to revamp Supreme and it was highly successful. So he allowed him to revamp the entire Extreme Universe.

He started up a new company called Awesome Entertainment. This company continued to publish Supreme and also the Judgement Day mini series which served to revamp the entire Extreme line of books. After Judgement Day, Youngblood started off with a new #1.

This was a different take on Youngblood. Instead of being funded by the government it was funded by an old super hero named Waxy Doyle. The only remaining member was Shaft and he led a group of teenage heroes who did more vigilante type crime fighting.

Sadly after the major investor in Awesome Entertainment pulled out the series concluded at issue 2. However, if you can track down Awesome Adventures #1 you can read what would have been #3. This is very sad because I read Alan Moore’s Awesome Universe Handbook and he had the first year already plotted out. It was very promising.

For a long while Youngblood laid dormant in comic limbo. Rob Liefeld was busy with his family and pursuing Hollywood projects. That is until he decided to revive the Youngblood franchise.

He launched three mini series recently through a new company called Arcade Comics.

The first one I will talk about is Youngblood Genesis. It was originally entitled Youngblood: Year One years ago. It has plots written by Kurt Busiek and scripted by newcomer Brandon Thomas. With artwork by the Liefeld-discovered Walker Brothers. It takes before even Youngblood #0 and given the time this was written it was way ahead of its time. There are two issues in this mini series and they tie into Extreme Continuity very nicely. It even has the original New Men in it.

The next mini that came out is by Rob Liefeld himself. He hired red hot writer Mark Millar (The Authority, Ultimates) to write the end of Youngblood. Kind of like a Dark Knight Returns for the franchise. What he got was Youngblood: Bloodsport, a kind of super hero version of Battle Royale. The first issue has been out for over a year and a half and fans are anxiously awaiting the second issue this month. It is easily Rob’s best outing as a storyteller to date.

The most recent series released is a maxiseries called Youngblood: Imperial. It is illustrated by Extreme Studios alumnus Marat Mychaels. It takes place sometime after the events of Awesome Adventures #1. It deals with the United States and China racing each other to conquer the world with super powered beings. Robert Kirkman wrote the first issue, but had to bow out before #2 was written. Since then Fabian Nicieza has taken over writing duties and a second issue is due out this summer.

Of course you can read the lost Youngblood tale – Youngblood: Century at Rob Liefeld’s official website. It is plotted by Rob, scripted by Eric Stephenson and illustrated by Keron Grant. It takes place 1000 years into the future and ties into the Extreme 3000 storyline that went on back in Youngblood Volume 2.

As you can see this series has been through many revamps to the say the least. In my opinion each incarnation was well done with great art and once Moore came onboard we got some really good stories. The Busiek plotted Genesis was really good and really gives us some background info on Alexander Graves.

To new readers who don’t want to track down a lot of Extreme Continuity, don’t. It should be noted that each of the new mini’s (Genesis, Bloodsport and Imperial) stand on their own two feet. I would highly recommend all three. Some of us longtime fans have noticed little nods to the past, but nothing from the past (save Genesis since it is the past..) drives the story. In both Bloodsport and Imperial they are looking towards the future not the past.

If you are looking for some violent super heroes who have no problems putting an end to the lives of the bad guys, these titles are for you. The latest mini series have all A-listers working on them and we are sure to get some good stories out of them.

For more information on Youngblood I recommend pursuing the following links.

Rob Liefeld's Official Website
Rob Liefeld's Message Board@HeroRealm
Youngblood Online
Extreme Genesis


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