I have another new guide for all Patrons of CK and, weirdly, this guide for a little known Image Launch title with few lasting fans is a big inspiration for expanding my indie comics coverage. Welcome to a guide about the Image Comics launch book from Rob Liefeld you’ve probably never heard of in my Guide to Brigade!
If you recall Brigade from the 90s, you’d have to have been a major fan of the mythology of Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood. And, if the amount of information on the internet about this comic is any indication, there ain’t a whole lot of those major fans out there.
Brigade was the fifth comic launched by Image in 1992, and the second from Liefeld’s Extreme Studios. His Youngblood were positioned as a government-sanctioned super-team that doubled as major media stars. Brigade was the dark flipside of that. Its leader, Bloodstone, was a World War 2 veteran who served, died, and served again thanks to the Image Comics version of a super soldier serum. He once led Youngblood, but left in disgrace after the accidental death of one of his team members at his own hands.
Despite it all, Battlestone never gave up on fighting the good fight for justice – he just fights it from a different angle now with his own vigilante team.
I made that sound really cool, right? Like a disgraced Captain America leading the Dark Avengers a full five years prior to the debut of Thunderbolts (rather than fancy boy Iron Man leading a bunch of high-profile Avengers slumming it in Force Works, which was still two years after the launch of Brigade).
So, why don’t we recall this comic as the flipside of Youngblood the way we do with the conjoined pair of WildCats & Stormwatch?
Brigade never overcame the one-two punch of a pair of weak launches and unspecific branding.
Despite being one of the first Image Comics, Brigade took a full year to release its initial four issue limited series. It took so long to release the final issue that it actually launched its follow-up ongoing series in 1993 before its own limited series had ended. All of the early Image books have their own infamous stories of delays, but that one is a standout.
Also, Brigade launched with zero fanfare when it came to its creators. While Liefeld does get a scripting credit on the mini-series, there’s an army of credited writers and artists – not one of whom was a hot creator at the time. Artist and co-plotter Marat Mychaels was one of Image’s earliest recruits, and he had no credits prior to Brigade.
Then, when Brigade returned in 1993, it returned with a six issue direct crossover with the also-newly-launched Bloodstrike, another Youngblood supporting title on top of the recently-launched Youngblood: Strikefile and Team Youngblood.
At least “Bloodstrike” had the world “blood” in the title to give you a hint it had something to do with Youngblood!
Meanwhile, for all of Liefeld’s characters with a 1,000 pouches, oddly-colored skin, or bodies made of rock, Battlestone just looks like… some guy with shoulder pads. He looks like an early draft of Cable before Liefeld chose the things that would make him distinct, like his scarred eye and cybernetic arm.
Once again, I return to the thesis that Rob Liefeld is an idea guy, not an execution guy. Conceptually, this book ought to work as a counterpoint to Youngblood just as well as Stormwatch did to WildCATs. In execution, there was nothing distinct about it, you couldn’t pick its lead character out of a line-up, it was fighting against three other supporting team books in the same line, and Liefeld staffed it with whoever was available in his studio.
(That’s not a knock on the talents of any of the creators, among whom we can count Mychaels, Eric Stephenson, & Norm Rapund. They simply weren’t name draws at the time.)
This indistinct book still lasted for 22 monthly issues, plus a #0 issue and a pre-released “Images of Tomorrow” issue #25 that it never quite managed to reach. Such was the power of Image Comics in the early 90s! Fully a third of those issues were crossovers or part of Extreme Studios events. At one point, the entire cast is written out of the book and replaced with Image Comics heavy hitters, but fans didn’t take much notice. After making one further appearance in the pages of Shadowhawk, Brigade was forgotten.
(We won’t even get into a pair of abortive #1 issues in 2000 and 2010, the first of which doesn’t even contain the names of several of its newly-introduced characters. Trust me, they’re in the guide.)
This brings me to what I mentioned in my introduction: it’s comics like Brigade that make me want to expand my Crushing Comics coverage outside of just Marvel and DC.
Even the most-obscure Marvel and DC book still is a big two comic book, which means there are more people interested in its existence just for its contribution to continuity than there are who have read a typical issue of Brigade! There are thousands of pages about X-Men, but searching the web for information on Brigade doesn’t turn up too much – the wiki summary on Fandom is cribbed directly from Wikipedia (or maybe it’s the other way around).
While it’s not my mission to craft a guide and write a launch essay about every comic every published, I like the idea of filling in the blanks between the other, bigger comics that get more attention. It’s why I added a guide to Infinity Inc. last year in the middle of working my JSA guide, and it’s why I devoted a day to creating a Guide to Brigade rather than moving on to an indie comic that generates any web searches on a given day.
You’re in for a struggle if you want to collect every issue of Brigade like I did (for some reason) – only one issue has ever been collected, and none of them are available digitally!
If you love the idea of delving into every nook and cranny of Image’s launch books, favorite all-ages titles, and other indie comics both big and small, consider becoming a Patron of CK. For as little as $1 a month or $10.20 a year, Patrons currently have access to…
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