After being credited with killing the X-Men franchise (although a giant, unwieldy cast likely had something to do with it) with the poorly-regarded X-Men: The Last Stand, in which he took dialog and action-sequence advice from potty-mouthed dorks screwing around on the internet, Brett Ratner is now signed on to direct a new attempt at a tentpole franchise with a subject matter he can never be accused of ruining – Rob Liefeld’s Youngblood.
Youngblood is the name of a superhero team sponsored by the United States government, and it includes a white guy named Shaft, which is just wrong from the get-go. Sure, he shoots arrows at people using magnets instead of a real bow, but there is only one Shaft. Okay, two. Then there’s Diehard, who is an an Iron Man riff, Badrock the giant rock monster guy, Chapel in the skull face paint, an alien soldier named Combat, a cosmetics mogul with purplish skin named Vogue and no one cares who any of the others are. Still, it’s often said that a concept is only as bad as the person writing it, and with the right screenwriter, there’s an outside chance that this turd could get some polish. Case in point, he had a hand in creating Marvel Comics’ Deadpool, which was originally one of his standard bargain-basement rip-offs, but became a unique gem once good writers got a hold of him and made him something special – and now he’ll be played by Ryan Reynolds in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, and rumor has it that they’re adding more Deadpool scenes to the film as we speak. No screenwriter has been mentioned for Youngblood as yet.
Liefeld is a comic-book creator whose work is consistently sub-par and whose business relationships are consistently sketchy. His sense of proportion and human anatomical structures is ghastly, and he’s alienated many of the people he’s tried to work with. Yet, he was inexplicably popular in the early 90s, and his contribution to the popularization of comic books as a medium can’t be denied. Spike Lee did a Nike commercial about him, although Liefeld probably just called the toll-free number and said “hey, do a commercial about me.” He worked on X-Men offshoots, and spun off into working on his own books as a co-founder of Image Comics, which gave us things like Spawn. Youngblood #1 was the highest-selling comic book ever when it was released, but this was also in an era of runaway comic speculation that eventually crashed the industry. Common wisdom now is that this was one of the worst eras in comic history in terms of both business and artistic content. Just look at that awful headwrap thing that isn’t a mask or a hat that the Red Rooster – er, Shaft is wearing. It was the stupidest look ever, and it was absolutely everywhere in the early 90s.
Just look at this stuff. This is an ugly team with impossible physiques – even more impossible than most comic-book bodies.
Yet once again, a good screenwriter could help rescue this. Liefeld was even aware of this, and hired revered comic scribe Alan Moore to write a series, but only three of the twelve planned issues ever made it to print – part of Liefeld’s constant inability to meet his deadlines. If they keep Liefeld away from the creative process, Ratner could potentially make some fun popcorn flick out of this. That’ll be the most we could hope for as a viewing public. Ratner’s quote to variety pretty well sums it up: “Most of the great graphic novels are gone, and ‘Youngblood’ is one of the few comic books left with tentpole potential.” Note the fact that he does not say that Youngblood is in any way great, and that he leads with ‘there was nothing better available.’ That’s telling.