15 Years Later and I’m Still Reading Youngblood

When I got into comics, it was at the beginning of an exciting time. Image Comics didn’t exist, and the guys who would go on to turning the comics world upside down were still working at Marvel. Comics rock stars where emerging left and right. McFarlane on Spider-Man, Lee on Uncanny X-Men. Silvestri on Wolverine, Liefeld on New Mutants, Larsen on The Amazing Spider-Man, Portacio on X-Factor and Valentino on Guardians of the Galaxy. These were all comics that I read and absolutely adored. It felt like an exciting time, like we were on the verge of our generation of comics artists. And then, for whatever reason, I stopped reading comics. 

In the short time period away from comics, I missed the exodus of the rock stars from Marvel and the formation of Image Comics. I missed it all by about 6 months, at most. I was unaware of what had happened when I wandered into a comic book store and picked up an issue of Supreme #2. In the pages of this Superman-esque comic book, I saw an ad for Youngblood, which had same vaguely familiar artwork. It looked like Rob Liefeld’s work on X-Force, but different. These were different characters and the 14 year old comics fan in me had his curiosity piqued. I sought out this Youngblood and was able to track down all the issues that had been released.


Now say what you will about Rob Liefeld and his art style, pouches and small ankles aside, Youngblood was immensely popular when it was released. Selling over 1 million copies, it’s safe to say that Youngblood was (is?) Rob Liefeld’s opus. It’s the work in his career that he will be best known for. Not only did it help launch Image Comics, and make him a lot of money, but it was probably the best work of his career. That said, if you were to go find and re-read those issues now, I’m not sure how well they’d hold up. Sure the art looked great, but let’s face it, as a writer Rob Liefeld is a fantastic artist. But the premise for Youngblood and the characters designed by Liefeld were top notch, and despite my jaded, cynical take a comics critic, I can’t say that I don’t think of Youngblood fondly, with nostalgic appreciation.
I’ve wrestled with my appreciation of Youngblood and Liefeld’s work for years. By all rights, I should join the legions of critics in dismissing Liefeld and poking fun at his work. But I simply can’t. As a 14 year old comics fan, I enjoyed his work. I can’t deny it. I see the logical, intelligent arguments against Liefeld in terms of anatomy and the like, but for whatever reason, I don’t care. At the time, Liefled’s sharp lines and cross hatching was exactly the art style I was looking for in 1992.

So when I heard rumblings of a project underway at Image to take the original Youngblood issues, recolor them and have Joe Casey re-script them, my curiosity was piqued. Youngblood had become the butt of many jokes, so I was very curious to see what could be done with this 15 year old material. Could a good writer take the characters and concepts laid out by Liefeld 15 years ago and make it any good? If he couldn’t, it would be sure to be amusing to at least check out. So as soon as I could get my hands on the recently released Youngblood, Volume 1 hardcover, I dove into it to see what it was like.

Right out of the gate, this book is absolutely beautiful. Slightly oversized, hardcover, great paper, clear printing with stunning colors, I don’t think Youngblood or any of Liefeld’s work has ever looked this good. One of my favorite things about Youngblood was the character designs of the main characters. Shaft, Die-Hard, Photon, Vogue etc. These characters just have something special in terms of their look. As I said, I truly believe this is Liefeld’s best work, combining his knack for splash pages with actual story telling, Youngblood is nothing but action. The new colors by Matt Yackey really do wonders to the 15 year old pencils. There’s a great comparison in the back matter of the book that compares a cover and how it looked colored in 1992 compared to re-coloring today. I have to admit, it’s amazing to see the difference.

But the real difference in this book is Joe Casey’s reimagined writing. Unfortunately I don’t have access to my comics collection (they’re in my storage unit), so I’m unable to compare and contrast the story and dialogue, but a few pages in, I could quickly tell the improvement in the writing right out of the gate. 15 years ago was a long time ago, but I do remember that despite enjoying the art and the character designs and concepts, I remembered that the story movement (namely in and around the introduction of Prophet) was, at best, confusing. Somehow Casey was able to forge a story that was not only easy to follow but was really engaging. I found myself not being able to put the book down, blowing through the 123 pages in just one sitting.

It’s fascinating to me that a property like Youngblood could get an injection of creativity and completely revitalize it. The concept of high profile government super heroes is not one that is new to the world of comics, but the flair that was brought by Liefeld originally cannot go unnoticed. But the writing of Joe Casey is able to build upon those concepts and flesh them out into a comic that is both modern, mature and exciting. It blows my mind that twice in 15 years I could be impressed and excited by a comic book but for completely different reasons. 15 years ago, youthful enthusiasm and frustration drove my enjoyment of Liefeld’s art. But today, it’s the modern storytelling and unique spin on the original work that has got me pulled in yet again. Liefeld and Casey have done the unthinkable and made the original Youngblood series a better comic book. A comic book that I can respect.

Now I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of blow back and disagreement from the majority of you after you read this. I’ve never quite understood the negativity that’s surrounded the critics of Liefeld’s art. Art is subjective, so it’s really open to both embracing and rejecting of it. If you hate Liefeld, that’s your prerogative. Lord knows the guy has made some odd decisions in his career and definitely hasn’t delivered very good work since the early 90s. And actually, looking at the world of comics “journalism” and criticism, it’s extremely easy to poke fun at Liefeld. It’s almost lazy writing in how quickly most bloggers and critics jump all over him as a target.

But personally for me, I’ve always been fascinated by Youngblood and enjoyed it back in the day. I’m a big fan of Joe Casey, pretty much enjoying whatever he writes. So while on one hand I’m shocked at how much I’ve enjoyed this book, but on the other hand, I’m not all that surprised. Given how nostalgic I am  in general, even if they simply collected the original Youngblood issues, I’m sure I would have enjoyed it. But the re-imagining of it brought something new and original to and old property that I have fond memories of, which is pretty cool if you ask me.



  1. Good job, Ron.  I’m sure I will enjoy this should I get a chance to pick it up soon.  You’ve sold me.  I, too, can see the points his critics make, but I loved his stuff back in the Cable days of the ’90s.

  2. are these pages from the recolored version?

  3. This certainly sounds like an interesting project…I’d definitely like to be able to compare/contrast this new version with the old.  

    Augie de Blieck wrote about the HC a few weeks ago.  To anyone interested, I’d recommend checking out the Pipeline for some more info about this book.

  4. I need context.  Is that fat ninja dwarf fat and a dwarf for a reason or is that just Rob Liefeld being Rob Liefeld?

  5. I am gonna get the Trade of the series. I to like the Casey.

  6. @nickmaynard The artwork in this article is indeed from the hardcover and are the recolored pages

  7. Ron, I gotta get the childish comment in before actually addressing your article: "If you like Rob Leifeld so much, why don’t you marry him?"

    Just kidding.

    I’ll agree with you that art is subjective. How can I not? I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Karl Moline, especially whis Buffyverse work, while the whole Ifanboy crew finds it to be servicable at best. To each his own, live and let live, etc.

    As for the reflexive online hate that automatically appears upon any positive mention of Leifeld, I’ll also agree it can be lazy writing. Years end best-of lists are lazy writing too, but I both read and write them myself. Lazy doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.

    Rob Leifeld probably gets more crap in the online communities than anyone, including his one-time collaborator Jeph Loeb. Is it deserved? I dunno. Personally, I own one book Rob drew – a fill in issue of Uncanny that I bought at a convenience store in ’89 (after quitting comics in 1985, I’d buy one book a year just to see what was going on.). I didn’t care for it but didn’t hate it. I’ve got some Awesome-or-Extreme-verse books he plotted or something – they came in a box of old Image stuff I got for ten bucks – like Badrock. I think I leafed through them but no actual reading. 

    Why does Rob catch so much crap from fans? I’d say it’s probably becasue he serves as a solid example of everything that went wrong with comics in the nineties. He created a slew of characters that appear to be based solely on cool names or costume ideas, without actually coming up with, you know, character. Lots of splash pages. Derivative characters. Copycat teams. Dynamic art, but art without any connection to artistic conventions like perspective or anatomy. Studio with a House Style that flat-out did not allow variation from the original source. Missed deadlines. Starting book after book then not following up. Anouncing projects that show up years later, if at all. Delays upon delays. And then there’s the whole poaching Michael Turner from Top Cow. And the Levis commercial. Dear god, the Levis ad. 

    But despite all this, he still has fans, you included Ron. I’ve always liked Casey; generally, if he’s written it it’s worth at least a long, hard look. So, Mr. Richards, with your unquallified endorsement of this book and my respect for Joe C., I’m gonna buy it. You’ve sold me.

    Now, can you give Karl Moline another chance? 

  8. @Rob – I thnk you’re putting words in my mouth about Karl Moline.

  9. This was the first comic I ever bought from the first installment and it brings back great memories of just reading comics and waiting for them to come out and see what was next before the internet…but like almost everything in the 90s its pretty dated.

  10. I had a different reaction when Image comics came out. I was curious, but skeptical. I bought an issue of Supreme and it wasn’t good. I bought Brigade issue 0 and loved it. I bought Trencher and dug it quite a bit. Sadly, my next Brigade purchase sucked and I had trouble finding another issue of Trencher (found out later it had ended after four issues) and I eventually fell out of comics. Youngblood was never on my radar because it looked terrible and Spawn never quite grabbed me until HBO made an (excellent) animated series out of it.

    So…if I hadn’t stopped buying comics, Image wouldn’t have gotten very far with me.  If they hadn’t become what they are now, I wouldn’t touch them today.  

  11. Sorry Conor. Re-listened to the episode. You defended Moline and the art but had problems with some panels. Ron hated it. Josh seemed indifferent. So, yes I did and I’m sorry.

    Which brings up another point, though. Ron, did you ever get around to reading Fray, and if so whatdya think? 

  12. @RobAbsten – Josh was indifferent because he doesn’t read BUFFY  🙂

  13. Ron, I’m pleased that you wrote this article. I have never followed the Liefeld Image work, but I am intrigued. It seems like perfect library comic reading (the university at which I work has a great graphic novel section).

    What I do feel strongly about is that Liefeld was a fantastic artist for the later New Mutants and early X-Force books. I have as much nostalgia for those books as I do for anything. Cable was a fascinating character as much because of his appearance (square head, creepy eye, oversized upper body) as his great backstory.

  14. you know i never really liked lefield’s art when he was popular. i mean i didn’t hate it, he was no jim lee. but now i look at it and i can appreciate his art choices. personally it doesn’t look amateuris to me, but just stylized.


    i appreciate this review and i might just pick this re-written story in glorious hardcover.


    love the hardcovers. 

  15. Coloring is a nice update, and it’s good to see a real writer’s name attached, but I must insist on missing this one. Nevertheless, good article, Ron. I can certainly relate, though not in the case of Liefeld. His.. interpretation… of Captain America will not allow my brain to form any positive thoughts about him…

  16. As someone who just recently bought (and really likes) the new Guns N Roses album, I can’t help but think that Liefeld is like the Axl Rose of comics.  He is very polarizing, he had a famous split with his partners, and has sort of disappeared for an extended period based on a lot of money made early on, etc.  So I gave Axl another shot, I may here as well.

    I find it interesting to look back at Youngblood like this.  I was a few years older than Ron in 1992. but was still a fairly young comic reader.  I recall loving the art of all the image guys but thinking that almost all were just horrible writers.  Ironically the ones that could write (Liefeld and Valentino in my mind) also were the worst artists of the bunch.  So I never felt that early Image worked for me, you either had georgeous art and bad writing or vice versa.  

    I am interested to see a good writer tackle these pages and may check it out.



  17. Check that, it was supposed to say Larson and Valentino abone …

  18. Nice article, Ron.

    I was around 12 years old around the time Liefeld was drawing New Mutants, and it’s that title (and Liefeld) that got me into comics.  As a 14 year old kid, Liefeld’s over-the-top, highly kinetic artwork totally got me off.  I mean, how could it not at 14?  Big guns, girls with big boobs, and tons of glowing eyes and shit.  As soon as one of my friends showed me an issue of NM, I was immediately hooked on comics.

    I’ll totally agree that Liefeld’s stuff isn’t as "good" as it used to be.  Just looking at those pages that you posted show the amount of energy Liefeld injected into his comics.  Sadly, he just doesn’t inject that same energy into his pages as he used to.

    But again, nice article.  You’ve definitely put me in a mood of reminiscence, almost longing for those magical days of the 90’s…  the formation of Image, the "grim n’ gritty" scene, and gimmick covers abound.