The Next Generation of Zeroes!
For those not aware, back in the 1990s, a group of artists at Marvel (including Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, and others) left the company out of dissatisfaction over payment policies and ownership rights. They banded together under a new company, calling itself Image Comics, and devoted themselves to having a place where creator-owned properties could flourish with more of a focus on artwork than on writing. A lot of them were met with varying successes or failures and some have managed to survive even today.
However, a lot of them really tanked, including the subject of today. Youngblood #1 was the first comic to be released off of Image’s line and while I haven’t read many of Image’s titles, I think it’s fair enough to say that it’s probably one of the worst. Even forgiving the artwork of Rob Liefeld, the story itself is poor and its characters are a bunch of unlikable, generically pissed-off individuals who embody pretty much the entirety of the Dark Age of Comics. They killed, they used guns, they didn’t have strict moral codes, and they all had the same perpetual scowl throughout their tenure as ‘heroes.’
Now, I will tell you that I have a love/hate relationship for Liefeld. From what I’ve read about him, the guy’s a really enthusiastic, upbeat person who can be a real pleasure to work with. But on the other hand, his artwork really sucks. Sure, he’s got a basic idea of proportions and shading and all, but when he tries to apply it to superheroes, it just leaves one with a bad taste for what they’ve just seen presented to them. As such, while I will be insulting the artwork throughout this review, please know that I don’t hold it against Rob that much.
Youngblood was heavily criticized in its time for its extensive use of profanity, gore, and general bad writing, bad artwork, and complete lack of connection between the reader and the character. I don’t know if Liefeld expected these guys to really be the next Superman or Captain America in terms of their legacy on the American public, but really their tagline should’ve been ‘The Next Generation of Zeroes!’
The cover’s one of your dime-a-dozen group shots, except the composition leaves much to be desired. Even ignoring Liefeld’s tendency to feature all of his men as over-muscled bodybuilders or his women as busty, spineless sex objects, the coloring on our ‘heroes’ has them blend into one another, making it sometimes difficult to see where one begins and the other ends. Also, it should be noted that you can’t see the eyes of a single one of the ‘heroes,’ as if they didn’t have any at all. And boy do I envy them for that.
Right before the first page, there’s a cardboard “profile box” featuring the only female hero of the Youngblood “Home Team” Vogue. Here it is revealed that underneath her patriotic [!!] and independent skin beats the heart of a Russian defector. Because, you know, when I think patriotic I think a purple and white bodysuit, clown face makeup, and huge shoulder pads, too. Also, we learn that not only was she a world class gymnast by the age of 13 [!!!], but in her civilian identity she runs a successful cosmetic company [!!!] AND she is adept in most major forms of martial arts! Take THAT, Keanu Reeves! I wonder what exactly is her “civilian identity” since the profile box says that her real name is “not revealed.”
The first page opens up, according to the comic, in Washington D.C. at 12:17 PM. A man and woman are out shopping and the woman, revealed here to be named Shelly, is in shock that she’s shopping on her lunch hour with her boyfriend. We get a smattering of tiny bits of exposition as we learn the man is named Jeff and that Shelly “Wouldn’t believe the reports we have to fill out!” Yeah, those TPS Reports are a bitch. We learn that Shelly works as an assistant D.A. Oh, and as you can see here, just like on the cover, Jeff has no eyes. Look out, Dr. Mid-Nite – there’s a new blind superhero on the block!
On the next page we see the first example of Rob Liefeld’s incredible artwork as a supposed thief runs past several mall walkers down the escalators and Jeff leaps down to apprehend him. We can see that a black hole has opened up right at his crotch, since all the lines appear to be sucking down right into it. His hips are pushed out at odd angles while he leaps from an implausible side angle, only for the next panel to see him tackling thief from a straight angle at the thief’s back. While Jeff berates the thief with this splendid dialogue: “‘Tis the season for giving, not stealing!” (Even though from the establishing shot and your clothes it looks like it’s mid-July!), a voiceover box reveals that, “A good hero can never let a crime go unpunished.”
We cut up to an assassin lining up a rather bizarre looking gun that looks more like it’s designed for caulking than long-distance shots. A voice warns Jeff of the danger and I’m sure it was meant to come from Shelly even though the dialogue balloon seems to indicate that it came from the assassin himself. While Jeff’s body now looks like it’s ballooned so he can be an extra in Weird Al’s “Fat” music video, he grabs a pen from his pocket and tosses it at the assassin [!!]. This somehow hits the assassin back with enough forces as to knock him off of a ledge (and making physicists’ heads explode around the world) and into a pool of water below. A bunch of onlookers reveal that our friend Jeff here is Shaft (SHUT YOUR MOUTH!) and Jeff begins to search the body. And by search, I mean he holds out his hand towards the body and says, “No I.D. No pulse. No answers.” From what I’ve read, Youngblood came about because Liefeld had been interested in doing a Team Titans book for DC and that Shaft here was supposed to be Roy Harper. As such, it’s quite a shock to learn that Roy Harper can search bodies by just looking at them.
A reporter suddenly appears, revealing he had been following Shaft with his cameraman. He asks Jeff (now to be referred to as his codename Shaft), “Are the rumors true that Youngblood has been sent overseas to deal with the Crisis?” And suddenly we cut to the Anti-Monitor laughing as he stomps on each member of the ‘next generation of heroes.’ Well, not really, but we can dream, can’t we? Before Shaft can answer, he gets a call from ‘HQ’ and apologizes to Shelly as he runs off. Shelly looks dreamily at her boyfriend and says, “Go nail ‘em!” And if that means nailing our skulls with the artwork, trust me, he’s already done.
We cut to “Baltimore, Maryland. 12:32 PM” as we meet Bedrock, the grey momma’s boy who’s eating a lunch as he gets the call to come in to the HQ, as well. He even asks to be excused as the mother says how proud she is of him. And by the perpetual smile on her face I’d think The Stepford Wives had been made into a comic book if not for the fact that even though it’s the ‘90s, she has a head of ‘80s hair.
We then cut to “Arlington, Virginia. Underground. 12:44 PM” and I start to wonder what the hell’s taking HQ so long as they appear to be calling their agents in ten-minute intervals. Anyway, in ‘Underground,’ we meet the next Youngblood member – DIEHARD – WITH A VENGEANCE. Okay, it’s just Diehard, but seriously, did Rob even think about these names as he was planning this? Oddly enough, Diehard here speaks his thought captions with <> bars, as if they were being translated. And what is this oh-so-useful dialogue we get from this mysterious, eyeless character laying on a multicolored slab? “I am needed. This time, I must make better use of my freedom.” …WITH A VENGEANCE! Okay, I promise to stop now.
Cut to almost half an hour later in the same location, only “Aboveground” now, where the buzz-cut Youngblood member Chapel is in bed with a naked woman as he gets his own call from HQ. He tells her to leave and that she should leave her number. The next page suddenly shows Chapel in his ‘iconic’ costume, a leather jacked, red pants, skull facepaint, and a gun right out of Men in Black. His inner monologue gives us this insightful wisdom – “You gotta give ‘em hope. As Shaft would say, ‘it’s good PR!’” Is it too late to hate these guys? No? Good.
Cut to five hours later [!!!] as we see Vogue hopping around rooftops of Washington DC, revealing she knows she got the call a few hours ago. “Shaft’s probably pacing the halls by now. They think I’m at their beck and call. Let ‘em wait!” Jeez, can you imagine if a member of the Avengers pulled something like this? “Yeah, Captain America, I know Galactus was attacking, but I’m not at your beck and call!”
We finally cut to what I can only presume is ‘HQ,’ since there isn’t an establishing caption box to reveal this. Shaft’s coming in and we see him walk up to a huge-ass computer console where a normal-looking woman and a person with a much better costume than the rest of the Youngblood team named Photon stands. Shaft suddenly acts like a complete asshole as he says for no particular reason, “Oh, so we get the pleasure of your company tonight, Photon?” On the next page, the rest of the Youngblood team shows up and Shaft berates Vogue for being late. Before they can get in a good little dialogue about what exactly our fearless team leader will do if she shows up late again, the woman at the control chair reveals that there’s a request for assistance coming in. And suddenly I’m tilting my head and wondering what the heck it was that required Youngblood’s presence five hours ago that they were all called in for.
Shaft asks what the situation is and the woman at the console (who also is apparently suffering from the same disease that affects the eyes of our heroes) reports that one of the Youngblood’s transport vehicles is under attack. She says it’s “Strongarm and Gage!!! The Four!” Erm, it’s actually only two, and why the need for three exclamation points? While Vogue tries to cover up that bit of idiotic dialogue by asking, “Didn’t we put two of them away?” Diehard and Chapel say that Strongarm and Gage are attempting to make an escape attempt. For what, themselves? Sure, we find out in the next page, but still, the way they say it in these pages makes it sound like they’re escaping, themselves, by attacking a- ah, screw it, why am I giving this more thought than the makers of this comic did? We do get an EXTREME!!! close-up of Shaft’s face where we can see that he does in fact have eyes.
Cut to some random street in what I can only presume is Washington, D.C. since again, the establishment captions have completely vanished on us. We do get captions of a few bits of dialogue, albeit they’re all colored white, so we have no idea who’s saying it unless they say the other person’s name:
“Let’s make this one quick, team! The Four have never really been that tough.”
“I want Strongarm this time.”
“He’s all yours, Die Hard (sic).”
Strongarm and Gage turn out to be more genuine Liefeld creations, with Strongarm being an overly-muscled guy who appears to have no joints for his arms while Gage resembles a combination of Deadpool from Marvel and Gizmo from D.C. (albeit with more guns). Both also, sadly, have been afflicted with what I’m going to be calling Youngblood’s disease, where eyes are either nonexistent or just poorly drawn. We see four completely identical cops running at the two, but nothing ever comes of them. Gage calls out to the truck: “Deadlock! Starbright! Stand back! Stand back!”
Strongarm rips off the door of the truck, revealing Deadlock and Starbright and I have to say, they actually have semi-decent outfits, albeit Deadlock seems to have an inexplicable ponytail coming out of the back of his mask that’s suffering from Dilbert’s tie syndrome by defying gravity. Of course, this brings up the question of why the heck these two are even still in costumes if they were in custody. Starbright asks if there’s any sign of Youngblood, to which Deadlock replies, “Dah! The mere mention of that name boils my blood!” Oh no, mein blood, ack! Help, comrades, I’m vaguely European and my blood is boiling!
Starbright tells him to “keep it in check” [??] and that their plan depends on it. Gage gasps and calls out, “Four o’clock! Four o’clock! They’re here! They’re here!” There is no way out of here. It’ll be dark soon. There is no way out of here. Three arrows hit the ground. Okay, Shaft can kill a guy standing a hundred feet away with a pen using his free hand, but he can’t hit a couple of guys with a bow and arrow?! Okay, admittedly, his bow doesn’t have any string (as indicated by the cover and a page that’s coming up), but still...
And in the panel below- oh my goodness. I can’t believe this. My mind hasn’t been this blown since Mr. T punched a shark in the nose on his cartoon. Diehard has flown down and from the angle of the shot, the way his arms and legs are inexplicably behind his body (thanks to the superb pencilings of our good Mr. Liefeld), by the way Strongarm has suddenly been knocked back with a trail of blood from his mouth, and by the way Diehard’s package has been drawn so that we can tell it’s bulging out, I can only come to the conclusion that DIEHARD JUST SMACKED STRONGARM IN THE FACE WITH HIS CROTCH. Diehardcock proclaims, “This makes us even!” and suddenly I understand fully what Diehardbody did with his freedom the last time. And now I really want to have Liefeld cut out my eyes like those of the Youngblood.
Diehardon punches Strongarm (this time with his fist) while shouting, “I’ve been waiting for this day! And this time you won’t be as lucky!” I don’t think any of us want to be THAT lucky. And finally, we cut to a two-page spread of the other members of Youngblood rushing out at the Four. Oh, and check out the cops in the lower-left corner who have oversized legs and arms that for some odd reason are extended out away from them like stiff boards. Perhaps they’re imitating what one of Liefeld’s men would look like if they had muscles like that in real life?
Whew! That issue just lasted forever, didn’t it? Well, at least it’s over and- oh, no. Turning the page, we see some upside-down pages. Yes, folks, in a rather bizarre bit of page construction, what we saw on the first front cover was actually just the Home Team of Youngblood and now we have to FLIP THE COMIC OVER and read it from the back to see the rest of this exciting tale.
Diehard, please kill me now with your mega-crotch.
Okay, in theory, this is a neat idea – two teams that alternate whenever there are missions on the home front or missions that take you away from the immediate area. The problem is that this can also be a radically stupid idea.
1. It’s hard enough to balance a team book, what with ensuring that each character gets some spotlight time and making sure that each has a unique characterization. Usually teams of 5-7 are best. But Youngblood gives us TWELVE characters and puts them all in the SAME book. That means there’s only so much time that can be devoted to any one character, since there’s limited space on each flip-side of the book to tell the story in a 22-25 page comic.
2. It’s a bad idea to put both stories in the SAME BOOK. It’s possible to have two different teams with similar names, like having a Justice League America and a Justice League Europe running at the same time, or a The Avengers and a West Coast Avengers running at the same time. But with Youngblood, the two teams mean that the missions are going to be really short and, again, little time for characterization. Back-up features work because they’re short supplements, a small story within a large story, but these are both of equal size and we didn’t get any resolution on the Home team of Youngblood. The story just stopped.
3. It’s especially bad to do this for a first issue. First issues are supposed to get the reader acclimatized to these characters and their situations, give us some idea of what their deal is and why we should like them. But this book just has the characters thrust into one action situation to the next without any real chance for substance. Are the Youngblood a government organization? Are they the world’s only superheroes?
Anyway, with all that in mind, let’s move into the Away Team section of Youngblood.
The cover on the back is a little bit better off than the Home Team’s, with a little more uniqueness to the characters and even some symbols for them. The colors don’t seem as subdued.
Inside, we have yet another cardboard profile box, this one for the Home Team’s leader Shaft (wahki-chicken, wahki-chicken). Apparently he’s an experienced FBI agent who was chosen to replace an unseen character named Battlestone as leader of Youngblood (Say, Rob? Why not have an ORIGIN STORY for your entirely new universe and characters, eh? No? Fine...). It says that his weapon of choice is a “specially-crafted bow and arrow,” which makes me think it must be special if it DOESN’T HAVE A STRING.
The first page of the other side of Youngblood starts off with six television screens displaying a news report. I’m reluctant to call it ‘talking heads,’ though, since every time a person is on the screen, they look like they’re sleeping! Yes, not only do they have their eyes tightly shut, but their mouths are clamped firmly down even though there are both speech bubbles AND caption boxes that indicate that people should be talking! The speech bubble for the news announcer doesn’t even have an arrow connecting it to him! For all we know, they’re just putting Bob Squarebody there on the screen while he took some NyQuil and someone else is trying to make it look like they’re actually talking.
Apparently the situation as they describe it is how a radical leader of a terrorist group named Saddam Hussein- erm, I’m sorry, that’s Hassan Kussein (who’s also sleeping, by the way) has taken control of several Israeli territories. The President is sending in a specialized task force to deal with it. We switch to live feed from a reporter on the field and despite the fact that his mouth is actually open, this poor reporter’s eyes are just as shut as the others, indicating he must be sleeping, too.
The next page is a double-page spreading featuring the arrival of the Away Team of Youngblood, which features a character not seen on either cover – Combat! Well, actually, in all fairness, he DOES appear on one of the covers – the one with the Home Team. But he’s not wearing the ridiculously goofy and huge helmet he’s sporting here that makes him look like a giant tuning-fork. Additionally, he’s holding a huge pink gun in his hands and while I’m sure it was meant to look cool or badass, really it just makes me wonder if it’s just a giant frosting dispenser. To make matters worse, while the other members of Youngblood are leaping down from helicopters in relatively the same direction, Pinky the gold salad fork here is dropping down facing the wrong way plus scrunching his body as if he were sitting on a toilet.
Cut to the next page and now Combat’s gun is like three times smaller than it was in the previous page (but still Pink). Combat announces shock that there were more than what the Briefings said there would be. Cougar, who is of course not Wolverine at all, has a brief conversation with Combat (who’s sporting childbearing hips in a couple of these panels) about how he treats war like a game:
“Got more toy soldiers to play with!”
“War’s just a game to you?”
“Yup. Otherwise, this wouldn’t be fun, Coug!”
“I gotta admit, this gets me pumped!”
And suddenly we’re in a Jane Fonda video. Thanks, Cougar. Well, actually that would explain why all of these losers are so muscle-bound. Must be really tough to keep up that figure. On the next page, the de-facto team leader Sentinel (who is obviously not Iron Man) explains that this is only the first wave and that and it’s revealed that Combat wasn’t paying attention during the Briefing. Oh, and his gun has turned into another size, this time about 2/3 of the original size. Let’s see – he doesn’t pay attention to briefings, he has a size-changing gun, he’s got to be uncomfortable to be with in an elevator due to his size, and he treats war like a game. The next generation of heroes, ladies and gentlemen!
On the next page we catch up with the other members of the Away team. Psi-Fire just kind of floats in the air with his hands by his side as he flies alongside Riptide, who is herself riding on a wave of water. He ‘cleverly’ quips, “I should’ve bought this land! I’ve always wanted beachfront property, babe!!(sic)” Riptide, echoing the sentiments of every human being on the planet, responds, “Shut up, Psi-Fire!”
Following along is the other team strongman Brahma, and he- OH MY GOD, THERE’S A BLACK HOLE FORMING IN HIS MOUTH! Well, okay, not really, but it sure as hell looks that way. He complains, “These soldiers are worse than flies!”[??] and Riptide responds that she needs him to keep swatting them since it’s taking all of her concentration to form waves in the middle of the desert. And already I like Riptide, even in spite of the fact that her outfit (while somewhat appropriate given her powers) is a bathing suit and she has no eyes. Not only did she tell another guy on the team to shut up, but her powers are actually decent as she even uses the water stream to punch some enemy soldiers.
They close in on their target, a small building without much security (to help obscure Saddam- er, Hassan’s location). The group leaps in close to the building only to be stopped by an energy field that’s being fired upon by a group of large robots[!!!]! Psi-Fire is fine, however, and he creepily exclaims that he can take Hassan out from the states. The energy field doesn’t affect him and he looks up at the camera, reveling actually quite frighteningly with his lack of eyes and exclaims that he “wanted to do this personally!”
Meanwhile, Combat and Cougar have suddenly engaged with other high-tech robots and Cougar asks, “Is your little brother beating up on you again?” Huh? Oh, I get it, Combat’s a robot... or a cyborg. In any case, Combat gets all pissy (probably because he lost is helmet) and starts laying the smackdown on the robot. Sadly, it’s a rather unimpressive battle, since instead of seeing the robot get dented or mangled, we instead just see him getting hit with a couple hard ‘punch’ starbursts that could’ve happened had this been an organic opponent. Cougar stops Combat from killing the robot (Or is it a mech? We can’t actually tell), and tells him it “isn’t Katella.” It would’ve been nice to know just what the hell Katella is, but I’m sure that was supposed to be part of the ‘mystery’ that draws readers back for more of these ‘exciting’ adventures.
We cut back to Psi-Fire and Kussein with the would-be dictator pleading for his life. To Liefeld’s credit, Psi-Fire actually looks pretty normal here, with the buff Psi-Fire having realistic muscle proportions. However, since I’m sure Liefeld was trying to get the effect of Psi-Fire focusing more on his psychic abilities and not his physical prowess, the effect is sadly lost. To make Psi-Fire even more unpleasant, he proclaims, “I actually admire what you’ve done here in this backwards country. It’s just that mine pays me more.” Kussein tries to say he’ll give him more money, but Psi-Fire isn’t interested. Instead, he gives a little psychic attack to Kussein’s brain and much to the surprise of every reader of the book, we get a close-up shot of Kussein’s eye – wow, it actually exists! But then we cut to the next page of Kussein holding his head in pain while Psi-Fire says that he does this kind of stuff for free (then why was he talking about how he’s better paid in the USA?) and with pleasure, allowing Kussein’s head to blow up off-panel and shoot blood everywhere.
Combat and Cougar enter, saying with rather mild annoyance, “he did it again!” Combat says it’s impressive as the other members of Youngblood wake up and also express their eye-rolling disappointment over the fact that he killed him. Brahma just stares at the body as if Gary Coleman had slapped him in the face while my favorite character Riptide sums it up with an irritated, “Oh, way to go!! Brilliant!” Iron Man- er, Sentinel says it’s time to leave and they should call the clean up crew.
And the final page? A shot of US (sic) Today saying that Kussein’s terror ended in his suicide. The newsprint says that he apparently unpinned a grenade in his mouth and that a suicide note was found nearby. Our heroes, ladies and gentlemen – they’re murderers, liars, and support other killers. Isn’t it just the stuff of legends? Also on the page is a hinting that the former leader of Youngblood, Battlestone, is still at large with private “Brigade,” possibly hinting at future things to come, while a side-story on the newspaper features a little jab at Marvel, the company that produced such a fine, fine artist as Mr. Liefeld.
Well, there you have it, folks – heroes that will no doubt live on for decades to come! Take that, Teen Titans! Take that, Avengers! Hell, take that, Defenders!