Okay, I’ve clearly been neglecting this blog for far too long. I just haven’t been able to think about anything to write about. And the things that are worth talking about, like for example Will Smith slapping Chris Rock, are things that I just don’t want to talk about. But I was cleaning and rearranging some of my old comic books this weekend and came across this series which I then curiously re-read and I figure, hey, why not write a little retro review?
First, to set the stage, this character was first introduced as BEDROCK, and he debuted in the very first issue of Youngblood, created by Rob Liefeld, which kicked off the Image Comics era in April 1992.
That first issue included a trading card of the character in which Bedrock was described as a 16-year-old boy named Billy Kinsey who was a shy nerd (although, oddly, in that actual issue Bedrock’s real name is revealed to be Thomas John McCall, which has been used ever since). His father was a scientist and one day Billy/Thomas snuck into his father’s lab and drank some random serum he found, which then transformed him into an 8′ foot gray rock monster, and that’s when the U.S. Government recruited him to join the Younbglood team. But despite being stuck in this inhuman form, Thomas loves his new life. He totally embraces being a superhero, loving the fame and adulation it brings, taking advantage of it with endorsement deals and TV appearances.
Many fans assume that Liefeld was inspired by Marvel Comics’ superhero The Thing in creating Bedrock, and while those similarities are there (including him later dating a blind girl), I’ve often thought a more obvious inspiration is a comparatively lesser-known DC Comics character, a Legion of Super-Heroes member named Blok.
Or maybe that’s just my imagination?
Soon after his debut, the character changed his name to Badrock, supposedly Liefeld did this due to a trademark dispute with Hanna-Barbera. Badrock quickly became a fan-favorite character. Liefeld had a couple of action figures made, including one from Todd McFarlane’s company, and was soon showing up for book signings accompanied by someone in a life-size Badrock costume. At one point Liefeld even had a Badrock movie in development with New Line Cinema, which I always thought would have been a perfect way to begin an “Extreme Cinematic Universe.”
Fun fact, Liefeld’s Extreme Studios held a talent contest once in those early days and I wrote an 8-page solo Badrock story that I submitted. I don’t remember much about it other than that I printed it on lined notebook paper and sent it in like that, which means it probably never even got read (I was a teenager who’d never written anything before so I didn’t know better).
I believe this miniseries was the first Badrock spin-off (although I could be wrong), in it Badrock teams up with different Image Comics superheroes (yes, this is similar to how The Thing once starred in a series called Marvel Two-In-One in which each issue had him teaming up with some other Marvel Comics superhero) Re-reading it all these years (or I should say decades…sheesh, where did the time go?!?) later I’m first struck with how very 90’s it is.
Unlike comics of the modern era, this miniseries is not a six-part story, but rather six single stories. Even the one time where an issue sort of continues into the next, each issue is complete by itself. You can pick up any random issue of this series first and read it without worrying about missing anything. And the stories are very action-oriented, with a heavy emphasis on fight scenes, and light emphasis on characterization.
And oddly even for then is that although there is one artist, Todd Nauck, drawing the entire series, there are several different writers. This always made me wonder about the background story behind the development of this series.
Keith Giffen writes the first issue, in which Badrock encounters Dale Keown’s character PITT. I don’t remember that much about this character, imagine the Hulk (who, not coincidentally I’m sure, Keown had previously drawn for Marvel before joining Image) but gray with a ponytail and claws, dressed like a Hell’s Angel, and this issue doesn’t do much to explain him or his background. I guess it just assumes that the reader is already familiar with him (which, at the time, I’m sure I was, as I literally bought and read every single comic-book that Image published those first few years). Two mysterious unnamed men, who are dressed in business suits and claim to be brothers, have some ongoing bet where they pick two individuals and trick or force them to fight to the death as the brothers bet on who will win. Now they’ve picked Badrock and Pitt. Pitt is somehow connected to a young boy named Timmy and each brother convinces one of the heroes that the other is attacking Timmy. This leads to a multi-page sequence of the two heroes punching each other back and forth, until they realize that they’re being duped and team up to capture the two brothers who are arrested and taken away.
Andy Mangels writes the second issue, in which Badrock agrees to a PPV wrestling match with Fuji, a character from Jim Lee’s comic Stormwatch, for charity. Stormwatch was a U.N.-backed team of superheroes from multiple nations. Fuji was a Japanese sumo-wrestler whose body dissolved into radioactive gas or plasma (or something) and a special containment suit was created to contain his form. giving him the shape of a large muscular being. Reference is made to a long-standing mini-feud between Youngblood and Stormwatch, due to their different jurisdictions. A local media mogul is backing the fight and has a special reinforced arena built to hold it.
A mysterious woman calling herself “Impulse” appears, and she has the power to emit pheromones, controlling men’s emotions including lowering their inhibitions. She meets with mobster Tony Twist, from Todd McFarlane’s Spawn comic, offering to use her powers on Badrock and Fuji which will make them more violent and try to actually kill each other during the match. Twist agrees to pay her $5 million for this because he wants Badrock dead due to some previous encounter they had. I’ll note that several other Image characters, including Spawn, Savage Dragon, and Shadowhawk, appear in this issue in cameos as they talk about or watch the fight,
The fight begins and Impulse uses her powers and the two heroes spend several pages punching each other as the world watches. Most viewers think they’re just fighting normally but as it goes on several of their teammates begin to worry about how bad it’s getting. When the heroes burst through the dome of the arena and land in the ocean, where Badrock begins to drown, several members from Youngblood and Stormwatch arrive on the scene to save them both. After the heroes are rescued they snap out of it, regaining their senses and agree to just call the fight a draw. Youngblood member Cougar sees Impulse on the scene and calls her “Sherry,” as if he recognizes her, but she gets away before he can catch her. Tony Twist is pissed at Impulse’s failure to have Badrock killed and sends the cyborg assassin Overtkill (an original creation of both Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane who’d faced Badrock before) to finish the job.
Mangels also writes the third issue, Badrock’s in New York to attend a big Toy Fair. He’s there signing autographs for the toy company that produces Badrock action figures. Erik Larsen’s Mighty Man is also there, meeting with a company that wants to make toys for his team, Freak Force. Overtkill shows up and attacks Badrock, and Mighty Man joins in to help Badrock defeat him. Once again, there’s a lot of punching and fighting, dragged out only because Overtkill keeps endangering innocent bystanders who the heroes have to save, until they finally beat the villain. No mention of Impulse, or even Tony Twist is made in this issue. So although it’s ostensibly a continuation from the second issue you don’t need to read that one first.
The writing duo of Tom and Mary Bierbaum write this issue, which sees Badrock team up with Velocity, from Mark Silvestri’s Cyberforce. Cyberforce was a group of mutants who had been kidnapped and brainwashed by a corporation called Cyberdata, who enhanced their powers with cybernetic equipment and forced them to work as their special enforcers. This group escaped and now operates on their own, but Cyberdata keeps trying to recapture them. Velocity is a young woman with super-speed powers and a history of being abused. She sees Youngblood on TV and envies how easy their lives seem to be, compared to her life with Cyberforce. She skips out of Cybeforce’s hidden HQ and follows Badrock to his mother’s home in Baltimore where he’s gone to visit. Velocity and Badrock go sit in some backwoods to talk when they’re suddenly attacked by a squad of Cyberdata’s soldiers who somehow tracked Velocity. There’s a rather touching subplot involving one of those soldiers, whom we’d seen earlier in his homelife, who has a young son who idealized Youngblood, and when this soldier gets a chance to kill Badrock he can’t bring himself to do it, and instead ends up giving up his own life to save him and Velocity, begging Badrock with his dying breath to please tell his son that he died fighting with Badrock instead of against him.
Still mostly an action issue, like the previous 3, but the Bierbaum’s did try to bring some deeper characterization to it. This was definitely the highlight of the series, in my opinion.
Robert Loren Fleming writes this issue. Badrock teams up with Grifter, from Jim Lee’s WildC.A.T.S., and Leming introduces some interesting backstories to both heroes’ continuities. Badrock’s mother has been kidnapped by a terrorist group called Covenant of The Sword (they’d been prominent in Liefeld’s Bloodstrike series), who are demanding that Badrock’s father create a biological weapon for them in a month or they’re going to kill her. Instead of enlisting the entire Youngblood team to help Badrock rescue his mother, the Youngblood director tells Badrock to track down Grifter to help him, which he does. And we find out that years ago when they were younger Grifter and Badrock’s mother had a relationship and he asked her to marry him, but she turned him down because of his line of work. All these years later Grifter still cares for her which is why he agrees to help. The story begins right in the middle of the action, with Badrock and Grifter parachuting into the Covenant’s HQ in the Middle East and fighting their way inside taking on the heavily armed soldiers until they manage to save Badrock’s mother.
Jim Valentino writes this issue, featuring his main character Shadowhawk. This happened to tie in perfectly with a storyline that was running through the Shadowhawk comic at the time. Shadowhawk was dying of AIDS, and he was seeking out help from the superhero community, looking for a possible cure. As such he found himself sneaking into Youngblood HQ when Badrock was there alone. He explains his situation to Badrock who decides to take Shadowhawk to his father’s lab with the suggestion of seeing if he could do something, maybe transform Shadowhawk into a rock monster like him, because at least then he’ll be invulnerable (so, apparently that means Badrock is immune to AIDS?). But wouldn’t you know it, at that moment a bunch of heavily armed men break into the lab, attempting to steal the “Genetic Accelerator” that Badrock’s dad was going to use on Shadowhawk. Badrock and Shadowhawk team up to fight and stop the would-be thieves, but in the process, the device gets destroyed and it would take too long to rebuild it for it to be used on Shadowhawk in time to save him. Shadowhawk leaves and arrives in an alley in New York where he meets Todd McFarlane’s Spawn, in a cliffhanger that leads into the next issue of the Shadowhawk series, #17.
And there you have it, it’s a little weird that the miniseries ends on a cliffhanger, particularly one that doesn’t even involve the “lead character,” but it is what it is. However, this wasn’t exactly the end. 5 months after Badrock and Company #6 was published, Image published the Badrock Annual #1.
Written by Tom and Mary Bierbaum, Todd Nauck draws this double-sized special issue which features Badrock teaming up with Freak Force. Considering the creative team I figure this was meant to be an issue in the miniseries, although I don’t know why it wasn’t.
The story opens with Badrock fighting some random supervillain named Re-coil (don’t ask). Freak Force arrives on the scene and basically steals the villain from Badrock, taking him into custody to get the reward money for his capture (Freak Force were former cops now working as bounty hunters, capturing supervillains for money). As most of the team leaves, Badrock gets into an argument with Barbaric, the resident “big strong guy” of the team, about who’s tougher and they decide to settle it with a fight. Thankfully there just so happens to be an abandoned ghost town nearby, which Barbaric says was scheduled to be demolished in a nuclear test anyway (because I guess the government tests their nuclear bombs near Chicago), so they can fight without worrying about damaging the buildings or hurting anyone.
So the two start fighting and busting up buildings, then the rest of Freak Force see the fighting on TV and rush to the scene to stop them. This is fortunate as they discover that there are actually a bunch of poor illegal immigrants from Mexico secret living in that city, and the destruction was putting them in danger. The immigrants were smuggled into the country by some mysterious “U.S. businessmen” who use them for cheap labor and have hired three supervillains to control them and keep them in line. So Freak Force and Badrock team up to beat the villains and free the immigrants, although the immigrants are worried that they’ll be deported once the authorities find out about them.
Like that previous issue that they wrote, I appreciate Bierbaum’s attempt to inject some kind of serious topic into their story. But it is still mostly just a bunch of fight scenes, like the rest of the series, just longer. And the villains in the story, Fever, Cleave, and Altrasonic are one-dimensional at best.
The best thing I can say about the series overall is that the art is great. Todd Nauck was still a new talent at the time, only having broken into the industry two years earlier, and had less than 10 credits to his name at the time of this book, which was his first time drawing a “regular” series. And not only did he knock it out of the park, he did so monthly! The six-issue miniseries came out once a month, the first issue in September 1994 and the sixth issue in February 1995. I know that may not sound all that impressive but for an Image Comics artist at the time, it was.
The stories, on the other hand, were rather formulaic, as noted. Maybe if there’d been a single writer or writing duo on the series there could have been a chance for some deeper characterization, and recurring subplots, instead of just the collection of fights that we got here. But I know my teenage self was satisfied at the time, and I’m sure my fellow Badrock fans were as well, so mission accomplished.
The series is long out of print and not available for sale digitally, but copies can be found via MyComicShop.com