Sunday, March 1, 2009

Whither Youngblood?

Okay, I think this has to be one of the most cursed titles in comics history. The beginnings of this series are very well-known. Creator Rob Liefeld joined up with the other hottest artists being published in comics at the time (the dreaded early 90s), and formed Image Comics, where they published over-drawn comics with little to no plot, that seemed to introduce a constant stream of new characters and came out on a highly irregular schedule. The books were all small ankles, large breasts, lots of pouches and pockets, and lack of understanding of anatomy. But they sold really well. I'll admit that I got caught up in it all for a while, until I realized that they generally sucked, and I dropped them. I think Youngblood was one of the first to go.

Much has been written about Liefeld's personality clashes with the other Image creators, and his decamping to run his own company, Awesome (or was it Extreme? Wait, I think it was both). Anyway, he tried to bring Youngblood back, and this time he did it with Alan Moore. The comics were good, but then stopped being published. The same thing happened when he got Mark Millar on board to write. So, with the best writers in comics working on his derivative, run of the mill characters, things still weren't able to work. (He also had Steve Skroce drawing the book for a while - it was fantastic).

So, you could basically hear the internet groan when he announced that Youngblood was coming back to Image in 2008 for Volume 4 (which Image calls Volume 3 on their website). This time around, the writing was by Joe Casey, and the art by Derec Donovan. And the big difference was that this time, the book was good, and came out for more than two issues. It didn't follow the promised monthly schedule (it is still Youngblood), but it came out regularly enough that I felt it was worth buying.

This time around, Casey decided to play with our current celebrity-based culture, and place the Youngblood team into a government-sponsored reality TV show, where many of their battles would be scripted and planned. The team members, being actual heroes with experience saving the world, balked at this, and set out on their own. Their producers promptly replaced them with a new team, so the show could go on. From that point, the book followed both teams. Casey made good use of the Televillain as an antagonist to further comment on the cult of celebrity. Guest appearances were made by people such as Oprah Winfrey and Don King.

It was clear from reading the book that Casey had a long storyline in mind when he started writing this series. The reality TV plot was continuing, with a showdown planned featuring Youngblood's opposite bad-guy team. The new character of Scion was introduced, along with the notion that her father, Spacehunter, was coming to destroy the world. As well, the characters were slowly being developed, with some nice work on Badrock and Doc Rocket. It's not to the quality of Casey's writing on Wildcats 3.0, but it's still pretty decent. Donovan's art was a little bit cartoony, and certain things looked odd (Shaft's on-again off-again cod-piece for example), but it reminded me of Skroce's work on the title, and I liked it.

The series looked like it was good to last for a while, and I was getting ready to add it to my pull list, having finally decided that I was going to stick with it. And then Rob Liefeld had to get involved again.

Issue 8 had the showdown with the Televillain, and ended with Spacehunter showing up on Earth. The last page of the story said "Youngblood's greatest challenge begins next issue", under a picture of the menacing Spacehunter (such a bad name).

But then, when you flip the book over, you get a Rob Liefeld written and drawn short story featuring the newest and most over-used comics gimmick of 2009, Barack Obama. In this short story, Obama reviews his new Youngblood team, featuring Shaft, a miraculously healed Badrock, Die Hard (having returned to his earlier look), and some other characters that have not been a part of this current volume at all. None of this story mentions the current plotline, and appears to be setting things up for a new, Liefeld-created, version of the team. To confirm this, the new issue of Preview's solicitation text talks about some new threat to the First Family that Youngblood must combat.

So it would seem that the curse strikes again, and Liefeld is once more killing off any good that might come from his poor creations. I don't know what sales have been like on this version of Youngblood, but I also don't think that Liefeld's name is the draw that it used to be. I also don't think that Obama-mania is going to be enough to sustain a regular comic - especially when he's not immediately recognizable as Obama, since Liefeld is not one to be able to draw people (especially people without pockets and pouches). It's too bad - I was enjoying this series. I predict that it is now going to become unreadable, incomprehensible, and will be at least six months late every issue.

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