“Youngblood” has had many iterations over the past 25 years, from the very first Image Comics issue through some seminal creators. So how does this new series, from writer Chad Bowers and artist Jim Towe rank, and how does it read for someone new to the franchise? Read our review to find out! Contains minor spoilers
Written by Chad Bowers, Rob Liefeld
Illustrated by Jim Towe, Rob Liefeld
Colored by Juan Manuel Rodriguez
Lettered by Rus Wooton
‘YOUNGBLOOD REBORN,’ Part One DEBUT ANNIVERSARY ISSUE! 25 years ago, YOUNGBLOOD launched the Image Revolution and turned the comics world on its head! Now the original blockbuster hit series returns with an all-new cast and a brand-new mission! When a young hero goes missing, his friend’s search for answers leads to some unexpected allies. Together, they’ll do whatever it takes to find him?even if it means resurrecting the world’s most infamous super-team. Gear up, strap in, and get ready to rediscover comics’ most extreme universe with creators CHAD BOWERS (X-Men ’92, Deadpool: Bad Blood) and newcomer JIM TOWE!
A small disclosure is in order for this review: the following is coming from the point of view of someone who’s never read any previous iteration of “Youngblood.” Early Image Comics is a slight blind-spot for this reviewer, however the setup and flow of this debut issue definitely feels like it has an eye towards the uninitiated. Indeed, “Youngblood” has had a few relaunches over the years from an impressive list of creators, so a new number 1 like this feels like par for the course for the franchise.
“Youngblood” is a series very much of its time. It was true for the original series and it’s true here. Even those who haven’t read any issues previously at least know of the series, with perhaps images in their heads of the quintessential 90s comic, developed by arguably the quintessential 90s creator. While Rob Liefeld still has a hand in this issue (writing and drawing the backup story), the reins are firmly in the hands of Bowers and Towe, who seem set on establishing a new status quo for their tenure. As such, even though this is firmly set in the same universe as the original run (and presumably subsequent runs,) “Youngblood” #1 feels open and readily accessible to new readers.
Centered around the disappearance of young vigilante hero Man-Up, we’re introduced to a world where superheroes are an app away. The ‘Help!’ app allows people to request heroic assistance much like calling an Uber, and it’s through this interface that we see the world of “Youngblood,” each hero introduced with a text box in the style of a ‘Help!’ profile page, down to a 5-star rating of each hero. It’s a fun conceit, allowing for a cool moment later in the issue where unregistered heroes pop up with no information, adding to their air of mystery. We follow fellow hero Gunner as she attempts to track down her friend’s whereabouts by exhausting every option at her disposal, from plan A (contacting the police) to plan Y which is only hinted at in this issue. Along the way we’re introduced to a fair number of characters both old and new, and Towe’s character design really stands out here. The previously mentioned unregistered heroes are instantly engaging, and while it’s difficult to create original superheroes these days, there’s a real energy to the designs that pop off the page and gives you, appropriately enough, the sense that this is the next generation of heroes.
Towe’s style throughout “Youngblood” is crisp and clean, with a classic style adding to the welcoming feel of the book. Beyond the super-heroics is a subtle layer of characterisation that shows a real talent. A few highlights come early on in Gunner’s search: a fifteen panel page of her attempt to alert the police to her friend’s disappearance, with no less than 8 panels of her face in close-up as the scene develops and her emotions change only slightly but so evidently as we’re witness to her hopes sinking. A few pages later we see a three-panel page of her in action, responding to three separate ‘Help!’ calls (again, each one ‘rated’ in the text box.) The first is a bombastic shoot-out, and the second a thrilling dive from the upper floor of an exploding building. The third, however, is a sombre panel of Gunner walking away from a foiled human trafficking attempt. Rather than the fearless young hero we see previously, here she’s torn up, broken and clearly in pain, and it’s a sobering image that illustrates just how strong Towe’s characterisation can be.Continued below
The script throughout this issue is tight, well paced and a strong mix of action set-pieces and character development. A scene where Gunner visits Man-Up’s aunt at home provides a rare opportunity to see how the life of a superhero affects the family, especially when it comes to such young vigilantes that are essentially still children. It’s also proof that Bowers is going out of his way to add a depth to “Youngblood” that goes beyond the colorful facade.
A consequence of this series being a continuation of the universe – a rebirth not a reboot, to use familiar terminology – means that Bowers has to tread a fine line between servicing fans both new and old. As such, there’s a real sense of legacy to “Youngblood” #1. While it’s hard to comment on how this issue works for a long time reader if you’re not one, new readers have plenty of information to be able to pick this issue up blind. Yes, old characters show up, and perhaps their appearance means less than it would with the weight of history behind it, but their introductions are as thorough as they need to be, and their placement in the story is natural. It doesn’t feel at all necessary to have read stories with these characters before, and the concept of the book suits this spirit of legacy and only adds to the world-building. The sense of history fuels the motivations of the newer generation, and Bowers has a subtle hand when it comes to feeding information to the reader. From a news anchor running a ‘where are they now’ report to newspaper clipping son the wall of a prison cell, Bowers, along with Towe’s art thread history throughout the narrative rather than overwhelm you with exposition.
For a franchise over 25 years old, there’s a fresh sense of energy to “Youngblood” #1. The legacy of the Extreme universe runs through the spine of the narrative, but our point of view characters are the next generation of heroes, a cast with new stories to tell, who don’t have time to look backwards. New readers will find plenty to love, because in a lot of ways this feels like the first ever issue of the franchise. The final page reveal may fall a little flat if you aren’t familiar with the character involved, but the sense of history is well laid out in the narrative and presented in an accessible way. Similarly, the artwork makes this feel like a classic superhero book, but with a fresh energy that keeps it feeling effortlessly modern. If you’re looking for a new superhero universe to dive into, this is it.
Final verdict: 8.0 – A welcoming, accessible superhero book for all. With a wealth of character development and a sense of legacy, there’s plenty to love for new and old fans alike.