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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – Youngblood #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1992’s dual-cover (with trading cards!) for Youngblood #1…

Youngblood_1_dual_covers

Youngblood #1 (published April 1992) – story by Rob Liefeld and Hank Kanalz, art by Liefeld

It would be irresponsible for me to write a column about gimmicky comic books from the 1990s without spending some time looking back on the dawn of the “Image Age.” The founding of Image Comics in 1992 was a watershed moment for the comic book industry as it brought major artistic talent together (like Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Liefeld) and advocated a new business model for creators, who could now publish material about new characters without giving up their copyrights for their creations. Image was enormously successful out of the gate and the popularity of many of the publishing house’s #1 issues helped fuel the comic book collecting speculator boom of the early 1990s.

Youngblood #1 was Image’s flagship title, built around Liefeld, a controversial artist for Marvel who helped create some of the modern era’s most popular characters such as Deadpool and Cable, and the new mutant team X-Force. As for a marketing gimmick, the comic sported two covers (I referred to this format in my He Said She Said comics article a few weeks ago as a “flip book” and was corrected by some of you, but I still haven’t found a better description of the two covers/two stories set-up). Youngblood #1 also had special trading cards inside each of the two covers.

But what about inside the comic (beyond trading cards, of course)?

I could probably generate about a dozen columns worth of material about Liefeld, his impact on comics, and all of his personality faults that have turned him into an industry pariah ever since he burst onto the scene more than 20 years ago, but I’m sure that’s a bit of “been there, done that” for the bulk of you out there. Needless to say, Youngblood #1 is not a very good comic book, but rather than just sit back and make fun of Liefeld’s inability to draw feet or some of his sloppy illustrations, let me attempt to scratch a bit deeper beneath the surface and explain why this issue is an industry punchline two decades later.

Looking at the comic from a sheer production perspective, the flip book/two cover format is incredibly confusing as it gives no indication if there’s a designated “A” story or “B” story. I understand that Liefeld has broken up the two stories so they spotlight two separate teams of heroes, the Youngblood “home” team and an “away” team (which was a clear rip-off of X-Men’s “red” and “blue” teams) but when I pick up a comic, I want some clarity as to how I should go about attacking it. For instance, in the Joey Buttafuoco/Amy Fisher comic I reviewed, the two cover format works because I can pick whose story I want to read firsta; Buttafuoco or Fisher’s. With Captain America #400, the new story was clearly marked with one cover, and the reprint of Avengers #4 was on the other side. With Youngblood I started with the Shaft story (the guy who looks like a red-suited version of Hawkeye) and wondered if I read out of sequence since there was no real introduction of the Youngblood concept. When I flipped it to the other side, I realized that the “away” team story didn’t have much of an origin either and I was pretty much S.O.L. if I was looking for an actual set-up for this brand new comic book series.

Meanwhile, the dialogue, which was reportedly scripted by Kanalz, features such literary gems as “You nail ‘em, and we jail ‘em!” and “No I.D. No pulse. No answers.”

Youngblood1_01

In fact, this comic is littered with clumsy and awkward dialogue. There isn’t a single spread where I didn’t have to re-read a panel or two to try and decipher this gobbley-gook. Did a character really just say “Y’know, this doesn’t become such a mighty man as yourself. Stop your groveling!”? I read that sentence at least three times before I made sense of it. That’s just poor use of syntax. Additionally, people don’t speak like that.
The characters as a whole are completely unoriginal and uninteresting. Oddly enough, Youngblood was originally conceived as a New Teen Titans title by Liefeld, but I found myself counting all the Marvel rip-offs. Without trying too hard I came up with Thing (Bedrock), Deadpool (Diehard), Pyro (Psi-Fire) and Wolverine (Cougar).

Youngblood1_04

One thing I did find interesting about the Youngblood concept is the idea that these superheroes exist in a society where they are treated like rock stars and other major celebrities. That’s certainly a departure from the DC model where the heroes are revered more as Gods, and the Marvel model of outcasts and misfits. But similar to my complaint about the lack of any origin, the text of the comic doesn’t provide me with any of this information. Instead, I have to cull from the Vogue character’s trading card that because of her celebrity, she was able to launch a successful cosmetics empire.

And given that this is an early 1990s Liefeld comic, I have to take a couple of potshots at the art. In this specific comic, Liefeld works best in tight quarters. His opening montage of Shaft getting attacked in the mall actually has some style to it. The action is mostly tightly plotted, there are no embarrassingly large bazooka guns used, and the Shaft character is not some grotesquely large, disproportionate meathead.

Youngblood1_02

But the art is also inconsistent and is downright embarrassing in some of the group shots. In one panel, Bedrock looks like just your average, muscle bound rock-man, and then in this one group shot, he’s about as wide as a football field. Unless he’s taking some kind of Hany Pym/Giant Man serum without it being mentioned (which wouldn’t surprise me given some of the other details left out of this comic) I don’t understand where this transformation takes place.

Youngblood1_03

If I could spotlight the Youngblood #1’s biggest overall flaw I would say that the comic desperately needed an editor who would have sat down with Liefeld and asked him some straightforward questions: what is this comic about? Who are these people? What is the story you’re trying to tell? Then he would circle all of the rushed/phoned-in art with red ink and told him to do it again and do it right this time. Say what you will about how the “Big Two” treated their creators, especially artists, but even the bad DC and Marvel comics had an air or professionalism about them. Youngblood #1 lacks plot, cohesion and consistency, and from a quality standpoint, it’s embarrassing how Image used this as its flagship title.

Verdict: Gimmick

43 Comments

The Crazed Spruce

July 3, 2013 at 6:13 am

I dunno, that sniper’s gun looks pretty goofy to me.

And y’gotta love how nobody in the last panel actually LOOKS at each other when they’re speaking. (Okay, maybe “love” isn’t the right word, exactly. More like, “laugh at derisively”. Same diff.)

The real tragedy of Youngblood #1 was that it sold well enough to force the Big Two into following suit. Soon enough, you had McFarlane clones such as Stephen Platt being given Marvel assignments to counteract Spawn sales or sadder still, getting industry veterans such as Herb Trimpe to pencil the Fantastic Four in Liefeld’s inimitable “style” along with his token scantily-clad, gravity defining femmes and steroid-pumped bruisers.

It all brought comics down to a level where once the investors had left and fanboys grown beyond puberty, companies such as Marvel were left facing bankruptcy. DC dug itself into a similar hole, but the critical and commercial success of their Vertigo line, coupled with neo-mainstream DCU books such as Starman and Hitman allowed DC to maintain a greater market share by century’s end, along with a modicum of creative dignity.

The whole thing about Trimpe being “forced” to draw in the Image style is an urban legend that never seems to go away. But on this very site Cronin has debunked this myth. Trimpe himself has come out decades later to say that he was never pressured or asked to draw in the Image style, it was something he took upon himself in an effort to be more hip.

it’s not embarassing, it was norm at this particular time of Image. Each of the first waves of Image books and characters were X-Men rip-offs (except Spawn, and partially Savage Dragon, but it’s another topic).

Nowadays we can praise Image for what it become, but one mustn’t forget the cancerous beginnings that led to downfall of comic books in general that are still visible today.

Mike Loughlin

July 3, 2013 at 7:39 am

The sheer terribleness of Youngblood 1 aside, I remember being impressed by the colors and paper stock. I had only read Marvel & DC at the time, and their comics wren’t as vibrant as the early Image books.

I liked this comic when it came out. I also liked “Rump Shaker” by Wreckz-N-Effect. At least one of them retains its campy charm. No one busts out Youngblood 1 at parties.

Rollo Tomassi

July 3, 2013 at 8:19 am

GAAAH! Awful.

I’ve heard of people having bad LSD and ‘Nam flashbacks. I can only assume being reminded of Youngblood has the same effect on Comic Nerds.

And you, Sir, are a trooper for deliberately rereading it. Truly courageous.

Captain Haddock

July 3, 2013 at 8:56 am

“Yabba-dabba-doom!” may be my favorite line of dialogue in any comic I ever read.

@ T: Didn’t Trimpe himself also say that he considers that his best work, or something along the lines?

Yeah, I’m wondering what possible appeal these characters have on first glance, beyond “breakaway former Marvel creator.” Most major comics characters have an iconically distinct appearance or story. Redundant characters tend not to do nearly as well. What I’m seeing from those two covers are a Hawkeye ripoff, a guy with a big gun (Marvel was full of those in the 90s), a guy with muscles (the Hulk or the Thing already have that schtick), and a couple of other colorfully costumed characters who don’t appear to have anything distinct about them. Really, out of the entire initial batch of Image comics characters, I think that Spawn is the only one who looks *visually* interesting enough that a casual reader might want to check it out.

Witchblade might be a later addition to that, but only on the basis that she’s basically naked with some metal-organic crap conveniently covering her naughty bits.

If I recall correctly, Youngblood #1 sold over a million copies, and out sold anything released by Marvel and DC that month. I remember hearing about it on MTV News!
The book itself, as Brian points, is just not very good. I remember reading it and being annoyed that NOTHING happened. The characters walked around and posed. The action scenes might have been stretched out to a full page, but it was only a few panels per page as shown in the above example. I think that was in the only action in BOTH stories.
Rob Liefield had some talent, but he needed a strong inker and editor. I remember liking his art on the Hawk and Dove mini-series. His desire for too much muscle actually fit Hawk. There was a crazy energy to his style. Some of his art issues might have been fixed by inker and co-writer Karl Kesel.
I recently re-read the Amazing Spider-Man Annual 23 which featured the Atlantis Attacks tie in and Sh-Hulk versus the Abomination. His art is not bad in the issue (and if you bought the Atlantis Attacks Omnibus, its better drawn than some of the other issues included.) The problem I had with it is the cover showed She-Hulk versus the Abomination and it barely happens in the issue. Three panels per page showing She-Hulk show up and get knocked unconscous. I wanted a fight!
I stopped collecting comics around the time Youngblood came out and didn’t return until the Kurt Busiek / George Perez run on The Avengers. Rumor has it I got to miss a lot of the bad stuff.

The Crazed Spruce, the sniper’s gun looks goofy, and it looks different in every panel, but it isn’t an “embarrassingly large bazooka gun” like Chapel sports in the last image.

But yes, I hadn’t even noticed that Liefeld drew the same gun in three completely different ways in three panels on the same page. I was more caught by how weird it looked in the first panel, and that if it had any recoil, then it was going to smack the sniper in the face the moment he fired.

are those supposed to be speed lines in the background? Because they look like a TV experiencing technical difficulties.

One thing that always bothered me about this issue was the lettering. It always looked to me like something you’d see in a cartoony indie comic, not a superhero comic. Good lettering can do nothing but add to the art, while bad lettering can ruin even a good page – it is, after all, what you have to look at to read the story.

I think those are supposed to be “I’m too lazy to draw a background” lines. In previous panels he just went with solid colours, so the lines are actually an increase in ambition.

Did anybody buy #2? I didn’t. I bought #1 but….

Well, it’s official then–superhero comics has its “Plan 9 From Outer Space”, and this is it. I wonder if Liefeld has ever commented on the “Ed Wood” comparisons he gets.

@Acer … I always thought “Ishtar” was the better analogy…

Pure garbage.

Still better than any of the other early Image titles (except maybe Spawn) though.

@Purple Hayes–

I have nothing relevant to add here, except that I remember getting that Annual at a 7-11 on a hot summer night following a Phillies game. I even remember getting red Slurpee stains on the cover. For some reason, I think of that Annual as a great comic (even in spite of Liefeld’s art), probably because it was loaded with stories (the main one, a faithful retelling of Spidey’s origin, and I forget what else). As an 11-year old kid, that felt like–at the time–a great book to fold in half and stick in your back pocket.

Yeah, this comic was pretty much a train wreck at the beginning. I believe Liefeld admitted that #1 was rushed, he wanted to be the first out of the gate and unfortunately it shows. The modern Joe Casey rewrite of this ish is definitely better, the script makes more sense and the book is no longer spliced & flipped. I remember at the time (8 or 9 years old) thinking that the flip idea was cool because you got an ‘extra’ cover instead of the standard toy or video game ad.

@kevin “Did anybody buy #2?”
The series gets better after #1 (how could it not?) but the confusing flip format remains for a few more issues. I seem to remember it picking up a little steam around #4 or #5 but make no mistake, this book was never intended to be anything more than an abstract, escapist, action figure generator….so if you’re looking for something deeper, I’d go elsewhere. The most memorable storyline in that particular run (for me) comes toward the end, which explored the Spawn/Chapel relationship. I haven’t read it in years but I remember that being one of my favorite stories at the time. #2 features the first appearance of Prophet in a very Captain America-like situation, but I can forgive that til the day I die considering how much I’m enjoying the modern Brandon Graham helmed Prophet.

As far as the backgrounds go, while I do understand those who see it as lazy or unimaginative, there is another school of thought for those of us who enjoy the wacky, unhinged nature of Rob’s work. Check out these blog posts by mercurialblonde, she’s examining Liefeld’s X-Force comics but some of it could apply to his early Youngblood stuff as well.

http://mercurialblonde.wordpress.com/2013/05/13/my-love-for-rob-liefeld-x-force-comics-part-i-of-iii-color-in-x-force-4/

http://mercurialblonde.wordpress.com/2013/05/14/rob-liefeld-x-force-love-in-part-ii-of-iii-page-layouts/

http://mercurialblonde.wordpress.com/2013/05/22/rob-liefeldx-force-comics-love-in-part-iii-decoration-in-comics/

@Adam @Purple Hayes

It’s funny, I recently spotlighted that annual on my blog because all I remember from it is the “top 30 Spider-Man villains list” which as a young kid, was probably the best introduction to Spidey’s Rogues Gallery I could ever imagine. Years later, I still never associated Liefeld with it because I was more interested in the “B” stories, but as I’m thinking about it right now, the art in that issue is so clearly his style.

Anyway, that top 30 list was awesome, albeit arguable.

@Mark Ginocchio @Adam

When Amazing Spider-Man Annual 23 came out, I remember enjoying it a lot and I wasn’t even that big of a Spider-Man fan. I do remember the Spidey’s 30 Greatest Villains drawn by Fred Hembeck I believe. I think Doctor Doom was last on the list since he might have killed Peter’s parents.
It was just my re-reading of the annual recently that I noticed the “big fight” between She-Hulk and Abomination just doesn’t happen. Maybe a few punches, but no where near the throwdown that the John Byrne cover leads you to believe.
I remember I was a She-Hulk fan at the time and thought it was odd that she didn’t get a tie-in annual since she had her own series or even better treatment in the crossover itself. Sadly, She-Hulk has always been mistreated in crossovers even if she did have her own title.

“How’d >gurgle< no arrows"

Best last words of all time, I think we can all agree.

Oh, heck, no wonder we all liked that annual so much: it was 64 pages with multiple stories! http://www.samruby.com/AmazingSpider-ManA/amazing_spiderman_ann23.htm

Seriously, that’s a lot of meat on a comic by today’s standards. For some reason, that seems like a better value than a lot of what we normally get these days. I bet the main “Atlantis Attacks” story didn’t take 5 minutes to read, either.

Oddly, one of my favorite books in the last few years was the Jeph Loeb “King Size Hulk” annual a few years ago. No, Loeb’s Hulk didn’ t have a lot of depth to it, but it had three short stories and three full-length reprints in it. I think that’s why I found it so satisfying. Marvel, take note: it’s content, not art or controversy, that makes a book good.

I read some of the pages that Joe Casey re-scripted and the story isn’t too shabby. The art still sucks, but Casey made the dialogue coherent and interesting.

Even back when this comic came out I knew it was shit so I didn’t buy it. However I did buy a number of Image titles at the time that I thought, and still do think, we’re good such as Savage Dragon, Pitt, the Maxx, and Spawn (that’s aged badly but it was good back in the day.) I also remember getting Stormwatch and a Wildcards/ Youngblood spin-off featuring Die-Hard (a Captain America archetype NOT a Deadpool as suggested) which I also enjoyed at the time. The there were the occasional forays into Freak Force, Vanguard, Hellstorm (loved Jae Lee back in the day) and Cyberforce and a Cyberforce spin-off series that I can’t remember. It was an interesting two years of my comic collecting life that I look back on fondly. Not everything out from Image was bad. Saying so is just jumping on the bandwagon so many love to do. As are the inevitable “weren’t 90s comics shit?” statements I read every so often that are also ignorant. While Youngblood is the epitome of what was wrong with 90s comics, I still believe there were a lot more good than bad comics back then.

Agh. The dialogue. The tentacled hair. The anatomy from hell.

Liefeld was a _lot_ better penciling Hawk & Dove in the late 1980s.

Although I suppose he could make a halfway descent penciler for a nightmarish chaos dimension in a Michael Moorcock story.

I just want to know–if the story inside the comic was so terrible, then how come it sold so many copies? What could possibly have driven people to lap them up?

@Acer It’s all speculators… it was the flagship comic for a brand new publisher consisting of all of Marvel’s most popular artists. Why are there so many copies of Superman #75 still in polybags 2o years later? Because people bought this comic with the understanding that they would make money on it one day.

@Mark
Oh right–forgot. See, THIS is one of the many reasons we need time travel–go back in time, convince those fools to take their money somewhere else, and then we wouldn’t have had the crash.

Well, at least we can rest easy knowing that Sonichu has eclipsed this for the single worst comic ever.

I will shamefully admit I was one of those who was buying all the early Image stuff just because.
That didn’t last long as soon I was only buying WildCATS and The Maxx. Damn do I miss The Maxx.

The only good Youngblood book is the Strikefile Chapel story that Jae Lee drew back when he was still channeling Simon Bisley. Chapel was a freaky crazy-looking bastard there. The flipside of that had a Liefeld Diehard story that introduced a middle-aged Glory with giant porn boobs. Both were ridiculous but at least the Chapel one looked sick!!

*thinking about it, the second half of The Maxx -from #20 to the end- was pretty awful, as Sam Kieth didn’t seem to care about doing that anymore and the story suffered hard for it. But those first 19 issues are still one of my favorite runs of the 90s!

Will E. Dynamite

July 4, 2013 at 11:31 am

Sheesh,had Rob actually a Black person’s hair beforehand? What the whole & entire hell?

Andrew Collins

July 4, 2013 at 12:06 pm

I vaguely remember there being a lot of finger pointing after this issue came out between Kanalz and Liefeld over who was more to blame for how bad it turned out…

So, after reading this I had to go through my collection because I thought I had this, but turns out I had Youngblood Strikefile #2, which was also a flip book. Granted it wasn’t a clumsy as a read since it was two different stories (in line with Marvel Comics Presents), but I instantly remembered that I was torn on which side to have showing when I put it in the bag.

I also remembered that this was the first ever Image comic I owned, and when I got it I thought I had hit paydirt because a) at time people were going ape shit over anything with that damn Image logo and b) in my town Image and Valiant comics sold out faster since they were bought in such small numbers at the local comic book store (couldn’t find them in grocery stores since they weren’t Code approved). I think I remember telling my mom something that I might be able to pay part of college with the $3 comic I just bought. It was 93, and I was a naive 13 year old who was trying to justify buying one comic that was the same price as two DC comics that I usually bought.

@Jimmy “the inevitable “weren’t 90s comics shit?” statements I read every so often that are also ignorant”

I think you’re confusing “ignorant” with “true” here. I have a buddy who also loves to defend his bad taste. “Come on man, mid/late 80’s & 90’s comics weren’t that bad……..” You’re right, Power Pack & Strikeforce Morituri were awesome.

No Axis I’m not. The Spectre was an excellent 90’s book, as was Sandman Mystery Theatre, Busiek’s Avengers run, Sandman, Hellblazer, Doom Patrol, Preacher, Astro City, Flash, Transmetropolitan, Kingdom Come, Marvels, Morrison’s JLA, Starman, The Maxx, Bone, Peter David’s Hulk, Gotham Knights, Legend of the Dark Knight, Avengers Forever, JSA, Hawkman, Hitman, Roger Stern’s Superman etc etc.

Those are just a few I can think of off the top of my head. So ignorance is a factor in your and other’s opinions regarding comics from the 90s because you’re largely judging that period from books you likely bought back then, like Youngblood and Spawn, and the Image-like garbage, instead of the books I’ve listed and the other gems I’ve neglected to remember.

Youngblood was garbage, but they have since brought the title back with the guy who wrote Black Swan doing the writing and its pretty good

@ Mark Ginocchio:

‘Ishtar’ is fucking hilarious. Youngblood is no ‘Ishtar’.

I still remember when this came out. It was so hot but, in the end, was just a hot turd. The art is awful and the costumes just as bad. I can’t even comment on the story or plots (were there any?). I like IMAGE and glad this happened. The company is far beyond this garbage and puts out some good stuff.

WHAAT!! Why does everyone seem to think that Spawn was the best of the original Image titles? It was good, but not better than Savage Dragon or The Maxx. Visually, Spawn was just McFarlane’s Spider-man in his black costume with a cape.

Savage Dragon was Robert Kirkman’s personal favorite book (yes, Kirkman- the biggest writer in the industry), and it’s the style that he tried to emulate. I can only shake my head when people talk about how “90’s Image books suck- except for Spawn.”

So let’s give credit where credit is due: despite a few boring characters, there was some solid winners in this group. Sure, Shaft and Cougar are clearly Hawkeye and Wolverine, but at least the entire team wasn’t a one-for-one rip of the X-Men (as Cyber Force and WildC.A.T.S. were).

1. For starters, we have FOUR non-white characters (and questionably five, I don’t know if Cougar was intended to be white). Chappel ended up being a solid character, having a history with Spawn/Al Simmons.

2. On a similar note: Sentinel was a black leader. The industry hasn’t seen that since Storm (and correct me if I’m wrong, but the big two didn’t seen it again until Luke Cage did his thing a decade later).

2. Photon is visually a unique character with an interesting power set.

3. Vogue was a cool character concept, and combined with the face paint ended up being pretty original (face paint wasn’t a popular Marvel/DC costume element at the time).

4. Riptide was water-bending decades before Avatar the Last Airbender made the concept cool. She rides waves like Iceman rides Ice Slides, but that’s where the similarities end.

5. Die Hard, while having a mask similar to Deadpool (another Liefeld creation), is a different character all together. Cool origin.

6. While Bad Rock is made of rock like Thing, the similarities end there. He’s an arrogant kid, who makes for a very interesting character.

7. Psi-fire is a telekenetic, pyro-technie telepath with no conscience. It’s an interesting spin on some of the x-characters who have this same generic power-set.

8. Brahma (the big guy in white) is visually super-boring, but it was pretty standard in the 90’s to have a “Strong Guy” on every super-team (Colossus, Strong Guy, Warpath, Impact, Maul, Thing, etc.).

[…] comic cannot stand on its own. As Mark Ginocchio recently argued over at Comic Book Resources, the story is garbage. And the art, well it’s Liefeld. And while Liefeld is consistently able […]

A few thoughts:

1. Since YOUNGBLOOD initially began as a NEW TEEN TITANS spinoff book, Shaft is more an updated Speedy than a Hawkeye rip-off. Had the deal with DC not fallen through, the character we recognize as Shaft might’ve been called Arsenal instead.

2. While Cougar definitely had some “Wolverine-esque” qualities, the costume he wore was damn near identical to one worn by Timber Wolf during the early Levitz/Giffen years on LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES.

3. Photon looked a male version of the Giffen-designed LEGION character Comet Queen.

4. Guessing here, but I’m pretty sure the Kombat character was originally intended to be a renegade warrior from the Khund race seen in DC’s LEGION and other DCU books.

5. Alan Moore’s run on YOUNGBLOOD (with Steve Skroce’s art) was a blast to read! So sad it was only 2-3 issues.

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