When we decided to do “Year of the Knockoff” here at Women Write About Comics, I decided to jump in front of the bullet and cover a knockoff of my favorite team . . . that also happens to be one of my least favorite comics. That is, of course, Rob Liefeld’s oft-delayed, multiple-publisher magnum
When we decided to do “Year of the Knockoff” here at Women Write About Comics, I decided to jump in front of the bullet and cover a knockoff of my favorite team . . . that also happens to be one of my least favorite comics. That is, of course, Rob Liefeld’s oft-delayed, multiple-publisher magnum opus, Youngblood.
Youngblood sprang from a failed Team Titans pitch that Liefeld made to DC. Some of the characters were obvious stand-ins for Titans characters; Shaft in particular is an obvious pastiche of DC’s Roy Harper. The first four issues were both published twice, with two different scripts by two different writers, so I’m going to look at both and see if the update—done by Joe Casey in 2010—reads any better than the original.
The original series was plotted and penciled by Rob Liefeld, inked by Liefeld and Danny K. Miki, contained dialogue by Hank Kanalz and Liefeld, and colors by Brian Murray, Digital Chameleon, Steve Oliff, and Olyoptics. The original series was also poorly proofed and edited by current Image Publisher Eric Stephenson. The 2010 update maintains the original pencils and inks, but with new scripting from Casey and modern-style digital colors from Matt Yackey.
The two versions use the same base art, though the second puts some scenes in a different order. Throughout the series are Liefeld hallmarks: lots of leaping, scowling, yelling, and smoke. Cross hatching abounds throughout the series, often used to overdramatic effect. One thing I do love about Liefeld’s art is how dynamic it is; his action scenes jump off the page, making for an exciting read despite the woeful anatomy. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Liefeld, but I do appreciate much of what he brought to the industry. The updated colors in the 2010 version also help to make the art more readable, as it adds some depth to some of the nondescript backgrounds.
As for the story, the original version was definitely more convoluted to read. As Youngblood #1 was the first Image issue released, it was trying to establish a shared universe of their books, and as such references to other series were shoehorned in, often ones that weren’t even out yet. I caught references to Stormwatch, Shadowhawk, Spawn and Savage Dragon. As someone who hasn’t read much early Image, I appreciate this effort, but it really dragged the scripting down. The worldbuilding would have felt much more organic if they’d let each title breathe on its own first, rather than throwing a myriad of references out during two panels in the third issue. Worse yet was the reference to Stormwatch in issue #4, telling readers to look for it in February—Youngblood #4 itself got delayed until February, and Stormwatch didn’t wind up coming out until the end of March. Let these books establish themselves first, and then start crossing over.
The Youngblood strike teams deal with Middle Eastern dictator Hassan Kussein (who is totally not Saddam Hussein). How do they deal with him, you ask? Psi-Fire blows his head clean up, Scanners-style. Just pops it like a zit with his telepathy. Another strike team is dealing with the Four, a team whose name is a knockoff of Teen Titans villains the Fearsome Five. This is made even more shameless by the fact that two of the Four’s members are Mammoth ripoff Strongarm (with the same weird body harness) and Shimmer ripoff Starbright.
In a third story, we have Prophet, who is a ripoff of Captain America’s super soldier program (read about his update here), and Jackson Kirby, who is totally not either Jack Kirby or Dan Turpin. They are fighting The Disciples of Doom, led by Darkthornn. I can’t imagine who that could possibly be *cough Darkseid cough*. Darkthornn mind controls Bedrock—and that’s where the Youngblood issues end. It was continued in Brigade #4, which I did not have access to, so who knows how the original story ended.
Luckily, I have the updated prints to look at still! The originals were dated, with references to Wizard Magazine, the other early Image books, and a Youngblood action figure line. You’d think this would mean the update would not be dated, right? You’d be wrong. We get references to Maxim, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issues, and Red Bull. Surely, the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006 would affect whether a comic getting rewritten in 2010 would contain a pastiche of him, right? Nope. Hassan Kussein is still there, and still gets his head exploded. C’mon Joe, you couldn’t have renamed him? Nobody would have noticed.
So I’ve talked about a lot of the knockoffs in this cavalcade of copies, but there were two that screamed at me in the original book . . . and then made me wonder how Image didn’t get sued in the rewrite. Shaft holds a press conference, and takes a question from two reporters. The first is a corn-fed young man in a blue suit, red tie, and glasses. The second is a shorter woman with black hair, cut much in the way John Byrne styled the hair of a certain metropolitan reporter. In the original issues this homage was obvious enough, and made me smile. However, when Joe Casey updated the script, he refers to the Midwestern young man as Clark, and to his companion as Miss Lane. This outright yanking is made all the more blatant by the fact that Joe Casey had written the pair for DC for a period of three years in the early 2000s. I’m sure Casey didn’t mean for it to be disrespectful, but I’m surprised that no legal action was taken with how closely DC defends their Superman rights.
As a whole, the modern retelling did read better, but still wasn’t good by any means. The best thing it did, though, was give me the closure to the story: included in the reprint was the final battle with Darkthornn. The team managed to make not-Darkseid retreat back to Apokalips . . . I mean D’khay, and Psi-Fire breaks Darkthornn’s hold on Badrock (because in the update it was no longer Bedrock—presumably because Hanna-Barbera made legal threats. Though he did maintain his Yabba Dabba Doom catchphrase).
In the spirit of Women Write About Comics’ “Year of the Knockoff,” here is a list of the knockoff characters in the first four issues of Youngblood (including issue #0):
- Shaft – Arsenal
- Vogue – Harlequin and Black Widow
- Prophet – Captain America
- Die Hard – Captain America AND Iron Man
- Cougar – Wolverine
- Kirby – Dan Turpin
- Miss Lane and Clark – Lois Lane and Clark Kent
- Darkthornn – Darkseid
- D’khay – Apokalips
- The Four – The Fearsome Five
- Strongarm – Mammoth
- Starbright – Shimmer
- Deadlock – Wolverine (again)
- Hassan Kussein – Saddam Hussein
- Battlestone – Cable
- Bedrock/Badrock – Blok and The Thing
- Sentinel – Iron Man, and
- Riptide – Namora