One of the weirdest, couldn’t-make-this-up-if-you-tried announcements to come out of this February’s New York ComiCon was the news that Brett Ratner—the director of shameless popcorn fare like the RUSH HOUR trilogy, the third X-MEN installment, and the wholly unnecessary new adaptation of Thomas Harris’s RED DRAGON (to see it done right, check out Michael Mann’s somewhat dated but otherwise excellent MANHUNTER), was now lined up to direct a feature film based on Rob Liefeld’s YOUNGBLOOD. Not to be confused with the 1986 Rob Lowe hockey movie of the same name, YOUNGBLOOD was the inaugural title from the newly-formed Image Comics in 1992. Liefeld’s superteam ensemble has endured as a symbol of everything that sucked about the early nineties in comics, with its cast of characters seemingly cherry-picked from every superhero book of the previous decade (a formula that would go on to serve WILDC.A.T.S., CYBERFORCE, and their assorted spin-offs well), its multiple covers and multimedia tie-ins, including action figures and an aborted animated series (well underway before even six issues had even been released), and a first issue that was supposedly a “hot” commodity, even though everybody who could ever possibly want one bought multiple copies anyway. Oh yes, there was also the art and story—Liefeld the artist is best known for tiny, triangular feet, speed lines in lieu of backgrounds, muscles that swell like sausage casings about to burst, and a range of facial expressions that include “angry”, “surprised”, some combination of the two, and not much else. And the writing! How bad is the writing? Image recently released an “Anniversary” hardcover compilation of the first several issues, with new dialogue by Joe Casey to replace the original script by Liefeld and Hank Kanalz. That’s gotta be some kind of first.
The announcement of a Ratner YOUNGBLOOD feature being developed was a bit of a shock at first, and the kind of story that sounded like some kind of elaborate, early April Fools’ Day prank—the director who, more than any other, makes film nerds’ collective blood boil, teaming with the artist whose name is the first to pop up when you type the phrase “Most Hated Man In Comics” into a search engine. However, upon reflection, there are a few things to consider before getting too worked up.
First, there is very little chance of a YOUNGBLOOD movie actually getting made. Comics are optioned all the time without ever materializing. The late 1980s magazine COMICS SCENE used to have a lengthy section at the back of each issue detailing which comics had been optioned by what studio, and who was attached to direct or star. I’d say maybe 4-5% of those films were ever made, and I might be being a bit generous—I don’t have the actual figures in front of me, but it was not uncommon to pick up an issue and read about the development of a CONCRETE feature, or how Francis Ford Coppola was THIS CLOSE to making a DOCTOR STRANGE movie. Even Liefeld, quite the Hollywood player in his heyday, has been down this road a few times already. He once created a comic series called DOOM’S IV, a thinly-veiled knockoff of THE FANTASTIC FOUR, for Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment. The comic was supposed to form the basis for a big-budget feature, but it never materialized. A few years later, he was said to be developing a property called THE MARK for Will Smith to eventually star in, featuring a premise that borrowed heavily from Marvel’s STAR BRAND series, which in turn owed a lot to DC’s GREEN LANTERN franchise (see a pattern forming here?), but again, the project languished in development hell. More recently, Liefeld was said to be working on a project with J-Lo’s production company—something about a sexy shrink for superheroes—but…well, you figure it out. The most likely possibility is that YOUNGBLOOD: THE MOVIE will see the light of day around the same time as that long-promised BLACK PANTHER movie with Wesley Snipes or IRON FIST starring Ray Park. You know, the guy who played Darth Maul? You’d pay good money to see that, right?
Second, if Ratner, or anyone for that matter, actually does the unthinkable and makes a YOUNGBLOOD movie, it will most likely bear little to no resemblance to the comic that spawned it. It’s much easier to imagine Ratner delivering a movie about a high-tech group of government operatives than a big, colourful, superhero movie. To be fair, the team in the comics was a government-sponsored organization, but I imagine the costumes and superpowers would probably get tossed in favour of guns and armour and the like. It’s cheaper, easier, and less ridiculous-looking—in fact, I’m sure it’s this type of thinking that led to WANTED looking nothing like the comic it was allegedly based on, and is just as likely behind the G.I. JOE movie due out this summer. The cast of the YOUNGBLOOD comic aren’t exactly household names (for most people, the name Shaft will conjure up images of Richard Roundtree rather than a guy whose bow has no string), and the comic is far, far from respected even among the fan community, so I’m pretty sure no one will mind if more than a few liberties are taken. Liefeld won’t even care, I’m sure, so long as the check clears.
However, one possibility still occurs to me—a remote one at best, but one that carries with it a certain masochistic thrill: what if Brett Ratner, rather than running from the comic book’s, ahem, distinct visual stylings, embraced them? What if he pulled a Robert Rodriguez or a Zack Snyder and did his level best to replicate YOUNGBLOOD on the movie screen exactly as it appeared in Rob Liefeld’s comics? Utilizing the actual panels from the comics themselves as virtual storyboards, Ratner could make YOUNGBLOOD: THE MOTION PICTURE the most faithful comic book-to-screen adaptation since SIN CITY or 300. Think about it--with state-of-the-art prosthetic makeup appliances, the actors could be made to look uncannily similar to Liefeld’s depictions, with jutting pectoral muscles that resemble matronly bosoms, chins so square you could cut your finger on them, and eyeballs that sometimes have pupils, but often don’t for some reason. CGI could be utilized to bring specific panels to life in widescreen glory, with nary a poorly-drawn background or physically impossible pose compromised. It would be the most gaudy, horrifying, and insane-looking motion picture in history, and it would almost certainly bomb at the box office. But dammit, it would be honest. Obviously, I have no expectations of anything remotely resembling this scenario taking place, but it sure would be more funny and interesting than what we’ll likely see if this movie ever gets made.
And hey, at the very least, Ratner could always hire Joe Casey to rewrite the dialogue for an “Anniversary Edition” fifteen years later.