Maximum Extremes1 of 12
Love him or hate him, you can't deny the stamp Rob Liefeld has imprinted on popular comic books.
Through his work at DC, Marvel, Image, and his own imprints and publishers, Liefeld is one of the modern age's most prolific creators of new characters. If you were to make a list of the most popular superhero created in the past 30 years, he's had a hand in more than most.
His idiosyncratic art style has become iconic, but deep down its the ideas and concepts he's created that are better received by comic book fans - from the harder edge he gave the X-Men franchise with X-Force; the plucky brashness he brought to Image Comics; the eventual scene-stealing antics of Deadpool; the ahead-of-its-time concept of celebrity superheroes with Youngblood; or the bold entrepreneurial streak from Image to Maximum, Awesome, Arcade, and eventually back to Image again.
This week's release of Deadpool 2 pulls back the curtain on even more Liefeldian characters like Cable, Domino, and Shatterstar (no Gideon yet, natch) prompting Newsarama editor Chris Arrant to pore over his musty 1990s longboxes and some more current fare to find the hits and the diamonds in the rough for the oft-misunderstood Liefeld.
Mutant Liberation Front2 of 12
Lost amidst the luster of Cable's debut and the evolution of the New Mutants into X-Force, the Mutant Liberation Front were a group of disillusioned mutants looking for a cause that was less conciliatory than Professor X or even Magneto's views on human/mutant relations. Strobe, Dragoness, Forearm, Reaper, and the other initial members were caught in the proverbial spell of Stryfe - a man from the future with an uncanny knack to know how things would progress in the modern-day, and with an axe to grind against Cable and the X-Men.
Co-created by Liefeld and Louise Simonson, the MLF were mutant upstarts militarized by Stryfe into terrorists - a unique idea (especially in for 1990) that neither of its creators were ever fully able to explore before leaving the X-titles.
The MLF have re-appeared as X-Men villains on several occasions, though their last appearance was in the pages of Punisher - but were name-dropped in Fox's The Gifted.
Rikki Barnes3 of 12
Long before the Marvel's "diversity wave" (as former-Editor-In-Chief Axel Alonso called it), Rob Liefeld and Jeph Loeb put a new face to a classic part of the Marvel mythos with Rikki Barnes - and it wasn't diversity for diversity's sake.
Introduced in the "Heroes Reborn" Captain America #1, Rikki Barnes was introduced as the granddaughter of the original Bucky Barnes (who at that time was still considered dead) and Peggy Carter - a unique pedigree, even moreso in 2017 than when originally introduced in 1996.
Loeb and Liefeld gave Rikki a fully-fleshed out origin independent of Captain America before casting her as his side-kick. Subsequent creators quickly split Rikki off from Cap however, with various solo adventures and teen team books over the years.
Bloodstrike4 of 12
Picture Suicide Squad mixed with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, and you have a close approximation of Bloodstrike.
Launched in 1993 by Liefeld, Dan Fraga, and Eric Stephenson, Bloodstrike was a black ops special forces squad recruited from the U.S.'s military service men - but they didn't recruit the living, only the dead. Revived by military scientists, Cabbot Stone and his fellow Bloodstrike members were revived and forced to fight another day. Whereas DC's Suicide Squad is kept in check by a brain bomb, Liefeld's Bloodstrike was held in line by ongoing treatments that kept the re-animated soldiers alive - treatments they could only get if they continued to work for the government.
The series was frequently put into conflict with Brigade, led by Battlestone - the brother of Bloodstrike's Cabbot Stone. At one point, Bloodstrike's team roster was decimated, making it a de facto solo book for Cabbot, with him taking the team name as his own.
Bloodwulf5 of 12
Yes, another Liefeld concept with "blood" in the title. And it's not the last.
Originally introduced in the unique Image anthology Darker Image, Bloodwulf was typecast as a Lobo rip-off right out of the gate - and Liefeld didn't shy away from it, using Lobo in early issues without DC's permission to frame it as an over-exposed parody of his creators' intentions.
But whereas Bloodwulf started as a derivative of Lobo, the character evolved to become something Lobo's owners, DC Comics, would arguably never allow. Between his multiple wives, dozens of children, and straight-out lampooning of everything from Star Wars to Neil Gaiman (One word: "Gaimanwank"), Liefeld pushed buttons up and down the board to generate comedy and controversy.
Some people might be turned off by Bloodwulf's derivative origins, but remember - there wouldn't be a Wade Wilson without a Slade Wilson.
Domino6 of 12Some might see Domino as a character built around a name with the white-and-black pattern she has, but there's more to her than you might think.
Although originally introduced as the right-hand woman to Cable in New Mutants #98 (yep, the same issue as Deadpool's debut), thanks to that appearance actually being the shapeshifter Copycat masquerading as Domino, the character didn't actually debut until a year later in X-Force #8. Despite that false start, the character has grown to be a significant part of the X-Men mythos through co-starring roles in team books and several solo miniseries (including one drawn by Black Panther's Brian Stelfreeze).
Mutant by birth (with the power of luck, no less), Domino was raised in a top-secret breeding program - a la Black Widow's Red Room - before being rescued and taken in by a Catholic priest. It wasn't until years later she joined Cable and his then-team Six Pack, eventually following him to X-Force and becoming the team's leader for a time.
The character rejuvenated thanks to Zazie Beetz' portrayal of her in Deadpool 2, prompting Marvel to give the character a comic book series of her own once again.
X-Force7 of 12
Although there was an X-Force before Liefeld took over New Mutants (Google it!), it's Liefeld's take on this team of Xavier's School drop-outs that made a mark in 1991. Although the team concept was later expanded to be the X-Men's black-ops assassin squad, that darker edge was something Liefeld baked into his concept from day one.
Liefeld's original take on the team holds up well - a group of mutants taking a more realistic approach to the ideal of X-Men founder Charles Xavier's dream. Like some sort of mutated version of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders, the Xavier drop-outs adopted "tough" looks under Cable's watch, and through their actions began to add teeth to their intentions - eventually kicking Cable out of their group.
From one perspective, you could say that after 100 issues of these "New Mutants" being stuck as students, they took it upon themselves to graduate and become an X-Men-esque team of their own with X-Force.
Prophet8 of 12
The recent Prophet run by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, and others earned high marks from critics including Newsarama's Best Shots review team - but the original version isn't that... Even though it's still good.
Originally conceived by Liefeld as a superheroic Rip Van Winkle, John Prophet was World War II veteran experimented on to become a super-soldier then cryogenically frozen to someday be thawed out to fight a war against Judeo-Christian-esque demons known as the Disciples.
Sure, it sounds like Captain America - but with the later additions that he was thawed out from time to time to fight wars for others, it presaged Ed Brubaker's later additions to Bucky Barnes' time as the Winter Soldier.
Although the "extreme" art style employed by Liefeld, a young Dan Panosian, Stephen Platt, and others may have led some to recoil from the character at first blush, beneath the clenched teeth and Kirby-esque headgear is a unique concept inspired by the past but with some new facets added.
Youngblood9 of 12
Beneath the shoulderpads and behind the pouches, Rob Liefeld and Hank Kanalz' Youngblood was ahead of its time. Superheroes had become celebrities before in comic books, but the heroes of this Image flagship title were celebrities first, and superheroes second.
Coined during the heyday of MTV's Real World and the Michael Jordan era NBA Dream Team, Youngblood was a team with just as many endorsement deals as they had arch-rivals, and instead of aged mentors they had skeevy managers, agents, and handlers.
When launched in 1991 however, the concept was overshadowed by the bluster of Image Comics' founding and what Liefeld said was a series of unfortunate writers. In 2007, Joe Casey re-scripted the initial arc - complete with a new ending drawn by Liefeld - that was published by Image as Maximum Youngblood.
Deadpool10 of 12
"...Wait, Deadpool isn't #1?" you say? Well, there's a reason for that.
Although Rob Liefeld is most-identified these days for co-creating Deadpool, he only worked on the character sparingly at Marvel before leaving to start Image. He returned from time to time for a few stories (and many covers), but while he and Fabian Nicieza would be considered the "birth parents" of Wade Wilson, he was raised and popularized by later writers such as Joe Kelly and Gail Simone who gave Deadpool his bizarre humor and surrealist streak.
But what Liefeld had from the outset was good - a Deathstroke-style mercenary with the quick wit of Spider-Man. Add in the homaged name of Wade Wilson (to Deathstroke's Slade Wilson), and an easy-to-draw mask (a la Spider-Man) and it was set.
Introduced like a Boba Fett, this one-time side character grew in his early years to be a solo star on his own through several miniseries and ongoing titles, and is now one of Marvel's most popular characters.
Cable11 of 12
"Stab his eyes!"
Rough thing for someone to say when they themselves only have one real eye (the other one's cybernetic, natch).
Birthed out of Rob Liefeld's un-published comic books and then polished up by New Mutants writer Louise Simonson, the man known as Cable (but almost Soldier-X) had it all at the time: a shadowy origin with ties across the Marvel U, a nihilistic view of superheroes, a twinkle in his eye (a la Longshot), and guns... lots and lots of guns.
He was Kyle Reese and the Terminator, all rolled into one.
Although his look became endemic of 1990s cliches, his backstory as a Abraham-esque chosen one sent into the rivers of time for a better future, then returning back as an adult stuck with people was far less easy to pigeonhole in those days.
Possessing only faint telepathic and telekinetic abilities (and some wicked anti-balding hair treatments), Cable became a twisted antecedent figure contrasting with the visions for mutantkind held by Xavier and Magneto.
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