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Thursday, October 28, 2021

X-amining Youngblood/X-Force #1 & X-Force/Youngblood #1

"Smokin' Mojo" / Untitled
July - August 1996

In a Nutshell
X-Force and Youngblood team-up to fight Mojo!

Writer: Eric Stephenson; Eric Stephenson & Robert Napton
Pencilers: Roger Cruz; Stephen Platt, Dan Fraga, Richard Horie, Ching Lau, Michael Linchang, Mark Pajarillo, & Andy Park 
Inkers: Larry Strucker; Marlo Alquiza, Eric Cannon, Robert Lacko, Sean Parsons, Norm Rapmund, & Larry Stucker
Letterers: Steve Dutro & Kurt Hathaway; Kurt Hathaway
Colorists: Dan Shadian & Extreme Color; Dan Shadian, Extreme Color, & Quantum Color
Editor: Rob Liefeld 
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras

Plot
Youngblood/X-Force: With Mojo seeking new sources for ratings domination, he sends the Agent to trick Youngblood into signing contracts that bring them to Mojoworld. But Shaft manages to escape, and takes a portal that deposits him in the Danger Room. X-Force agrees to help him and Youngblood defeat Mojo. Meanwhile, Ricochet Rita and Mojo II approach Youngblood and offer to help them defeat Mojo, and when Shaft and X-Force arrive, the two groups team-up. As they work to destroy Mojo's ability to teleport between Mojoworld and Youngblood's world, they free a number of heroes from Youngblood's world captured by Mojo. With the help of the additional heroes, the two teams manage to get Youngblood back home, but Mojo remains in power in Mojoworld, and is ecstatic about the ratings the entire situation has garnered him, as well as the promise of a whole new world of heroes to exploit. 

X-Force/Youngblood: Richet Rita recruits X-Force to continue the fight against Mojo, while Mojo enlists the Four, enemies of Youngblood, to help put down Longshot's rebellion. Elsewhere, Youngblood decides to go back to Mojoworld and help overthrow the villain. They once again team-up with X-Force and help defeat the Four, after which Dazzler emerges from Youngblood's ship, revealing that she was transformed by Mojo into the Agent who had recruited Youngblood in the first place. She helps the two teams infiltrate Mojo's castle to rescue Longshot, and sensing defeat, Mojo triggers an explosion that destroys his castle but allows him to escape in the ensuing chaos. 

Firsts and Other Notables
One of the side effects of the "Heroes Reborn" deal that saw Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld take over relaunched versions of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers is that it also ushered in a new era of cross-company crossovers, as the cooling of tensions between Marvel and their former superstar artists who quit to form their own company will lead to a whole series of team-ups between various Image characters and Marvel - mostly X-Men - characters. The first of these are this pair of issues, teaming up Rob Liefeld's two premiere extreme teams, in which each company is responsible for the publication of an issue (the team in the first position of the title indicates which company published it). 
Each resulting issue is double-sized, squarebound prestige format book with a cardstock cover. 


Art in the Image-produced Youngblood/X-Force comes from X-Man artist Roger Cruz, while the Marvel-produced X-Force/Youngblood features art (at least at first) from Stephen Platt, one of the "second wave" Image artists whose Todd McFarlane-esque style briefly made Moon Knight all the rage in Wizard magazine before he joined Image.   

Set in Mojoworld, these two issues feature an assortment of the usual Mojoworld Players, including Longshot and Ricochet Rita. 


Youngblood/X-Force features the return of the Agent, a Mojoverse character who first appeared in Excalibur: Mojo Mayhem. Here, he is responsible for signing Youngblood to contracts which bring them to Mojoworld, but X-Force/Youngblood reveals the Agent is a brainwashed, transformed Dazzler (which echoes Mojo Mayhem, where the Agent was "played" by a brainwashed Ricochet Rita). 



Mojo II (the Sequel) appears in Youngblood/X-Force, helping assist Longshot's rebellion, but then disappears from the story in X-Force/Youngblood


In addition to Youngblood and cameos from assorted Extreme Studios superheroes, Youngblood enemies the Four appear in the crossover (specifically, X-Force/Youngblood). 


The Chronology Corner
This takes place just before "Onslaught", between Cable #32 & #33 and between X-Force #55 & #56.

A Work in Progress
When Shaft teleports in to the X-Mansion, he arrives in the Danger Room, which seems specific enough to be a reference to Longshot's arrival in X-Men Annual #10, in which he materialized in the Danger Room as well. 

It's not made terribly clear, but Shatterstar's history with the Mojoverse is what prompts Cable to claim the mission to help Youngblood for X-Force and not bring the X-Men into it (despite their own history with the place). 


At one point, the oppressed people of Mojoworld involved in Longshot's rebellion are depicted as, basically, Depression Era poor people, which isn't really how Mojoworld works (Longshot is leading, essentially, a slave rebellion of the generically-created bipeds; the "citizens" of Mojoworld are meant to be spineless blobby beings like Mojo). 


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
Beast is mad he's missing Regis & Kathie Lee's show when Shaft arrives. 


Mojo is hoping to avoid another "Ultraverse special", a reference to the Malibu Comics universe acquired by Marvel when they bought up Malibu to prevent DC from doing so and surpassing Marvel's market share.


At the end of Youngblood/X-Force, Mojo is intrigued by the possibilities offered by a new world of heroes, the Image superheroes (specifically, those of Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios imprint). 


The Cable Guy
At one point in Youngblood/X-Force, Cable crosses paths with Bravo, Shaft's dad, and suggests a shared history with each other, which seems like a nod to the fact that Bravo looks an awful lot like Cable.


To the EXTREME! 
This shot of the two teams combined is pretty much "Rob Liefeld's 90s" in a nutshell. 


Austin's Analysis
These issues are both as bad and not as bad as you'd expect, and the most curious thing about them is that the issue produced by Image is far and away the better of the two. While both are written by Eric Stephenson, Youngblood/X-Force presents a far more cohesive story. The plot certainly has its issues and leaps of logic, but it holds together reasonably well, while Stephenson puts in some little touches that help elevate it: acknowledging Shatterstar's history in the Mojoworld, making a connection between Youngblood's status as media figures on their world with Mojoworld's whole deal. And though Image produced the issue, the art comes from Roger Cruz, who does his usual serviceable-but-unexciting work. The art's not exciting, but it's also not what one might expect from a special Image one-shot in 1996. It's capable of telling the story, and it supports a story that, like the art, isn't necessarily the most exciting, but is at least competent and mildly entertaining. 

Ironically, it's the Marvel published X-Force/Youngblood that looks the most Image-y, with Stephen Platt doing his extreme Todd McFarlane/Art Adams pastiche and filling the whole thing with hashmarks and lines (at least in the front half of the issue; everyone involved on the art side seemingly got tired the longer the issue went on, and the art becomes increasingly less finished the further into the story it gets). If I'm being honest, I kind of like the Platt art better (at least, again, in the first half) if only because if you're going to mash X-Force and Youngblood together, go all-in and give it the most 90s Image-y art possible. But the story in the issue completely falls apart. Subplots are dropped (there's a whole bit with Badrock being a messiah figure in Mojoworld and another with a contingent of X-Force breaking off on their own against Cable's orders that go nowhere), characters disappear  (Mojo II is setup as a significant presence in Youngblood/X-Force, then is nowhere to be found in X-Force/Youngblood), and revelations occur which don't really make sense (the timing of Dazzler's capture/transformation into the Agent, for example). All the little touches that made Youngblood/X-Force that much richer are gone as well. In X-Force/Youngblood, everyone just kind of runs around shouting and shooting stuff. Any sense of characterization, however minor, has gone out the window. Which is all the odder considering both issues have the same writer. It definitely feels like rush job. 

In the end then, the pair of issues result in the worst possible outcome: they are neither good enough to enjoy on their own merits, nor bad enough to enjoy as a laughable example of mid 90s excess. Whether you come to these issues to praise the glory of a mashup between Rob Liefeld's "greatest" creations or bury them as nothing more than a collection of excessive 90s clich├ęs, you're likely to come away, to some degree, disappointed. 

Next Issue
The X-Men spend some more time in space in X-Men Unlimited #13, then they hang out in X-Men '96!

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5 comments:

  1. Y'know, I have to say one nice thing about Rob Liefeld: I like that he has always retained some level of interest in Cable (and to a lesser extent, Deadpool). Like, you look at the other Image guys, and when they jumped ship, they pretty much washed their hands of the characters they worked on at Marvel, even those who they created or co-created.

    But Liefeld loved to come back to Cable whenever he could. Granted, he didn't work directly on this series, but certainly he must have been part of its genesis (and he is the editor per your credits above, for whatever that's worth). He uses Cable in an issue of his CAPTAIN AMERICA series, he returns to draw a few issues of CABLE later in the 90s, and he does covers here and there. He seems to have genuine enthusiasm for the character he left behind, and I appreciate that, even if I dislike most of his actual stories!

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  2. The Agent isn't a new character, he appears in Excalibur:Mojo Mayhem, where it is Rita who is actually the agent in disguise.

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    1. D'oh! Totally forgot about that. I'll update the post. Thanks!

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  3. I didn't know there were 2 of these! My LCS has one of them in the dollar bins but I've never looked past the cover. Mostly because I've only ever read the first issue of Youngblood and was utterly baffled that it got published. I was unaware of how Image worked back then.

    Having read your review, I don't feel like I missed anything. Although, credit where it's due, using Mojo World as the setting for the crossover is a stroke of genius. Given it's interdimensional status, it's the perfect tool for bringing two different properties together and I'm surprised it hasn't been used more.

    I'm also a little disappointed that Liefeld didn't do the art on one of these himself. It wouldn't have made it any better but it would have been THE most 90s thing in existence.

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  4. I remember liking these just because we got to see Minor Domo again.

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