Youngblood is a superhero team that starred in their self-titled comic book, created by writer/artist Rob Liefeld. The team made its debut as a backup feature in the 1987 RAMM #1 before the next month appearing in the one-shotMegaton Explosion #1 before later appearing in 1992 in its own ongoing series as the flagship publication for Image Comics. Youngblood was originally published by Image Comics, and later by Awesome Entertainment. Upon Rob Liefeld’s return to Image Comics, it was revived in 2008, 2012, and 2017. In 2019, Liefeld revealed that he has not owned the rights to Youngblood for several years.
Youngblood was a high-profile superteam sanctioned and overseen by the United States government. Youngblood’s members include Shaft, a former FBI agent who uses a high-tech bow; Badrock, a teenager transformed into a living block of stone;Vogue, a Russian fashion model with purple-and-chalk-white skin; and Chapel, a government assassin.
Youngblood was inspired by creator Rob Liefeld‘s idea that if superheroes existed in real life, they would be treated as celebrities, much the same as movie stars and athletes. The series, therefore, depicts the superhero members of Youngblood not only as they participate in adventures fighting crime and evil, but navigating the world of celebrity endorsement deals, TV show appearances, agents, managers, and the perceived pressures of celebrity life.
From 1985 to 1987, Liefeld did pinups for Megaton Comics, including one of the character Ultragirl that would see print in RAMM #1 (May 1987) and Megaton Comics Explosion #1 (June 1987), a “who’s who“-type reference book featuring individual entries of characters in the style of an encyclopedia or handbook. This gave Liefeld an opportunity for his own creation, Youngblood, to see print in this form. The two-page entry featuring the team (consisting at that point of the characters Sentinel, Sonic, Brahma, Riptide, Cougar, Psi-Fire, and Photon) was the team’s first appearance in print.
Two months later, the team appeared in an advertisement in Megaton #8 (August 1987) indicating that it would next appear in Megaton Special #1 by Liefeld and writer Hank Kanalz, with a cover by artist Jerry Ordway. However, Megaton Comics went out of business before that comic was printed.
Liefeld has explained that the version of Youngblood that eventually saw print in Youngblood #1 was based partially on his 1991 plan for a new Teen Titans series for DC Comics to be co-written with Marv Wolfman. According to Liefeld, he and managing editor Dick Giordano failed to reach an agreement on the project, and Liefeld merged his Teen Titans ideas with his previous, creator-ownedYoungblood property. According to Liefeld, “Shaft was intended to be Speedy. Vogue was a new Harlequin design, Combat was a Kh’undian warrior circa the Legion of Super-Heroes, ditto for Photon and Die Hard was a S.T.A.R. Labs android. I forgot who Chapel was supposed to be, but I’m sure it would have rocked”. Given the failed deal with DC and Liefeld’s increasingly strained relationship with Marvel Comics over his X-Force royalties, he joined other Marvel artists to form Image Comics in order to publish Youngblood in their own series.
Youngblood #1 would be an anthology consisting of two separate stories published in flip book format, meaning that reading the second story required the reader to turn the book upside down and begin reading with the back cover; not to be confused with animation flip books. The “A” story of Youngblood #1 would feature the organisation’s “home team” (for domestic missions), consisting of Shaft, Badrock (originally named Bedrock), Chapel, Die Hard, Photon and Vogue; the “B” story would feature the “away team” (for international missions), consisting of Sentinel, Brahma, Combat, Cougar, Psi-Fire and Riptide.
A sneak preview of the series appeared in The Malibu Sun #1 (February 1992), published by Image through Malibu Comics, which provided administrative, production, distribution, and marketing support for Image’s early publications. On March 13, two separate 5½” x 8½″ black-and-white ashcan editions of Youngblood began to surface, each featuring one of two separate stories from Youngblood #1. Edition “A” featured the 13-page lead story, while Edition “B” featured the other side of the flip book, along with four extra pages of art that would not be included in the premier issue. According to Image Comics spokesperson John Beck, the print run on edition “A” was 1,000 copies, and edition “B” was limited to 500 copies.
Youngblood #1 (April 1992) was the first Image Comics publication. At the time of its release, it was the highest selling independent comic book published, despite receiving poor reviews from critics for unclear storytelling due to both Liefeld’s art and the book’s flip format, which some readers found confusing; poor anatomy; incorrect perspective; non-existent backgrounds; poor dialogue; and the late shipping of the book, a problem that continued with subsequent issues. In an interview in Hero Illustrated #4 (October 1993), Liefeld conceded disappointment with the first four issues of Youngblood, calling the first issue a “disaster”. He explained that production problems, as well as sub-par scripting by his friend and collaborator Hank Kanalz, whose employment Liefeld later terminated, resulted in work that was lower in quality than that which Liefeld produced when Fabian Nicieza scripted his plots on X-Force, and that reprints of those four issues would be re-scripted. Writer and columnist Peter David pointed to Liefeld’s scapegoating of Kanalz as an example of Liefeld’s failure to take responsibility for his project, and evidence that genuine collaboration with good writers like Louise Simonson and Fabian Nicieza, which some of the Image founders did not appreciate, had previously reflected better on Liefeld’s art. Throughout its run at Image, Youngblood and other books published by Liefeld’s Extreme Studios were attacked by critics for late issues and inconsistent quality.
Issues #1-5 and #0 of Youngblood were published intermittently between April 1992 and July 1993, with a five-month delay between the fourth and fifth issues. Youngblood #5 was published within the same issue as Brigade #4 as its flip-side. Four issues of a spin-off series Youngblood: Strikefile were also published over April–October 1993: issues #1-3 were flip books with stories spotlighting the characters Die Hard and Chapel; issue #4 was a done-in-one story featuring Shaft, Badrock and Die Hard. A one-shot Youngblood Yearbook (effectively an annual) featuring the “away team” was also published, cover-dated to July 1993.
Liefeld solicited writer Kurt Busiek for Youngblood stories in 1993. Busiek wrote detailed plots for three issues and ideas for a fourth, under the proposed title Youngblood: Year One. This was never produced, but the plot lines were revived amid controversy years later.
From September 1993 a new title was launched, Team Youngblood, published monthly, pencilled by Chap Yaep. It featured a new lineup based on the former “away team”, consisting of Sentinel, Cougar, Photon, Riptide, and new characters Dutch (owned by Yaep) and Masada. This series effectively replaced the original Youngblood title; characters Shaft and Badrock were limited to cameos, and Chapel was added to the cast of Bloodstrike. Issues #7-8 were included in the “Extreme Prejudice” crossover event.
The original Youngblood series resumed in June 1994 from issue #6, now published monthly, and strongly integrated with Team Youngblood with plot developments and characters crossing back and forth between the two titles. Old characters were brought back including Shaft, Badrock, Vogue, Combat and Brahma, while new ones were introduced including Knightsabre, Troll, and trainee recruits Task and Psilence. Issue #9 of Youngblood was an out-of-continuity story written and pencilled by Jim Valentino as part of “Image X Month”, where creators swapped titles. The original volume of Youngblood ended with issue #10 in December 1994, having been delayed. Youngblood: Strikefile also resumed in July 1994 from issue #5 as an anthology of stories spotlighting various individual main characters; it ended with issue #11.
The January 1995 crossover event “Extreme Sacrifice” incorporated Team Youngblood #17 as “Part 6 of 8”, and afterward included Youngblood: Strikefile #11 (February 1995) as “Part 0 of 8” for its main story featuring Chapel. Team Youngblood then ran for issues #18-20 over May–July 1995, ahead of a relaunch of the Youngblood title with a new issue #1 in September.
Issue #3 of the second Youngblood volume crossed over with Glory in a two-part story. The January 1996 nine-part crossover event “Extreme Destroyer” included Youngblood #4. The “Rage of Angels” and “ShadowHunt” crossovers incorporated issues #6 and #7 respectively, and also revived the Team Youngblood title for issues #21 and #22 respectively.
The rest of the 1990s would see Image Comics release several crossoverone-shot stories with Marvel Comics. Following issue #10, Youngblood went on hiatus for five months, and a two-part inter-company crossover with the Marvel Comics series titled Youngblood/X-Force and X-Force/Youngblood (also created by Liefeld) was released in the month of August 1996. In December 1996, the series returned for one issue with #14 – its story picked up directly after #10, and no issues #11-13 were ever published. The ongoing story arc was intended to conclude with an issue #15, which was solicited but never released.
Around this time, Liefeld had a falling out with his Image partners, forcing him to leave the company and take Youngblood with him.