Welcome to the kickoff of “Indie Comics Month” at Crushing Krisis! I’ll be expanding the Crushing Comics Guide to Collecting Indie & Licensed Comics all month long, and I can’t have an Indie Comics guide without covering some Image Comics. I meant to kick that off last year for their 30th anniversary, but what could be more in the spirit of early Image comic books than running a few months behind schedule? Today I’m covering the first Image ongoing comic. Yes, it’s Rob Liefeld’s X-adjacent squad of X-Treme government heroes in my Guide to Youngblood!
To celebrate the start of my Indie Comics month, this new Guide to Youngblood is immediately available for all CK readers thanks to the X-Tremely Awesome support of Patrons of CK! For as little as $1 a month you can help to support the costs of maintaining and expanding the 200+ comic guides of Crushing Comics, plus get early access to guides like this one (and every X-adjacent guide).
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Krisis, did we really need a guide to Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood? Wasn’t there some other indie comic you could’ve started with?”
The answers to those questions are yes and no, respectively – but, maybe not for the reasons you think.
This Youngblood guide has been tugging at my brain for the past six years – ever since the day I launched my Patreon campaign! That’s because the original Youngblood team turns up early on in WildCATs, which I was reading and reviewing daily in November 2016 as part of my “Blog of Tomorrow” event of posting 100 times in 30 days.
At that point I had already amassed a physical collection of every issue of 90s WildCATs. I had the first few issues of Youngblood from early in my comic collecting, but I didn’t have an entire run of their comics. I started poking around on eBay to begin filling the holes in my 90s collection and I was suddenly in way over my head. There were two different Youngblood series in the 90s, plus Strikefile and Team Youngblood, plus a slew of one-shots, solo character mini-series, and a crossover with X-Force. Oh, and then Liefeld relaunched Youngblood at his own Maximum Press, and then again repeatedly at Awesome entertainment.
I was trapped in a paradox! I was slowly, painstakingly, trying to piece together a binding map for Youngblood without ever reading the issues so I’d know what issues to buy for my binding map so I could read the issues!
My process of piecing together the run took on increased urgency as we started considering an international move, and reached full-on crisis mode as the countdown to packing for New Zealand began. I literally chased our moving truck down the street to hand them the final few issues of my 90s Image collection, which had arrived at the last possible second.
That means this Guide to Youngblood holds a special distinction of being one of my few guides where I physically own every issue in the guide (except one). In fact, unlike X-Guides, where most of what I own is in collected editions, I actually own every Youngblood issue in floppy comic form aside from their 2017 series, whose collections released after our move.
(The only other guide I can think of where that holds true is my Patron’s only Guide to X-Man, Nate Grey)
I dipped my toes into the indie comics waters with a Guide to Spawn back in 2019, but Spawn is his own beast – primarily a single series, the first third of which is one of the most well-collected comic runs in existence. Tackling Spawn was more like making a Marvel guide than an indie guide.
As I accumulated an ever-increasingly wishlist of potential indie guides to add to Crushing Comics, I kept coming back to Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood. It was the first Image book, and in many ways it is emblematic of the difficulties that plague all early Image books.
It was often late. So late that it didn’t even really have a schedule. So late additional ongoing titles launched and released multiple issues in the spaces between issues of the core book.
Also, Youngblood titles never end. I don’t mean there’s always more of them. I mean that almost every Youngblood series is cut off earlier than expected, often with a “to be continued” that never truly resolves. On the flipside of that, every Youngblood series is in the same continuity! Even their most-recent 2017 series is in continuity with Youngblood (1992) #1. That means all of those unfinished cliffhangers exist for the characters as completed stories whose endings will forever remain a mystery to us.
I’m fascinated with that concept. I know it’s not deliberate… or, at least, not intentional. It’s all about Rob Liefeld and his love of big new ideas (and his disinclination to finish any of them when he’s acting as his own boss and/or publisher). Yet, the net impact of Liefeld’s comic run dysfunction is that it has transformed Youngblood into a form of eternally lost media.
Even if you own every issue like I do, you’ll never be able to end any of their stories satisfactorily because all those loose ends are lost. All you can do is continue to the next beginning.
In the words of Seneca (and also Supersonic): Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s (lost) end.
The same thing that makes Youngblood fascinating to me made it difficult to figure out how to create a guide for it. I had to do a lot of digging through my shortboxes to check and re-check issues to figure out if their plots continued to somewhere or nowhere at all. I also couldn’t simply rely on linking to a string of convenient trade paperbacks or an “Unlimited” digital services to help new readers find these books. I’d have to devise a way to help folks conduct the same issue-by-issue hunt that I went through back in 2017.
In the years’ long process of poking at this guide, I realized that it really did need to exist. The seven flagships that launched Image Comics have attained a mythical quality with modern readers in the same way Marvel’s earliest Silver Age comics had for me in the 1990s. Fantastic Four (1961) #1 was 30 years old when I became a comic fan, and Youngblood (1992) #1 is just as old for a new fan today who is trying to understand what all the fuss about the original Image Comics revolution was all about.
(Time, as ever, is strange and terrifying.)
Of those seven flagship titles, Spawn and Savage Dragon are still around and kicking. DC is now digitizing WildCATs and Stormwatch, the twin WildStorm launch books – even as they launch new versions of both in the main DC Universe. Top Cow is slowly issuing complete collections of Cyberforce and their other major titles. And, Shadowhawk is still in the Image Comics family, so he can pop up as an Easter egg in newfangled crossover books like Crossover and Image!.
That makes Youngblood the odd one out of that septet of books. It risks becoming a piece of lost media in a totally different sense of the term because no one is keeping the title alive, selling digital copies, or collecting it (no thanks to Terrific Inc. who own the rights and haven’t the slightest idea what to do with them).
That’s why Youngblood made the perfect first guide to kick off the expansion of my Crushing Comics Guide to Collecting Indie & Licensed Comics. Even if it comes with the familiar trappings of a shared universe, the process of explaining it is packed with oddball challenges – like explaining how one issue was never officially released, so the only way to read it is to track down an official “bootleg” copy handed out at Wizard World Convention.
(Remember how I mentioned missing just one issue of Youngblood? It’s that one.)
If I could figure out a coherent way to chart all of Youngblood’s series, I could certainly handle a well-collected comic run like Walking Dead or a run with sprawling history like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as well as smaller runs like Paul Chadwick’s Concrete.
This is the first indie comics guide of the month, but it won’t be the last. Just as my original “Blog of Tomorrow” month focused on launching a core of new guides exclusively to Patrons, my goal this month is to launch enough indie guides that this new part of Crushing Comics has some heft right out of the gate.
Stay tuned for more indie guide announcements – and if you want access to them as they launch, consider becoming a Patron of CK. For as little as $1 a month or $10.20 a year, Patrons currently have access to…
Exclusives for Crushing Cadets ($1/month): 30 Guides!
Marvel Guides (24): Adam Warlock, Alpha Flight, Angela, Beta Ray Bill, Black Cat, Blade, Captain Britain, Dazzler, Domino, Dracula, Elsa Bloodstone, Emma Frost – White Queen, Heroes For Hire, Legion, Marvel Era: Marvel Legacy, Mister Sinister, Sabretooth, Spider-Ham, Thunderstrike, Valkyrie, Vision, Weapon X, Werewolf by Night, X-Man – Nate Grey
Exclusives For Pledgeonauts ($1.99+/month): 60 Guides!
All of the 30 guides above, plus 30 more…
DC Guides (17): Animal Man, Aquaman, Books of Magic, Catwoman, Doctor Fate, Flash, Harley Quinn, Houses & Horrors, Infinity Inc., Justice League, Justice Society of America, Mister Miracle, Nightwing, Outsiders, Shazam – Captain Marvel, Suicide Squad, Swamp Thing
Indie & Licensed Comics: None right now, because I decided this first guide wouldn’t be exclusive!