Today marks the 25th anniversary of Bloodstrike #1! As I’m revving up for the June release of my mini-series, Bloodstrike: Brutalists, I wanted to celebrate my favorite undead government squad by taking a deep dive into their publishing history. Along the way, I’ll add commentary on the aspects that helped inform Brutalists and what I love about this specific Rob Liefeld-created roster. It’s a lot to cover, so let’s get into it!
That first group shot we just saw? That was the first time the world ever saw the Bloodstrike team. It’s a pin-up in the back of Youngblood #3, August 1992. Remember the spiky red mask on the lower left. In that same issue, the villain group known as the Four made an appearance. One of their members? Deadlock, the dude with the spiky red mask, the dude seemingly in two teams. (Rob Liefeld art/story, Brian Murray colors, Kurt Hathaway lettering.)
Click on the pages to get a closer look.
Back up to April 1992: the first issue of Youngblood, the first Image Comic. The Four were the bad guys there, too. This is Deadlock’s 1st appearance. Note the tinge of revenge in Diehard’s voice on that last panel. Remember it when you read my first issue. (Liefeld art/story, Murray colors, Hank Kanalz dialogue.)
What about Bloodstrike? Who were they? I kept catching glimpses of their unnamed leader in places like this pin-up in Brigade #2, Oct. ’92, standing next to Brigade leader Battlestone. (Dan Fraga pencils, Danny Miki inks.)
Next time I saw Dan Fraga’s work was on Youngblood #0, Dec. ’92. As I hear it, Fraga’s 8-page audition piece was expanded and worked into Youngblood canon by Rob Liefeld himself. That story featured Battlestone… but what about that mystery Blood Brother? This promo pin-up below was another puzzle piece, but I only saw it in tiny “Entertainment This Month” corner ads or on the back of the poster for the April ’93 issue of Wizard Magazine.
Bloodstrike leader made the cut in the Extreme Studios Tour Book ’93, which I bought as a back issue; if the Tour stopped in Miami, FL, I totally missed it.
Ok, now we were cooking. Brigade #3, Feb. ’93, featured this double ad. (Fraga and Marat Mychaels pencils, respectively, Liefeld inks.)
The day finally came. Bloodstrike #1 hit the shelves on May ’93. The Blood Brothers Prelude delivered the goods, as did Fraga.
We got names! Cabbot was the white-haired leader, Shogun was the big robot guy, Fourplay was the female strong arm, and Tag was the blonde combatant.
Deadlock we were already a bit more familiar with. Here he is in his full glory.
If I could post the entire issue, I would. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the quasi-dayglow colors by Byron Talman & Brian Murray. It really balances the bloodshed throughout the entire issue. This scene particularly pops.
A note on credits. Aside from the aforementioned colorists, this issue has Rob Liefeld plot/layouts, Dan Fraga & Danny Miki pencils/inks, Eric Stephenson script/edits, Kurt Hathaway letters. All of these Rob Liefeld-created books ran under the Extreme Studios banner. Unless otherwise noted, Eric Stephenson scripted and edited the majority of these books as Kurt Hathaway lettered most of them. It was a tightly knit office where jobs were understandably swapped, so there will be a lot of crossover with the creative tasks.
Sidebar: I was lucky enough to have this 5.5 x 8.5 ashcan come into my life, autographed by Dan Fraga himself.
It features an unused cover riff by Fraga, eventually shown in a Wizard Magazine article.
Speaking of, here’s an unpublished Wizard cover I recently came across online. (Fraga pencils, Dan Panosian inks.)
The Blood Brothers story continued in Brigade #1. (the ongoing series, not the previous mini.) This issue also came out in May ’93. Triple gatefold cover. Here we see our crew tucked (and cropped) to the right. (Marat Mychaels pencils, Norm Rapmund inks.)
The colors in this issue in particular are jaw dropping. Paul Mounts was Brigade’s regular colorist, but the airbrush-type of techniques displayed specifically here push the tone of the book into unique territory. It strikes a balance between grimy sickness and candy colored weirdness. It carries a handcrafted heft, too, which you don’t see every day in any given era.
I mean, this scene alone –! It helps that our crew makes a badass entrance.
(Liefeld co-plot, Mychaels co-plot & pencils, Rapmund inks.)
Awesome double page sideways spread in Bloodstrike #2, Aug. ’93. (Liefeld co-plot/layouts, Fraga co-plot & pencils, Rapmund/Miki inks, Talman colors.)
Man, the Bloodstrike members just look really good when in the same room. This time it’s in Brigade #2, Aug. ’93. (Liefeld co-plot, Mychaels co-plot & pencils, Rapmund inks, Mounts colors.)
Another killer spread. Fraga’s last interior work as a penciller for this title. Bloodstrike #3, Sept. ’93. (Liefeld plot/layouts, Fraga pencils, Marlo Alquiza/Jonathan Sibal inks, Talman colors.)
Here’s Marat’s version of the team kicking back after the conclusion. Brigade #3, Sept. ’93. (Liefeld co-plot, Mychaels pencils, Rapmund inks, Stephenson script, Mounts colors, Hathaway edits/letters.)
All together now, the rest of the covers from the Blood Brothers saga.
Our gang made a couple of appearances around this time. Supreme #3, June ’93. (Liefeld co-plot, Murray co-plot/script/pencils/colors, Chris Ivy inks.)
Guest Appearance Part Deux. Prophet #3, Jan. ’94. (Liefeld story, Panosian art, Anthony Winn breakdown pencils, Talman colors.)
At this point, Keith Giffen steps in as plotter and layout artist. Bloodstrike #4, Oct. ’93, is more of a character-specific downtime issue. Giffen is perfect for the job…
… but he’s also really good and cranking up the grindhouse levels of raunch and gore. (It only gets worse, and by worse I mean better.) Giffen also threw in a few curve balls in regards to Deadlock’s dual membership between Bloodstrike and the Four. The specific dates on this one panel below are the framework for my first Brutalists issue; these timestamps are fleshed out in what can only be called “Deadlock’s origin story.” Actually, the first time stamp in my splash page correlate’s with Liefeld’s first published work by one of the majors. (Stephenson script, Chris Alexander pencils, Ivy/Alquiza/Sibal inks, Talman colors, Hathaway edits.)
Here’s another spread from #4 and the covers for #s 5 & 6.
Giffen lasted a little over three issues, splitting just in time for ex-Youngblood member Chapel to join and lead the group. Make no mistake, that 5th issue plays a huge role in Brutalists as well.
Jeff Matsuda/Danny Miki and Fraga/Art Thibert respectively crush it on the cover above, as does Jae Lee on the ones below.
Tensions run high as the subplots develop. We begin with a P.I. and an awkward phone call with a doctor in #7, Jan. ’94. (Giffen story assists, Stephenson writer/layouts, Richard Horie pencils, Miki/Tim Townsend inks, Talman/Sam Parsons/Gloria Vasquez colors, Hathaway edits.)
Below, you’ll see the plots thickening: the weird STD/skin disease that resulted from Tag’s story in #4, and the new subplot involving a string of unsolved murders. This is the last time we hear about either one of these stories. From #8, Feb. ’94. (Stephenson writer/layouts, Richard Horie pencils, Alquiza/Townsend inks, Gloria Vasquez colors, Hathaway edits.)
That’s what my second Brutalists issue deals with, which you can call Tag’s solo story. But I also interweave it with the next major storyline that Bloodstrike gets caught up in:
Liefeld stepped in for the Extreme Prejudice crossover to conceive all the story beats and general concepts. Covers (above) by Horie/Miki and Yaep/Sibal respectively. The creative team more or less stayed the same in Bloodstrike. The page below is from #9. (Liefeld co-plot, Horie pencils, Tim Townsend inks.)
Extreme Prejudice was a line-wide crossover event, I might add. It included Supreme #11… (Pedi art.)
… Team Youngblood #8… (Chap Yaep pencils, Sibal/Alquiza inks.)
…and Brigade #9, amongst a few others. (Mychaels/Alquiza art, Mounts/Christian Lichtner color.)
In the final chapter, from Bloodstrike #10, April ’94, we see the classic team we know and love rushing into battle for the very last time. Notice how Tag is somehow absent; we previously saw her in the Brigade spread shown above. Now look, I know it’s difficult to juggle so many characters and keep track of them across several titles during a big event that’s on a deadline, so Tag was probably just forgotten and lost in the shuffle. It suits me fine — I use that to my advantage in Brutalists. The rest of the team, though?
Not a pretty end, even for those who have been used and abused. It’s curtains for the quintet of carnage.
If you blinked, you missed this Shogun cameo in Supreme #14, June ’94. (Liefeld/Hathaway script, Fraga art, Linda Medley colors.)
Same with this rare, smiling Cabbot in a huge crowd scene. From Youngblood #9, Oct. ’94. (Jim Valentino script/pencils, Fraga inks, Michael Wolf letterer, Talman colors.)
Young Cabbot had a brief role in his brother’s flashback in Battlestone #1, Nov. ’94. (A Liefeld/Stephenson/Mychaels/Vasquez production, Al Vey inks.)
Remember the Four from the beginning of this post? In Youngblood Battlezone #2, July, ’94, the have a profile entry that includes Deadlock.
Youngblood Volume 2, #10, July ’96. You’ll notice Deadlock’s absence; he was no longer a player.
Unless you count the 1995 Youngblood Skybox Trading Cards.
I’m jumping the gun here. Let’s rewind a little to right after Bloodstrike #10. Bloodstrike the title jumped straight to issue #25, May ’94. This is a turning point.
Who was this man? And did my Bloodstrikers really stay dead and forgotten? Time would tell. (Liefeld plot/breakdowns, Fraga finishes, Robert Napton script.)
This new mystery man is also a main guest in Shadowhawk #0, Oct. ’94. This was part of an event where Image founders swapped titles for an issue. Shadowhawk creator Jim Valentino worked on Youngblood; see the smiling Cabbot panel. (Liefeld plot/art, Karl Altstaetter layouts, Napton script, Kiko Taganashi colors.)
Valentino got a shot at drawing our dude in his new duds, inked by John Clearly, Shadowhawk #17, March ’95.
The title’s numbering went back to #11 immediately after this; now the readers would get to see the story build to the events in #25. The new creative team switched gears and basically reinvented the title. From here on out, unless otherwise noted, Robert Napton is the main writer and Karl Altstaetter is the main penciller; they both co-plotted. Pencillers John Stinsman, Richard Horie, and John Fang all dropped in to help out, as did basically every inker and colorist that passed through Extreme Studios during that year.
Here’s a crossover appearance in Prophet #8, Nov. ’94. (Napton script, Stephen Platt pencils, Marlo Alquiza inks.)
A lot of new character were introduced (and duly executed) within these pages. It was going for something different than before, all-out action through a mid-90s lens. The red-hooded protagonist turned out to be an amnesiac Cabbot all along, and the original Bloodstrike line-up eventually returned in issue #19, Feb. ’95. (Norm Rapmund inks, Laura Rhodes colors.)
We get the remodeled team until the end of the title’s run. Then they all met a grisly demise (again) in this final issue, #22, May ’95. (John Fang pencils.)
Here’s Cabbot’s goodbye, on the verge of taking a long deserved break. Note the “Loose Ends” teaser. I utilize some of this material and some minor discrepancies in my final issue of Brutalists. I tie as many pertinent loose ends as possible while telling a self contained story. That’s what my mini-series consists of: a retroactive issue zero and the missing #s 23 & 24. (Which leads perfectly into #25, btw.) So, yeah, here is the final page of the final issue of Bloodstrike.
And that’s it. That’s the end of the original Bloodstrike title. It doesn’t seem as if it was cancelled so much as it was merely restructured and newly packaged, because the following month, June ’95, it didn’t skip a beat; Bloodstrike Assassin #1 came out. It ran three issues and it ends on a cliffhanger (but the ending – SPOILER – is written within the hilarious caption box of “Next: Everybody Dies!” I’ll take their word for it!)
Cabbot survived, though, at least long enough to appear in the follow up, standalone story Bloodstrike Assassin #0, Oct. ’95.
Then there’s the Extreme Destroyer Epilogue, Jan. ’96, where Cabbot bites the dust pretty unceremoniously. (See credits.)
Cabbot was a part of the Destroyer crossover thanks to his affiliation with Knightstrike. Cabbot even made a cameo in the flashback mini-series Operation: Knightstrike on the last page of the third & final issue, July ’95. Note the cliffhanger ending; it’s mildly addressed in the Brutalists letter columns. (Brian Witten story, Horie pencils, Jaime Mendoza inks, Vasquez colors.)
Later on, the S. Platt cover above graced this Rick Veitch vehicle, Cabbot: Bloodhunter #1, Jan, ’97. Portions of the follow-up issue were serialized as back-ups in Supreme issues # 46 & 47, March/May ’97. As far as I know, this is an entirely different thing. Non-canonical, we like to say. (Veitch story/art, Eric Cannon/Rapmund inks, Laura Penton colors, Steve Dutro letters.)
Next time we saw Cabbot is in Youngblood Genesis #1, July ’03, published by Arcade Comics, which sprung from a Youngblood: Year One project from years prior that never materialized. (Kurt Busiek plot, Brandon Thomas script, Chad & Eric Walker pencils, Rob Liefeld inks, Matt Yackey colors.)
The Four makes an appearance in Genesis — with Deadlock in tow, even!
Later on, we see Bloodstrike as a group was in Youngblood Imperial #1, June ’04, Arcade Comics. Here we get an entire scene setting them up for some ass kicking. (Robert Kirkman story, Marat Mychaels pencils/lettering, Matt Yackey/Brian Miller/Dash Martin colors.)
This is the only piece from this entire post I was unfamiliar with; it’s by Marat Mychaels from the unpublished 2nd issue of Youngblood Imperial.
Jump to December 2009, where we saw an ad for a new iteration of Bloodstrike and a 7-page back-up (by Liefeld, Mychaels, and Mark Poulton) in Image United #2 serving as an intro to the new team. Notice Cabbot and another dude in the red mask–! And Deadlock! And Fourplay!
Ol’ red mask even made a cameo in the second Image United issue itself.
We now enter the modern era of Bloodstrike. On March 2012, the entire Extreme line was given a new platform to redevelop in several ways, in different directions by different creative teams. Bloodstrike had a new shot, as led by writer Tim Seeley and artist Francesco Gaston, and the original series numbering continued with issue #26. The team was completely revamped in this brand new era of Extreme — they even dropped in on Glory for a sec.
Cabbot was still the leader but Shogun, Fourplay, Deadlock, and Tag were all-new, all-different. I gotta say, I was excited by one minor appearance/cliffhanger in particular–!
Rob Liefeld took over the book in 2015 and relaunched it with a new #1. Here’s Deadlock and Shogun getting their butts handed to them.
Dan Fraga returned to do the first issue’s incredible variant cover (1B).
Bloodstrike #1 was recently remastered in July ’17. It was recolored by Thomas Mason and covered by a brand new Liefeld group shot. Seeing the gang all in the same room again and drawn by the man himself was great to see.
As of this writing, the image below is the brand spanking newest Bloodstrike comic on the horizon, which beautifully coincides with the latest Bloodstrike major media project on the horizon.
Bloodstrike has some solid history behind it — many talents have graced the title with their hard work and imagination. I’m honored to be a part of that. 25 years is good chunk of time, a run that has been occupying my mind since that first issue urged us all to rub the blood.
Here’s to another 25.