DC NEAR-MISS: Youngblood #1 (1992)



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:


From Comic Book Legends Revealed #2 at Comics Should Be Good/CBR
… because Newsarama couldn’t be bothered to back-up their stuff

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.


Covers:



Cards:


Ain’t no ads!


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.

12 Comments

  1. Not only was Youngblood an unused pitch for the Teen Titans at DC, but the character of Cougar was an unused character designed for the New Mutants at Marvel. That ole Rob Liefeld is one hell of a recycler.

    I don't know if you ever noticed this but I have and it drives me crazy. The Team Pictures on the inside covers have Photon and Combat on the wrong teams. This was the first issue and even Rob didn't know who was on which team.

    • Continuity certainly wasn't "key", even this early on! Despite my "warm fuzzies" for these earliest Image books, I can't deny that so much of it is a comedy of errors! It's astonishing it took off like it did!

  2. A little less than a decade before the launch of YOUNGBLOOD, I was in an APA with Rob Liefeld and Hank Kanalz called TITAN TALK. I don't remember much about what Hank was submitting, but I imagine it was the same as most of us — commentary and reviews, mixed with some fanfiction and attempts at art. Rob was doing pin-ups. A lot of pin-ups. And when he ran out of major Teen Titans characters, he started on second, third and fourth stringers. But it wasn't until he went all in in redesigning them that the real fun began.

    Remember in TALES OF THE TEEN TITANS #50 when a bunch of guests at Donna Troy's wedding start talking about reforming Titans West? Like most of what was going on in that issue, the idea of reviving that team can be traced to what the members of TITAN TALK were into at that point. And the reason for this renewed interest in long forgotten and/or maligned characters was almost entirely due to the level of excitement Liefeld brought to his interpretations, many of which would go on to form the basis for members of Youngblood and X-Force.

    I really enjoyed reading this review. It's also bittersweet to reflect on the beginning of YOUNGBLOOD only months after the news broke that Liefeld no longer owns the rights to these characters. There are perfectly valid criticisms of Rob as an artist and a businessman, but I have no doubt that losing his creations must break his heart. It's hard to read the comments sections of news sites and see people find joy in that.

    • Man, I wish I would stumble across some of the old TTalk APAs! They sound like they'd be an awesome bit of ephemera. That's a really cool tidbit regarding TALES 50.

      I'm glad you dug the piece… I totally forgot about Liefeld losing the rights to the YOUNGBLOOD characters! I do remember A LOT of jerks on the news sites being overly giddy about that… just can't wrap my head around how or why these folks would find joy in Rob losing his creations! I have a sneaking suspicion most of 'em never heard of Rob until coming across one of those clickbait "40 worst drawings" lists that were popping up online within the past 10-15 years.

    • I actually did *not*… I would'a bet money that the deal fell through and it never happened! I do remember watching a few episodes of wildCATS… (WILDcats! wildCATS! WILDcats!) though!

    • I *do* remember HERO ILLUSTRATED talking up the Youngblood series like it was the second coming while in production! Felt like they'd talk about it every single issue (though, it was probably just once or twice)

  3. I was struck by the amateurish and inconsistent lettering on this book. I noticed there was no lettering credit. Did Rob Liefeld do his own lettering?

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