Superstar Machine, pt. 1 | Joe Casey

yb-header.jpgCelebrity culture and superheroes collide in Youngblood, one of the most unexpected and hotly anticipated relaunches of 2008. In the first of a two-part look at this new take on Rob Liefeld’s classic creation, we chat with writer Joe Casey about the origins of the new series, his take on celebrity culture, and his other Image Comics title, the recently returned Gødland.



While hardly a recent development, celebrity culture has grown to dominate American society to surreal new extremes in recent years. When once you had to rely on Entertainment Tonight or a half-page of gossip in the Everyday section of the newspaper for your infotainment fix, internet sites like now allow us to vicariously live virtually every second of our favorite celebrities lives. We follow their lives because they’re richer and more glamorous than our own, but what if they were more powerful, too? If we fawn over talent-less urchins like Paris Hilton, just imagine what we’d do if superheroes really walked among us.


The celebrity angle on a superhero epic may seem like simply following the zeitgeist, but such is not the case with Youngblood. Created way back in 1992 by artist Rob Liefeld, the series tells the tale of a government-sponsored superteam who battle through product endorsement deals and TV appearances as much as supervillains. Though based on the superstar athlete culture of the day, the series’ main conceit seems more than a little prescient of today’s celebrity-obsessed culture.


The cover to Youngblood #1 by Derec Donovan. Click for a larger image.Youngblood arrived as part of the first wave of releases from Image Comics, Liefeld’s contribution to a lineup packed with creator-owned work by artists then famous for working on Marvel Comics’ flagship properties. Since Liefeld’s very public falling out with the company he helped found, the property has seen several halting attempts at a relaunch with a variety of different high profile creative teams, including such big name writers as Alan Moore, Mark Millar, and Robert Kirkman. It was Kirkman, the scribe behind Image Comics hits The Walking Dead and Invincible, who was behind the biggest surprise announcement of the summer: that not only would Youngblood be returning in a new ongoing monthly series, but that that series would, for the first time in over a decade, be published under the Image "i."


This article is the first in a two-part look at Image’s new Youngblood relaunch, set to hit stands in January of 2008. This week, we chat with series writer Joe Casey. No stranger to handling high profile properties, Casey’s career has seen him handle such heavy-hitters as the X-Men, the Hulk, and Superman. He cut his teeth on another Liefeld creation (Cable, his first major Marvel writing assignment), he’s put his own spin on another "first wave" Image title (Wildcats 3.0), he’s published his own book through Image (Gødland with artist Tom Scioli, which we chat about a bit below, as well), and he’s even taken on Youngblood before (in the form of a chopped up, re-edited new edition of Liefeld’s original Youngblood series, to be collected early next year under the name Maximum Youngblood). Obviously, no other writer would be better suited for this particular job.


Be sure to check back next Friday for our interview with new Youngblood artist Derec Donovan. Interview conducted by Comics Editor Jason Green.


How did you get involved in the relaunch of Youngblood? Was it an outgrowth of looking at the series for the Maximum Youngblood collection, or something you had in mind before that?


I think it just made sense, considering I’d gotten involved in the Maximum Edition a few years ago. But I’ve known Rob for years and we’ve always talked very informally about me getting my hands on Youngblood. Now I’ve got my chance.


How much involvement does Rob Liefeld have in the day-to-day making of the new comic? Do you have to get his approval on story ideas, or has he pretty much given you carte blanche to run wild?


Obviously, Rob owns these characters, so nothing is done without his approval. Having said that, Rob seems to get a big kick out of creators taking his characters in new and interesting directions. I did it with Cable years ago, so I’ve got something of a history with his creations.


The cover to Youngblood #2 by Derec Donovan. Click for a larger image.How has your perception of Liefeld’s work changed since working on Cable?


The only perception I’ve ever had of Liefeld is that he’s a monster character generator. He plays the law of averages: create a thousand characters, odds are in your favor that more than a few of them will be really great. Those are the ones that count. 


The Youngblood concept is now 15 years old. What about it do you feel is still relevant today?


If anything, it’s even more relevant today than it was 15 years ago. Our culture embraces the idea of celebrity now more than ever and superheroes have completely taken over the mainstream.


Not much has been said about the plot of this new series, and the little bits of art that were released don’t give away much, either. What can you tell us about the paces you’ll be running the team through in the first few issues?


I’d prefer to let the comics themselves tell the stories, but I can say that we’re attempting to mix the celebrity superhero angle with classic superhero values. The best of both worlds, I hope.


How did you go about selecting the members for this new team? Was there any trepidation in using characters first established in Alan Moore’s brief run on the book?


None whatsoever. They’re great characters and, fortunately for me, Alan Moore only got to write them for a handful of stories. Of course, that was enough to establish them and give me plenty to work with. 


Are there plans for any other Liefeld creations to appear?


Absolutely. The cast hinted at in the preview materials is just the tip of the iceberg. 


The cover to Youngblood #3 by Derec Donovan. Click for a larger image.Youngblood is a series that has had many false starts and unfinished stories. How much of that spotty prior history is considered canon for your new take on the characters, and what promises can you offer to fans that they won’t get burned again?


The series is designed so that if you’re familiar with the specific history and past stories of the characters, this series will seem like the next logical step. If you’re new to the characters and the concept, everything you’ll need to know about their past will be included in the comics.


One of the central tenets of Youngblood is society’s obsession with celebrity, and how that would translate into a world with superheroes. Are you a big follower of celebrity culture? What do you think the appeal is that draws people into that mindset?


I think, in this day and age, it’s not about following celebrity culture… it’s about getting away from it. That’s where the real effort is. I live in Los Angeles, so I’m up to my eyeballs in it, pretty much 24/7. It takes a concerted effort to not pay attention. On my better days, I’d like to think that the fascination with celebrity is an extension of people’s belief in the American Dream, in so far that celebrities are perceived as having achieved that dream. 


Rob Liefeld’s name seems to stir up a lot of animosity among comics fans, yet the response to the announcement of your new series has been overwhelmingly positive. Were you surprised by that response?


Not really, because the affection that a generation of readers has for these characters is huge. It certainly outweighs anyone’s feelings about any one comic book professional. I’m just happy that readers seem to be excited about the comic. It’s a big part of why we do this.


The announcement that Youngblood would be returning under the Image banner was one of the bigger surprises of 2007. As an author already contributing to Image, did you have much input into bringing the book back to its original publisher?


I wish I could take even the slightest bit of credit, but the real mastermind behind this was Image’s new favorite son, Robert Kirkman. He’s the one, blame him.


Speaking of contributing to Image, your book Gødland recently returned from a brief break. What can you tell us about what’s in store for Adam Archer in the coming months?


Things are reaching a fever pitch in Gødland. Life, death and the meaning of the Universe. These are the themes we traffic in. That, and a lot of cool cosmic mind-bending.


The break was taken to get the book back on a regular schedule. How long can readers expect to get their monthly dose of Gødland?


Hopefully for the foreseeable future. That’s the plan, anyway. | Jason Green


Check back on Friday, December 28th, for part 2, featuring an interview with Youngblood artist Derec Donovan!

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