I'm about to spend way too many words discussing Youngblood so buckle the fuck up.

*First of all, since I spent a solid portion of my last post gushing about Kevin Huizenga, I thought I’d provide this link (as found on the TCJ board) to a recent strip he did for Time Magazine Canada. The joke’s pretty old, but the last page hits right at home for me. I also find the panel where Glen and his wife clasp hands in anticipation to be oddly hilarious; couples are truly brought closer together by exciting trends… UNTIL THEY ARE TORN APART. Have a look.

*I will have more reviews for recent books up by tomorrow morning. Life is a busy little bunny.

Youngblood Bloodsport #1 (of 3... although it used to be 4 but now I’m pretty sure it’s 3 again unless something changed since the book was first released in 2003)

Let’s start off with a “Youngblood” cheat-sheet for 2004.

There are currently three “Youngblood” miniseries fluttering around the meadow like so many capricious butterflies: “Youngblood Genesis” (two issue mini), “Youngblood Imperial” (twelve issue mini), and this, “Youngblood Bloodsport” (whatever). “Genesis” is the title that Kurt Busiek sort of had a hand in dealing with at one point, but not anymore. “Imperial” is the title that Robert Kirkman was writing but now he’s already off, to be replaced by Fabian Nicieza who’s currently on script clean-up detail on Liefeld’s Marvel book, “X-Force”. “Bloodsport” has been floating around conventions for a solid year now, but it just got sent to the Direct Market yesterday. That’s the one Mark Millar wrote. Unlike “Genesis” and “Imperial”, Liefeld himself provides the art for “Bloodsport”, although he’s also supposed to be doing the art for an issue #0 of “Imperial”, which is not out yet. “Genesis” and “Bloodsport” have seen one issue each released, and a ‘rough cut’ of “Imperial“ #1 is out. And “Genesis” #2 has apparently come out somewhere, but not the Direct Market. Yet.


It’s not like I have anything against “Youngblood” as a concept. I’ve rather enjoyed Alan Moore and Steve Skroce’s run on the title, another premature death. Liefeld’s then-company (Awesome Entertainment) went down early in the run; only the first two issues were released initially, and then the third issue came out one year later under the title of “Awesome Adventures” (tubular!) sporting some unfinished-looking art. But it was a good team book; Moore realized that the Youngblood team may be somewhat devoid of compelling characteristics as individual superheroes, but such lemons can be squeezed into sugar water and Youngblood could act as a blank slate, an archetypical superhero team onto which any sort of history or commentary could be projected. Moore’s earlier Youngblood dalliance, “Judgment Day”, the crossover lead-in to his ongoing series, successfully grafted a commentary on 'gritty' early 90’s comics onto a murder mystery plot, with the extended Youngblood team acting as the ultimate witnesses to those grim and bloody superhero days. They were born then, after all.

Mark Millar seems to understand this approach, “Youngblood” as the avatar for superheroics in general. So “Bloodsport” is constructed as a satire on current superhero comics, which sounds like a good enough path to take, given the source material. The plot begins at some point in the “Youngblood” future, where superhero over-saturation has all but extinguished supervilliany from the globe, but created widespread superhero joblessness. Some heroes are reduced to performing work-for-hire heroics for super-corporations, where they never share in the glory of their victories. Some have invested their superhero boom savings wisely, and live a life of debauchery. And many are just walking the streets. But wait! A consortium of alternate realities have joined together to form an Ultimate Youngblood team, a multiverse-spanning best-of-the-best, with the economic power of several Earths behind it. Naturally, everyone wants in, but hard times have led some very nasty hiring criteria.

It’s not the freshest satire, but it has potential. And yet, Millar doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the material, occasionally resorting to baseless shocks to cover himself. Yeah, it’s mildly funny seeing rich former Youngbloods receiving oral sex from Cyclops and Wolverine look-alikes, and there‘s maybe a germ of subversion deep down in there (they‘re so rich, the hottest heroes in the real comics world are servicing them). But then we get a short scene in a superhero-themed porno store operated by a Stan Lee character, which seems to be a nice stop for dirty laughs. And Millar doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. The dialogue isn’t especially like Stan Lee’s, even though one would think that’d be the first place to look for comedy. Mostly we get some remarkably weak humorous adult film titles: “Sex Men 2” and “Watch Women” and “Kingdom Cum”, and then the scene is over. And with another scene, when Shaft spends a few pages battling the reanimated corpse of Martin Luther King Jr. (who’s being remote-controlled to steal a vial strand of Supreme’s pubic hair), the reader begins to wonder if there‘s any point at all. It doesn’t help that the corpse doesn’t particularly look like Dr. King.

Which leads us to Liefeld’s art. Some of the cleverer parts of Millar’s script happily exploit the limitations of the Liefeld style. A particularly grotesque-looking overmuscled superwoman rattles off a long list of enhancements she’s had done to her body, to make her more marketable. Shaft tells a female teammate that she looks “realistically-proportioned” as a compliment. Small things like that. Less effective are Liefeld’s attempts to create a “Top Ten” style visual atmosphere, with super characters wandering all over the place. But unlike the creatively envisioned background archetypes of Ha and Cannon, Liefeld simply draws existing characters with their faces turned away (like Batmen, Superman, etc). There’s a few nice proportion skews, just for old time’s sake. At least in the context of satire Liefeld’s Extreme style sits a little better.

But it’s not great satire. I wasn’t expecting great satire, granted. And yet I’m still smarting over missed opportunities. The biggest frustration about this book is that it’s not exactly bad, but it could have been a lot better. It’s really close to being a lot better, as a matter of fact, but it doesn‘t quite have the reach.

Hulk & Thing: Hard Knocks #2 (of 4)

Curiously, this book has spawned its very own thread on Comicon, so this review is mainly built off of my comments there. You’ll recall that I’ve been maintaining that the plot for this Bruce Jones/Jae Lee miniseries hasen’t been as much bad as absent.

Well, issue #2 kind of suggests a plot and kind of doesn't. I think the real point of this affair is getting Jae Lee to draw scenes from early "Fantastic Four" adventures in humid red and orange color washes, since most of what Jones seems to be doing with the script is citing older stories to work jokes and one-liners around. And there are many of those delightful meta-jabs! Why there’s a whole page devoted to discussing the possibility of an FF movie (and OMG the Thing looks a lot like the version we are right now seeing as featured in the upcoming real-life film LOL). Hulk also constantly makes reference to the story going nowhere (criticism: DEFUSED, CAPTAIN). Thing chides Hulk on acting out of character (KIND OF LIKE IN WRITER JONES’ OWN RUN ON THE PROPER HULK TITLE WINK WINK NUDGE NUDGE).

And then things get sort of boring so Lee draws the Army wandering around with tanks.

Since *SPOILERS* the big cliffhanger is whether Ben or the Hulk won their big first battle, the whole thing's getting either really stupid or really fitting for a Thing/Hulk miniseries. Maybe it's fitting in a stupid way. Particularly for this miniseries, jokey business that it is. Jones is ok with the fanboy tickling, but he seems to be having trouble maintaining the 'voices' of the leads; they veer from really witty to unsophisticated from panel to panel.

And since I mentioned it, the best panel was the one in which the Hulk smashes the bar while Ben relaxes with his teeny cup of coffee; I love how Lee draws Ben as kind of fat.

The cover was kind of odd; are the Hulk and the Thing in love and that's why Ben is affectionately nibbling on Hulk's eyebrow, gently cradling his head? Or did the Thing get hungry? Did he forget to bring a Snickers? Still, it’s just the sort of odd thing that seems natural coming from Jae Lee, and I’m thankful for his effort.