The Unpredictable Legacy of Rob Liefeld's Youngblood

Rob Liefeld Youngblood

Prophet: Earth War #1 was released last week, marking the beginning of the end for Brandon Graham’s long, strange sci-fi odyssey. For 25 issues, from Prophet #21 to Prophet #45, the series has explored distant reaches of the galaxy, alien cultures, and technology without any basis for comparison. It has been a fascinating examination of what comics creators can compose when given complete control of the story and page. This series didn’t begin with #21 in 2012 though. Its origin begins 20 years earlier in the pages of Youngblood #2.

The character Prophet was not created by Graham or his many collaborators on the current series; he was created by Image co-founder Rob Liefeld. Originally planned to appear in the page of Liefeld’s X-Force at Marvel Comics, the artist decided to withhold the new superhero for creator-owned work. That was how Prophet jumped ship and possibly avoided a fate similar to many other early 90’s X-Men creations, semi-permanently shelved in obscurity. Instead he was discovered by the titular team of Youngblood and launched into his own series in 1993 and another, penned by Chuck Dixon, in 1995.

Rob Liefeld Prophet

The current iteration of Prophet and those that preceded it bare little in common. They are both pieces of their own time. Liefeld’s Prophet perfectly encapsulates what people mean when they refer to 90s comics. It is big muscles, exaggerated forms, constant violence, and plenty of talk. Everything about both his Prophet and Youngblood can be described as big and bold. There is no holding back in these testosterone-infused superhero adventures. Liefeld makes his biggest influence as clear as can be in both series as well, including a cigar chomping, WWII vet superhero named Kirby in the supporting cast. In these comics, impact is the focus.

Graham’s revival of Prophet alongside artists like Giannis Milonogiannis, Farel Dalrymple, and Simon Roy is much more constrained by comparison. Their focus lies much more in the details of Prophet’s futuristic world from the tools on his belt to the different societal structures on each planet. There’s still plenty of violence in these pages, but the manner in which a character fights and what he or she uses to do so is just as much of interest as what they accomplish. Panels often rest on quiet moments and include various insets to pull forth even the tiniest of additions to the story.

The impact of both series is undeniable. Youngblood and Prophet were both met with massive sales as leaders in the Image boom of the early 90s. The current Prophet has not seen the same commercial success in a comics market significantly reduced in size, but has seen widespread critical acclaim. Its pages have highlighted the work of many of the most talented artists working in the medium today, drawing further attention to works like Graham’s King City and Dalrymple’s The Wrenchies. The connection between the two lies less with the tone or look of the story, but the talent behind the same concept.

Rob Liefeld Supreme

This isn’t the first time that one of Liefeld’s creations in Youngblood has found a second life in the eyes and hands of distinctly different creators either. The most obvious example of this would be Alan Moore’s Supreme. Supreme was a Superman homage who appeared in a backup feature to Youngblood #3, only four months after Prophet entered the world. The character Supreme would receive a variety of treatments from a variety of different creators before becoming part of an acclaimed comics saga. Liefeld convinced legendary comics scribe Alan Moore to begin writing the ongoing series with Supreme #41. Moore, done working with the “big two” publishers Marvel and DC like Liefeld, agreed on one condition: he be allowed to completely reinvent the character. Liefeld agreed.

Moore’s run on Supreme did not disappoint fans of the writer or the character. He brought the same intelligence and insight to this god-like superhuman that he had to previous superhero stories like those of Swamp Thing, Miracleman, and Batman. His work on Supreme was much less dark however, prefacing his work on more fun future series at America’s Best Comics (ABC) like Tom Strong and Top 10. Moore examined what the impact of such immense power would have on an individual, but turned his focus to more positive outcomes. Supreme, like many other Image series begun in the 90s, was plagued by delays and would not see a conclusion until 2012 when Moore’s final script for Supreme #63 was released.

Rob Liefeld Glory

Supreme was not the only Liefeld Youngblood creation to be retooled by Moore. Glory, a Wonder Woman homage created in the pages of Youngblood: Strikefile in 1993, would receive a similar treatment in 1999. However, Moore saved most of his ideas for another ABC series Promethea. Glory’s greatest re-interpretation would actually come at the hands of writer Joe Keatinge and artist Sophie Campbell. Just like with Graham’s Prophet her new series was not renumbered; it began with Glory #23 and lasted for 12 issues.

Campbell’s visual reinterpretation of the character might be the series’ most notable aspect. The sexualized interpretation of many of Liefeld’s female characters was removed in order for an actualized female barbarian to emerge. Glory is shown to be a very muscular, scarred albino warrior. Her form becomes much less angular and far more human with elements of muscle and fat playing at the reality of her brutal skillsets. Together Keatinge and Campbell examined both the gender politics at play in Glory as well as the impact of her violent career and choices in a truly spectacular 12 issues of comics.

Prophet,Supreme, Glory: each of these series has established a reputation for excellence in the modern comicsphere. They represent unique stories reflecting the talents and ideas of their own creators. You cannot have Prophet without Graham, Supreme without Moore, or Glory without Campbell. Each of them is utterly unique, yet they share a common origin.

That origin is the mind and pencil of Rob Liefeld. While none of the series that spun out of his initial Image creation Youngblood may reflect his style or sensibilities, they reflect his philosophy. In Youngblood Liefeld sought to create something for himself and control that creation. Whatever accolades his X-Force and Deadpool comics may receive, there is not a more Liefeld comic than Youngblood. By that same standard, each of the acclaimed series to take a Youngblood character into new, fascinating directions has embodied its new creators just as well. Liefeld has invited great talents, old and new, into the world he created and allowed them to do exactly what they wanted to do. The results have been nothing short of spectacular, a testament to the power and potential of comics.