Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Say Something Nice: 5 Good Reads by Rob Liefeld

Let’s say something nice!
 Here’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while, and we’re starting with comic book artist Rob Liefeld because if anything’ll show off the premise of this it’s Rob fucking Liefeld. Liefeld has a terrible reputation, the consensus is that his work is
This prick here.
terrible, I think that his work is terrible and I think he’s a horrible human being, not just because I disagree with his political views (he leans right) or for that time when he was forced to leave the company he founded for syphoning funds and talent poaching but because he’s also an egotistical prick. So he’s perfect for what I want to do with my Say Something Nice posts: take a creator I don’t like or who is generally considered suckage incarnate or both and find five things they’ve worked on that didn’t suck – I will be doing Frank Miller.

His artwork summed
up in one cover
So who is this man? Liefeld is a comic book penciller who rose to prominence via work at DC Comics’ Hawk & Dove mini-series and Marvel Comics’ X-Men spin-off series The New Mutants and X-Force becoming a ‘superstar artist’. His career arguably peaked when he and several other Marvel artists left to form Image Comics which would publish their creator-owned works, Liefeld’s book Youngblood launched the company in
1992 and was a huge sales success.

Buuut: a critical success he has never been, his art style is bombastic and energetic but he has a list of issues that start with a basic grasp of anatomy (or lack thereof) and failing at telling a story sequentially and go down to very specific things like not being able to draw hands holding swords and putting too many frown lines on everything – and him avoiding drawing feet any time he can. His successes lead to a slew of imitators though and a slew of comics in a similar style: style over substance when there was no style only third-rate imitators of a man who couldn’t draw. So he had a pretty negative influence on the whole industry as well as sucking at his job. In his favour he has had a couple of positive lasting impressions – he created/co-created long lasting and popular characters Cable, Deadpool, Domino and the second Dove and Youngblood’s success gave Image Comics a great start and whatever you may think (or have heard) about early Image the company has gone on to allow publish dozens of high quality series. Anyway are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

Hawk & Dove
Liefeld’s role: penciller
Hawk & Dove 1-5, 1988
Quick Summary: Hank Hall (Hawk) is in college, his brother Don (Dove) was killed during Crisis on Infinite Earths and now he’s alone, but a new Dove (Dawn Granger) has been chosen for the role and Hank is not very happy, meanwhile a violent new threat in Kestrel is on the loose and the two must work together to stop him
I completely forgot Liefeld designed Kestrel! Anyway this is arguably Liefeld’s first big job so it’s very early on in his career when his style was a little less developed, a little more restrained and a little more conventional and before he was so big or so self-published that he didn’t have to worry about what he shat out. Convention isn’t always to be praised (I point you to the boringly conventional Dan Jurgens or Ron Lim) but here it does a lot to counter Liefeld’s issues, as well as a more retrained anatomy (and more feet and hands on-panel) and things like backgrounds being drawn there’s a much better consistency without things like characters jumping from position or location from one panel to the next when there’s no time for either, basic continuity shit that someone who draws comics or storyboards should know but Liefeld completely ignores. It could conceivably be because he’s working to a different style of script and Barbara Kessel writers more detailed panel descriptions than writers he’d work with later but the art as a whole feels very much like someone new trying really hard, arguably trying hard to make his art a little more in-style with what DC was using at the time, but trying hard to not do the shit he’ll become famous for (as much) – except the hands and feet, Karl Kessel drew most of them in later issues.
Not really related to Rob Liefeld but I really like the part in this series where Dove II first meets and Hawk is all “no, you are wearing my dead brother’s clothes, fuck you” it’s really in character for Hank Hall and a totally understandable moment and something that doesn’t happen enough with legacy characters.   

Liefeld’s role: Penciller
Uncanny X-Men 245
Quick Summary: An alien invasion is afoot – in Australia. This goes somewhat poorly, the aliens are inept, the Aussies are Australian and the boys from the X-Men are on a night out in the middle of it all.
I’m not as big on this some X-Fans are, mostly because I’m not as fond of parodies and spoofs as a lot of people are and this issue is both -  there are moments I find genuinely funny but of all the parodies comics do the ‘making fun of the competition because they’re the competition lol’ style of parody irks me the most so to Marvel & DC (who both read this blog, obviously): you both have your tropes you overuse, you both do silly things for money or publicity, you’re as bad as each other, knock shit like this off because it just makes you look shallow, petty and hypocritical (a lot of this is making fun of Invasion!, DC’s then-current event, which is actually pretty alright AND just a fun fact but featured art by Rob Liefeld’s Image co-founder and former big brother figure Todd McFarlane). However my feelings on parodies aside this is probably Rob Liefeld’s best pencilling work – probably because he’s mostly drawing things that don’t need to conform to human anatomy - you can see the Art Adams influence in the best way and he makes Colossus looks huge, which I really like. The last page has some really crap art of Selene though.

X-Tinction Agenda
Liefeld’s role: penciller on The New Mutants issues 96 and some of 951
Uncanny X-Men 270-273, The New Mutants 95-97, X-Factor 60-62
Quick Summary: Following an earlier story the island nation of Genosha has declared war on the X-Men, unfortunately there really aren’t any X-Men at the time, so when they send forces to the (remains of) the X-Mansion they only find The New Mutants and Storm, kidnapping who they can, killing Warlock and turning Storm and Wolfsbane into Mutate slaves and putting the whole thing on TV. The remains of the New Mutants and X-Men plus X-Factor team up to take the fight to Genosha island itself, reforming the X-Men and finding Havok as they go and clashing with X-Factor’s old foe, Cameron Hodge.
Yeah Liefeld is completely superfluous to this story or its quality, in fact reading it as a whole, especially in trade form, shows up Liefeld’s weaknesses more than it does his strengths, side-by-side with contemporary ultra-stylised artist Jim Lee the difference between the two is shocking, hell the difference between the functional-and-nothing-more fill-in art of Guang Yap and the supposed superstar artist of Rob Liefeld (was he a superstar by this point? Well he’d become one anyway) is shocking and not in Liefeld’s favour. But the story itself, irrespective of Liefled, is great, with a real sense of hopelessness following by a real sense of satisfaction and great moments for a whole bunch of major X-Men including but not limited to Gambit, Cyclops, Cable, Psylocke & Wolfsbane and a wonderfully bizarre main villain in the form of Head-on-a-Robot Spider Cameron Hodge.     

Glory Days
Liefeld’s Role: he’s credited as ‘story’ which I’m going to assume means ‘plotting’.
Supreme: Glory Days 1-2
Quick Summary: Supreme (Liefeld’s Superman) has returned to earth after leaving following the end of World War II but so too has an old enemy of his - The Baron. Brought back to life by shady government project and all-purpose plot device Project: Born Again he kidnaps Glory (Liefeld’s Wonder Woman) to suck the life out of her immortal ass leading to a kick-ass reunion of The Allies (Liefeld’s Justice Society, well they were more The Invaders here I think): Supreme, Glory, Die-Hard, Superpatriot and The Roman.
Liefeld’s output from his time with Image Comics running his imprint Extreme Studios is pretty... ropey and that's being kind, Extreme Studios books range from ‘shit’ to ‘guilty pleasures’ most of the time and generally speaking the less Rob Liefeld had to do with the book the better it was (i.e. New Men) but this is an anomaly and one that needs a bit of championing. Glory Days is basically two things: issue 1 is all the things that Supreme the ongoing series should have been, showing us the emotion his leaving and returning caused but but couldn’t be shown when the character first came back because a) it was being written by a crap writer and b) Glory and the Allies hadn’t been established (or created) and it’s all very nice. Issue 2 is a nice straight-up adventure with the old gang getting back together again for the first time, the threat isn’t earth shattering but rather a personal one that The Allies want to handle themselves: one of ‘their own’ in danger, with Glory and Supreme’s interaction giving it a little unique twist (read it to see what I mean).  It’s a little bit shitty that the only girl in the group was the one who got kidnapped but she was only caught via being jumped from behind (and held her own up until then) and the two issues are focussed on Supreme and Glory and did you really think something that Rob Liefeld plotted to go against gender roles in fiction? The mini is also helped immeasurably by David Williams lovely art, which is about as far away from the Extreme Studios house style as you could get without being Alex Ross.

Judgement Day
Liefeld’s role: penciller on present day scenes
Judgement Day Alpha, Judgement Day Omega, Judgement Day: Final Judgement, Judgement Day: Aftermath
Quick Summary: Youngblood member Knightsabre has been arrested for the murder of his teammate and lover Riptide and the only witnesses are Youngblood members. The victim, the accused, the witnesses, the defence and the prosecution are all superheroes or former superheroes, the trial is being held at Supreme’s Citadel Supreme, hell even the police presence is The Dragon, a super-powered officer  - so this time justice isn’t blind, it’s masked.
So Alan Moore created a courtroom drama to flesh out the Extreme Studios universe, the often highly derivative set of comics that Rob Liefeld created for Image Comics (Youngblood, Supreme, Glory, New Men etc) and fuck me is it good. This is Alan Moore just prior to his renaissance at America’s Best Comics when he was quietly turning out great stuff at Image Comics for Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. It presents an engaging mystery built around a seemingly irrelevant item with a whole slew of great artists being used to provide art roughly appropriate for the genre/time frame/character being knocked-off in the flashbacks. So the writing’s good and the flashback art is good and that means Liefeld is really the odd-one out here and is at times fucking awful, this was put out in 1997 and Liefeld had had years to turn his art into the pinnacle of the art style he’s mocked for, his anatomy and faces are specially horrendous (worse he can’t draw a canonically out of proportion character out of proportion - he never draws The Dragon with the character having an intentionally smaller bottom half2) but they’re his characters (mostly) appearing in the first big event for his new self-owned publishing company (after he was forced to quit Image for siphoning funds and talent poaching) so it’d be a bit harsh of me to say he shouldn’t’ve been allowed to contribute to the book.        

I suppose I COULD widen the scope to include things like Alan Moore’s run on Supreme and Youngblood or Joe Keatinge’s run on Glory (Liefeld created the both, did some covers) or the likes of The Coven and the first volume of KaBoom (Liefeld was publisher, they both came out via his company Awesome Entertainment) but that feels like pushing it a bit too far so I'll stop. Cheers for reading!

1 New Mutants 95 is credited to ‘Rob Liefeld & Co’ but he pencilled only some of it - due to deadline issues if I remember correctly. Some pages are clearly not pencilled by Liefeld at all (page 1 for instance) but some were pencilled by artist doing Liefeld impressions so I’m not sure how much he actually did. 
2 The Dragon’s profile (that was published in The Savage Dragon) states that amongst his odd physical features is him being out of proportion.  

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