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Youngblood: The Next Generation of Heroes! [Interview]

feature by Henry Barajas

YOUNGBLOOD IS BACK! Twenty-five years after it's debut, Rob Liefeld's baby is coming back to store shelves, courtesy of Chad Bowers & Jim Towe. They're bringing a brand-new cast with them, and throwing them right into an all-new mission. A young hero is missing, and his friends have banded together to save the day, leading to the return of...well, you'll have to check out YOUNGBLOOD #1 to find that out, but in the meantime, check out this interview with the team!

HENRY BARAJAS: Which YOUNGBLOOD story or run stands out the most and influenced your story? What did you do to prepare for the project?

JIM TOWE: I spent hours poring over Rob's first run on the book. Trying to capture the energy and dynamism within those pages is no easy task! One of the funnest challenges right out of the gate had to be defining the visual style for this relaunch. YOUNGBLOOD is filled with a lot of wild characters and ideas, so having the chance to rework them using both my stylistic approach as well as applying a modern-day aesthetic was a blast.

CHAD BOWERS: It's tough to single out any one run or particular story, but Rob's original arc is probably what I revisit the most. Those first four or five issues are just packed with characters and new ideas, and do such a fantastic job of setting the tone, not just for YOUNGBLOOD, but the whole Image Comics revolution. Beyond that, I'm a big fan of TEAM YOUNGBLOOD and the second YOUNGBLOOD ongoing, and how Eric Stephenson, along with Rob, was able to fold all the various Extreme titles into one big, (mostly) cohesive universe.

Jim's heard me say this a dozen times before, but as big of a fan as I was of the X-Men and the Avengers growing up, there was a part of me that always felt like they belonged to the '60s or my dad's generation. But YOUNGBLOOD felt like it was mine, y'know? I got in on the ground floor, and watched Rob and Eric build a brand-new universe from scratch, and it was cool as hell.
 
As for what I did to prepare...probably way too much. I read or reread basically every issue of YOUNGBLOOD and most of the adjacent titles. My local comic shop loves me! 
 
HENRY: You introduced a new gang of heroes in YOUNGBLOOD #1. What inspired the rookies and the superhero Help! app?
 
BOWERS: Oh man, yeah..."gang of heroes" is a pretty apt description of how these new kids operate. But we're putting the "young" back in YOUNGBLOOD, and setting up a kind of "us vs. them" dynamic between what's left of the classic team and our new crew. Reintroducing the Extreme Universe through a fresh set of eyes really gives us an opportunity to reframe the world of YOUNGBLOOD, and maybe explore some of the more commonplace corners of the Extreme Universe rarely visited by dudes with names like Bloodwulf and Bootleg.

Help! is the latest and most popular trend in superheroics—a subscription-based self-protection app that lets users pick who they want to save them! Rob was so far ahead of the curve with the notion of celebrity superheroes, and it's almost hard to remember a time when it wasn't the norm. So YOUNGBLOOD's always been about exploring that idea, and we've seen creators take it in some really thought-provoking directions over the years. With Help! as the catalyst for this first story arc, I feel like Jim and I are doing our part to add to that same narrative! 

HENRY: What was it like working with Rob Liefeld? How much creative freedom did he give you? 

BOWERS: Rob's absolutely incredible, and from the jump, he's given us carte blanche to do just about whatever we want with the series. As an old school YOUNGBLOOD fan, it took me a while to run with that, but with every issue, it gets a little easier to break his toys. Rob's our biggest cheerleader, though, and probably the most encouraging dude I've ever worked with. He's great! I heart the Rob!

TOWE: Rob's the best! He's been incredibly supportive of every crazy idea Chad and I have come up with, and has really pushed us to make this our vision of Youngblood. Having that amount of creative freedom with a band of established characters is pretty rare in the industry, and it's so much fun to get lost in.

HENRY: It's no secret the both of you, Chad & Jim, grew up reading YOUNGBLOOD. The list of creators that have told YOUNGBLOOD stories is endless: Kurt Busiek, Alan Moore, and Robert Kirkman, just to name a few. How were you able to step away as a fan and step up as a professional? What makes this new series fresh, relatable, and modern?

TOWE: I think that with any project, having a pre-established appreciation as a fan will only make your own work better. There's definitely a certain amount of pressure that comes along with that—the YOUNGBLOOD fan in me is constantly sitting on my shoulder with a critical eye.

Last year I initially reached out to Rob, as a fan, with some YOUNGBLOOD redesigns I'd done in my spare time. They were really just doodles attempting to envision what YOUNGBLOOD would look like if it were released currently. The biggest point I wanted to hit in those designs was a level of practicality that could place YOUNGBLOOD in the real world, and I kept that through line into the additional designs I did after being brought on board. So from the get-go, I really strove for a level of realism and modernity in the series. And that's something Chad really picked up on in the early stages too—this will definitely be a YOUNGBLOOD that audiences haven't seen before.

BOWERS: I mean, do your best, and hope nobody compares you to Alan Moore. That's it.

But seriously, I genuinely love and admire the work of just about everyone that's ever worked on YOUNGBLOOD, and you'll see us pulling from those runs and stories from time to time. But what we're doing now is pretty removed from what's come before, which makes it easier, I think, to avoid comparing yourself to guys like Moore and Kirkman, or Rob.

HENRY: Badrock doesn't look too healthy in this first issue. McCall's syndrome is it? What's wrong with him, and are you ready for the backlash if you kill him?

BOWERS: A lot's changed since the last time we saw Badrock. He's had a health scare or two in the past but always came out the other side rejuvenated or even better than he was before. Now he's older, less confident about his chances, and thinking about that legacy, and as he comes to terms with his own mortality, he'll be taking some risks and doing things the old Badrock never would.

As for killing him, I'll only say this: sometimes dying's not the worst thing that can happen.

YOUNGBLOOD #1 is available for preorder now, and debuts 5/3.

Originally from the Old Pueblo, Henry Barajas works for Top Cow Productions and sells doughnuts in Hollywood. He writes comics, writes about comics, and collects comics.