Going Extreme with Chad Bowers

 

            Among comic book fans, the 90’s seems to be an era in comics that is often viewed negatively. For these fans, there are plenty of negatives to point towards.  There is the financial implosion that occurred during the mid-90s and the near bankruptcy of Marvel. Creatively, fans can bemoan the variant comic epidemic and the explosion of the comic-event that routinely resulted in the killing off a major character. Some comic purists point towards the excesses of character design that became endemic in the industry; such as massive guns, muscles, and pockets. And while some truth can be found in these complaints, those who bewail the era are ignoring all the fabulous creations that were birthed during the 90s. One of my personal favorite comic lines that existed during this era was the one created by Extreme Studios.  Extreme Studios launched a whole list of exciting titles like Brigade, Supreme, Bloodstrike, and Prophet. One of my all-time favorite storylines in comics was Extreme Sacrifice which featured characters like Lord Chapel and Crypt. But the flagship title of Extreme Studios was always Youngblood. The team was famous for its thrilling characters and fun storylines. The first issue of the series was ranked #19 by Comic Book Resources’s list of 20 Most Significant Comics. Now the title is back and being written with excellence by Chad Bowers. Bowers has craftily reinvigorated the title by combining the classic team members of Youngblood, like Badrock and Shaft, with new team members and legacy characters.

For those of you who missed the 90s and are wondering, “What is Youngblood?”, here is a quick rundown of the title. The first iteration of Youngblood was designed as a government superteam. The series then posits that the members of this team would not just not be heroes, but also celebrities. Its members would enjoy product endorsements, TV show appearances, and celebrity lifestyles. The series was started and stopped multiple times and the team changed with each volume.  In the revised series, the team has been reformed without the support of the government. Shaft and Badrock have returned to the fold, and Diehard is now the President. New heroes are missing in action, and other heroes have formed Youngblood to find these missing heroes. Got it?

I had the sincere pleasure of interviewing Chad Bowers, the writer of Youngblood. The below interview has not been edited.

 

Please describe your writing process.

CHAD: It changes all the time, and varies wildly between projects. When I work with Chris (Sims — my co-writer on X-Men ’92, SwordQuest, and Ash vs. the Army of Darkness) I tend to do a lot of the plotting up front. I’m a lot slower than him, so I like to get the ball rolling pretty early in the process just to ease my mind. I like having every beat in place before we start breaking it down into scenes and dialogue. I make sure there’s a firm outline in place for where the issue or arc’s headed, which I’m sure drives him crazy. But from there, we trade off on basically everything else.

Chris enjoys writing dialogue more than I do, and it’s where he prefers to start, so that makes it easy to divide things up right down the middle. He follows my lead with story, and in turn, I follow his when it comes to voices and whatnot. And that’s not to say I don’t get a charge out of writing a good line myself, because I do, or that Chris needs me to lay down a road map for him, because he doesn’t. But sometimes, and especially now that we’re working on so many different stories, it’s necessary to lean into our strengths, and have a system in place to get it all done on time, whereas before, there was a lot of experimentation. Neither of us cared much about who was doing what, just so long as it got done, you know?

With Youngblood and comics like it where I write unaccompanied, it’s a different process entirely, and it really takes me two or three pages to fully settle back into a rhythm before I feel at home again. Because we’re kind of editing ourselves, I tend to work a little looser with Jim than I would on a Marvel or Dynamite book. I’ll break down the issue by page and panel with a smattering of important dialogue throughout, and from there, Jim’s free to do whatever he wants. It’s a very jazz way of making comics, and frankly, it’s a lot of fun. And like most creatives, even when I’m not behind a computer, I’m thinking about character and dialogue, and I’m fleshing out arcs, or figuring out how to effectively convey an idea or build a better scene. Thinking in pictures (and doing it constantly) is probably every comics writer’s default setting, I guess.

 

One of the issues the various Youngblood series has had in the past has been with sudden cancellations that left stories unfinished. What assurances can you offer readers so they know that this version will be different? How far ahead has the series been plotted out for?

CHAD: New team, new mission. That’s how we announced it, but it’s more than just our mission statement for the series. We’re committed to reinventing how comics fans perceive Youngblood, and we’re making a sincere effort to create a comic that belongs on the shelf beside the other modern Image books we love. I think that after six consecutive issues, each of which was on time and in stores on the date advertised, we’ve proven the naysayers wrong and even won a few of them over along the way. A confident readership is a dedicated readership, and what book doesn’t want that, right? We got off to a fantastic start with two back-to-back sellouts at Image, and we want to keep as many of those eyes on what we’re doing as possible.

As for where the series is headed, Jim and I have a plan in place that gets us to 20+ issues, and we want to do even more after that. At the moment, we’re working three issues ahead of what’s on the shelf, but honestly, we’d like to be even farther along than that.

As for Youngblood’s sporadic publication history, I don’t dwell on it at all, and in fact, some of those dangling plot threads ended up being inspiration for a lot of what I’ve got planned for the future. Like so many other great team books, there’s a lot in Youngblood’s past to pull from, and the fact there’s all these built in secrets only makes the book more fun to write, and hopefully even more fun to read.

 

Which issues from prior volumes should be read to better understand the events in this series? Which volumes are still in continuity?

CHAD: Everything counts! Beginning with 1992’s Youngblood #1 all the way up to Shaft and Badrock’s appearances in Image United, it’s all part of the same narrative as far as I’m concerned! Unfortunately, not all of it’s collected, but if you’re into what we’re doing, and eager for some more Extreme in your life, you can’t go wrong with Rob’s rework of his first six issues with Joe Casey! It’s got the most in common with our book, and goes a long way towards building the world that leads to the Youngblood of today.

Of course, there’s Alan Moore’s Supreme, which showed everybody the Extreme characters were bursting with as much potential as any other superhero universe, and maybe even a little more. His critical success paved the way for the Brandon Graham-helmed Prophet, and Joe Keatinge and Sophie Campbell’s Glory, all three of which remain huge inspirations for what Jim and I are doing on Youngblood. Hopefully it shows.

 

Will you further explore what happened to the fallen members of the old Youngblood team?

CHAD: I think we’ll get there, yeah. Beginning as early as #7, you’ll start to see hints of what happened during those missing years between our book and the previous volume. But for now, we’re mainly focusing on the future of the team, and letting the past trickle in when we can.

Badrock and Shaft are two of the original Youngblood members. Why did you decide to include them on this new team? What roles do they play on the team?

CHAD: Shaft and Badrock where the heart and soul of the original team. I’ve always loved their friendship and the whole brother from another mother thing they’ve got going on. But apart from personally liking them, they’re maybe the two most recognizable characters across all the various incarnations of Youngblood, so not having them in our book felt wrong. But we do go out of way to take away just about everything they’re known for. Badrock’s older, he’s got a real job, and took away his proficiency for punching stuff. And we jettisoned Shaft’s reputation as a law-abiding boy scout. A lot’s happened between these two since the last time we saw them. We put fans on their heels, and I’m pretty proud of that.

As for what they mean to the new team, I think they exist as both a cautionary tale – this is what happened to the last guys – and as inspiration. Badrock and Shaft are the Youngbloods who couldn’t quit, even when the world and their physical bodies were working against them.

Is Byrnetec named after John Byrne? What inspired this interesting homage?

CHAD: There’s only so many ways to scramble up the letters in “Cybernet” and get something that sounds remotely believable. It just happened that way, and I’ll even admit to almost making it “ByrneTEC” once I saw how close it was. But the more I looked at it and said it aloud, the more it felt just a little too on the nose.

But here’s a fun fact: Hans and Rudolf are a nod to H.R. Giger (his first and middle names), who I assume was Rob and Eric Stephenson’s inspiration for Cybernet’s original man in charge, Giger.

What led to your decision to make Diehard the new President? What does it say about the world of Youngblood, that a half-machine/half-man was elected by the people?

CHAD: That decision comes from a couple different places. “President Diehard” was the first things I wrote down when I was brainstorming the series. And when I started catching up on some of the issues I’d missed, and found this moment in John McLaughlin’s run that sees Diehard remove his mask in public, that’s when it all clicked. In my mind, he started running for office right then and there, whether he knew it or not. But more than that, it mostly comes from me wanting to make sure we kept some element of Youngblood’s core concept of the superhero celebrity intact with the new series (which starts, ostensibly, as a missing person story), and I think we get there in two ways.

The first is HELP!, a popular self-protection app that’s raising heroes’ profiles and making them superstars in and around their own communities. The other is President Diehard. After the fall of Youngblood, he’s become probably the most recognizable public figure on Earth – the world’s biggest celebrity. The backdrop of our story is an America that let its obsession with superheroes get the best of them, but they’re somehow willing to give Diehard a pass. Having a heroic history that dates back to the 1940s, Diehard is the one member of the original team whose legacy is larger than Youngblood itself. I think the public looks at him and they see sacrifice, not deceitfulness. But with issue seven, I think we’ll start to peel back some layers, and really show that a high approval rating and a lifetime of fighting super villains doesn’t necessarily make for a great president. Especially one who questions what part of himself is really in control… the man or the machine?

Can readers look forward to other classic Youngblood characters returning? Any chance of returns by Crypt, Lord Chapel, or Prophet?

CHAD: Yes. And yes.

In issue four, the team recruits a woman named Supreme.  Is she connected to the original Supreme? Will the original Supreme (who first appeared in Youngblood) return at some point?

CHAD: Oh yeah, she’s 100% connected to the original Supreme – she’s his younger sister. We’re not making a big secret of that. New Supreme is the character formerly known as Suprema, but for some reason nobody remembers her or her brother. The Supreme saga is something you’ll see play out over the course of our first year, and it’s going to blow your mind!

What can readers look forward to in upcoming issues of Youngblood?

CHAD: We get more extreme! A new year means a new mission, a maybe the return of some old enemies. We’ll dive into the mystery surrounding Supreme, and discover a few more related to Doc Rocket and the original Vogue. Shaft and Badrock get into even more trouble, while President Diehard uses his influence to resurrect something from the past. Be prepared to sit on the edge of your seat! The ‘Blood is back — and it’s here to stay!