You’re turning 10 years old. Your wish is coming true. Your parents are taking you to see Terminator 2 on opening day.
You’re witnessing a teenager seated in front of you thumbing through a copy of X-Force#1 before the movie starts.
You’re losing your shit, leaping over the seat, and demanding to know where book came from and how you could claim your own copy.
Your mother is mortified.
This is what the work of Rob Liefeld once did to me. At one point in time, in what now seems like another epoch in human history, the promise of a Rob Liefeld book sent me running– literally, not figuratively– to the nearest comic shop.
Did I have terrible taste before my exposure to Radiohead vinyl and imported beer? Possibly. However, I was not alone. When Liefeld ditched Marvel and took a legion of the best talent in the business with him to start Image Comics, readers followed. Youngblood#1 sold something like 15 trillion issues (citation needed) and for whatever reason, Rob Liefeld’s art in that book ignited the imagination of my prepubescent self like little else.
Fast forward to the 21st century. The 1990s comics boom, and the characters at the center of it, seem as weirdly anachronistic as disco. The comic market is a shriveled prune of its former self, yet here it comes again– the hyped return of the book that changed the industry forever, Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood.
Hollywood scribe John McLaughlin provides the words here, with art by Liefeld himself and disciple of his style, John Malin. The story, while cheeky and self-deprecating enough to produce a chuckle or two, doesn’t really go anywhere in issue one. McLaughlin, writer of the Oscar-winning Black Swan, doesn’t channel any of the dark energy found in that film. A cursory search if IMDB shows that McLaughlin also wrote the Tommy Lee Jones movie Man of the House, and the scripting of Youngblood jives more with the tone of that “comedy” than it does with Black Swan. The story is a little self-knowing, goes meta for a page or two, and then, well, sort of looks and reads like any of the last 60 issues or so of Youngblood that are occupying the bargain bins at your local comic shop.
The art is what one expects from Liefeld or his studio mates—unique takes on anatomy, stiff figures, and awkward poses. There was a sort of fluidity in the old school Liefeld art that has disappeared in recent years, leaving his once “hot” artwork seeming a bit cold. There’s no one page in this book that would make a 10-year-old drop their popcorn and vault a row of theater seats. To paraphrase The Big Lebowski— Say what you will about Liefeld’s bevy of big-breasted women and Cable’s enormous weaponry circa 1991, but at least it was an ethos.
The 2012 Liefeld seems almost like the Internet’s harsh words have gotten to him. There’s stiffness to the artwork, and a vague sense of self-imposed control. The end result looks like plug-and-play digitized chuffah. There’s never the awe-shucks wonder of “Man, a guy sat down and drew the hell out of this.” Image was once synonymous with dynamic art. Now, with the Image Revolution 20 years behind us, this relaunch does little to rekindle whatever magic fire burned in Liefeld’s early days.
I sat down determined to give this book as much of an honest shot as possible. In fact, I kinda wanted it to win me over. I was present in my reading, fully tapped into the joy my 10-year-old self felt all those years ago courtesy of Liefeld’s art. My spirits were further bolstered by the recent fantastic revivals of other long-dormant Liefeld properties like Prophet and Supreme. Unfortunately, reading Youngblood#71 left me feeling as though I had extended more goodwill toward the creators than they were sending back toward me. It’s Youngblood— give me a splash page of a ninja with a huge gun or something. It doesn’t even have to contribute to the story in any meaningful way– you’re getting a pass on that already– just give me something, anything that I can claim as cool.
Though the book has occasional bubbles of enjoyment, I couldn’t quite find the coolness in this newest incarnation of Youngblood, and, again borrowing from Lebowski, that’s a bummer, man.