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Bloodstrike: Brutalists’ Michel Fiffe on the Best Longbox Gems of Classic Image

Michel Fiffe has spent his career as a one-man postmodern comics studio, mastering writing, pencilling, inking, coloring, and lettering from his Brooklyn home.

The bulk of his output can be found in Copra, a bold homage to ’80s/’90s black-ops superheroes that balances action, exploitation, and artful execution with poise. Earlier this month, the auteur dove deep into one of the longbox properties that’s fueled his imagination for decades: Bloodstrike. First released in 1993, the debut issue unleashed a team of sociopathic soldiers endlessly maimed and resurrected by the government for future missions. Originally produced by Rob Liefeld, Eric Stephenson, and Dan Fraga under Liefeld’s Extreme Studios imprint, the series embraced neon-loud attitude to complement Liefeld and Fraga’s hyper-muscular, accessory-heavy collages of violence.

Fiffe channels that visceral bombast in the three-issue Bloodstrike: Brutalists miniseries, a story that fills in the gaps left by issues #23 and #24 (originally absent in the series' numbering) with a preceding zero issue. To celebrate the return of this kinetic property, Fiffe presents a list of his favorite gems from the era, their CMYK DNA ingrained deeply in not only the upcoming three issues, but Fiffe’s creative operandi.

I live to make comics, read comics, and hunt for comics. Back-issue bin-diving has led me to discover some hidden gems and revisit some old favorites, both of which serve as the inspiration I need. It keeps me charged up and excited about the pages on my drawing board. Working on Bloodstrike: Brutalists gave me the opportunity to pull out a few Extreme favorites and huff them like the comics fiend I am. Whether you hit the longboxes at your next convention or dive into the bins at your local comic store, here are a bunch of old-school Image comics that come with my highest possible recommendation. —Michel Fiffe

 

Youngblood #2

Writer/Artist: Rob Liefeld

This is the platonic ideal of the Extreme comic. Youngblood was DIY on speed, and when Rob Liefeld took control of the overall package by drawing and scripting this second issue, we got more of a statement of intent than a mere follow-up adventure. This manga/Kirby hybrid comic, with its vibrant Brian Murray colors on toothy printing and rapid-fire character turn out, was created as if it were the last Wednesday on Earth. With Jim Valentino's Shadowhawk debut on the flip side, Youngblood #2 showed that nothing can stop you and your friends from making comics. All you gotta do is sit and do it, a mantra that has lasted me a lifetime.

Darker Image #1

Writers: William Messner-Loebs, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, Sam Kieth, Brandon Choi

Artists: Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Sam Kieth

Speaking of getting together with your buds and making comics, this solitary issue was the only place you got to see three giants show off their new creations. Liefeld's irreverent Bloodwulf, Sam Kieth giving us an early taste of the Maxx (as written by Bill Messner-Loebs, or course), and Jim Lee flexing his Sin City muscles on Deathblow. This brief anthology came out of nowhere, and looking back, it's a cool snapshot of a young company expanding. Extra points if you get the black & white version.

Prophet #8

Writer: Robert Place Napton

Artist: Stephen Platt

Mega-star Stephen Platt had been the regular Prophet penciller at this point, but the apex of his testosterone-laden detail porn can be found in this radioactive sewer brawl. This is a fight comic of the greatest order, the Mona Lisa of beatdowns, the Sistine Chapel of chest stabs. Props to inker Marlo Alquiza and colorist Byron Talman for shaping every brick, pipe, and drop of blood in this glorious comic book.

Bloodstrike #4, Bloodstrike #5

Writers: Eric Stephenson, Keith Giffen, Mark Pacella, Rob Liefeld

Artists: Dan Fraga, Chris Alexander, Jeff Matsuda, Keith Giffen

These two issues seared themselves into my teenage brain. From the moment Keith Giffen stepped on the scene as plotter/layout artist for this title—I would kill to look at those layouts; Keith, call me up—he got close and personal with the cast while ramping up the gross but can't-look-away violence that has rarely ever been matched. Scour the back issues and acquaint yourselves with these Giffen masterpieces. And of course, they play a huge role in my own Bloodstrike comic!

Non-Extreme Studios Honorable Mentions

Cyber Force #8

Writer/Artist: Todd McFarlane

There was one specific month when all the Image founders swapped out titles as if they were trading cards, and it was an event in itself. I like seeing Todd McFarlane versions of any character, so seeing him tackle Top Cow's pièce de résistance was a thrill. Just glancing at that neon pink cover in the middle of a longbox full of dreary and "serious" comics never fails to fill my heart with hope.

Savage Dragon #124

Writer/Artist: Erik Larsen

From the mock-retro color treatment to the inventive panel structures, Erik Larsen was creating an experience you could only find in comics. Story-wise, it’s like catching a random soap opera episode; you go with it, ignoring the cruel fact that the characters have lived on without you. Also, that crunchy hand-lettering! This issue simply looked like no mainstream comic out there at the time; a plus.