Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm not setting out to add to the bashing of Rob Liefeld, but does it ever seem unfair that Youngblood has had like seven launches, while most other books are lucky if they get one chance at finding readers? (Some other comics site pointed out the recursive nature of Youngblood, but I don't remember where, so speak up if it was you!) So, there I was, furrowing my little brow, vainly trying to understand why that should be while Strikeback! never even got a follow-up limited, and as the post progressed it actually ties back into Youngblood in the end! Really, keep reading.

Strikeback! had a bit of bad luck from the start: it was initially published, for the first three issues, through Bravura. That was Malibu Comics' creator-owned (or at least creator-centered, the rights may have become an issue) branch: Walt Simonson, Howard Chaykin, Jim Starlin and others all had books there. Unfortunately, the line stalled mid-stream, and Strikeback! wouldn't be completed for another two years, with the first three issues reprinted by Image, followed by two new ones. (Simonson's Star Slammers was another Bravura book that was delayed, it eventually found a home at Dark Horse. I'm not sure Steven Grant and Gil Kane's Edge was finished...)

Kevin Maguire was the big draw for Strikeback!, though. He had done other notable work by this point, but was (and still is) best known for his work on DC's first relaunch of Justice League. It's funny, since by the time he did this series I had already followed him through the Adventures of Captain America (a prestige series, that also ran way late, if I recall), but I don't know if Maguire was as revered as he is now. Again, this could be my creeping senility, I seem to recall a bit of resentment in the mid-90's towards Maguire (and Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis) since they had saved the Justice League yet it was thought of as a joke. The so-called "bwah-ha-ha" version had run its course, but the book hadn't settled on a direction since, and Morrison's revival of the book was still a couple years away.

It just seems like Maguire is known, but he should have become a superstar artist like Jim Lee or something. Of course, I read most of Trinity Angels, so I'm a fan. Good grief, I think I had that whole series and lost it. Good luck putting that together again...

OK, enough vile conjecture, on to the actual book at hand:
Yeah, that'd be kind of terrifying to wake up to.
Our hero, the scarf-wearing Rascal, is celebrating his girlfriend Nikki's twenty-fifth birthday, when she's kidnapped by the lunatic bounty hunter horde of the indestructible Doberman. ("Nobody steals a bone from Doberman!" is his catchphrase through the series, as he holds out for increasingly large checks.) Joined first by Midnight Devil, who seems to just be happening by, then by his team Strikeback!, Rascal sets off to rescue the love of his life from her parents and her weird destiny. Comedy ensues. And violence. And some comedic violence.

Midnight Devil seems at least superficially similar to the old Stan Lee written Daredevil, perhaps minus a bit of the cheese: a cheerful, daring do-gooder; willing to help a new friend he'd just met. Most of the rest of the Strikeback! team has at least some history with the initial villain of the piece, Nikki's father Mars Dragonryder, who seems to start as a Bond villain type then goes in a different direction.

Wouldn't X-Men comics be better if Wolverine admitted he really wasn't gung-ho about being there?
Short Fuse and Purity don't get as much page time as the rest of the team, since this isn't their story, and they would have probably been used more in future storylines. But Shorty does allude to the nature of the team as a mutual defense pact. It's like the United, it's more like the Avengers, if they had formed with the specific charter, "OK, I'll help you kick Loki's ass, if you give me a hand pummeling the Leader next month..."

The book tries to walk the line between action-drama and comedy that the old Justice League did, and works really well: there's the drama of Rascal's quest, serious superhero fighting; a touch of romance in flashbacks, and then out-and-out funny stuff like the fate of Moe or the menace of Rock Lobster, Beef, and Der Flogmeister.
And I've had 'Rock Lobster' stuck in my head again, but that happens a lot anyway.
There is a bit of an odd scene in the first issue, where a random "Savage Finster" drops out of nowhere, then is likewise dragged off by a robot.
Those continuity reboots can hit at any time...
In the Image version, Finster's replaced by an equally pissed-off Savage Dragon, which I think was their original intent.
So, then, is this Chicago, or is Dragon way out of his jurisdiction?
The brief (three-panel) cameo puts Strikeback! in the Image universe, but they wouldn't be seen back there for a while, until the crossover book Shattered Image. The Image earth is splitting into six separate earths, as the original six Image creators are starting to pull away from each other. Youngblood, in particular Badrock, is featured prominently in the first issue, then that universe (or some universe, since that looks like Diehard in the first panel) breaks away, to be replaced briefly:
I thought Ryan did a great job with a ton of characters in this series, but he dogs Strikeback! out.
From Shattered Image #2, written by Kurt Busiek and Barbara Kesel, pencils by Michael Ryan, inks by Mark Irwin. Almost immediately, Strikeback! is likewise replaced by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, before the worlds break into separate ones for a bit. Your loss, Image Universe, your loss and ours.

(The behind-the-curtain aspect of Shattered Image makes it at least worth flipping through. The last issue has some DC, Marvel, and independent look-alikes that get a touch over the top, but I did like one bit where an evil corporation had phone systems from Cyberforce baddies Cyberdata, and when that continuity separated, their phones disappeared.)

(Incidentally, it took me a long time to get to this series, since while I love it to pieces, I hadn't read it in years. I bought another batch of them for a girlfriend, as a feeble attempt to try and show her why I liked comics so much. I can't even remember if I got her the last issues, since there was so much time between--I know I dated her for a long time, but it feels like a million years ago, and I'm sure the relationship was on its last legs by the time the last issue came out. So, hey, if you see it in the sale box or Goodwill, look around closely: there might be some of the other crap I gave her in there...)


SallyP said...

My goodness! I've never even heard of this. You are correct however in concluding that Kevin Maguire should indeed be better known...and should have art offers coming out the wazoo. Frankly, I'd kill to have him back on JLA.

The Fortress Keeper said...

Strikeback! was a great series, alright. Kevin Maguire said he'd never touch those characters again, though, due to lingering bad feelings over the legal hassles with Malibu.

I'd like to think that Nikki kept her promise to Rascal.