Thursday, May 4, 2017

Quick Thoughts: Youngblood #1 - Well, it's all in the title.

Youngblood #1 "Youngblood Reborn Chapter One"
Written by Chad Bowers
Art by Jim Towe
Colors by Juan Manuel Rodriguez
Letters by Rus Wooton
“As is Should Be”
Written/Art by Rob Liefeld
Inks by Shelby Robertson
Colors by Juan Manuel Rodriguez
Letters by Rus Wooton
Cover by Jim Towe

Youngblood, like most 90s comics, is one I don’t have much experience with. Sure, I have something of a historical perspective on it and the first wave of Image titles due to writing and documentaries like The Image Revolution, but beyond them being at once very popular and something of a punchline for the ills of the 90s, I couldn’t tell you who any of these characters are or their desires. Still there is a decent amount of buzz surrounding this new edition of Youngblood and so here I am.

It’s almost a little freaky at how this books origin story and that of Rob Liefeld match. In the case of Liefeld, he was a 19-year-old kid with a portfolio at WonderCon ’87 and managed to impress Marvel’s Mark Grunwald into giving him a job. (A similar, if less artistically driven, series of events is how Matt Hawkins got into things.) Youngblood (2017) origin also features a young largely unknown artist, Jim Towe, showing off his work to a comic elder, all in the size of a tweet.  And now nearly a year later, the comic that kicked off Image comics 25 years ago is back again.  In a letter from Liefeld at the back of the book, the creator admits to some reticence to letting others play with his “toys”, but he’d let well known writers like Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek play with them, why not these (relatively) new kids on the block and pay it forward.

Jim Towe - The Image the Started it All

There is an admiration and sincerity to this book that only really comes from fans. This book technically isn’t a reboot. It’s more a late sequel akin to Star Wars: The Force Awakens or the current The Magdelna(2017) series. Bowers and Towe haven’t erased the continuity, instead use it and the intervening period of inactivity to setup a new generation of heroes for a new generation of readers. I wonder if this is what watching Force Awakens as your first only Star Wars experience was like, after growing up in a culture permeated with its oeuvre. Much like the new generation in Star Wars, the previous cast find themselves in circumstances they and fans likely didn’t imagine for themselves. Trump era aside, President Diehard wasn’t in the Youngblood year book. These new circumstances likely play better for more experienced readers since they would be able to project a deeper emotional continuity and subtext onto the settings. The sequences with the original crew weren’t entirely without affect, Bowers and Towe beautifully exposit the relationship between Shaft and Badrock in a single page. Bowers described these two as the “heart and soul” of the team and I get that feeling from that page.

For all the newness, Youngblood is true to the core idea of the original series: superhero as celebrity. Except, where Liefeld looked to the NBA Dream team and other athletes for inspiration, Bowers uses our current digitally fueled sensibilities to define a new more ephemeral brand of celebrity. With all the talk of the Gig Economy, having this new book powered by the Uber for vigilantisim, an app called Help!, just makes too much sense. How Bowers and Towe use that conceit to effectively update the world and point of view of the series is great comics making. The app and its usage is the macguffin for this first arc ‘Reborn’ as a new generation of heroes look to the past to find one of their own who has gone missing. Towe uses the conceit of ratings and social media feedback to show both the high-octane action and mundanity of Olympian Petra Gomez aka Gunner’s nightly routine. Thanked for her hard work, but never quite given a 5* report. It’s this world building that is the most effective aspect of Youngblood #1.

Towe’s art feels fresh and modern, with clean lines for colorist Juan Manuel Rodriguez to texture over. Layouts are efficiently organized, dynamic, and with purpose. It isn’t art for art’s sake. Liefeld and those early Image titles were so defined by their aesthetic that storytelling took a bit of a backseat. Here it works in consort, Towe uses one 15 panel grid to show the tedium of Gunner’s process and her emotional reaction to it. And later one during the action sequence when things get a little more bombastic they grow in scale and build.

The Secrets of Birds

Original creator Rob Liefeld appears to be penning a backup strip “As is Should Be”, featuring some time travel hijinks. There’s a slightly reflexive sensibility to it as Kirby (imagine Jack Kirby crossed with Cable), talks about the mission and the book. I’ve got no idea what any of it means, except to read it as part of a larger meta narrative justifying/toying with the fact that this is new start to the series.

I’m not sure I’ll be writing more Quick Thoughts on Youngblood going forward. I’ll continue checking this out and if anything, cool and worth recognizing happens it will be noted here. If not, look for something a bit longer when the first trade is released. Youngblood is off to a good start and has a novel pov for a cape book not in the Big Two.

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