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Year of the Artist, Day 194: Rob Liefeld, Part 3 – X-Force #4

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Every day this year, I will be examining the artwork on a single comic book story. Today’s artist is Rob Liefeld, and the issue is X-Force #4, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated November 1991. Enjoy!

After New Mutants ended, Marvel created X-Force, a new title just for Liefeld, reflecting the bold new X-TREEEEEEM!!!!! Nineties, and although Liefeld didn’t work on the book for long before taking off to form Image, his imprint remained all over it and so many other comics of the decade (and even into the new millennium). But while he did work on the book, we got some glorious stuff, including the famous (notorious?) sideways issue, which is the third part of a story crossing over with Adjectiveless Spider-Man in which the World Trade Center blows up. Yeah.

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This is the first page of the comic. I love that Fabian Nicieza and Liefeld don’t even care about recapping – “pick it up as you go along,” they order us, as back then, readers didn’t need their hand held to figure out that X-Force and Spider-Man are the good guys and the Juggernaut is the bad guy! This page, though – man. Warpath (Rob Schmidt’s head just exploded), Feral, and Shatterstar are hanging out with Spidey, and Liefeld really has some fun with them. James Proudstar has a relatively normal-sized head, but when you place it in proportion to his wide, wide shoulders, it looks a lot smaller than it is. Liefeld gives him those gargantuan shoulder pads, which are absolutely ridiculous. Feral has the Bride of Frankenstein hair, but otherwise, she’s drawn fairly well. Shatterstar has muscles on top of muscles, especially in his legs (what’s up with that?), while Spider-Man is actually not badly drawn, even with that long, thin foot. It’s the details, of course, that make this weird. Warpath’s arm is wider that Feral’s body, while his fist is as big as the heads of the characters. Shatterstar’s face guard almost blocks his vision. Little things like that make the art odder, but the frustrating thing about this is that we can see that Liefeld, in some places, knows what he’s doing. Feral is inked very well, with the tufts on her fur standing out very nicely and Liefeld using that fur to make her face look more, well, feral. But Liefeld, following other inkers, uses thin lines too much on Shatterstar’s outfit, making it look baggier than it probably is – if we compare it to Warpath’s more skin-tight outfit, we can see that had Liefeld eased up a bit on the inking, Shatterstar would look better. Brian Murray colored this comic, and we can see some hints of what lies farther into the issue, as he uses odd yellow, green, and blue to light Shatterstar’s costume – it’s a strange, almost nauseating scheme, and it sets a strange tone for the rest of the issue.

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I wanted to focus on this drawing of Shatterstar, because it’s such a Liefeldian treat. Let’s ignore Warpath in the lower left – he’s stunning, too, but let’s keep our eyes on Shatterstar. The pose is very weird – Warpath is throwing him (which brings up the entire perspective thing, but we won’t get into that here) in a “fastball special” kind of way, so it makes some sense that he would try to ball himself up, but once James lets him fly, wouldn’t he extend his legs a bit? Plus, he’s very flexible, as he manages to get his head almost between his own legs, and it appears that his torso has shortened because his knees are so far out in front of his head (again, the perspective is a bit wonky). His thighs are gigantic, which we saw when Liefeld drew Hawk a few days ago, but this is more exaggerated, which is the way his art was going as he was given more freedom. Of course, we get the famous Liefeld feet, but lots of artists draw feet poorly, and I’m not going to denigrate Liefeld all that much on this count, because it’s just not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. I’m not terribly sure what’s going on with the Bondian hole at the “back” of the panel with the radiating lines – if it’s to provide perspective and depth, it doesn’t do the job very well, because Shatterstar and Warpath still appear to be on the same plane, even though James is technically “behind” Shatterstar. What I did want to focus on is Shatterstar’s hands. As we saw with Cable yesterday, Liefeld was slowly going to a weird place with his hands, as often they seemed not to be holding whatever it is Liefeld drew near the hands. I find it interesting because if Liefeld is using models for his characters, where is he finding people who look like this? If he’s drawing from a model of, say, a hand, why can’t he copy a hand holding something that looks like a sword hilt instead of drawing the swords around hands that don’t appear to be gripping anything? If we look closely at Shatterstar’s hands, it appears that he’s clenching them in fists, with the thumbs clearly visible. The hilts of the swords appear to be gripped between the index fingers and the middle fingers, which doesn’t make sense at all. If Liefeld was going to look at a fist and copy that, fair enough. But presumably he knows that to grip the sword, the hilt has to be between the thumb and the curled fingers, not somehow coming down between the index and middle finger. I get that he wanted Shatterstar to be pointing the swords downward to balance the drawing a bit, but couldn’t he have altered the hands a little to get that effect?

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Liefeld likes to exaggerate, which isn’t a terrible thing, but when you put it in conjunction with everything else, odd things start to pile up. In Panel 1, he gives Cable that ridiculous armor, but it’s not necessarily the armor, it’s the fact that the calves of the armor are bowed outward so wildly and the fact that Cable looks uncomfortable in it and the fact that his gun looks like a tube of aluminum foil and the fact that Murray colors him purple and orange and the fact that Liefeld chooses to cross-hatch haphazardly on the front of the armor. The overall effect is strange, and it gets stranger on the right side of the page. Liefeld over-hatches, turning both Black Tom and Cable into creepy desiccated versions of people, as he etches along Cable’s cheekbone so severely that the lower half of his face falls inward. The reasons behind this frenzy of inking are mysterious – Liefeld obviously knew what he was doing before this, but maybe his confidence failed him and he was trying to cover things up? Was he under a deadline crunch and needed to ink quickly and with little regard for what he was doing? It’s probably just that he thought it looked good and people kept buying the book. Why change if everyone thinks you’re great?

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Siryn manages to get Juggernaut’s helmet off, and we get this sequence. As usual, Liefeld pays extra attention to characters’ hair (Liefeld’s always had a good head of hair, so it’s not like a bald guy expressing his sadness through his work) – Siryn’s lush mane splays out from her head, almost surrounding her face, while Shatterstar’s glorious ‘do is always stylin’ under Liefeld’s pencils and inks. His inking once again is tough to look at, as he gives Siryn a face of someone who has just smelled something awful (maybe Juggernaut wears a mask because his head stinks?) and Juggernaut himself, in keeping with the theme, looks emaciated thanks to the powerful inking lines on his cheeks. Liefeld has fixed Shatterstar’s grip, as we can see in Panel 3, so his drawing in the earlier example makes even less sense. Murray is still coloring the issue oddly, with the yellows and blue blazing around Shatterstar – I know they’re on top of the World Trade Center so nothing is blocking the sun, but the heavenly light in Panel 2 seems a bit much.

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The mystery continues, as Liefeld inks Juggernaut with so much cross-hatching that his face looks like it’s about to shatter, while the thicker lines make his cheeks jut outward unhealthily. This is Liefeld dragging comics kicking and screaming into the X-TREEEEM! Age, where nothing mattered except rage and inking lines. In Panel 2, Domino is holding another aluminum foil tube, while Liefeld has given up trying to make Shatterstar’s cape look like cloth and instead appends white tubes to his back. The speed lines in the back do nothing except give the reader vertigo, which was already happening thanks to Murray’s psychedelic use of oranges and reds in Panel 1 and his reliance on yellow, purple, and blue in Panel 2. I don’t know – there’s nothing more to be said about this sequence, I guess.

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Let’s finish with this panel of Cable, which is a good indicator of everything Liefeld was doing around this time, art-wise. The armor is gigantic, with Cable’s shoulder pads sticking out so far he probably can’t walk through a garage door. The sloppy inking on his face not only ages him but makes him look unhealthy, and I don’t know what those things sticking out from his armor underneath his chin are (I’m sure it was explained in another issue of X-Force, but I’m not going to look it up), but they almost give him a Fu Manchu mustache. His thighs are gargantuan, and he’s still holding a tube of aluminum foil. The cross-hatching is out of control, as Liefeld even cross-hatches what I assume are supposed to be plumes of smoke on either side of Cable? I don’t have any idea what those white spaces are, but they get inked just the same! Finally, Shatterstar is standing still, yet his beautiful, beautiful pony tail is standing upright on his head and waving in … the breeze? I mean, why give Shatterstar a pony tail if you’re not going to draw it all the time, even when it makes no sense, right? To complete the picture, Murray is now using pinks with the blues, because our eyes haven’t been assaulted enough.

It was about this time that I began getting off the Liefeld bandwagon – I bought some more issues of X-Force, but soon dropped the book, and I didn’t follow Liefeld over to Image. Even when he returned to Marvel, I stayed away from his work. It just wasn’t my cup of tea any longer. So I don’t have very much of his 1990s work, and tomorrow, I’ll show a story of his that I own almost by accident. But it’s a good example, because it’s from later in his career and he’s not inking it, so we’ll see if that reins him in a bit! Be sure to peruse the archives while you wait!

59 Comments

No.

Just…. no.

Holski: GAZE UPON IT!!!!! :)

MY EYES! ZE GOGGLES DO NOTHING!

I actually own this crossover in trade, preserved as a warning to future civilizations.

Not a single background to be seen. They must be fighting in some technicolor vacuum.

why!? he got paid to do this. with money. never doesn t boggle my mind

I have fun memories of buying this is issue and the crossover Spiderman issue. I also remember that after reading this issue, I also stopped liking Liefeld’s art. Part of it was comparing it to McFarland’s art in Spiderman and thinking it was so much better (hindsight has also changed my mind on that). Something else always bothered me about this issue that I hadn’t realized until today after reading your post and that’s the sickly feeling I got after reading this, much like one gets after eating at McDonald’s. As you put it, the colors are so offensive to the senses and Liefeld’s attempts at perspective are so vertigo inducing that I’m surprised they didn’t have to put a warning on the cover.

GAAAAHHH!!! Why do you hate us?!?

“…while Spider-Man is actually not badly drawn…”

Greg, I would’ve agreed with you back then. But looking over these pages, with a critical eye, Spidey’s shoulder & back muscles are just bugging me out. At least Spidey’s right side of the body is exaggerated (for depth, I’m sure, but it doesn’t work and it gives us gluteus righteus maximus), but I cannot get over that hunch-backed look that the shoulder/back muscles give him. It’s like has normal shoulders (in red webbing), then this huge muscle (in blue), then somewhat normal blue backing (with red spider) and red waist webbing waistband. What is with that huge muscle? A bad case of spider-bite? Ugh.

I bailed out after a few issues of X-Force (but I did try the first 2 issues of Youngblood and I think something in Heroes Reborn (or Return, whatever that Marvel experiment was called). And then never again.

I had a similar reaction to Whilce Portacio. I really enjoyed his art early on, but after a while, I stopped liking it, and after a few tries of this and that later on, gave up completely.

Nothing against the artists themselves – even this stuff is leaps and bounds beyond what I could even hope to dream of!

I meant to indicate that “all” of Spidey’s right side is exaggerated, I managed to leave that word out. It would’ve been much worse if parts of his right side were exaggerated and then different parts of his left side were larger. That’s where I was trying to go with that thought.

Nu-D: I warned you! :)

Andrei: I still think McFarlane is better than Liefeld, but he does have his own problems. If you think I’m not featuring McFarlane this year, you’ve got another thing coming!

turk: Come on – it’s so awesome! :)

David: I suppose I should have put “comparatively speaking.” I agree that Spider-Man has his problems, but if he’s the last thing we see on the page after the first three figures, it’s almost a relief!

Portacio is another interesting artist. I might have to write about him, although I’ll have to check to make sure I own a good cross-section of his work.

Two things about the first Cable panel above…

1 Cable looks like he has elephantiasis in his lower body.

2 Black Tom is behind him, saying “All that I have and MORE, Cable!” while holding his large stick near his crotch.

I seriously love looking at Liefeld’s art.

Neo-Con Professor Pyg

July 13, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Honestly, I kind of like this, and wouldn’t mind an issue or two or a good script drawn in this style. There is a beauty to excess, and I prefer it over the bland indistinguishable house-art of the 80s.

Neo-Con Professor Pyg

July 13, 2014 at 3:20 pm

There’s a beauty to excess.

X-Force, in retrospect, must now seem like one of the stupidest ideas ever conceived.

s!moN: Well, as I’ve noted, people kept buying his comics! Don’t blame him for taking the money! :)

kdu2814: Bwah-ha-ha!

Neo-Con Professor Pyg: I think the saving grace of Liefeld, for me, is his over-the-top exuberance. So I agree with you, but only to a point.

Acer: And yet they keep reviving it!

Jeff Nettleton

July 13, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Spider-Man’s not badly drawn? I’m sorry, no; I can’t accept that. I look at that panel and it is clear: Spidey’s body is a giant phallus! It looks like he was channeling Basil Wolverton. It’s just wrong in so many ways, except compared to the rest of those anatomical nightmares. All I can say is, “AAAAAAAAAAAUUUUUUUUGGGGGHhhhhhhhhhhh…………………………………!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

Deep breaths……

Even back then, I could not fathom how that was a popular book and things like Nexus and Grendel only had a cult following.

Now, McFarlane is/was a pretty good graphic designer; a lousy storyteller, but a great designer.

After this, Rob’s work degrades into the laughable. Someone once (in the pages of the Comic Buyer’s Guide) suggested a drinking game, using a typical Liefeld comic. Every time, the costume changes from panel to panel or page to page, you take a drink. If you want to really get hammered, you drink when parts of the body disappear. Even without that, you can get pretty plastered in about 5 pages.

Cable’s gun shrank! and why does his armor come with a nose picking attachment?

I guess this is where the early potential Liefeld showed was forever lost, in favor of his most obnoxious tics. Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story talks about the rock-star like fame and fortune Liefeld rode at the time, as well as the aggravation his scripters felt over his poor storytelling and inconsistent output.

“Does anyone have any idea how tired I am of all this gratuitous fighting?”

Not as tired as the readers, Warpath. ;)

Anyhoo, another common “Liefeldism” worth mentioning in that last panel: Cable’s aluminum foil tube isn’t even straight; it’s bending inwards. That’s something Rob seems to do quite a bit, which really doesn’t help things when he does his Colorforms weapons…

i ve gotta blame someone! at this point in his career its like he stopped tryin or went out of his way to get worse, i can t let it go

I’m not huge on backgrounds in comics but when their completely absent. wow.

Jeff: AAAARRRRRRGGGHHHHH! Now I can’t unsee that! :)

I’m pretty sure I heard of that drinking game before. I’ve never played it, which is probably for the best!

j: It’s best not to ask such questions!

Neil: Yeah, this was probably it. I would peg it as when he helped create Cable and Cable inexplicably became the most popular character in creation, but yeah, when Marvel created X-Force just for him, that probably did it.

Green Luthor: The irony is astonishing, isn’t it?

I hadn’t noticed the bending gun, but there it is. Liefeld’s disdain of traditional tools, even straight edges, is weirdly refreshing!

I promise everyone that the next artist is a good palette cleanser. I PROMISE!!!!

Neo-Con Prof: “There is a beauty to excess, and I prefer it over the bland indistinguishable house-art of the 80s.”

I think that must be what us crazy kids were all thinking back then. I distinctly remember being excited by McFarlane, Lee, Portacio and Liefeld at the beginning. After getting all worked up, I am sure I bought more than one copy of New Mutants 100 and X-Force #1, and I know I bought 10 copies of Spider-Man #1 – the most extra’s of any issue I’d ever bought (and have ever bought since). Whoops! It seemed like a breath of fresh air and there was a huge movement in super-star artists that you couldn’t help but want to be a part of. So along with Liefeld’s artistic excesses, I had spending excesses as well. Live and learn, I guess.

So much excess. What did happen in the 1990s?

Liefeld’s art was still tolerable on his X-Force run despite the growing flaws, it only went overboard into absurdly bad after the image launch. You can clearly see it over the first few issues of Youngblood.

The real offender here is the color hack job, must have been some good LSD they were smoking back then.
I’m sure if someone were to recolor everything properly it wouldn’t be nearly such an eyesore, and would diminish the effects of Liefeld’s weaknesses along with it..

And at least Liefeld was still producing dynamic and energetic stuff back then, which all quickly faded away as the 90s went on.

In the very last panel, can someone explain to me what exactly is holding Shatterstar’s sword?

It can’t be his arm, because it looks like it’s connected to his crotch.

He just keeps getting worse and worse.

My name is Liefeldius, Artist of Artists, look at my work ye nerdy and despair.

You know what I remember about this issue? Despite being a Spider-Man/X-Force crossover, Spidey gets knocked out of the comic around page 3 and doesn’t reappear until the end of the story. Over in the Spider-Man chapter, X-Force was all over the book. Here, nothing.

Was this the dawn of the era of disproportional drawing? It seems like before the 90s, characters like the Juggernaut were still superhumanly large, but “believably” so. Once Liefeld and McFarlane came along, it seems like characters such as Juggernaut or the Hulk were suddenly 20 feet tall with muscles the size of trucks.

@Adam, I would say Juggernaut had already grown to gargantuan proportions. Look at the battle with Dazzler in Uncanny #217. He’s already bigger than a Buick.

http://winterfell.blogs.com/.a/6a00e54ee394bf883300e553faf9858833-150wi

tom fitzpatrick

July 13, 2014 at 8:26 pm

I should point out that Liefeld lasted on the X-Force about as long as McFarlane lasted on Spider-Man, ironically both title were specifically created for both artists at the same time.

Then, they both left for IMAGE along with 5 other creators, which, I think was called the MARVEL EXODUS at the time.

I’m sure T.P. and/or Mr. Burgas knows more about this. :-)

OH DEAR GOD MAKE IT STOP!

Shoulder pads large enough to put the cast of Dynasty to shame! Perspectives that would even make a one-eyed man confused! More cross-hatchings than a knitting factory!

So much bad art, yet everyone was lining up to lick his taint and put him in Levi’s commercials! I lay most of the blame on Wizard, because they hyped the shit out of Rob like he was the next George Perez. The rest of the blame goes to those who failed to see that the Emperor had no clothes on (my 13 year old self included).

I admit it. When those X-Force issues came out I was eating them up. The grittiness of it, the crazy over-the-top excitement, the X-Tremeness of it (yeah, I went there). It’s only looking back at them now that I realize Marvel must have been putting something in the water because this wouldn’t fly today. I also can’t help but wonder how many of those pages looked awkward because Liefeld was swiping it from other sources?

Tom Fitzpatick: Todd McFarlane did 16 issues of adjective-less Spider-Man. The X-Force cross-over was his final issue before he left the title for the birth of his child (IIRC). Liefeld left X-Force as the artist with issue 9. #8 was largely drawn by Mike Mignola (and boy was that jarring). So Liefeld drew a total of eight complete issues and then plotted a handful more. It’s also worth noting that Spider-Man was launched a year before X-Force.

Grum: Man, I can’t believe I missed that. That’s what happens when the actual panel is smaller than what you see here – you miss crotch hands and such!

Adam: Yeah, that’s true. Maybe Liefeld just really didn’t want to draw Spider-Man!

Nu-D: Of course, that issue was Silvestri, so maybe those Image founders just really liked things HUGE!

Is it over the top? Extreeem? Sure is, but looking at it I can’t help enjoying this much more than most of the sterile art of today. Tons of artist draw digitally, using whatever programme to create detailed backgrounds and pose their figures. Problem is, it looks stiff, cold and not the least bit entertaining. I believe this is what people tend to often overlook, Liefeld and Co. were excessive, they have their weaknesses and shortcomings, but at the end of the day they delivered the goods and entertained us. They still do as we, twenty some years later, still discuss their work.

Neo-Con Prof: “There is a beauty to excess, and I prefer it over the bland indistinguishable house-art of the 80s.”

Curt Swan, John Byrne, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, John Buscema, Mike Zeck, Paul Neary, George Perez, Frank Miller, Dave Gibbons, Keith Giffen, Paul Gulacy, Walt Simonson, Marshal Rogers, Bernie Wrightson, Jerry Ordway, Alan Davis, Howard Chaykin, David Mazzuchelli, Michael Golden, Bob Layton, Arthur Adams, Brian Bolland, Jim Starlin, John Romita Jnr,

You prefer Liefeld to these house-artists from the 80′s? Really? Wow.

Even Al Milgrom is better than Liefeld and even he’s an acquired taste.

@Scooby –

I think you’re misinterpreting the phrase “house style”. That usually refers to a company’s default style. Like right now DC’s house style would probably/arguably be modeled after that guy who did Green Lantern with Geoff Johns, Ivan something or other I think it was.

But even this Dave Cockrum cover has Juggernaut’s thighs bigger around than Storm’s waist:

http://img4.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20070228204130/marveldatabase/images/4/4b/X-Men_Vol_1_102.jpg

And how about this Art Adams cover:

http://www.allsf.net/Images/SFbd/US/Classic%20X-Men%20010.jpg

What’s interesting, though, is that most of the very exaggerated (pre-Liefeld) images that I found googling around on this question are from covers; most of the interior art is more subdued.

Scooby just listed all the artists of the 80s basically. Who considers Simonson’s style house art?

Seems to me that there are two ways to define “house style.” (1) the generic “average” art style that was predominant, or (2) the art that came from the “house artists.” Scooby is using the latter definition, which is more objectively defined. I think most rely on the former definition, which is very subjective.

LouReedRichards

July 14, 2014 at 8:12 am

Of any of those I’d consider Sal Buscema and Al Milgrom to be closest to the Marvel house style (esp. Buscema) and while they may be bland a lot of the time, they at least concentrate their abilities on telling a comprehensible story first. They also turned their work in on time and by all accounts behaved like grown adults, not spoiled rockstars.

I’ll take their blandness any day compared to this mess.

A lot of people seem to be really fond of stating “we hated it, but c’mon we all bought it” I think that tends to overshadow the fact that a lot of older (and not even that much older, I was only 18 when this X-Force came out) fans were turned off from this style and it’s negative impact so much that they stopped reading comics or turned to the independents for relief.

I was initially excited by Liefeld’s art in Hawk and Dove and found it to be a nice energetic style, obviously in the vein of Art Adams. That excitement turned to dread over the course of the next year or so, and by the time the last of the New Mutants issues were coming out I had a hard time even understanding how he was still working.

I wasn’t reading comics back then, but it’s hard to imagine why this style of art was so popular. It’s terrible.

That being said, I admit to buying the X-Force Omnibus last year when it hit the overstock bins. It was about $25, and I was curious enough to bite. I still haven’t popped the plastic seal.

Punchmaster General

July 14, 2014 at 8:42 am

The Shatterstar panels also feature what is probably my favorite Liefeldism, which is his complete inability to convincingly draw swords. The blades and the hilts never properly line up, so it always looks the two parts have been haphazardly attached at bizarre, nonsensical angles.

Stephen Conway

July 14, 2014 at 8:43 am

Someone mentioned Portacio much earlier in the comments and I have to say his stuff around the time he was on X Factor was okay if excessive, but he got dreadful soon after.

The most recent thing of his I read was the couple issues of Journey Into Mystery he did with Gillen a couple years back. I assume Portacio only did rough layouts as it was reasonably good in a story telling sense but the consistency of the art, and the attention to detail was atrocious.

Ethan Shuster

July 14, 2014 at 9:54 am

Man, the earlier example of his art was so much better!

I was never a big fan of Rob Liefeld. But for some reason, when I was in high school and college, I followed his work on X-Force, as well as the first Youngblood miniseries. I think that back then as a reader I just did not have nearly enough of an understanding of the importance of anatomy, layouts, storytelling and backgrounds in artwork. Looking at these pics from X-Force #4 for the first time in almost two decades, I now am much more aware of the deficiencies in Liefeld’s work.

I definitely did notice his weaknesses as an artist once he co-founded Image, though. I only bought that first Youngblood miniseries out of curiosity, and stuck with it until the final issue just so I could find out how the darn story ended. After that I was done with Liefeld. I remember that a year or two after that I did buy an issue of Youngblood volume 2, only because it had a guest appearance by Spawn. And, oh wow, Liefeld’s work had just gone totally downhill by them. It was genuinely grotestque.

I’m sure you can all imagine how I felt in the mid-1990s when it was announced that he was going to be taking over Captain America, who at that time was my absolute favorite character. I must have been letting out a big “NOOOOOOOOOO!!!” a decade before Revenge of the Sith hit the big screen.

LouReedRichards

July 14, 2014 at 10:38 am

@Ben:

Yeah that whole Cap thing was a tremendous kick to the nuts wasn’t it?

I remember hearing from someone that Captain America had actually gotten good again. I dropped the title during the second half of Gruenwald’s run and was curious to see what was going on. I remember seeing an issue of the Waid/Garney run, being impressed and thinking I needed to start picking it up again. Only a month or two later they announced the “Heroes Reborn” concept and I was so bummed. It truly felt like the final nail in the coffin of mainstream comics (for me at least). I was so glad when that experiment went bust, it actually restored a bit of faith for me.

For me the worst single drawing from Liefeld was in the first issue of his Capt. America, maybe it was the splash page, anyway there’s a scene of Cap in action in World War II and the airplanes look like sweet potatoes with propellers on them, it was just the laziest drawing imaginable, all the money he had to have made on that project and he couldn’t even be bothered to try make them look even a little like airplanes. I’m not asking for a super precise drawing, but at least ACT like you give a damn. I saw that page when I flipped through it at the comic shop and felt so validated and reassured that this was in fact going to be a huge disaster.

I bought an near complete run of the book a few years ago and am actually a huge fan despite the awful art. Nicieza was doing a great job with his dialog, which often had some very subersive digs at the whole X-TREEEEEEEEM proto-Image style and managed to do some great character work. I was extremely happy when I got to the Greg Capullo issues.

Was really more of a McFarlane fan, but I do remember picking up New Mutants 100 and the following 9 issues of X-Force at the time, which were all Liefeld did, art wise, on the series (though only providing two pages for issue 8, comparatively, McFarlane was on Spider-Man til 16 with one fill-in, and Jim Lee was on X-Men til 11 ). I’m presently of the opinion that what Liefeld really managed to do was tap into the artistic aesthetics of the Nintendo generation. If you’ve ever seen the box art or promotional material for mid to late Eighties video games, they’re filled with frequently bizarre illustrations of teeth gritting “badass cyborg dudes” with odd looking sci-fi guns and strange armor like attire (none of which ever seemed to match the illustrative work within the games themselves of course). Liefeld essentially managed to deliver material in that same vein on a (semi) regular basis, but with the dial turned up. I knew guys who spent hours on end playing “Bionic Commando”, “Strider”, or “Contra” that LOVED his stuff.

I also definitely recall taking note of the coloring of this issue back then, as it (and a good deal of the coloring in the post Image boom for that matter) reminded me of the blacklight posters you’d see adorning the walls in the back of Spencer’s Gifts along with the lava lamps, bubble machines, mirror balls, magnetic toys, and various psychedelic electronic gadgetry that they carried there (back when it was only partly a cheap sex-toy shop rather than mostly a cheap sex-toy shop as it is now).

I was not a Liefeld fan, but rather a huge Jim Lee fan. I was an X-Men reader, but not New Mutants (partly because New Mutants only appeared sporadically on the spinner rack at the corner store, while X-Men was consistently delivered). Anyhow, I had to buy New Mutants for its role in the X-tinction Agenda, and by then they were hyping its cancellation and relaunch as X-Force, so I bought the last couple of issues. None of it really appealed to me, but I stuck it out through the first dozen or so X-Force issues (buying a couple of extras of #1 because they were an investment in my college fund). I wanted to drop X-Force pretty quickly, but it kept having crossovers with X-Men. I think I gave it up after #19; it was the last of the X-Line I started reading, and the first one I dropped.

I stuck it out with X-Men until the beginning of the Age of Apocalypse. At the time I thought the departure of Jim Lee was why I lost interest; in retrospect, it was the departure of Chris Claremont. I did stick around a lot longer because I liked the characters, but I really wasn’t that interested by then.

I followed Jim Lee over to Image, but not Rob Liefeld. I bought WildCATS, and Spawn, and CyberForce, but never bought any Youngblood. Not that I was particularly discerning about the art; I just wasn’t into the same stuff Rob Liefeld was. Guns and cyborgs interested me less than Jim Lee’s hot women did.

@Dalarsco: That was probably one of the key differences between X-Force and Youngblood. X-Force was scripted by Fabian Nicieza, a very talented writer in his own right, who was capable of bringing a certain amount of coherance and intelligence to Liefeld’s plots & art. Youngblood, on the other hand, was scripted by Liefeld himself, who was an even worse writer than he was artist, or by his friends and studio-mates, most of whom were definitely not as skilled as Nicieza. That said, Eric Stephenson did later write a few stories that I did enjoy.

I can thank the 90′s for teaching me that it’s OK to have an interrupted run of a title. I had been a staunch reader of most of the Spider-Man books and most of the X-books. I think I ended up switching to reading more DC books than ever during this time – just about anything Vertigo put out, and I liked the Valiant universe just fine. It just seemed like Marvel had hit a wall – a lot of their older talent had gone, and the new talent they were hiring wasn’t to my liking. I eventually made my way back after the Heroes Return/Reborn mess, with Busiek & Perez’s Avengers. Now that was more like it!

Just for the record, I did not make the comment about Scooby’s comment.

Jeff Nettleton

July 15, 2014 at 11:41 pm

@LouReedRichards
Probably the worst element of Liefeld’s Cap was that near-Nazi Eagle he put on his forehead. I know science wasn’t Rob’s forte (based on the Younglblood preview interview he did with Comic Scene Magazine, back in the early 90s) but it also looks like he was asleep in history class, too.

Rob’s writing and his concepts beg for a separate series of columns. I remember when Youngblood came out and he has Shaft throwing a ballpoint pen, upwards and impaling some guy in the throat. This was a character whose pin-up bio page said he was of normal human strength. However, he is able to through a blunt object with enough force, against the pull of gravity, and impale a person in the throat, piercing the windpipe! Makes Bullseye look like a sissy! Meanwhile, in the aforementioned Comic Scene interview, he remarked that his giant muscular stock character, Brahma, was based on an idea he got from friends who were triplets. He said he asked them how that happens and one of them said it was one egg that split into three (which is pretty rare beyond twins). He said he wondered what would happen if the egg didn’t split? I sat there reading it, thinking, “Normal fertilization and birth, stupid!” (Ok, it was mean; but I was shocked at his ignorance). He really thought that it was a giant ovum that would then lead to a large baby, that grew into a huge man. At no point did he understand that it’s not the size of the ovum, but the DNA encoding that determines the size of a person. In another paragraph he remarks how he wanted to quit school to try to break into comics; but, his parents wouldn’t let him. I can see how school wasn’t a priority.

Interestingly enough, a little while after that interview, I applied to the Kubert School, as I was leaving the US Navy, I already had a college degree; but was an incessant doodler, and wanted to try my hand at formal art training, with an eye towards comics, so I thought I’d start with one of the better schools available. During my interview, the instructor (not Joe Kubert), remarked that I had probably the best school transcript he had ever seen, as most applicants didn’t excel in academics, as they were busy drawing. Meanwhile, I stared at a Kubert painting of Tarzan, wrestling a crocodile, that was on the wall, behind the interviewer. I just glanced at it and my samples and got really depressed. In the end, I was accepted into the school, but circumstances prevented me from attending. So, I give props to Rob for carving out a career in comics, checkered though it may be. There are hundreds of guys behind him who didn’t get work, while he, right or wrong, got rich.

Jeff: That’s a neat story about the Kubert School. It’s interesting that kids might be drawing, which is great, but they should also pay attention in school, because you never know what you might learn! And as I’ve mentioned before, I don’t blame Liefeld very much, because people kept buying the work!

Jeff Nettleton

July 16, 2014 at 5:35 pm

That’s the thing about the Image guys. I hated their work with a passion. I was weaned on Neal Adams, Curt Swan, John Buscema, Gene Colan, and the like. As I got older, I gravitated to guys like Jim Starlin, Howard Chaykin, Paul Gulacy, P Craig Russell, George Perez John Byrne, and the like. That circle grew to include others; but, the unifying element was clean linework and solid draftsmanship and storytelling. Most of the Image guys excelled at pin-ups but their stories were a mess. And yet, they sold like hotcakes (helped greatly by speculators, but they didn’t keep those books going, after the initial launces and gimmick issues). I read the Comics Journal interview with McFarlane and expected them to tear him a new one; but, Todd admitted up front his shortcomings and accepted them and said he just did what he felt comfortable with and it seemed to pay off. I sat there stunned for moment, an just said, “Well, you can’t argue with that .” I think he would have fared better in the debate with Peter David had he stuck to those lines, instead of wasting money on NFL cheerleaders.

I was bummed out about not being able to go to the Kubert School; but, it was a great experience. I worked harder than I had before to create my submission portfolio and the results were pretty satisfying (until you compared them with a nearly 6 ft panting by a pro who had been working the industry since his teen years…)and I got some positive feedback from the interviewer. The fact that I got in at least gave my ego a nice rub. It also gave me a start to very pleasant conversations with Dave Dorman and Steve Leiber, both of whom attended the school.

Looking at the picture of Warpath throwing Shatterstar and the swords are just mysterious floating there, kind of… embedded in his fists, which are clearly not in the right position to actually grip those swords, I can’t help thinking that originally, Liefeld drew the hands like that so Shatterstar could hold the swords as you would expect them to fit those hands, pointed up. But then, for some reason, Liefeld changed his mind and wanted the swords pointed down, but instead of going to the trouble of fixing the hands, he just drew in the swords pointed in the direction he wanted them, and left it at that.

At least he’s very consistent in his choices.

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