A good way to feel old is when round number anniversaries come up, one that took me by surprise is that it’s 30 years since Image Comics started up. It puts the length of my collecting into perspective as the long time it has been. Whilst away, I had some thoughts on Image and its place in comics history and here they are.
In the late 1980’s/early 1990’s the art of Marvel’s superstar pencillers, X-title pencillers Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee along with Spider-Man artist Todd McFarlane, had just done on 3 issue 1s a total in excess of 15,000,000 in sales for 3 comics. This was a big win for Marvel and this meant those 3 guys, plus other rising stars Whilce Portacio and Erik Larsen as well as more experienced hands like Jim Valentino and Mark Silvestri were the stars of the day and could do no wrong. Marvel had pretty much given them the keys to the car already. Jim Lee was now the driving creative force in the X- Men helping end Chris Claremont’s 17 year genre defining run, just after and Rob Liefeld had seen off Louise Simonson from New Mutants either by throwing her off, or helping her jump, now giving Liefeld plotting duties on the comic as well. There’s a lot of he said/she said in these tales. Whilst I am more a writer fan than an art fan, it’s a visual medium and you have to go where the money is and in that 1988-1991 period, the art was the selling point. Marvel followed the money and gave more power to the artists. Whether it was right or not, isn’t the point, it is what happened. I was there as a fan for some of this, seeing art pushed over word, style stressed over substance, but the artists were the ones making the money and then one day, they were gone.
Imagine that, 7 of the biggest names in your industry leaving the place that made their names? Pick your all-time favourite sports team line up, now take a 3rd of them away and what does that look like? Imagine the cast of the MCU, then take away all the most recognisable …… okay, that’s a bad example.
Now I am not really going to go into the history of this industry changing event, why the 7 left or any of that. That was told in the documentary The Image Revolution, which is available on Amazon Prime Video, or at least that’s where I saw it. But what I did want to do is check out that first batch of titles from the founding members of Image Comics. What were they? What was going on? If anything what is that IP doing now?
First amongst that group was Rob Liefeld and Youngblood.
Youngblood #1 was released April 17, 1992 from Rob’s Extreme Studios.
Someone had to go first and it was always going to be Rob Liefeld. He was the youngest of the group and had an energetic quality that 30 years later is still very much present. I have vacillated wildly in regards to my opinion of Liefeld. Starting from a negative viewpoint, but time has a way of changing your perceptions and I realise now that much of his brash and cheeky mentality as shown is a mix of media distortion and age, think about yourself in your early 20’s, do you have it together? Or you the best version of yourself? But on the positive side, he was a character idea factory and he had an energy and style that was unlike any of his peers. Yes you could argue a lack of artistic skill, the man couldn’t really draw eyes, or feet, or backgrounds most of the time, but here’s the thing as an artist in the comic industry he had to make his product fun, accessible to as wide an audience as possible and to an extent disposable.
Consider it like a blockbuster movie on the printed page and you get the idea. In that regard he’s the Michael Bay of comics. You may feel it lacks artistic merit, but you can’t deny their popularity or the associated success. X-Force #1 sold in excess of 5,000,000 and lets be honest, most of us bought one.
But, I imagine you ask, what about the comic?
Youngblood is a government sponsored super-team that has official merchandise and licensing deals. Rather than the urban vigilante with a secret identity, these characters are more like movie stars and top-level athletes in their popularity and profile. This is red carpet super-heroes long before Robert Downey Jnr told the movie going world “I am Iron Man.” Structurally Youngblood comprises of a home and an away team, the home team doing super-hero stuff on US soil and the away team being used as a quasi-military team sent across the world. The home team consisting of team leader Shaft and comprised of Chapel, Vogue, Combat, Die Hard and Bedrock. The away team being team leader Sentinel joined by Cougar, Brahma, Riptide, Photon and Psifire.
As well as the celebrity angle, this was a more militarised super team, all grim faces and guns, many of those mentioned were armed to one extent or another. It’s fast paced, full of energy and new concept ideas. It’s not Citizen Kane, but it was different to what the big two comic companies were doing. Another difference was the flip book format. Issue 1 was split into a action packed tale of the away team in a thinly veiled Iraq analogue being invaded by the team and on the flip side was the home team gathering to face the returning threat of the Four. The away side is light on characterisation, but chock-full of action, but the home team story was the opposite, being more about the heroes being summoned from their lives and having little action.
So is it good?
Well it’s okay and that carried along for this first run of Youngblood comics. Full of energy, new characters and well not much else really. This was really good foundation that never really got fleshed out enough for there to be any longevity.
What happened after?
Well after the initial run petered out, there were several restarts in different creator owned imprints like Maximum and Awesome and little else, but the series came back a few years ago to Image comics and it was a really fun little series with a new generation of Youngblood characters trying to redeem the name and concept. If this IP made a proper comeback, or moved to a new medium, I think it could really have something to say about celebrity culture and accountability. Like many of Rob Liefeld’s ideas, it’s a great idea waiting to be fully realised.
That’s pretty much all I have at that point. I wonder what everyone else’s memories and thoughts about Youngblood are.
Next time: The man behind the 3,000,000 selling Spider-Man #1 takes us into the hell-born world of Spawn.