In the comic-book industry, Rob Liefeld is one of the few creators who doesn’t inspire much ambiguity among comic-book readers. If you’re familiar with his work, then odds are that you either love it or hate it. Well, this book is for those who love it.
Even those who love Rob Liefeld’s work will have to admit that his original 5-issue Youngblood miniseries, published back in 1992 as the very first series from Image Comics, left much to be desired in terms of coherent storytelling. Well, Rob himself agreed, and so in 2008 he got Joe Casey to do some re-writing. Except Casey didn’t just reboot the series and write a whole new origin, he took the original miniseries, and rearranged several of the pages, and then rewrote the dialog in the original word balloons, overwriting the dialog of original scripter Hank Kanalz. It sounds simple, but with these little changes Casey managed to completely change the tone of the series, and improve it.
Youngblood is a U.S. Government-sponsored team of superheroes, who are also treated like celebrities. There are two separate teams, the Home Team which primarily operates in America, and the Away Team which goes on missions overseas. As this book opens, the Away Team is in the Middle East, confronting the dictator “Hassan Kussein”, who is believed to be illegally experimenting on superhumans, while the Home Team deals with a breakout attempt by a domestic supervillain team called The Four. After covertly assassinating Kussein, the Away Team discovered his hidden lab where John Prophet, a genetically enhanced man, is being held in suspended animation. After accidentally reviving Prophet, he fights several members of Youngblood, until the mechanical agents of an alien dictator named Darkthornn arrive and take them all out. The Home Team get the emergency signal and are soon off to the Middle East to help their fallen comrades, and then the two teams face Darkthornn with the aid of Prophet and his old allies, Jackson Kirby and another team of superhumans called The Bezerkers.
Despite the dozen new concepts being thrown @ you in every other page, Casey’s dialog makes it all easy to follow. It’s particularly interesting to me as I still have the original issues and it’s fun to compare the pages and see how much better Casey’s scripting is. There’s only one questionable decision by Casey here. In the original series we see Home Team leader Shaft on a date with his girlfriend Shelley, who was an assistant district attorney who helpes prosecute the supervillains that Youngblood arrests. In Casey’s new dialog, Shelley is described as a supermodel. That seems like a bit of downgrade for the character, which I don’t understand the reason for. I guess perhaps to emphasize the “celebrity” aspect of Youngblood, so now Shaft is like an actor who dates models? Other than that, I have no problem with Casey’s rewrites. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t also give kudos to Matt Yackey, who recolored the original pages, making them seem a lot more vibrant in this book, and it compliments the artwork perfectly. Liefeld does add 8 new pages of artwork for this collection, re-drawing the original ending to the first miniseries.
Ever since I first read this I thought Rob Liefeld missed a great opportunity. I thought he should have used this book to restart Youngblood, and possibly his whole “Extreme Universe” of characters. Begin with a brand new “Youngblood #6”, picking up right from where the story in this hardcover leaves off, with Prophet as a member of Youngblood now (for the time being), and with Joe Casey as the writer. At the time, Casey did write a new Youngblood ongoing series (collected in two trade paperbacks which you can order HERE and HERE), but it was a continuation of all the previous Youngblood series, instead of a reboot. I think that if Casey had the freedom to truly start over, he could have really made it work.
The hardcover also includes a special 7-page story that Rob drew as young man when he was still trying to break into comics. It features an early version of Youngblood, with some characters that were later used in Rob’s other books like Brigade, and one character he used in X-Force, and is written by Hank Kanalz. Looking @ those early pages you can see the progression of Rob’s style as he got older.
There are also re-colored versions of each of the covers of the original issues, and a foreword written by Mark Millar, who credits Rob and the other Image Founders for inspiring his work. This hardcover is a nice addition for your coffee table. I give it a grade of: A+
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