Youngblood #1 (April, 1992)
Creator, Plot, Pencils & Inks – Rob Liefeld
Dialogue – Hank Kanalz
Color Design – Brian Murray
Color Separations – Digital Chameleon
Editor – Yeah right…
Editor-in-Chief – Chris Ulm
An Image Comics title published by Malibu Comics
Cover Price: $2.50
So yeah… you might be thinking “What in the Hell is YOUNGBLOOD doing here?”… and, I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that. Ya see, something I’ve wanted to do here for awhile was take a look at some DC Comics “Near Misses”. Things that were pitched to DC Comics and, for whatever reason, were passed on.
Time being the premium it is, I haven’t had the spare few hours to attend to this would-be project. Well, a bout of insomnia fueled by cramming for grad school and excessive intake of green tea later… and, wouldn’tcha know it, I found those few hours.
This is a feature I hope to revisit with various titles down the line, however, I couldn’t offer up any actual schedule or timeline at this point. I was planning on starting with Steve Gerber’s Void Indigo, which came out through Marvel’s creator-owned Epic Imprint, and was originally intended as a new take on Hawkman… buuuut, I figured Youngblood might be a bit “lighter”. We’ll get to Void though, don’tcha worry about that.
Now before getting down to it, you might be asking: “Chris, you handsome idiot… are you really starting another ‘project’? You haven’t finished the last one!”. Well, I’m kinda using this as a way of “vamping” while I try and track down the elusive New Talent Showcase #4… and maybe, just maybe… I’m doing whatever I can to avoid hopping back into Wasteland. We’ll get there though!
So, what’s the deal with Youngblood? How was the Image Comics launch book a DC Comics “near-miss”? Well, I’m going to assume that this is nothing new or novel to many of the folks reading this… and, heck, I’m sure I’ve referenced it a time or two here as well, but Youngblood was originally a 1991 pitch for a new Teen Titans series! From an interview with Newsarama (which has long-since been unfindable on their site, probably because it’s not a click-bait Top Ten list), Rob would say:
We’re going to take a look at this issue… and, to be honest, we’re going to have a little fun with it. Now, I know Youngblood #1 has been reviewed and discussed tons of times already, likely by folks with more talent and charisma than yours truly… but, whattayagonnado? As always, we work with what we’re given. We’re going to see if this would’a made a better Titans-type book in ye old 1991/1992 than what we actually wound up getting. Though, admittedly, that ain’t exactly a high bar, is it?
Before hopping in: I wanna make it clear from the get-go, that, while I’ll be poking fun… this isn’t intended to be a slam piece. I don’t know Rob Liefeld personally (or even passively), however, by all accounts he’s a heck of a guy… with a real love and passion for comic books, which is more than we can say for a lotta people working “in the biz” anymore.
I’ll do y’all a favor and spare ya my “Rob Leefield, maaaaan” story… though, if you’re interested, and just gotta hear it again, lemme know!
UPDATE (March 21, 2020): Just found this little “snippet” I made of the Leefield bit back in the long ago:
Let’s do it!
We open with Shaft (Jeff) and his girlfriend Shelly out shopping during lunch hour at some mall in Washington, D.C., and it would appear, right out the gate that their word balloons might just be aimed at the wrong people… gotta say, that might be the perfect way to launch the Image Universe, don’t you think? Shaft laments the fact that his job comes with so much paperwork… and his sadness is visible in his black soul-less eyeholes! Worth noting, Shelly here is an Assistant D.A. Suddenly mall security is alerted to… um, a… er… running… black man? It’s here that Shaft decides to take matters
into his own hands and tackles the young man on the escalator. Our man proclaims that ‘tis the season for giving, not stealing… even though it doesn’t appear to be Christmastime.
Turns out this was all a ploy by “the real threat”! Ya see, another fella with Liefeldian broccoli floret hair appears on an
upper level and has his sights set on Shaft. Shaft, an expert archer… though we wouldn’t know that by this point, notes that he doesn’t have his usual arsenal of weaponry… and he’s going to have to improvise. Here be his immortal line, “No arrows. This pen will have to do.”
And so, Shaft throws a ballpoint pen at the would-be sniper… who is perhaps even more confused than we are at this point. The sniper falls from the upper level and lands on the edge of a mall fountain… with his head submerged… and his feet off panel. Shaft is shocked… SHOCKED at what just went down… okay, not so much. Shaft closes his dead eyes and holds his left hand out… which is bent in such a way that it couldn’t possibly be attached to his arm… and somehow knows that his would-be assailant has no ID nor a pulse. For all we know, “ID and Pulse-Scanning” might be his super-power.
Within SECONDS, the media is swarming… seriously cameras, microphones that look like tiny tinfoil wrapped burritos… Shaft is none-too-pleased, although… I mean, dude just killed a guy in front of a crowd. Also, there was that little “racial profiling” dealie on the escalator.
Michael Gibson, Ace reporter of SNN… which, we’re going to assume stands for “Shaft News Network”… offers Shaft a burrito… er, holds a microphone to Shaft’s face and provides us with a bit of exposition… apparently, Youngblood (which if not for the title of this comic, I don’t think we’d know just what he was talking about) are currently overseas dealing with “the Crisis”. Shaft isn’t ready to make a statement, but starts giving one anyway… that is, until he… by the way his body is contorted… has to use the bathroom, like really bad. He tells Mike to “Call the office” and runs off… his lower body melding
into a mass of speed-lines and hash-marks.
We shift scenes to a suburban Baltimore Home… this must be Yancy Street because it’s the home of the Thing! Okay, okay… it’s Badrock Bedrock. Anyhoo… Bedrock is eating what appears to be green slime from an oversized bowl. A meal lovingly prepared by his mother… ya see, despite his gargantuan rocky exterior, inside Bedrock beats the heart of young boy Thomas John McCall!. His Youngblood eepBeeper goes off, and he off to HQ… but not before finishing his milk.
We shift again to what looks like a 1990’s version of Han Solo’s carbonite chamber (which may or may not be constructed out of LEGO bricks)… inside it is a more patriotic-looking Deadpool. In case you were unaware, Rob created Deadpool. Without even opening his eyes… he knows he’s needed. This is Diehard, not that his introduction would bother, ya know, introducing him…
Now… we meet Chapel. He is in bed… laying like a bad-ass, with a lady slumbering at his side. His eepbeeper goes off, and so he sits up. He is quite naked… and huge. The bed he is sitting on might as well be the size of a kitchen sponge. He tells da broad to beat it, and says he might call her later… no promises though. Ice cold, Chapel m’man.
In the very next panel, Chapel is in his full gear… with a skull painted on his face and a Mark-69 Liefeldian firearm. The
team heads off to assemble at their Washington DC HQ, and we meet Vogue and Photon. Shaft is overly snippy with both for being “late”. Worth noting that this is like six-hours after he jammed out of the food court, so something tells me time wasn’t exactly “of the essence” here.
The Youngblood team are informed that… there’s a “request for assistance coming in”. I wanna remind you that Shaft hightailed it back to HQ SIX HOURS AGO, he must be a precog! The tight-shirted tech lady proclaims that the threat is regarding Strongarm and Gage… of “The Four”. Even though, that’s only two. Worth noting that according to Vogue, they already put the other two of them away… not that we saw… or care about that. And, again… it’s pretty decent of half of the four to wait the SIX HOURS it takes for Youngblood to assemble before going off on their reign of terror. Shaft lets out the
Youngblood cheer of “Move it!” and we’re off to the races.
We meet up with the baddies as they attempt to break into an armored car… while a synchronized dance troupe performs behind them. Now, Strong Arm is basically X-Force villain Forearm… only without the two extra arms, also, without the pupils. Gage is a younger Cable-looking guy armed to the (gritted) teeth. They call out to their teammates, who are on board the rig. They open the door and….
Ho boy… would you get a load’a these two. Here we have here an off-brand Hawkeye cross-bred with Wolverine with arthritis in his right hand and a blond woman dressed in golden plates that is clearly from a future when we will have evolved beyond the need for feet.
No sooner do they break out than Youngblood arrives on the scene. Die:Hard makes like an old action figure and bends in half… but like where his butt would be his lap… in mid-air… as he, I dunno… slams his groin into Strongarm’s face? Die*Hard claims to have been waiting for this day… and proclaims that “this time” Strong Arm won’t be as lucky. We haven’t the foggiest idea as to what this might be referring to… and, honestly, I doubt Hank and Rob do either.
This is followed by a Liefeldian money shot… Chapel is popping a wheelie on a motorcycle, Vogue is lunging forward… and Shaft and Bedrock are standing still. Yet they’re all in the same plane! For such an “actiony” panel, there is ZERO sense of movement here. Worth noting, the synchronized dancers in the background are still holding their position… maybe it’s an exhibit of living art. Big ups to them for all that core-strength! Annnnnnd, this is where the story ends. No closure, no cliffhanger… not even a damned “To be Continued” caption.
The next page just has a mail-away coupon to join the Rob Liefeld Fan Club. Over/Under on how many of these “quarterly
newsletters” actually got mailed out?
You might think we’re done here… buuuuuuut, we ain’t. Ya see, this bugger’s a flip-book! That story we just looked at featured the Youngblood HOME team. If we flip this ish over, we get to read a story featuring the Youngblood AWAY Team. They must be the ones who wear the colored-jerseys. Here are the team lineups:
We open on the Shaft News Network as our creative-team attempts to evoke some Frank Miller-esque storytelling. We’ve got a situation (a “Crisis”, even) in the middle east, the brash mustachioed dictator… ahem, Hassan Kussein… is attempting to
forcibly bring together various territories under what he refers to as a “Holy Unification”. The President, who I’m assuming is supposed to be George H.W. Bush… though, who could tell from this page… is sending in a specialized task force in response…
And, ho boy did he… what follows might just be the ugliest two-page spread ever put to paper. It feels like we’re shooting fish in a barrel here, and honestly… I feel kinda “cheap” pointing a lot of this out… but, c’mahhhhn. Here, the team has leapt headfirst from a helicopter…except for Combat, who is somehow squatting in mid-air… or possibly balanced precariously on the border of the panel beneath him.
The Youngblood team is falling… over the next several panels… while having conversations! They finally land, and we see that Combat must be at least 15-feet tall… either that or Cougar is well under 3-foot. We get a close-up on Coug’s face, where he proclaims that one of the baddies was “too rare” for his taste… which implies, at least to me, that he ate the guy. Does
he usually eat human flesh? And, if so… if he eats the human flesh of a living specimen, shouldn’t he expect it to be a little on the “rare” side?
Sentinel chimes in and proclaims that the “rareness” might be due to the fact that the baddie in questions wasn’t armored? The hell is he talking about? What in the hell does armor have to do with eating rare human meat? Did I skip a page here? I feel like I might have!
We shift to the rest of the B-Team… Brahma, Riptide and Psi-Fire. Riptide causes a tidal wave to crash on the terrorists. They’re in the desert, by the way… unless she used her “water ducts” here, I haven’t the foggiest idea how she made this happen.
You might be asking what the hell a “water duct” is right now… and, I wouldn’t blame you one bit. Well, here’s a snippet from the YOUNGBLOOD screenplay… written by Rob, dated August 22, 2016.
|The word you’re looking for is “tear”
The team heads in the direction of their “target”… which is pretty much a dump surrounded by tanks. As they approach they are shocked, heh, to find that the house is surrounded by an energy field that zaps them good. Psi-Fire rattles off some absolute nonsense about… well, I haven’t the foggiest, to be honest. Stuff that would sound good in an action flick, but makes no sense whatsoever.
Suddenly the team is no longer affected by the synapses disrupting field… and a fight is on. Psi-Fire closes his eyes (I think) and monologues about his EXTREME abilities… like he could’ve “taken out” the baddies from the states… but wanted to do it PERSONALLY. Ya know, adding the possibility of civilian casualties, property damage, and personal safety make it all the more sweet.
Combat gets punched in the face by a shapeless robot, knocking off his ridiculous Magneto-Galactus helmet (and changing the colors of his costume). He is revealed to be… well, Cable… with a lion-like mane of hair that almost completely surrounds his head.
After kayoing the giant shapeless robot… Cougar talks Combat off the precipice of committing moider, reminding him that the shapeless glob of a robot… er, man… is just a grunt, and not “Katella”. Who or What is Katella? Who knows…
Meanwhile, Psi-Fire is standing before Saddam… er, Hassam… and tells him that he actually “admires” what the despot has done with this “backwards country”. Then informs him that his country pays him more. Which… uh, okay then. Fair play.
He then causes Hussein/Kussein’s head to explode… while proclaiming that he enjoys this part of the job… and in fact, would even do it for free, totally negating his prior statement about chasin’ them dolla-dollas.
In the wake of the head-splody death, the remaining members of Youngblood wake up… so, maybe some of them were downed by the magical electric ray of synaptic doom? Anyhoo, they are none too pleased by Psi-Fire’s actions… but rather than get upset, we get some “Well, there he goes again… what ARE we gonna do with you?” type of talk.
The issue (finally) ends, with the front cover of US Today™ proclaiming that Kussein’s reign of terror ended in a suicide. Kussein’s photo looks as though they caught him napping… really, nobody has eyes in this book! The US Today page
also drops a hint at the next Liefeld project Brigade as well as a half-hearted dig at Marvel Comics.
Okay, so… whatta we think about Youngblood? What can I say, that’s hasn’t already been said a thousand times?
Not a whole heckuva lot.
We’re not going to spend this section of the piece judging the quality of the art. You can Google for lazy slam pieces til the cows come home if you’d like to see some of that. The fact of the matter is, this is a book from my seminal years in comics fandom, and as such, I have perhaps a different appreciation for it than fans from the “nowadays”. Sure, I can poke fun at it, and point out some of the wonkiness… but, I can’t lie and tell ya that a part of me doesn’t actually dig it.
If you were a (pre)teen at the time when this came out… you very well might have a irrational soft-spot for it, warts and all. I can’t deny that this was a very exciting time to be part of the hobby… and Rob’s art was a really big part of that. I’ll always have an appreciation for it… and for him. I will say… a lot of these characters are very reminiscent of other characters Rob had worked on and/or had a hand in creating. That was one of the bigger criticisms hurled toward Rob at the time… and one that he’ll clap-back at in interviews (a couple of which I’ve included below).
As far as the story goes? C’mon… according to Diamond, this issue had a print run of 305k copies. Let’s say… what, 5-10% of the sales actually resulted in someone daring to read the thing instead of bagging, boarding, and socking it away to pay off their kids’ (and grandkids’) college education? People weren’t buying this for the story…
… That said, however, with each of my revisits to Youngblood #1 (and there’ve been a few over the years), I’m always a bit surprised that the story’s not as bad as I remembered it being! I understand, that’s not exactly a ringing endorsement… and might be more of an indictment on my own tastes and recollections.
I find it pretty interesting that Rob’s Titans pitch reportedly involved the team, led by Speedy, working with the government. The fact that this pitch was passed on… but still sorta came to pass… is kinda weird, right?
We took a look at the New Titans #0 Zero Hour tie-in awhile back. In it, Speedy and the Gang are reporting to Sarge Steel and the United States government. Gotta wonder if they’d have still taken that tack if Rob hadn’t made his pitch?
So let’s wrap this up with a question. Are we better off with Youngblood… or should this have been a new-look Teen Titans? Well, despite the Titans books of the day being… pretty bad, I’ve still gotta say, I’m glad Rob went his own way with it, otherwise we never would have gotten a look at his 7″ tall and fully poseable Shaft. Ahem.
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Including a few interviews with Rob Liefeld (and a bit about Hank Kanalz) from 1992. It’s mostly Rob dealing with clap-backs on the arguably derivative nature of his character design. Since we’re unlikely to ever discuss Youngblood here again (though, never say never), I figure this is as good a time as any to make this as “all-inclusive” as possible.
From Inside Comics #1 (June, 1992):
From Wizard: The Guide to Comics #10 (June, 1992):
More from Wizard Re: Hank Kanalz… including a nod to the Blue Trinity Bonus Book we’ve already discussed here!
Finally (for now), from that same ish of Wiz, The Origins of Youngblood (without any mention of the Titans):
This piece will probably be more “living and breathing” than many here as I’ll likely add bits and pieces of Youngblood ephemera as I come across them in the vast clutter I call a collection.