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I honestly have no idea whose face that's supposed to be.

As I pulled the lone copy of the Judgment Day trade paperback compilation of the shelf, the comic shop clerk who had guided me towards this shadowy corner of the store adopted a pained expression.

"I've got to warn you," he winced, "that was drawn by Rob Liefeld."

Indeed. But these are the risks you take when you become an Alan Moore completist, and besides, how could I disappoint you, the readers, by ignoring this crucial component of the saga of Alan Moore's Awesome Adventures? To do so would be to shirk my duty. So, with baited breath and gritted teeth, I delved into the world of Judgment Day…a crummy world of missing backgrounds, horrendous anatomy, hilarious facial expressions, and mysteriously absent feet.

In the previous two installments of this article, Rob Liefeld, once the Most Hated Man in Comics (and with some justification, too) has loomed larger and larger as his path intersects with Alan Moore, but now we come to the crux of it: a "special comics event" scripted by Moore and drawn by Liefeld. Starring, in fact, the characters from Youngblood, considered by many to be one of the great black marks on comics history--not just because it was bad, but because it was so popular, and had such a deleterious effect on the industry. Youngblood, as mentioned in the previous chapter, was Liefeld's answer to The Avengers, a government-sponsored team of superheroes used on covert (cough) military missions, and licensed to use extreme force. And use it they did. If I'm not mistaken, the first issue featured a serial killer-turned-superhero (such is not a contradiction in Liefeld's world) messily dispatching a Saddam Hussein-analogue; another team member, "Chapel", represented possibly the nadir of juvenile shock tactics, being a philandering gunman who'd been deliberately infected with HIV for the purposes of population control. I need a shower.

Careful study of Rob Liefeld's work is highly beneficial to the aspiring comics artist. Just do the opposite of everything he does, and you can't miss.

As mentioned, in the mid-to-late-90s Liefeld's star was beginning to lose its luster. At the same time, the Moore-scripted Supreme was increasing its readership every month, and gaining critical accolades into the bargain, based solely on Moore's storytelling and imagination. It may just as easily have been Liefeld's idea as Moore's, but a deal was struck to cut Moore loose on Liefeld's nascent "Awesome Universe" writ large (Awesome was, at the time, the name of Liefeld's publishing banner).

This ambitious revamp would begin with a three-issue miniseries called "Judgment Day" (Liefeld's title). Liefeld presumably imagined an apocalyptic event that would "hit the reset button", so to speak, but what Moore ended up doing was both more subtle and, in a way, more ambitious. The "Judgment" in question ended up referring to a legal trial-but in the broader sense, Moore is also passing judgment on the state of modern superheroes.

(WARNING: I'm going to spoil some of the story of Judgment Day in the following paragraphs, though I'm not going to reveal "whodunit". The way the trial unfolds, however, is hardly the point of the exercise.)

I should begin by mentioning, for those of you who know nothing about Youngblood, that it consists of two teams, the domestic and international operatives. The domestic team is headed by-don't laugh, now-a very white guy named "Shaft", one of the few members of Youngblood who might be considered a recognizable human being, and a fairly blatant ripoff of Marvel's Hawkeye. The name "Shaft" refers to the shaft of his arrows, get it? NOT to the fact that he's a sex machine with all the chicks, or a bad-mother-shut-your-mouth. Ahem. Anyway, the leader of the international team is known as Sentinel, and as it happens he is black, and from the streets, BOY-EEEE! He's also an engineer who built himself a flying, strength-enhancing supersuit-so he's the Iron Man rip.

Gil! I'm so sorry I said all that bad stuff about 'The Ring of the Niebelung!' Please save me from the Liefeld art!

Other team members include the Captain America-like Diehard, a patriotic cyborg whose career dates back to WWII but has sacrificed his humanity for the near-immortality offered by cybernetic enhancement; Moore had already made use of Diehard as a member of the Allies in the pages of Supreme, and he seems to be one of the few Youngblood characters Moore actually finds interesting. Then there's Youngblood's own Fonzie, Badrock, a teenager in the body of a gigantic rock monster (I'll leave you to guess which Marvel character he's a ripoff of); Riptide, a typically pneumatic and scantily-clad chick who can control moisture; Vogue, an expat Russian who dresses like a mid-80s glam rocker; and Knightsabre, an Australian drongo whose powers have something to do with making people around him angry. This understandably makes him unpopular with his teammates, and in fact kicks off the plot of Judgment Day.

When Knightsabre stumbles back to Youngblood HQ on the night of his 30th birthday, drunk and horny, he makes the mistake of crashing in Riptide's room, apparently with less than honourable intentions. Unfortunately, on waking, he discovers the bed covered in blood and Riptide lying murdered in the next room. Faced with the delicate situation of a murder where both victim and suspect are superheroes, Youngblood is forced to call together the entire superhuman community to participate in a precedent-setting trial.

In his spectacular debut, Zantar takes on Mummenschantz.

At this point, Youngblood themselves begin to take a backseat to the array of characters Moore created in Supreme and a whole array of new characters he introduces for this storyline, and to lay the groundwork for his revamped Awesome Universe. Most of the above-mentioned Youngblood characters get only a handful of lines and face-time, with the exceptions of Shaft, Sentinel and Diehard; even Knightsabre doesn't contribute much to the story, besides being the accused whose innocence must be proven.

Acknowledged by all to be a unique situation, the superheroes close ranks and make special arrangements for the trial. Supreme converts the stadium area of his Citadel Supreme into a huge courtroom, to hold pretty much the entire superhero population and a superhero-friendly judge is appointed. Handling the prosecution is a former partner of Professor Night's named Shona Shane, aka Lady Day (presumably meant to be in her 50s, but drawn by Liefeld as a 20-year-old hottie with grey hair); the defense is a very young kid named Toby Tyler (although he's later called "Mr. King" for some reason) who is better known as "Skippy", sidekick to The Fisherman (the Moore-created analogue to the Green Arrow).

This takes us to the end of the first issue. As rendered by Liefeld, this story is, as you might expect, not as impressive as the subject deserves. In particular, Liefeld's aversion to drawing backgrounds can practically cause eyestrain as you try and get a sense of where the characters are.

Well, you can tell it was *supposed* to look really spectacular before Liefeld drew it.

Moore has mentioned in interviews that Liefeld ignored most of his suggestions in regards to what to draw, and it's particularly noticeable in the scenes featuring the courtroom/stadium: instead of an awe-inspiring structure seating hundreds of bizarre and unique costumed figures, we get a simply-sketched row of lines with some silhouettes in the background. Occasionally Liefeld throws in an array of close-up panels to compensate for the fact that we can't see the faces of the audience members. Yet Kirby never made a quarter of the money this guy made.

But wait! It's not all bad! Perhaps anticipating that we'd need respite from the assault on the eyeballs that is Liefeld's art, the first issue is interposed with a series of short (4- or 5-page) stories of seemingly unrelated stories done in an old-fashioned comic style, just like the interstitial segments of Supreme. These ones feature a variety of classic-style comic characters: a Tarzan analogue, a Conan analogue, a Prince Valiant, a war story, a bunch of western heroes, and so forth. These are drawn by an array of far superior artists including Chris Sprouse, Rick Veitch, and Steve Skroce (who will be becoming more important shortly) as well as no less a figure than Gil Kane.

I always knew that Archie Andrews had a dark side.

The reason for these asides becomes clear in the second issue. When the time comes to begin the defense, Toby (who sort of takes over as the series' central character at this point) starts to unexpectedly weave a complex tale that goes back to the birth of humanity and incorporates the various stories we've heard so far. It seems that, way back at the dawn of time, the goddess Demeter (Glory's mother) was given a book by the god Hermes-a book that was the embodiment of language, story, and history itself. In essence, it was the story of the world, already written and waiting to be played out. Demeter ended up hiding the book in a cave on the newly-formed Earth, where it was eventually found by Giganthro of the League of Infinity, who hurled it down a chasm. Eventually, it was dug up by a troll named…Troll, who was enslaved to a powerful sorceror named Magnar Teufelson before he was killed by "Bram the Berzerk" (the Conan analogue); the book eventually passed through the hands of Merlin, the Knights Templar, and many many others.

What eventually became clear was that the book had immense power; not only did it have the power to increase intelligence and promote unnaturally long life to its owner, but one could play a part in actively altering history, including one's own past and future, simply by rewriting the book. A puritan adventurer named Deliverance Drue first put this aspect to use to fight evil, but later it was employed by the Allies member Storybook Smith, who used the book to summon literary characters to fight crime. But it was the books' next owner who caused the most damage with it…

I promise this is the last bit of Liefeld art with which I will assault your eyeballs.

Without revealing too much, it turns out that someone's been using the book to create a new era of dark, violent superheroes. Things started to change, however, when Riptide stole the book; unfortunately, its former owner came looking for it, and was prepared to kill to get it back.

All this is almost a sidenote, however, to Moore's reinvention of the characters. By the end of the trial, Youngblood has been shut down by the government and disbanded, the former members going on to new lives, and the modern heroes have found themselves humbled by a glimpse of the rich history of the universe they live in-a history that is now preparing to be born anew now that the book is in better hands.

The last part of the book, "Aftermath", is drawn not by Liefeld but by Gil Kane (with a short contribution by Steve Skroce). Here Moore lays the groundwork for six, count 'em, SIX new comic titles, including a revamped Youngblood. Waxey Doyle, the former Waxman of the Allies and now a furniture polish magnate, offers to put up the seed money to support a new Youngblood with Shaft as team leader; the new team is younger and generally more well-behaved, if still dogged by angst and bickering (as you'd expect from a bunch of teenagers).

The other shorts include a new, more mythologically-inspired Glory, who petitions the moon goddess Selene for a new identity as a mortal; the revamped New Men, now under the aegis of the Conquerors of the Uncanny, forming a team of scientist/explorer/adventurers; "Maximage" (also, I believe, a revamped Liefeld character), a sorceress who learns she's only the latest in a long line of magic-wielders; the reformed Allies, who as mentioned are basically the equivalent of the Justice League; and Spacehunter (another member of the Allies), a very weird little short featuring a character who speaks entirely in alien glyphs. Add to that the dozens of new characters that Moore fleshed out in the history of the book, and you've got a foundation for an incredibly ambitious new line of comics.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

But, as ever, Liefeld dropped the ball, and almost none of this ever came to pass. In the next chapter we'll look at the aftermath of Judgment Day and beginning of the new Awesome universe…which also turned out to be the end of the Awesome Universe.

Continue to Part 4!


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