You haven't seen a fight until you've seen family members go at it, and Rob Liefeld is taking that to the extreme as he brings back two of his 1990s creator-owned series, Bloodstrike and Brigade.
On July 8, Image Comics debuts both a new Bloodstrike series and a special Brigade #0. The two team books are lead by warring brothers, John and Cabbot Stone, with Liefeld promises a more mature, bloody, and in his words "raunchier" style of comic from him as he revives the teams with older characters like Bloodwulf as well as new ones like Tragedy Ann.
In a new interview, Liefeld opens up with Newsarama about how Brandon Graham inspired these new books and about building up a more shared universe between his creator-owned characters. The creator also explains how artistic "homages" - the practice he says he was "shamed" for in the past - has now been embraced by the comic book industry and has become commonplace.
Newsarama: Rob, this summer you’re bringing back two of your creator-owned superhero team books – Bloodstrike and Brigade. What brought you to bringing them back?
Rob Liefeld: These are my babies and I intended to get back to them much earlier than this but after doing what amounted to writing and drawing two full comics a month from 2010 to 2013 with my work on Deadpool, Deadpool Corps, The Infinite, Hawk and Dove, Deathstroke, Hawkman and Grifter. I went into a reclusive period and started incubating ideas and concepts for my Extreme catalogue.
Watching people like Brandon Graham, Erik Larsen and Joe Keatinge produce stories for my characters was a revelation... Like, "why are you doing work for hire when others are working on characters you own?" Bloodstrike and Brigade is me re-focusing my focus!
Nrama: So you’re beginning in July with Bloodstrike #1 and a free Brigade #0 to boot. What led you to tie them together, and do the latter one free?
Liefeld: Well, the books have been tied together for twenty years as they each feature teams led by rival brothers, John and Cabbot Stone. Bloodstrike and Brigade launched their regular series with a storyline called “Blood Brothers” and this continues that theme. The recent revival from Tim Seeley featured the connection between the brothers. They will always be connected.
Nrama: Let’s dig into Bloodstrike first– it was created back in the 1990s with a unique premise with re-animated soldiers being called back into duty. What’s your premise with the new series? And who’s a part of it?
Liefeld: The premise is the same as the original with Project:Born Again re-animating a select group of elite soldiers for extreme black ops and the focus is on a new recruit that is having some growing pains with his role within the program. Cabbot is worn out by the endless regeneration process; he's been a slave to its rhythm for too long and it's affecting his commitment. However there are new threats that are present and tearing at the fabric of the program. Our new recruit, who will be revealed as a familiar face to Extreme fans when we eventually unmask him, is driving the narrative in the first arc. He suffers a significant loss and has to work through it.
The first issue is called "The Junk" and all will be clear by the final page. I'm having an absolute blast.
Nrama: The previews for the first issue released online make it out to be pretty bloody, even for you. Were you pushing yourself to be darker, or did it just come with the material as you re-approach it these days?
Liefeld: Yes, It's much raunchier and much darker than anything I've done before and as much as I tried to run away from it, I couldn't, this is the story for this book. It's where my head is at with these characters and this world. It will have a maître label on it so we are responsible in letting consumers know it's not for kids.
Nrama: And moving over to Brigade, what is your elevator pitch for this one?
Liefeld: Brigade is about one man leading his team to save the fabric of reality even as it comes undone. Going back to the original Kickstarter pitch, there is a threat that has taken over the future, a leader named Imperator and his powerful family rule the planet. We glimpse that at the outset and then we see how Battlestone is fighting to prevent that future from becoming a reality. The by-product of all this time-tampering has altered several timelines, providing the gateway for everything that has come before and since. Brigade provides the portals that create Joe Keatinge's Glory and Brandon Graham's Prophet and Mark Millar's Bloodsport... And every unfinished storyline in the history of Extreme. Meanwhile there are forces in the present that are trying to prevent Battlestone and his Brigade, leading to a conflict with Bloodstrike.
The conceit and story can easily be digested by any new reader but there are Easter eggs for longtime Extreme fans all over the place, making it more compelling for them.
Nrama: For these you’re doing covers homaging some your popular 1990s covers for Marvel, including a tip of the hat to New Mutants #98. What led you to go that route?
Liefeld: That's easy, when you see so many people and publishers homage your own work as has been done recently with many of my more iconic works, it leads you to attempt to revisit those same images yourself. Which I am presently doing with several of my familiar covers. I grew up with all my favorite artists homaging each other and themselves so it's a continuation of a popular tradition. And it's a lot of fun as well.
Nrama: You’re known to some for giving callbacks to other artists by homaging their work in your own, sampling like a rapper might for a digital composition. What’s your stance on that as part of your overall style, and taking cues from past artists to inform your work?
Liefeld: For instance when I was a kid George Perez homaged dozens of Jack Kirby images, recalling those exact panels and covers, there was no "shaming" involved at the time. Jim Steranko did it, John Byrne did it, the list goes on and on.
It's an established practice in comic books, some tried to pin me as perhaps the first and most prominent when anyone with a modicum of comics history knew better. That period of shaming seems to be over now as publishers have embraced homages as familiar brands and have commissioned so many, there are so many of them nowadays... I mean dozens every month, so I'm pretty sure the industry had gotten over whatever hesitation that was associated with it and in predictable fashion the market is now flooded with homages.
Nrama: Big picture, what’s your plans for Bloodstrike and Brigade after July?
Liefeld: Make these the home for my creative expressions and collaborations...