Written by Chad Bowers and Rob Liefeld
Art by Jim Towe, Juan Manuel Rodriguez, Rob Liefeld and Shelby Robertson
Lettering by Rus Wooton
Published by Image Comics
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood is home again at Image Comics. But does it still have the same appeal that it did at the birth of the company and the height of Liefeld’s popularity? We’re talking about a series that has undergone a lot of changes, stops, starts, and attempts at remaining relevant over the years. A veritable all-star roster of creators have worked on the property in the past, including Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, Mark Millar, and more. But the idea of non-Big Two superhero properties has become a less and less novel idea as time has worn on especially, when they come without the added gravitas of a shared universe. While Youngblood does exist somewhere in Liefeld’s larger Extreme Universe, that line’s most recent, more artistic reimagining doesn’t really jive with the aesthetic of this book. Chad Bowers and Jim Towe are Youngblood fans now tasked with updating the premise of a Teen Titans that are treated as celebrities for 2017 and the result is something that generally works because it tries to push forward while also being cognizant of the past.
Liefeld’s initial conceit was that if superheroes really existed, they’d be treated like movie stars and athletes - larger-than-life figures who are adored and have to balance their jobs with endorsement deals, personal scandals and the like. That was an excellent idea 25 years ago, and one that’s been riffed on in a number of ways by a number of creators since. So what’s next? Well, Bowers sets the book up by putting forth the idea of disrupting the regular superhero setup. Instead of screaming for help and hoping a hero is within earshot, citizens can use the handy Help! app and choose who’d they’d like to save them. It’s like a Taskrabbit for superheroes, and it leads to the central mystery of the debut: where has new hero Man-Up disappeared to? And as that mystery unfolds on a street level, Bowers rolls out the whereabouts of the old Youngblood team. Diehard is currently the President. Vogue is his First Lady. Shaft is in prison. And Badrock is sick. The other members don’t make an appearance, but some of the newbies have taken on their old aliases.
The plotting does get a little goofy when we get to the heroes’ fight with Crime Condor, but that’s to be expected. This is a big, bombastic superhero book in the extremely Liefeld fashion after all. But what struck me about it is that there is meaningful character work being done by Bowers across the issue. Gunner seeking out Man-Up’s family to empathize about his disappearance, Shaft and Badrock seeing each other for the first time in a while; these moments make the book more than just a superpowered beat’em up and stand as a reminder that the only way to tell stories that will resonate with people is to find those moments.
Towe, for his part, wants to make his art serve the story above all else. He’s not suited for the original Youngblood aesthetic, and he doesn’t even try to live there. His figures are really well-rendered and familiar characters’ updated costumes are basically instantly recognizable. I do think that Towe makes a few odd choices with his layouts in the interest of adding more dynamics to the proceedings, but they can occasionally don’t read as well as they should. Man-Up’s first growth/transformation reads a bit odd even though it’s a clever bit. An inset panel of Vogue’s head on what’s otherwise a splash page of Suprema undercuts a cool moment for that character. But then Crime Condor’s mind control is rendered in a really unique and interesting way. So it all kind of evens out. Plus Towe is able to give us a fairly broad range of expressions that help inform Bowers’ script.
There is a short back-up from Rob Liefeld which is worth noting because it seems to reference the Book of All-Stories that was introduced by Alan Moore, which would be a really interesting way to open up Youngblood to the rest of the Extreme Universe. Liefeld’s art is pretty much what we’ve come to expect. Every character has just about the same expression (Shaft is even gritting his teeth in his sleep) and body proportions of his characters are inconsistent. But it’s a short story so there’s not really enough of a page count for it to affect the narrative.
Youngblood is off to a pretty decent start. Bowers’ app-focused idea could fall apart a little bit if you think about it too much but the script never stagnates long enough to let you do that which is a plus. Towe’s art is appropriately fun and while it’s a far cry from where this property began, that’s completely necessary for the title to move forward. You have to give Liefeld credit for putting his properties in the hands of creators who don’t want to wallow in nostalgia for too long. The creators have indicated a willingness to go beyond the stories that have already been told and the back-up story itself already drops a potentially big hint for the future. Youngblood #1 doesn’t do too much to separate itself from the pack of superhero comic books with similar conceits but it knows what it is, stays in that lane and is ultimately better for it.