It may have taken 20 years for "Youngblood" to hit the 75 issue mark, but that doesn't dampen the celebration one bit. The very first Image Comics series ever released was rejuvenated this year along with several other of creator Rob Liefeld's concepts and comics as The Image co-founder returned to the company he helped launch with a slew of titles including "Prophet," "Supreme," "Glory" and, of course, "Youngblood."
To bring the world's media darling superheroes back to comic stands, Liefeld tapped the talents of "Black Swan," "Hitchcock" and "Parker" screenwriter John McLaughlin and artist Jon Malin ("New Warriors"), with the outspoken creator even getting in on the art fun himself. Since the series' relaunch with issue #71, McLaughlin has stuck to one-and-done stories peppered with a few overarching plot lines, including former Shaft Jeff Terrel's investigation of time-displaced, dead versions of his one-time teammate Vogue, Badrock's mysterious affliction and the new Shaft's difficulty running his team.
The 75th issue will tackle some of these stories, but the focus is squarely on the efforts of Gail Cook, a reporter who has been documenting the team's adventures since their re-emergence into the public eye. CBR News spoke with McLaughlin about the anniversary issue, his plans moving forward and how new Shaft will respond to the return of the original.
CBR News: Among other things, "Youngblood" #75 will see the return of the original Shaft Jeff Terrel. What role will he play moving forward? Will this make things even harder for the current Shaft, especially considering how he just started earning the team's respect?
John McLaughlin: Jeff will be joining the team, but not as leader, more like a consultant. We're actually going to reveal that this other Shaft is his younger brother -- which explains a lot of the current Shaft's insecurity issues. Unfortunately, they won't have any time to deal with sibling rivalry as one of them is going to be very dead sooner rather than later!
What else can you tell us about this over-sized issue? Will we learn more about the time-displaced, dead Vogues?
One of the things I like best about the 75th issue is that it recalls the anniversary issues of yore -- when something spectacular or different would happen, often they were double-sized issues. We're going to use a lot of this issue to touch on not only past members and storylines, but we're going to see that from the POV of Gail's interview from "Entertainment Now" magazine. Everyone who has been following the relaunch knows that Gail Cook was assigned to do an extended ride along with the team, a job she considered to be the bottom of the barrel. Both she and we are going to be surprised by what she got out of her time spent with Youngblood.
There will be more hints about the time-displaced serial killer, but it is going to be a few more issues before we learn the secrets of Chronicus McLuck.
With her "Entertainment Now" story finally airing, will Gail Cook remain a part of the story after the 75th issue?
I'm torn because the character was named after someone who is very close to me and stands to take half of everything I own if she decides to leave with our children -- so I have to tread carefully. (I've already spent more than one night on the couch because I wouldn't wear my Cougar cosplay costume to bed.)
Having written the book for a while now, have you found some surprise favorite characters?
I have to say Die Hard surprised me. I think other writers in the past have made the "mistake" of treating him like an android or sorts, but the truth is, he's like this 90 year old Captain America that just keeps getting new parts, upgrades and often experimental technology. If it were up to him, he would have died of war wounds some 60 years ago, but he has a duty to serve his country and he's going to do it no matter what. How admirable is that?
The series has poked fun at past "Youngblood" comics as well as 90s comics in general. Was that the intent from the beginning?
"Poked fun at" might be too strong. I don't think anyone can approach "Youngblood" without a healthy sense of humor. It is just a fun series, even on its most serious day. So while I think the series has always been an avenue for high adventure and sprawling sci-fi and fantasy, I couldn't write it and be true to the characters without sprinkling some of that trademarked Youngblood humor throughout.
The book has included plenty of references and asides to Youngblood continuity without getting too bogged down in it for new readers. Has that been a difficult balance to achieve?
I don't think so, because it all seemed to fit together pretty easily.
Fortunately, I had the help and insight from Dr. Manolis Vamvounis, a very famous Greek comic fan who is something of an expert on all things Youngblood. In fact, when my schedule got too crowded recently, Dr. Vamvounis stepped in to do some scripting assistance on issue 75 and 76!
While there are definitely overarching elements to your story, most of the issues have been one-and-dones. Was that something you wanted to do going into the series?
Yes! While I love story arcs as much as the next guy, like my sometimes friend Scott Lobdell often says, decompressed stories have held the industry in their death grip for years now! I think one-and-dones work because fans lay down their money and they should expect an entire issue with a beginning middle and end. So yeah, it was a deliberate way of writing the stories.
When we first spoke about you writing "Youngblood," you said that your inexperience in the medium could help with the process. Would you say that's been the case?
I think so. One of the review sites said I was a "visionary of yesterday," meaning that I "had a voice that was new while also harkening back to a time when old comics were new." Or maybe I just dreamed that.
What has your interaction with comic fans been like so far?
It has been great! I have to say some of the Youngblood fans can be a little intense. I was at one convention in South Carolina, and a fan actually wanted me to sign a vial of her blood! Then there are the "True Blood" fans who line up for an hour to get my autograph only to be disappointed when they discover I have nothing at all to do with the cable series. I had to sneak out of more than one convention appearance in a laundry cart for that very reason.
Looking forward, do you have a set number of "Youngblood" issues you intend to write, or is it open-ended at this point?
Open-ended would be the fairest description! I've been having a blast so far, but things have been getting really busy for me, and I wouldn't want to continue if I don't have enough time to devote to it. It's like my friend Scott has a passion project, "We Got It Maid," that he wants me to help him with -- but I just don't know if I have the time!
"Youngblood" #75 by John McLaughlin and artists Jon Malin and Rob Liefeld goes on sale December 19.